WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXII) 10/21/21

3:15 Anyone who hates his Christian brother or sister is a murderer at heart; you know that no one wanting to murder has eternal life within.

Also, the Greek verb eidō (“know”) means to “perceive, notice, discern, discover” something instinctively as self-evident. We know spontaneously that murder is incompatible with a believer’s eternal life in the Anointed One. Therefore, we can make a sweeping declaration that murder is fundamentally against one’s nature as a Christian. Everyone knows that as a generally accepted principle, murder is wrong; the same applies for hatred. So, it goes without explanation; God does not fellowship with Christians who commit mental murder.

Therefore, we must constantly remind ourselves that simply suppressing such evil thoughts will not solve the problem. Just because we bury it in one place, it will pop up somewhere else. The only way to honestly deal with this is to tell it like it is – our sinful tendencies are still at work. We must acknowledge that hatred of others violates our fellowship with God.  So, confess it and pray for the Spirit’s help in never doing it again. We dare not justify ourselves by rationalizing hate away. Keep in mind; if you understood why, you hate someone, you would better understand your animosity. Even if we can fool other Christians, we cannot fool the Lord. If we do not love our brother or sister, then we detest Him who is in them. Evil hostility not only hurts the person being disliked, but it also hurts the person who hates. It is self-induced misery. It will put the hater ultimately into sinful bondage.

COMMENTARY

Regarding the effects of hating instead of loving our spiritual brothers and sisters, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is asked whether hatred of a neighbor is the most grievous sin against them? Some think that it would seem that being hostile to a neighbor is the most grievous sin because of what the Apostle John says here in verse fifteen. And since it makes murder the most unfortunate of sins against a neighbor, so is hatred. We all know that “worst” is opposed to “best.” The “best” thing we can give our neighbors is everything ascribed to love. Therefore, hatred is the “worst.”

But Aquinas disagrees. We call something evil because it hurts, he says. There are sins by which a person harms their neighbor more than by hatred, such as theft, murder, and adultery. Therefore, hatred is not the most grievous sin. On the other hand, the commandments of the Anointed One include not being angry[1] or desiring what is not yours.[2] Obedience brings excellent rewards, while being angry and greedy are but minor transgressions. Now hatred is an internal movement like anger and desire. Therefore, hatred of one’s brother or sister is less grievous than murder.[3]

In expounding on the Ten Commandments (Hebrew: Ten Words), John Calvin focuses on the sixth, “You must not murder.”[4] Calvin finds this commandment significant since the Lord tied humanity together with the rope of unity. Consequently, we must consider everyone’s safety as entrusted to each of us. As such, all violence and injustice done to a neighbor are prohibited.

This commandment, notes Calvin, also forbids murderous ideas in our hearts and requires a sincere desire to preserve our brother and sister’s lives. The hand, indeed, commits the murder, but the mind, influenced by rage and hatred, conceives it. How can you be angry with your brother or sister without passionately longing to do them harm? If you must not be mad at them, neither must you hate them; hatred is nothing but untreated chronic anger.

So, regardless of how you may disguise the fact or try to escape from it by empty excuses, says Calvin, where either anger or hatred is, there is an inclination to harm. Therefore, if you persist in constantly evading any immediate action or clear explanation, the Spirit declared through the Apostle John that whoever hates their brother or sister is a murderer.[5] So also, our Savior told us that anyone with a lot of anger in their hearts against a brother or sister is guilty of murder. And carelessly calling a brother an “idiot!” might result in the authorities hauling you into court. Or, if you thoughtlessly yell “stupid!” at a sister, and you are on the ledge above hell’s fire.[6] The simple moral fact is that words can kill.[7]

While there is only one living and true God, says Charles Hodge (1797-1878), yet as there are three persons in the Godhead, and as these three are the same in substance, it follows that where the Father is, there the Son is, and where the Son is, there is the Spirit. Hence, our Lord says, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and We will come and make our home with each of them.”[8]  And the Apostle John states, “Anyone who hates another brother or sister is a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have any chance of eternal life.”[9] [10]

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) suggests that the Apostle John implies here that the person who hates their brother or sister has the spirit of a murderer; they have that which, if acted upon, would lead them to do bodily harm, as Cain did to Abel. Their hidden spitefulness, secret grudges, and the envy they cherish in their hearts are murderous in their tendency. So, if it were not for the outward restraints of human laws and the dread of punishment, it would often lead to the act of murder.

The Apostle John does not say, notes Barnes, that those who hate their fellow believers do not commit homicide. However, although they don’t kill anyone, they are just as guilty as if they did. John means that the spirit that would lead to murder is active, and God will hold them responsible for it. Nothing is lacking but the removal of outward restraints, which would lead to committing this awful deed. That’s why God judges’ people by what He sees in their hearts.[11]

William Graham (1810-1883) feels it is far more important to observe the Apostle John’s intention than his form of expression. He assures us that no murderer has eternal life in them. They are not Christian and can have no claim on the promises of life and immortality. They have not passed from being spiritually dead to being alive in the Anointed One. Furthermore, they have never tasted that the Lord is gracious, nor that the power of the Holy Spirit has renewed their heart. Brotherly love, therefore, is the test of discipleship, and we should stimulate our reborn spirits in daily fellowship with God’s children. Do we genuinely love them? Can we say we love all of them? Is our love them because they are part of us? No! We love them simply and solely because they belong to the Anointed One? In that case, we may confidently say, “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ but keeps hating their brother or sister, is a liar; for if they don’t love their brother and sister who is right there in front of them, how can they love God whom they have never seen?” Thus, the evidence of whom they belong to is in the open and provides all the proof necessary.[12]

Charles Moinet (1842-1913) says that sin is measured by one’s temperament, not by the act. Some may say the following words are a form of double-talk. “I hate this person, it is true, but I would not harm them for anything in the world.” So, we can agree, there is a big difference between the feeling of resentment or even a long-running quarrel, such as the one between Cain and Abel that ended up costing Abel his life.

As for the essence of the words here in verse fourteen, says Moinet, it is enough to say that they proceed from the Apostle of Love and that, if genuine, we should share them with everyone. In addition, if you find fault with John, you must find the same fault with yourself. Have you considered what having an unforgiving and unloving attitude really means? These reflect selfish and impure desires. They are like tall weeds that show which way the wind is blowing. They also serve as symptoms of a fatal spiritual disorder. As such, we cannot dismiss them simply by changing our mood or our manner of worship? Be assured, there is only one thing that can save a person, and that is the grace of God through the Anointed One. We have the promise that where sin is prevalent, grace is more predominant. It provides forgiveness when we come to God, and He cleanses us from all wrongdoing. So, with God’s love in us, we fulfill the requirements of the law.[13]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) notes that the Apostle John says hatred is one of the most dreadful sins, since it is equivalent to murder. Look at what happened to Abel. It has been a longstanding rule that a person must pay for taking another’s life with their life. The same is true with a Christian who assassinates another brother or sister’s character or reputation; they lose their spiritual life. However, to be a hateful person does not mean there is no divine life left in them. Thus, they are not in danger of losing their eternal life, since it wasn’t theirs in the first place.[14]


[1] Matthew 5:22

[2] Luke 12:15

[3] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 3, pp. 440-441; 836-838

[4] Exodus 20:13 – New Living Translation (NLT)

[5] 1 John 3:15

[6] Matthew 5:22

[7] John Calvin: Institutes, Bk. 2, Ch. 8, p. 425

[8] John 14:23

[9] 1 John 3:15

[10] Charles Hodge: Commentary on Romans, op. cit., p. 406

[11] Albert Barnes: New Testament Notes, op. cit., p. 4850

[12] Graham, W. (1857). The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 223-224

[13] Moinet, Charles: The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., pp. 198, 204

[14] Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit. p. 181

About drbob76

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