1 John 3 – The faith and brotherly love

Erkki Koskenniemi
Reija Becks

An important conclusion 2:28-29

John has spoken long about right faith and right knowledge. The essential part of right faith is right life following it. Whoever learns to know the righteous God, wants to do righteousness also in his own life. It is a sign that the believer’s faith life is originated by God. John reminds his readers of a dreadful danger. One day, Christ will come to judge all. The Christians who did not abide in him until the end are driven away from him, and they will not have refuge before the Lord.

There are only a few sterner warnings in the Bible than this one. It is indeed possible that people move in church circles and are regarded in the world as believers. In the end-time turmoil, they will seek refuge in Christ – but are driven away! The same issue is also discussed, for example, in Matthew 7:21-23. No amount of resolute professing to be a Christian and not even powerful miracles will be of any help, when Christ says, “I do not know you. Depart from me, you workers of evil!” Many people, who are righteous in the eyes of the world and in their own eyes, will end up in destruction. The way to life is narrow, and the way to death is wide. The guideposts of life found between the covers of our Bible should be read carefully. We sinners have our refuge in Christ alone, and we pray to him for strength so that our faith would also result in right life.

God’s gift 3:1-3

After the exhortation, the topic of discussion is again God’s magnificent gift, and then there follows again an exhortation. The writer speaks to the listeners and shares his joy with them: we are called children of God and so we are because of God’s great love. In Christ, God has taken us as his own even in this world, but there is something much better ahead. Once Christ comes, we will be transformed into his likeness. Then there will be no longer sin or affliction but only knowledge of God’s glory and love. There is an exhortation, which is already partly included in and related to the theme of joy expressed earlier: the world does not know God and, therefore, neither does it know God’s children but shuns, hates, and persecutes them. The child of God must, however, keep in mind that we have received much and will receive even more. This hope makes us see the world with new eyes.

Once again there are short verses containing incredibly many things. We can treat these interesting matters only in brief. First, we are to see once again what, in our Christian life, the order is that is in accord with the Bible. Even if this world always first requires some demonstration and only then grants a high position, in God’s kingdom, things are completely different. First is the fact that I am a child of God by the redeeming blood of Christ alone and that without any works or action from my part, God loves me because he is good. Only after this is there discussion about our conclusions, i.e. how it influences our lives. If we do not learn this order of things, we will never have a good conscience.

Second, we are given a glimpse of the life to come. What will we be like in eternity, and what will we do there? The Bible does not give specific answers. The best answer is that we will be changed into the likeness of Christ (also in 1 Corinthians 15). We will remain as ourselves, in that we can be recognized, like the rich man recognized Lazarus and Abraham, but something, however, will have changed. We do not know anything more precise, but we can guess that even in all this, God’s gift will be much more than we could imagine.

Third, we again look at the fact that God’s own are not of this world, and therefore, will not be very popular here. We are strangers and will remain strangers. We are not be surprised at this strangeness. In this also, it is good to remember that the distinctive sign of our beloved King Jesus Christ is suffering, and those who belong to him carry the same sign.

We must avoid sin 3:4-10

In line with an important feature of the epistle, the viewpoint changes to the opposite after the promise of grace. There is again emphasis on the fact that we absolutely must draw conclusions from our Christian faith. Sin is perilous and not in accord with the glory of Christ. Christ came to take away the sins of the world, not to bless them. The point culminates most impressively in verses 8 and 9: whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, and whoever practices righteousness is of God. It is not only so that whoever is born of God must not keep on sinning but that he or she cannot keep on sinning.

Here, too, we must remember that the Word of God must not be explained in such a way that nothing is left of the original message. We are not meant to learn to beat around the bush. The word is sufficiently clear in all its strictness and requires only reading ability in order to be understood. It will not pay to make a distinction between a small sin and a big sin, because the text simply will not allow for it. A sin is a sin. There are only two masters, the devil and God. We follow one or the other, and it shows in our lives.

While we are emphasizing the absoluteness of God’s word, we can see the nature of this section. It is not theoretical reasoning about what a believer is like. The section is from the start parenetic i.e. exhortative. The strict words are directed particularly to those sinners who, by God’s grace, are his children. First there is grace and then an exhortation tied to it.

Love is a concrete thing 3:11-18

Right doctrine is inevitably followed by right life, love. Love is not just something abstract but, in everyday life, it takes the form of service and hands-on action. The same applies to wrong doctrine and hatred, which will not be without consequences either. Cain murdered his brother whose life was better than his. It is this kind of envy and hatred that the Christians will confront, but we must not let it surprise us or suppress the outpouring of love. Hatred makes us murderers in God’s eyes, even without the actual death blow, and it shuts us out of God’s kingdom. Love, on the other hand, takes Christ’s way of suffering as the role model and leads us to serve our neighbour. It prevents us from closing our hearts against a suffering neighbour.

The verse 17 contains a difficult question for us. The question is so hard that not even the Bible has the answer to it. If we have much and the others have nothing, but we close our hearts against them, can God’s love stay in us any longer? We have learnt to close tight our hearts against the need of a suffering person. We shut the door to our home, turn off the television, and exclude the starving and suffering people from our own thoughts. Our clothes cost tens of euros, our furniture hundreds, our cars tens of thousands and our apartments hundreds of thousands of euros. We can afford all these, if we work hard. For a suffering person and for work in God’s Kingdom, we think that fifty euros is plenty, hundred euros an impossible offering and thousand euros sheer exaggeration. Who has taught us this arithmetic?

God knows the hearts 3:19-20

This section is difficult to explain, but it can probably be understood like this: brotherly love brings with it its own gift – whoever shares what he has knows that he is led by God’s truth. That our heart condemns us is, nevertheless, a familiar thing for a Christian, especially if we, in compliance with John’s absolute requirement, do not deny our sinfulness (1:8). However, God is greater than our hearts. He knows us and has mercy on his children.

Summary 3:21-24

John has given many exhortations. In the last verses of the chapter, he makes a summary. All who follow God’s truth can live in confidence before their Lord and know that their prayers are heard (cf. John 16:23-26). Again, God’s truth is simple: it is our duty to believe in Jesus Christ and love our neighbour. This love is not mere sentimentality but keeping the commandments of Christ. When Christians walk in this, also the Holy Spirit says ‘amen’ in their hearts.