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1 John 3:11–15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and violently slaughtered his brother. And for what reason did he slaughter him? Because his deeds were evil, and the ones of his brother were righteous.
Love One Another
13 Do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed over from death to life because we love the brothers. The one who does not love remains in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.
Again we hear the message of love from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (2:7). Before learning what love is, we read what love is not. We should not be like Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel, because Cain’s actions were evil, while Abel’s were righteous. Abel’s righteousness apparently engendered profound resentment—anger great enough to prompt murder. Just as Cain resented Abel’s righteousness, so the world will resent our righteousness. As a result, just as Cain hated Abel, so the world will despise Christians. This again counters the claims of the antichrists to be righteous Christians, while manifesting a lack of love and even a hatred toward true Christians.
True Christians, those born of God, have love for their brothers placed in their hearts by the Lord, so that we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Loving our brothers does not give us eternal life. God does that through Christ. If we have eternal life, we will manifest it by loving our brothers. We may have difficulty loving some Christians who make it hard to love them, but a fundamental desire to love them will show through our lives. Even Jesus’ disciples quarreled among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. That was an unloving thing to do. It did not, however, relegate them to the realm of the unsaved.
Next in the succession of challenging declarations is that anyone who does not love remains in death; if anyone hates his brother, he is a murderer; and no murderer has eternal life in him. We must again stop to consider what John might have meant by this statement. The options are the same as the previous difficult statements.
- The Face-Value View. This view takes the words at face value. If you hate your brother to the point of being willing to murder him, or if you actually murder him, you are not a Christian. This level of hatred is incompatible with the regenerate life. Does this mean that a person who has killed someone cannot be saved? History, I think, disproves that option.
- The Abiding View. Zane Hodges writes in the Bible Knowledge Commentary that “it is an illusion to believe that a real Christian is incapable of hatred and murder” (p. 896). He cites the examples of David when he killed Uriah the Hittite and of Peter who warned his Christian readers not to let any of them suffer as a murderer (1 Pet. 4:15).
The key to this view is the word abiding which the NIV does not translate. We could translate more literally, “No murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” The Christian, as long as he is abiding in Christ—or living in conscious fellowship with Christ—would certainly never murder anyone. If he murders someone, it is because he is not abiding in Christ. In this sense, eternal life and Christ must be seen as synonyms.
Again, we must appeal to the context. All of us can recall times when we have not loved our brothers, or we can think of people we don’t like to associate with. As a result, we can conclude that we are not Christians. This would be an overreaction. John writes in a context of extreme contrasts. He does not suggest that we are not Christian if we love imperfectly.
3. The Continuing-to-Hate View. The final view of these verses treats hate and murder the same as “sin” in verses 6 and 9. A Christian might hate or murder someone, but if this happened, he or she would be overcome with remorse. If a person is willing to harbor habitual hate, or have no remorse at murder, that person is not a Christian. No one whose life is characterized by hate or murder can be a Christian.
NOTE BY EDWARD D. ANDREWS: Christians must love their brothers and sisters in the faith. This does not mean that we love the pseudo-Christians. It is referring to true Christians in the faith. We do have a love for false Christians in a different sense, in that we do what Jude said, save them from the fire. In other words, we try to reason with them from the Scriptures, explaining, proving, and persuading if possible. But we do not water down or soften the Word of God to get along with false Christians. Our objective is to apply and obey the Word of God, not please man.
By David Walls and Max Anders