1 JOHN – SERIES : NR 10
Scripture: 1 John 3: 11 – 18
Theme : The spirit of Cain and the spirit of Christ
This paragraph does not stand on its own. It is connected to the previous verse (3:10). Verse 11 provides the reason for the statement in verse 10. Verse 10: “This is how we know who the children of God and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (fellow-believers).
Then verse 11: This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another (fellow-believers)… THEREFORE – logical conclusion: Whoever does not love fellow believers, cannot be children of God.
Keep in mind the context of that time: False preachers were pestering the churches and they used to be part of the churches before, but they have turned their back on the churches and separated themselves.
The Apostle is therefore targeting these people – supporters of the so-called Gnosticism (Cerinthius and associates). HOW CAN THEY BE TRUE CHRISTIANS – the Apostle is asking. THEY DO NOT LOVE THE CHRISTIANS. That is proof that they are false and that they are not Christians. THEREFORE: WHY WOULD YOU LISTEN TO THEM FOR EVEN ONE MOMENT? HOW CAN YOU ATTACH ANY MERIT TO THEIR PREACHING?
That is the essence of John’s argument.
If someone does not love the true Christians, then they hate them. It is either one or the other.
That is the drift of the apostle’s argument. And, once again, we see the typical apostolic black/white mindset – no grey areas possible. It is EITHER truth OR lie. Whoever does not love the brothers, hates them. Whoever loves the brothers, are children of God. Whoever does not love the brothers, are not children of God (referring to Cerinthius and his associates).
And John specifically uses Cain as a classic example of someone who did not love. It is the spirit of Cain that lives in the hearts of Cerinthius and his friends. The spirit of Cain is directly OPPOSITE to the spirit of Christ – the true spirit which saturates all true Christians.
We could therefore say that the theme of verses 11-18 is: The spirit of Cain against the spirit of Christ.
I invite you to briefly walk with me through these verses and to mine the rich meaning, and in THIS way would hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. We will hear His voice clearly and plainly.
Verse 11 > Ever since the churches (to whom John is writing) heard the Gospel message the first time, they have heard the love command. From the beginning. Besides, it is written throughout the OT. Whoever belongs to God, also belongs to one another. In and by the close connectedness with the Lord Jesus, this love is acute.
And what is the love command? Love one another. And with “one another” he means fellow believers, true Christians, true church.
Some were indeed formal members of the churches, but the fact that they had fallen into error and impurity, was proof that they did NOT love their fellow Christians. And then it also manifested practically: They left the churches.
Is that now just nothing? Or does it affect the essence of the truth? The Apostle does not mince matters. He is saying: It certainly does affect the essence of the truth. Look at the crude example he uses…
VERSE 12 > READ IT AGAIN…
The Apostle compares those who are allergic to Christian believers with Cain who murdered his brother! What? Yes! And the Holy Spirit is saying that Cain was not a saved child of God, but that he belonged to the evil one (he is from the devil – Greek).
Cain murdered his blood-brother, but how is it different from a faith-brother, John is asking. Answer: There is no difference. That is why he is using Cain as an example!
But why did Cain have such an attitude towards Abel in his heart? Indeed, the act of murder came from a wicked attitude in the heart. Was it because Abel deserved it? On the contrary, it was because Cain was jealous of Abel’s walk with God and his life of devotion. His hate was born out of jealousy and envy.
Now the Apostle is asking: Must the true Christians then be surprised if fellow church members – about whom it seems that they do not know the Lord – behave towards them with the same attitude? Hate been driven by envy? That is exactly what verse 13 wants to know.
READ VERSE 13
Look carefully at what the Apostle is doing here: He uses the word WORLD when he talks about the fellow church members, whose lives show that they do not truly know the Lord. And we know he is talking about Cerinthius and his associates.
It just shows again how the notion of “world” is used in different ways – particularly by John. HERE it does NOT indicate the anti-Christian world system like earlier in the letter. Here it is specifically the false church members who do not know the Lord. They are envious of the true Christians’ lives of devotion and hate develops – just the same as with Cain.
Light and darkness do not mix, just the same as oil and water. Church members who are not reborn do not pull in the same direction as reborn church members. And the Apostle is clear about that: False preachers emerge from the church, but they do not love the true Christians because they are not truly reborn. Just the same as Cain who had a sinful attitude in his heart towards Abel.
Do not let this surprise you, says verse 13. It is always a question of hate against love. Death against life. Whoever does not love the Christians, are dead. Whoever loves, is no longer dead, but has passed from death into life.
Look at verse 14! READ VERSE 14…
Clearer than verse 14 puts it, it cannot be said! From out of the absolute love and attraction which you experience within yourself towards all people who are born of God, who live according to Scripture and are devoted – THEREBY you can know that the Lord came to do something for you. Thereby you know that you (by a miracle from God) went over from death into life. You are no longer in death. Whoever is NOT inclined towards true Christians (the true church), are still dead in sin. And they are allergic towards true devoted Christians.
Have you ever wondered why your online habits have changed so much? On Facebook and YouTube and Instagram, you are constantly busy with people who are devoted to the Gospel and Christ. It is as if your heart is drawn towards those people. Your soul thirsts to learn and find out more, and you like fellowship with such people. WHY? Well, clearly, you have passed from death into life. The living God has chosen you and He has done something in your heart. Now you are a completely different person and you can never again pass over previous paths.
Do you see how SHARP the Apostle draws the lines between saved and unsaved, born of God and devil-person, death and life, hate and love?
Look for example here in verse 15 how he contrasts the person who does NOT enjoy and seek fellowship with saved people and live by it, with those who are that way inclined!
READ VERSE 15
Remember: With “brother” he means fellow-Christian. Faith-related and not blood-related. And with HATE he means “be allergic“ towards Christ-believers. The opposite of consciously seeking their fellowship and to be with them and to be eager to learn and absorb everything that takes place in the circle of the true Christians = LOVE, therefore. The opposite the Apostle calls HATE! That is how harshly he contrasts it. HATE!
Abel’s eventual murder committed by Cain has also just started with a slight feeling of dislike towards his brother. Nothing serious. Only an irritation when he saw Abel’s devotion to the Lord and realised that he is spiritually bankrupt. A bit of envy is quite normal. What person does not feel that way sometimes?
But the Apostle calls it HATE. It is murder. Such a person is a murderer in the eyes of God. And because a murderer does not have eternal life, such a person is not a saved child of the Lord.
A person’s mouth hangs open in astonishment. Can that be what is written in verse 15? Certainly! You may read it again. Keep in mind that the notion of HATE refers back to the example of Cain in verse 12 who was envious of Abel’s devout life.
Remember again: Cerinthius and his fellow gnostics were filled with this hate while they seemingly overflowed with love and pity, and boasted about how spiritual they were and how much higher knowledge they possessed.
But the Apostle says: No, they are filled with hate. Because they left the church and started to preach false doctrine and now avoid the Christians and the Apostles. It is hate, not love. It is the heart of a murderer.
Are we prepared to truly accept this Apostolic teaching and to speak it and apply it in practice today? And to fall before the Lord in deep acknowledgment and confession of sin and to seek repentance and forgiveness, when I realise how intensely I erred and sinned in this regard against the Lord.
And there is only one thing that greatly encourages one when you realise how you have failed the Lord, and that is a vision of His love. Your failure is absorbed by His love.
Look at verse 16 > READ VERSE 16
We now know what hate is, but what is love? What is it that gives me courage and strength to stand? And to understand it, the Apostle do not point out some or other OT-figure as an example. He is pointing towards Jesus. Who has laid down His life for all Christ believers. We get our love-consciousness from the Lord Jesus himself. He did not take someone else’s life (like Cain did), but He gave His own life! His innocent blood was shed. He looked away from Himself and focused on others. And that is what love is.
The moment that I notice and is filled with the love of Christ, then the realization of my wrongdoing melts away. The cross-love melts my hate away. And my heart becomes mobilized to also give myself away for the salvation of others. That is exactly what takes brotherly love to new heights within the church. Members filled with the love of Christ – which is a doing-love and an obedience-love – not an emotional love.
Look how verse 17 makes it practical. READ VERSE 17
The Love of God – as manifested in Christ giving His life for His enemies – is poured out by the Holy Spirit into every person who comes to salvation in Jesus (Rom 5:5).
The love dwells inside the believer. And now that believer sees a fellow-believer in need. How can his/her heart remain locked? How can your heart remain locked towards someone who has spiritual needs also? People who are lost? But in particular, John is talking about a BROTHER (fellow Christian) who is experiencing difficulties.
Once more we see the white/black mindset of the Apostle – and we know that it is the Holy Spirit who is thinking and talking through him. If the love of God lives in you, then your heart is opened towards others. If your heart is locked towards others, the love of God does not dwell in you.
Verse 18 makes it perfectly plain. READ VERSE 18
Was Jesus’s cross-love merely talk, talk, talk? Only words? Only idle words? Or did He actively go to the cross? His feelings already overwhelmed Him at Gethsemane. But He nevertheless in obedience to His Father, purposefully went to the cross. THAT IS LOVE, says the Apostle.
A church filled with this caliber of Christ-love, shall never for a moment open the door to the false preachers – such as Cerinthius and his associates. The Christ-love simply forces the sugar-coated hate of the false preachers to the forefront and reveals their love for what it truly is, namely hate. In a nutshell, that is exactly what this paragraph teaches.
In other words, it is about nothing else except being a Christian in practice.
The Cerinthius-group delivered a great show and preached beautifully and people were transported – but in reality, they were trying to coax the true Christians in the church away from the doctrine and teaching of the Apostles. They were not sincere.
John comes with a call to practical love. In all sincerity. Something that can be SHOWN instead of just talks and talks.
And that is only possible when a person lives in connectedness with the Lord Jesus Christ. Like a branch in the vine.
Translated by Marthie Wilson