By Dr. Robert R Seyda



3:16 So now we can tell who is a child of God and who belongs to Satan. Whoever is living a life of sin and doesn’t love his brother shows that he is not in God’s family;

But his readers’ icon, says Yarbrough, is supposed to be the Anointed One.[1] However, in verse sixteen, John will make this explicit. Love for others may be considered easy in affluent Western settings, where insulation from such haters is possible. But Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca (BC 4-65 AD), writing approximately in AD 50, is more realistic and honest. He frankly points out “how we gain nothing by getting rid of all personal causes of sadness, for sometimes we are possessed by hatred of the human race. When you reflect how rare simplicity is, how unknown innocence, how seldom faith is kept, unless it is to our advantage.”[2] But Seneca suggests a better strategy, says Yarbrough: not John’s technique of love but the Stoic’s approach of contempt. Laugh! Scoff and be cynical! “He who after surveying the universe cannot control his laughter shows, too, a greater mind than he who cannot restrain his tears, because his mind is only affected in the slightest possible degree, and he does not think that any part of all these apparatuses is either important, or serious, or unhappy.”[3] In other words, act as though it doesn’t matter whether you love others or not.

Seneca’s forthrightness is admirable, but John points to a better solution. It is easy to write people off, but believers were called to a road higher than dismissive ridicule or bitter resignation. In verse sixteen, John infers that Jesus’ followers ought to lay down their lives for each other. “Ought” (Greek opheilō) occurs twice in John’s Epistles. Each instance points to the Anointed One[4] or God[5] as examples to respect as a divine pattern. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples that by imitating His model, they “ought to wash one another’s feet.[6] But here, John makes the same point but uses a metaphor from Golgotha rather than the Upper Room. Early Christians frequently had to risk their lives doing their duties.[7] The Anointed One’s precedent furnishes believers with a mandate, even though a response will be costly.[8]

Judith Lieu (1951) notes that failure to love was hidden in Cain, while Jesus openly displayed its presence in the Priest and Levite.[9] So, are we like Cain or Jesus? Such self-sacrifice means taking a risk. You willingly put yourself in the line of fire. Jesus was not blessed or complimented while dying on the cross. Instead, the soldiers stood around and made fun of Him. The same may happen to you. Regarding our Lord, He endangered His life to benefit us, to remove sin’s penalty of death from over our heads. And what did God do? He raised Him to life and thereby purchased everlasting life for us. We note that Peter, James, John, and Paul did the same thing to honor their Lord and Savior with the promise of being raised to everlasting life when He returns.[10]

But another thing to consider is that surrendering one’s life does not always mean suffering physical death. Jesus’ words to His disciples make that clear: “For whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will save it.”[11] In other words, anyone who demands complete control over their life to live the way they want is a loser. But if you surrender your life to Jesus, you will end up with more abundant life. And keep this in mind: Every time a woman goes into labor to give birth, she puts her life at risk. But when it is over, she enjoys her new baby, which is an extension of her life. So, it is when we are willing to suffer labor pains in helping to give birth to a new child of God.

Marianne M. Thompson (1954) points out that the readers understand that love is a central theme and concern at this point in the Apostle John’s epistle. So, now, John says it is about time that we know what Love is.[12] To begin with, it is actual and active, not felt or imagined; it is not something we explain but something we express. Thompson says that learning what Love implies involves a representation and a revelation, an example, and enlightenment. Jesus represents Love at its highest degree; the Spirit opens our eyes to the understanding of Love to its fullest extent. Both of these involve selflessness and self-sacrifice. We don’t just admire Love; we apply Love.[13] Standing onshore and yelling to a drowning friend to try and stay afloat is one thing, but diving in and keeping them afloat is entirely different.

Bruce B. Barton (1954) says that believers need only look at their Lord for an example to understand real love. They can know love by this, that He laid down His life for all people. The Anointed One’s model shows believers that real love involves self-sacrifice, which John points out, [14] must result in self-sacrificial actions. Because He is our example, we believers must be willing to lay down our lives for one another. It is done by becoming genuinely concerned about the needs of Christian brothers and sisters and by putting aside our wants to give time, effort, prayer, and possessions to supply those needs. Such an attitude would result in actually dying for a brother or sister if this were ever necessary. Believers’ lives should not be more precious to them than God’s Son was to Him.[15]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) states that we come to an acquired and abiding knowledge of what love is when we consider the punitive, substitutionary sacrifice of  God’s Son on our behalf. He lived the life we should be living but didn’t. And He died the death we should have died, but now don’t have to die. Love, at its core, is about self-sacrifice and self-substitution. And in our case, it is for those who are entirely unworthy. In the song “You Are My King,” the author, Chris Tomlin, reminds us that our King died on our behalf! Once we accept and comprehend this amazing truth, our only reasonable reaction is to honor God. If we truly understand the magnitude of what God did for us and the implications for eternity, we will feel obligated to show gratitude. It is more than merely being thankful; we will joyfully present our lives to God as a living sacrifice in grateful worship.[16] That is precisely what the Apostle John tells us. Out of “Gospel gratitude” for laying down His life for us, “we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters.” Jesus said it like this: “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down their life for their friends.”[17] [18]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) agrees that to know something means “to have knowledge of,” and knowledge comes from acts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education and the practical understanding of a subject. So, that’s what the Apostle John has been saying from the start: Here is how we know, we heard, saw, and touched the Word of God in the flesh. But I also know, repeats John, because I was there when He laid down His life on our behalf, and I looked into His grave, and it was empty; I was also present when He came into the Upper Room after His resurrection. So, that’s why I can tell you, this is how we know what love is.[19]

The same is true of the believer today. You can tell the world, “I know I’m saved.” I was there when I heard the message of salvation preached; I felt the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that drew me with love to the altar, where I knelt and repented of my sins and asked God to forgive me. I then experienced the feeling of joy that flooded my heart, soul, and mind when Jesus moved in to live in my heart. In Gospel singer CeCe Winans’ words: “You weren’t there the night He found me you did not feel what I felt when He wrapped His loving arms around me.”[20] For the first time, I was able to see what a miserable sinner I was and what a happy child of God I became because of His love, grace, and mercy. That’s how I know!

David Guzik (1961) asks, what is love? How we define love is essential. If we define love the wrong way, then everyone passes, or no one passes, the love test. To understand the Biblical idea of love, we should begin by understanding the vocabulary of love among the ancient Greeks, who gave us the original language of the New Testament:

  • Eros was one word for love. It comes, as we might guess, from the root word itself, erotic love. So, it referred to sexual love.
  • Storge is another word for love. It referred to family love, the kind of love between a parent and child or between family members in general.
  • Philia is also a word for love. It spoke of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. Therefore, we can describe Philia as the highest love that one is capable of without God’s help.
  • Agape is the divine word for love. It describes an affection that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. Not only that, but it is love so great, we can give it to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given – it gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive.

[1] Ibid. 2:6

[2] Seneca, Lucius, On Tranquility of Mind, XV ⁋1a

[3] Ibid. XV ⁋1b

[4] 1 John 2:6

[5] Ibid. 4:11

[6] John 13:14

[7] See Acts 15:26; Romans 16:4; Philippians 2:30

[8] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 201-203

[9] Cf. Luke 10:25-37

[10] Lieu, Judith, I, II, & III John – N.T. Library, op. cit., pp. 149-150

[11] Luke 9:24

[12] Cf. 1 John 4:8-10, 16

[13] Thompson, Marianne M., 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 103-104

[14] 1 John 3:17-19

[15] Barton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., p. 75

[16] Romans 12:1

[17] John 15:13

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

[19] Schuchard, Bruce G., 1-3 John – Concordia, op. cit., pp. 381-382

[20] Winans, CeCe, “Alabaster Box

About drbob76

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