Living the Good News. 3:10-24
This particular passage examines the issue of brotherly love. John makes three points: i] love assures us of our standing in Christ, v10b-15; ii] Christ's sacrifice is our example of love, v16-18; iii] love gives us confidence, v19-24.
v10. John says that it is easy to assure ourselves that we are children of God and not children of the evil one. Those who are not God's children do not act rightly, they do not love. The child of God acts lovingly, since love is a fruit of faith. John uses the word love in an active sense. Love is not just a feeling, rather it is compassion, in particular, compassion toward a brother or sister in Christ. Of course, John is not talking about perfect compassion, he is talking about an orientation toward Christ-likeness. A believer cares, although never perfectly.
v11. The fruit of love is an integral element of Christ's teachings. From the beginning of his ministry Jesus spoke of the responsive fruit of brotherly love. Those who believe will love.
v12-13. "We should love one another, unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother", NAB. The reason why Cain hated his brother and ended up murdering him, says John, is that Cain's evil was exposed by Abel's goodness. We children of love must always remember that those who live in darkness will react defensively when confronted by the light of love.
v14-15. Great assurance is to be found in our tendency to act with brotherly love. Such is an evidence that we have passed from death to life - an evidence that we are a child of God. A murderous hatred toward other believers is an evidence of the opposite.
v16-18. What is this love like? The perfect example of compassion is found in the life of Jesus. He lay down his life for his brothers - such is love. Compassion is certainly not evident in a person who cares little for the plight of others. "Children, you show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it", CEV.
v19-22. Great assurance lies in our natural concern for the brotherhood. Such is an evidence that we belong to Christ. This evidence reminds us of our standing in the sight of God, even when our many failings make us feel guilty. In this standing, by grace through faith, we can confidently access the presence of God, relying on his complete forgiveness and acceptance.
v23-24. God's demands can be summarized as follows: that we put our faith in Christ and express this faith in love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who obey this command live in him, that is, they possess life eternal. And we know and have assurance that we live in him, through the evidence of our compassion toward our brothers and sisters, an evidence made real to us by the indwelling compelling of the Holy Spirit.
Obedience and love
A number of issues present themselves in our passage for study and it is well worth our time considering some of them:
1. What is the content of Christian love and to whom should it be directed? Our passage reminds us of the exclusive nature of Christian compassion, an exclusiveness often denied by many believers. Christ's sacrifice is the perfect example of love and love's focus is primarily upon Christ's little ones, the brotherhood, believers. Our response of faith in Christ should be expressed in caring, self-giving, compassionate relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
2. If love is an evidence of our having passed from death to life, is there some measure of love that can assure us that we have gained life? John says that "we know that we have passed form death to life, because we love our brothers." The crossing of some particular line is not the issue here, it is not quantity, but quality. John is speaking about an orientation toward love that serves to assure us of our standing in Christ. I may be angry with my brother through a hurt of some kind, yet I can still be assured of my standing in the sight of God as long as my life is not lived in a constant cycle of hate. The issue here is orientation, not some particular standard of behavior.
3. Can we be sure that we have passed from death unto life on the evidence of our Christian compassion? Sadly, our compassion is flawed and often more an evidence of sin than salvation. The truth is that when we give our lives to Jesus we stand eternally approved before God, despite the fact that we constantly fail to love as Christ loved. Yet, it is also true that as a consequence of our faith, the Holy Spirit progresses his work of renewal such that we are at least orientated toward love.
4. Is it true to say that obedience will be rewarded by answered prayer? The issue of prayer in verse 22 is not part of John's central argument, but is interesting, none-the-less. Consider three different ways of handling the "ask and you will receive" proposition in this verse:
i] Ask, in the sense of ask according to the will of God. If it is within God's intentions then we will receive what we ask.
ii] We can ask for what we need and we can be assured that we will get what we need, although we may not always get what we ask.
iii] Ask and we will get what we ask, as long as we live a perfectly obedient life, Spirit-filled life, a life of faith, etc.
I hope you ruled out options [ii] and [iii]! Our God gives us all that he has promised. In the context of our passage, our inner being may sense God's condemnation, and this for our imperfect love, yet the knowledge of God's forgiveness is ever present - forgiveness just for the asking. "God will answer our prayers whenever we ask him (according to his will)."
1. What is the command for which God requires perfect obedience?
2. What is love? To whom should it be directed, and what is its content?
3. How can we be sure that we have permanently passed from death to life on the evidence of love, given that our love is imperfect, to say the least?
4. Has obedience got anything to do with answered prayers?
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