11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.1 John 3:11-18
As I have been studying this week’s passage and thinking about our setting off into the second half of 1 John, I have been amazed at the way John shows the difference between the children of God and those who follow after the world. The entire book deals with contrasts – life and death, light and dark, and, now in today’s passage love and hate.
I am struck with how different God’s children should be than the world. Paul describes the difference to the church of Philippi very clearly that we are to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Philippians 2:15-16). Now, as we have talked about many times in our study of 1 John, we are not capable of sinless perfection. But, in our unfortunately sinful lives, we should be pointing to Him who is truly “a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19) – Jesus Christ. This should be our ultimate goal: to live the Life that Jesus has given us through faith in Him and show others who are dead in their sins how to receive that very same Life.
This is where the second half of 1 John comes in. While we looked a lot in the first part about the difference between being in the Light (being in Christ) and walking in darkness, now we shift to how sharing the love of Christ illustrates the Life that comes only through Christ. Basically, this is where we leave the garages of our faith (our local churches and homes) and take our faith to the streets. This is the hardest part because it is easy to shine in a room full of lights, but it is another thing entirely to be a single candle amid overwhelming darkness. It is easy to love people who show you love, but it is terribly difficult to love when confronted with hatred.
I love the way that John introduces this to us (like he has throughout the letter – vv. 1:5, 2:24) by bringing everything back to the basics – back to the way that Jesus taught it. This is good to remember because we are not called to follow Christ in our own strength. John tells his original audience and us to remember “the message that you have heard from the beginning” because we need the reminder that Jesus taught that we should “love one another” (v. 11). This was important enough that Jesus said it was the second greatest commandment (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, Matthew 22:39) and took time to talk about it on the last night He spent with His disciples (“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”, John 13:34).
Cain, Hatred, & Death
John shows us how important love is by showing us how dangerous hate can be. He takes us all the way back to the beginning with the first brothers – Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). If you are unfamiliar with the story, Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s first kids. Both brought offerings to God. Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3), but Abel brought “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4). There are many opinions about why exactly God had “regard for Abel and his offering” (Genesis 4:4) but “had no regard” for Cain’s (Genesis 4:5). The only light the Bible sheds on it is found in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”
While we will never truly know what God’s issue with Cain’s sacrifice was, we know the end result. Cain was so angry because God considered Abel righteous that he killed him in cold blood (v. 12). Even before he was a murderer, the unrighteousness in Cain’s heart – the darkness and his being dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) – hated his brother to the point that he ended his life. The darkness and death in him hated the Life that was seen in his brother.
In Abel, we see Jesus. And, in Jesus “was Life, and the Life was the light of men” (John 1:4). People, like Cain, who walk in darkness hate the Light. Just as Abel’s righteous sacrifice highlighted Cain’s unrighteous one, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light because their works [are] evil” (John 3:20). In the same way, we should not “be surprised…that the world hates [us]” (v. 13). Jesus Himself said that “people loved darkness rather than light because their works are evil” (John 3:19), and, if you have received the gift of eternal life (John 3:16, Romans 6:23), you are a child of God (John 1:12-13) and cannot fit in the darkness of the world. Jesus, the Light of the world “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Hatred is evidence of darkness – plain and simple. John says that “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (v. 15), echoing Jesus’ own words in His Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….” (Matthew 5:21-22)
My first instinct when reading these verses is to make excuses, but none of them will do any good. These verses are clear. Hatred in my heart is clear evidence that I love myself more than I love my brother, and, if I do not love my brother who I have seen, I cannot love God who I have not yet seen. It is plain and simple.
Jesus, Love, & Life
The plain and simple truth about hate and darkness does not have to be bad news. In fact, the fear that I feel when thinking about the sin in my own heart highlights just how good the good news of the gospel is! Verse 16 tells us how we hateful-hearted sinners can “know love” – because “He laid down His life for us”! 1 John 3:16 echoes John 3:16 where we find out that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”!
We do not have to go the way of Cain and let our hatred breed darkness and death in our lives. We believe in Christ, repenting of our sin and trusting in Him, and experience His love. It is a game-changer to understand that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We do not have to give into our natural tendency toward hatred and sin but can say with Paul that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20)!
We know that we have the love of Christ when that love begins to be spread to others. Just as Jesus laid down His life for us, we find that – if we have Life in Him – that our lives begin to be characterized by the same sort of selflessness. Does this change happen immediately? Unfortunately, no. But, through continuing to follow Christ and experiencing more and more of His love and grace, our lives begin to transform to be more like His. And the more we become like Him, the brighter His Light shines in the darkness around us.
This means that our faith will be practical. If we see a “brother in need”, we will be unable to close our hearts to him (v. 17). This means that we will give of what Christ has blessed us with. If we see people in need, we will share of what we have. Again, this is plain and simple. James 2:15-16 questions whether a faith sees someone who is “poorly clothed and lacking in daily food” but does not help meet that need is of any value. This convicts me heavily. God has blessed me with much – not so that I can horde it or show how “blessed and highly favored I am” but to be His hands and feet and share His love and Light in the darkness.
I leave you with the challenge of verse 18: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth”. Think about your life. Is it characterized by love or hate, light or dark, death or life? I do not ask any more of you than I have had to ask myself while studying and meditating on this passage. But I offer you a listening ear and a sympathetic heart should you need it. But, more importantly, I lift you up, dear Sojourner, to the God who is love and light and life.
 The only other context we have is in Jude 11 where Cain’s sin was compared to “Balaam’s error” (Numbers 22) and “Korah’s rebellion” (Numbers 16).