For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. – 1 John 3:11 ESV
1 John 3:11-24
Love and hate. God and Satan. Dark and light. Faith and doubt. Belief and disbelief. Children of God and children of the devil. John paints a black and white portrait of life in this world. There are two systems at work and at war with one another. As children of God, we have been placed in the middle of an environment that is opposed to our very existence. The world, as a result of sin, is in rebellion against God. Many in the world reject that very existence of God. Others, unable to explain their own existence and desperate to find meaning for life, have concocted their own versions of God. But to make your own god is nothing short of the rejection of the one true God. The point that John seems to be trying to make is that those who have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ are going to find this world a place of conflict and contrasts. The very fact that we are His children puts us at odds with those who refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God and the only way to be restored to a right relationship with God. The result is that the world hates us. John confirms that reality. “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 ESV). Jesus gave us a similar warning. “This is my command: Love each other. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (John 15:17-19 NLT). “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22 NIV).
John used the example of Cain and Abel – two brothers who should have naturally loved one another – to drive home his message of contrasts. Cain brutally murdered his brother. His act was an outflow of his anger toward and hatred for Abel. But it stemmed from his disbelief in God. He lacked the capacity to love Abel because he was devoid of a love for God. Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable to God because Cain lacked faith in God. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV). Abel was motivated by faith in God. He believed in God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). John makes it clear a little bit later in his letter that God is love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 ESV). Love is essence of God. But this is not some kind of sentimental, Hallmark-greeting-card kind of love. This is a selfless, sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love that is not of this world. Without God, Cain couldn’t manufacture this kind of love. But this kind of love is what sets the children of God apart from one another. It was what caused the early church to stand out from the crowd and set it apart as distinctively different. In the book of Acts, we read of the early days of the church as thousands of people from all walks of life and a variety of ethnic backgrounds are coming to faith in Jesus. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45 ESV). That day, there were people from all over the world who heard the good news regarding Jesus Christ. “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11 ESV). And many of them came to faith and became part of a unique organism called the body of Christ. At that point, they became one in Christ. Their ethnic, economic, cultural, and idealogical differences were overshadowed by the love of God. Paul described the believers in Galatia in similar terms. “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT).
Our adoption as sons and daughters by God have placed us all into one new family. God’s love for us manifests itself in a love for one another that is unique and distinctive. No longer is our love based on earthly standards. Our commonality and community is not based on ethnicity, language, economic status, country of origin or level of education. Our unity is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. So Jews who love Jesus can love Arabs who love Jesus. Muslims who have come to know Jesus as their Savior can call Christians their brothers. Blacks and whites can love one another. Individuals who were once enemies can now worship together because of the transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:14 NLT). Our capacity to love is our calling card. It is what sets us apart. And in this world, it is what sets us up for hatred. This world can’t comprehend that kind of love. It makes no sense. It sees it as a threat. It views it as a weakness. The enemy can’t stand it, because he knows its origin. It is of God. And anything of God is repulsive to him. But God is love and we are God’s children. Love is the greatest expression of our God-likeness. Which is why Paul wrote: “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT).