13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.1 John 3:13-18
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loves not the brother abides in death.
15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murder has eternal life abiding in him
16 In this we perceive the Love (of God), because He for us laid down His life, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoso has this world’s good, and sees his brother have need, and closes up his bowels from him, how dwells the love of God in him?
18 My children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth.
It can’t be pointed out frequently enough that Jesus told his disciples that their hallmark should be their love for each other. Yet modern Christians have tweaked this and offered up the strange fire of a maxim of their own liking, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, by your niceness.” This had led to an impotent love both for our brethren and for our enemies. John tells his brethren1 not to be shocked when the world, like their father the devil, hates them with murderous hatred.
But as one expositor points out, “The test is not its [the world’s] hatred but our love.2” In other words, the world might hate you, not because you’re a righteous man, but because you’re an insufferable pill. The proof of resurrecting grace in the righteous is in their love for the brethren. It shouldn’t escape our notice that love for fellow saints is once more John’s emphasis.
This isn’t a generic, aimless love. This love is tied to covenant obligation. You are joined to your brother in Christ by the “life from the dead” grace which you both share. To neglect that duty of love to the brethren is to deny the grace which won you. John isn’t addressing here how we are to love our enemies, but of course we should show that Christ-like virtue. Rather he is warning the saints that they can’t act like Cain and claim to be like Abel. They must love their fellow saints.
The world only knows the Cainite cycle of hatred which escalates to murder. This is the case because they abide in death. Hatred for your brother indicates that your lineage is satanic (Cf. 3:7-12), and you do not have eternal life abiding in you (v15). But if you have beheld the Love of God (in Christ), you will lay down your life for the brethren, just like Christ did (Jn. 15:13). Thus, someone who will not live sacrificially towards his fellow saints indicates that he hasn’t seen Christ by true faith.
John then makes this abundantly practical. If you have earthly wealth, and see your fellow saint in need and you close up your bowels (a striking phrase if ever there was one), how can you claim that God’s love dwells in you? A poignant question indeed. He follows it up with a succinct moral command. You ought to love your brother, not with just lip service (I.e. “oh, I’ll pray for you”, ”sending good vibes”, “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help”, etc.), but in actuality. The Greek could be rendered here as “in the midst of deed and truth.” Our love is not this ethereal thing, it should show up in our bank statements.
1 This is the only spot in his epistle where he calls his readers “my brethren” instead of his usual “my children”
2 Smith, David. The Expositors Greek Testament. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. Vol. Five. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979. Pg 186
- 1 John 5:16-19 | The Sin Unto Death
- 1 John 5:13-15 | Big Prayers
- 1 John 5:9-12 | God on the Stand
- 1 John 5:6-8 | The Threefold Witness
- 1 John 5:1-5 | Swept Up Into Victory
- 1 John 4:17-21 | Bold Sons & Fearful Slaves
- 1 John 4:11-16 | The Offensive Love of God
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils
- 1 John 4:1-3 | Stranger Danger