Love and Service
This is the Message (3:11)
• In five chapters, John mentions love twenty-six times. Everything that he says in this letter to the church centers on the command to love.
• On the one hand this is not a new commandment because the entire Torah finds its center in loving God and loving neighbor. But on the other hand it is very new because of the way it is modeled and defined sacrificially in the crucifixion.
Bad Example: Cain (3:12-15)
• At the root of the story of Cain and Abel is the question Cain asks of God, that is never directly answered in Genesis: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Cain’s question seems to simply hang in the air longing for an answer from God.
• For John, the murder of Abel is the direct consequence of Cain’s self-centeredness. His violent action toward his brother reveals the truth of his inner life.
• It is Cain’s self-centeredness that leads him to hate his brother. For this reason we should not be surprised when the self-centered principalities and powers turn in violence and anger toward those who follow Christ. Violence and selfishness (Cain) always seems to strike out against righteousness and faithfulness (Abel).
• It is somewhat simplistic, but for John there are only two ways to live: self-centered like Cain or in love like Abel. If we live in the realm of the self-centered, the ultimate consequence will always be death – not only our own deaths, but also the deaths of others. If a person does not abide in love, they abide in death.
The Greatest Example: Christ (3:16)
• Abel is one kind of model of faithfulness, but the ultimate model of faithful love is obviously Christ. Rather than coercing or taking the lives of others, Jesus lays down his life for those who are even his enemies. It is this very act of laying down his life for others that becomes the model and definition of love for believers.
• So the comparison John makes is this: the self-centered life of Cain leads to violence, death and chaos, but the other-centered life of Christ brings healing, restoration and reconciliation. Those two models are the only options.
Love in Action (3:17-18)
• For John, love is not simply a concept or word that can be abstracted from action. Love is only real in John’s letter if it is accompanied by actions.
• In particular, John argues that love must be demonstrated in action toward the outsider. Verse 17 finds common ground not only in parables like the Good Samaritan and the Sheep and the Goats, but also in the epistle of James (2:1-26).
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
A Heart at Ease (3:19-22)
• There is a problem that John seems to immediately recognize. That problem is that there will always be unending opportunities for us to live away from ourselves and towards others.
• Some theologians, like Martin Luther, have disliked these portions of scripture that implore us to “work out” our salvation because it makes salvation dependent upon our actions. How can we know if we have done enough to please God? Can we ever do enough?
• John has these assurances: God knows our heart (3:20); we know our heart (3:21); and our prayers reveal our heart (3:22)
Led by the Spirit of Love (3:23-24)
• Again and again John ends these small sections of teaching with an emphasis on love. The sign that the believer abides in Christ and in his Spirit is the love that flows through their life to others.
• Loving others in action is not just work a believer commits to do or disciplines that a follower of Jesus must practice in order to prove that they love God. Rather, as a person abides in the Spirit of Christ, that spirit of love prompts, shapes, and impels the believer to love others not just in word or speech, but in truth and action.