WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LVIII) 10/01/21

3:11 Here is the teaching you were taught when you were converted: We should love one another.

Colin G. Kruse (1950) feels that the NIV translation of this verse, unfortunately, obscures the clear connection between what is foreshadowed in 3:10 and developed in 3:11-18. It is because they failed to translate the Greek conjunction hoti (“for”) with (“which”). Otherwise, 3:11-18 would be introduced as: (“Which is the message …”). The Apostle John establishes this connection by picking up the notion of the person “who does not love” in verse ten when he urges his readers not to be like Cain, who “murdered his brother” in verse twelve. Then, in verse fifteen, John informs readers that anyone who “hates their fellow believer is a murderer.

Thus, John begins his exposition of loving one’s fellow believers as the mark of those who belong to the truth. He reminds his readers that this is something they’ve heard from the time they were born again. The Gospel message they heard included the command of the Lord Jesus that those who believe in Him should “love one another.”[1] John’s assertion was probably dependent on our Lord’s discourse during the Last Supper. What John means by loving one another is spelled out negatively in the next verse and positively later in verses sixteen to eighteen.[2]

Judith Lieu (1951) mentions that the Greek conjunction hoti can be translated as “that,” “because,” “since.” The NIV, NASB, and the KJV all renderer it “For.” But as Thayer’s Greek Lexicon explains, it refers to some word or words that precede or immediately follow it in this context. But Lieu prefers “because this is the message” as the opening for this eleventh verse. Therefore, what does John say before? If you claim to love God but do not love your brother or sister, you cannot be of God because you’ve heard the message to love one another from the beginning.[3]

Bruce B. Barton (1954) does not see this “love one another” as a command, as in the old system of Torah, but as an announcement of something good. The message announced from God requires believers to love their brothers and sisters in God’s family. The beginning refers to the time Jesus first told his disciples to love one another[4] and when John’s audience was first formed.[5]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) says that one of the most effective ways of teaching is by using contrasts and comparisons. For example, I might contrast what it means to be a male with being a female. I might highlight the attributes of a tall person by putting them next to a short person. Boy/girl. Big/small. Fast/slow. Up/down. North/South. East/West. Winner/loser. These are all simple examples, but we use this teaching technique all the time. And this technique is not new. The Apostle John also found drawing comparisons and contrasts to teach theology and spiritual truth effectively. Throughout 1 John, the Apostle draws our attention to various contrasts:

Walk in darkness/Walk in light1:6-7
Say we have no sin/Confess our sins1:8-9
Keep God’s commands/Do not keep God’s commands2:3-5
Those who love the world/Those who love the Father2:15
They/Us2:19
Antichrist/Christ2:22
Deny Christ/Confess Christ2:23
Confident at Christ’s coming/Ashamed at Christ’s coming2:28
Those who do what is wrong/Those who do what is right3:4-7

Keeping this in mind, says Akin, lets us see how verse eleven flows naturally out of verse ten. Having been born of God, the child of God does what is right, which includes loving one another. In contrast, the devil’s offspring do not do right and hate their neighbors, destroying their reputation. Thus, there is a crystal-clear contrast between children of God and the devil’s brood, between those who love and those who hate. To make this plain, John goes back in time, all the way back to the beginning. There, he draws our attention to the first murder in human history, the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. He addresses both the act and the sinister source behind the action. Just as God delights in giving new life, the devil equally delights in producing death by instigating ad hominem.[6] [7]

David Legge (1969) notes that while there is deliverance, the Apostle John warns us that a sinful lifestyle can never be an alternative way of living for the child of God. Some propose that you can commit adultery and be a Christian. Or that a believer can engage in drunkenness and be a Christian. Listen to what the Apostle Paul had to say: “Don’t you know that those doing such things have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who worship idols, adulterers, or practice homosexuality – will have no share in his Kingdom. Neither will thieves nor greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, or robbers.”[8] That may sound harsh in today’s society, but it’s a case of betting that Paul was either wrong or right. Only on the Day of Judgment will that be decided by God. 

So, says Legge, God’s word is clear: you can do those things, but if you’re going to become a Christian, you must repent of them. Of course, it doesn’t mean that believers will not fall into some of those sins; God forbid that any believer stumble into such immoral behavior during their walk with the Lord. But the point is: these lifestyles must change and cease to be active in a Christian’s life. Here the Apostle John points it out in verse eleven, “Some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus the Anointed One and by the Spirit of our God.” Apparently, some in John’s audience were going back to their old sins. When the Apostle Paul saw the same thing among his converts, he told them, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless you fail the test.”[9] [10]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) tells us that while verse eleven starts the second half of the epistle, it does not introduce a new theme. The Apostle John has applied the “love test” before, and continues his thought from the final phrase of verse ten. We might even say that the following thirteen verses are an exposition of verse ten on “loving one another.” So, what is new is John’s illustration and application of love. John illustrates Christian love with a contrast between Cain-like hatred and Christ-like love. John begins with his reminder to love. This “message” came to John’s readers from the apostolic evangelists. It is what they heard when the Gospel was first preached to them (the meaning of “heard from the beginning”). That message, however, has its origin in Jesus.[11]

3:12 We must not be like Adam and Eve’s firstborn, Cain, who killed his brother Abel under the influence of Satan. And why did he kill him? Because Cain knew he did wrong with his offering, his brother did what was right with his sacrifice to God.

EXPOSITION

What better illustration could the Apostle John have used?[12] None! It fits perfectly in his narrative about loving one another even when one is wrong, and the other is right. John was there when the Master told about the farmer who sowed his seed, and some of it fell along the road, and the birds came and took it away. So likewise, the seed of God’s Word is sown in the hearts of those who hear the Gospel, but Satan, like a crow, comes and steals the seed before it can take root.[13] In fact, we see the same devious operation by Satan when he brought hostility between King Saul and his son-in-law David.[14]

The Psalmist certainly knew that such inexcusable plans existed in the hearts of the wicked. Therefore, there was nothing that cheered them up other than causing a right-living person to do wrong. And when they failed to do so, they gritted their teeth in anger.[15] Even King Solomon made a point of this in his wise sayings.[16] But sometimes, you cannot persuade false accusers to exchange their lies for the truth.[17] The Apostle John even heard his Master make that charge to those who hated Him.[18] In fact, even some of those people in the world who were once good friends and buddies will turn against a friend who becomes a vibrant Christian.[19] Pontius Pilate sure found that to be true when he told them that he could find no fault in the Anointed One.[20]


[1] See 1 John 3:23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 1:5

[2] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition

[3] Lieu, Judith, I, II, & III John, op. cit., pp. 142-143

[4] See John 13:34-35; 15:17

[5] Barton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., pp. 71-72

[6] Ad hominem is an attack on an opponent’s character

[7] Akin, Dr. Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[8] 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

[9] 2 Corinthians 13:5

[10] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., Part 9

[11] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean, 1-3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[12] Genesis 4:4-15; See Hebrews 11:4; Jude 1:11

[13] Matthew 13:19

[14] 1 Samuel 18:14-15; See 19:4-5

[15] Psalm 37:12

[16] Proverbs 29:27

[17] Matthew 27:23

[18] John 10:32

[19] Ibid. 15:19-25

[20] Ibid. 18:38-40

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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