WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXIV) 10/11/21

3:13 So don’t be surprised, dear friends, if the world doesn’t like you.

Christians should not be alarmed when the world reacts negatively to the Gospel of Grace. The Good News is revolutionary, for it promises to change a person’s personality. When a believer experiences salvation, they receive a spiritual nature upon redemption. It sets them apart from the world’s corrupt system. It is no wonder why the world despises Christians for this. Non-Christians will instinctively scorn Christians who make a big issue out of the Anointed One’s Grace and Him not giving them credit as being equally good because of their ethical and moral code of conduct. Grace always flies in the face of efforts trying to bypass the cross. There can be no compromise between Grace and “I’ll get there on my own” because they are mutually exclusive.[1]

There is a story about the loose-living prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general Alcibiades, son of Cleinias (450-404 BC), who once said to his friend Socrates, “I hate you because every time I meet you, you show me what I am.”[2] Grace always shows sinners that they need salvation by grace. 

Also, when Aristides, the son of Lysimachus (who died circa 468 BC), was condemned to death in Athens, someone asked a jury member why they cast a guilty vote against such a good man, they replied that they were tired of hearing him being called “Aristides the Just.”[3] The world hates a Gospel message that excludes them if their salvation is not by grace.

COMMENTARY

Early church scholar Origen (184-253 AD) talks about the fact then once a sinner leaves the darkened house of spiritual death, they pass from unbelief to belief. Therefore, don’t be upset if the world doesn’t appreciate it because they were forsaken in that cold, unlit house of sin. For no one who has failed to pass from spiritual death to renewed life but remain stuck in sin’s dark prison can be happy because they were left behind.[4] Such unhappy people do not realize that God calls people to salvation individually, not as a group.

John Bunyan (1628-1688) asks if moral law regulates one’s life, what harm can that do? Furthermore, what damage can spiritual rejoicing for the hope of the life to come by the Anointed One do to others? Nor is the instituted worship of our Lord motivated by any evil intent. Christianity teaches us to “Love our enemies! Pray for those who persecute us!”[5] What evil can be in that? All this sums up the Christian faith according to the Word of God. Therefore, says Bunyan, stay in agreement with these things and have nothing to do with arguing about it. Nor should we marvel that by living this way, some are foolish enough to try and assassinate our character or reputation.[6]

William Burkitt (1662-1703) emphasizes the inference drawn by the Apostle John from the example of Cain’s hostility against his innocent brother; to support John’s urging that they should not be surprised if the world detests them. It implies that the world always did and ever will resent God’s children; and that they are not to marvel or wonder at it, but prepare themselves for it. In other words, it is not something new; it’s been that way from the beginning: Although Cain is long dead, his spirit of hatred is still alive; the Satanic prosecutor goes around with Cain’s club in his hand, red with blood. So, don’t act surprised when the world turns its back on you.[7]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) sees the Apostle John says that the world’s Secular Society and the Church’s Sacred Solidarity are similar to Cain and Abel. The Cainites live in daily competition and strife, while the Abelites live in peace and harmony. Rothe says that Christians should feel complimented by the world’s hatred. Look at what Jesus endured; do you think it should be better for you? That’s why the Apostle John says, “Don’t be surprised,” if the world mistreats you. They get their hatred from the devil; you get your love from the Anointed One.[8]

William Graham (1810-1883) makes it clear that it was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost – the endowment of the Church for her glorious mission – which awakened fierce and murderous persecution against the apostles of the Lord and all the faithful who believed on His name. This kind of gift and blessing were too heavenly for any earthly good in a sin-stained world. So don’t be alarmed when you hear about the persecution of Christians. The Apostle John says, “Marvel not,” but Graham would add, instead, “Marvel that, with these principles to guide us, with many hopes before us, with examples to imitate, with wickedness to contend against, we should be disliked so little by the world. That is indeed marvelous. As a result, some are at ease in Zion, forgetting that the commands of our Lord are still valid, and that’s why He called us to something greater than a life of uncaring ease.[9]

George James Cornish (1828-1895), Congregational minister, educator, and librarian in England, stated that if the world’s suspicion that our Christian faith came from God was insufficient to deter the world from persecuting believers, neither would the holiness of the Christian’s life be any defense. So far from it, it would be a unique ground of attacking them. Wickedness has a consciousness that it is doing wrong, and as it can only support itself by having the multitude on its side, it regards all goodness as exposing its weakness. And what is the result? We ought not to be surprised if we find that devotion, dedication, faithfulness, and self-denial are not only misunderstood, misconstrued, and misrepresented but promotes opposition from the spirit of the age. There is reason to be concerned that our faith may grow weak from the need for exercise and degenerate into mere morality and a modest lifestyle when opposition goes away.[10]

John J. Lias (1834-1923) believes that if this section of the Apostle John’s epistle ended here, he could have said, this dislike between the children of God and the devil’s brood is a universal one. It’s the same now as it was when Abel was alive. Therefore, you must not be surprised if you find the same old evil passions in the world. They were once under God’s moral order, but have sadly drifted away. Now, since the absence of love is a characteristic of the degenerate person, they will display that attitude in their dealings with those who have nothing but love to give in return.[11] In other words, even though worldly people may like you because of your personality, they still hate you because of the beliefs that supposedly make you a better person than they are.

But, says Lias, we must look at it from another perspective. Unfortunately, some Christians seek to use their faith and religion to benefit themselves at the expense of another person. Oddly enough, people in the secular world seek out other people for the same reason. As a result, it brings people into conflict in thousands of ways.[12] To put it another way, when a believer spends all their time in worship services, prayer meetings, Bible Studies, Teaching, etc., it’s no wonder they have little time witnessing to a degenerate neighbor. You may put a note on their door or leave a tract on their doorstep that says, “God loves you,” but don’t expect any positive response because they have yet to see that love from you.

James Morgan (1859-1942) says it is necessary to observe, in particular, one marked feature in the character of Cain, contrasted with another in Abel, that brought them into a collision. Worldliness predominated in Cain, and godliness in Abel. Cain was a proud man that could not accept the fact that another person was preferred over him. In many cases, even today, some moralists find it intolerable that we consider any person more decent and virtuous simply because they claim to be a Christian. But, on the other hand, Abel was humble and neither sought nor affected any superiority, yet God rewarded him. Thus, the worldliness of Cain came into contact and collision with the godliness of Abel.  

No doubt Cain stigmatized it as hypocrisy, says Morgan because he hated it. He counted himself as good, if not a better, man than Abel, and probably did not hesitate to say so. The silent endurance of Abel only enraged Cain the more. And it probably happened when he could not provoke Abel into a fight. Cain could restrain his rage no more and rose and killed him. It is herein we discover the basis of the lesson that is before us. The world, of which Cain was a type, hates the godly, who Abel represents. Such dislike for godliness gets transferred to those who are the subjects of it. Therefore, heed the warning, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.”[13]

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) makes a good point here in verse thirteen. He says that hostility from the world must come out on its own; we should not poke sinners to make them angry. Carrying crosses and placards through a particular neighborhood are not the way to show compassion and love. Instead, you take up your cross to follow Jesus. Jesus did not provoke the Jews to hate Him and call for His crucifixion; He merely confessed who He was, the Son of God. Neither was the sign calling Jesus the “King of Judea” plastered around on Jerusalem’s walls, but only on the cross.[14]


[1] Romans 11:6

[2] See Alcibiades I by Plato, Translated by Benjamin Jowett

[3] Aristides by Plutarch  

[4] Origen, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, pp. 201-202

[5] Matthew 5:44

[6] Bunyan, John: Practical Works: Vol. 8, Seasonable Counsel or Advice to Sufferers, pp. 140-141

[7] Burkitt, William: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 769

[8] Rothe, Richard, The Expository Times, June 1893, p. 408

[9] Graham, W. (1857): The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 218-219

[10] Cornish, George James, The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., p. 186

[11] Lias, John J., The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 254-255

[12] Ibid. The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., p. 254

[13] Morgan, J. (1865): An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 227-228

[14] Hoon, Paul, The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., p. 262

About drbob76

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