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1 John 3:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
By this we know love. That is, we know what true love is; we see a most affecting and striking illustration of its nature. Love itself—its real nature, power, sacrifices, and influences—was seen in its highest form when the Son of God gave himself to die on the cross. See John 3:16; 15:13.
That he laid down his life for us. There can be no doubt that the Savior is here referred to, though his name is not mentioned particularly. There are several instances in the New Testament where he is mentioned under the general appellation ‘he,’ as one who was well known and about whom the writers were accustomed to speak.
We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. For the good of our fellow Christians, if it is necessary. That is, circumstances may occur where it would be proper to do it, and we ought always to be ready to do it. The spirit that led the Savior to sacrifice his life for the church’s good should lead us to do the same thing for our brothers if circumstances require it. That this is a correct principle no one can doubt; for (1) the Savior did it, and we are bound to imitate his example and to possess his spirit; (2) the prophets, apostles, and martyrs did it, laying down their lives in the cause of truth, and for the good of the church and the world; and (3) it has always been held that it is right and proper, in certain circumstances, for a man to lay down his life for the good of others. So we speak of the patriot who sacrifices his life for the good of his country; so we feel in the case of a shipwreck, that it may be the duty of a captain to sacrifice his life for the good of his passengers and crew; so in case of a pestilential disease, a physician should not regard his own life, if he may save others; and so we always hold the man up to honor who is willing to jeopardize his own life on noble principles of self-denial for the good of his fellow-men. In what cases this should occur, the apostle does not state, but the general principle would seem to be that it is to be done when a greater good would result from our self-sacrifice than from carefully guarding our own lives. Thus, in the case of a patriot, his death, in the circumstances, might be of greater value to his country than his life would be or his exposing himself to death would be a greater service to his country than if that should not be done. Thus, the Savior laid down his life for the good of mankind; thus, the apostles exposed their lives to constant peril in extending the principles of religion; and thus, the martyrs surrendered their lives for the cause of the church and of truth. In like manner, we ought to be ready to hazard our lives and even to lay them down if, in that way, we may promote the cause of truth and the salvation of sinners or serve our Christian brethren. In what way the primitive Christians understood this injunction, may be perceived from what the world is reported to have said of them, ‘Behold, how they love one another; they are ready to die for one another.’—Tertull. Apol. c. 39. So Eusebius (Eccl. His. vii. 22) says of Christians that ‘in a time of plague they visited one another, and not only hazarded their lives, but actually lost them in their zeal to preserve the lives of others.’ We are not indeed to throw away our lives; we are not to expose them in a rash, reckless, imprudent manner; but when, in the discharge of duty, we are placed in a situation where life is exposed to danger, we are not to shrink from the duty, or to run away from it. Perhaps the following would embrace the principal instances of the duty here enjoined by the apostle: (1.) We ought to have such love for the church that we should be willing to die for it, as a patriot is willing to die for his country. (2.) We ought to have such love for Christians as to be willing to jeopardize our lives to aid them—as in case of pestilence or plague, or when they are in danger by fire, or flood, or foes. (3.) We ought to have such love for the truth as to be willing to sacrifice our lives rather than deny it. (4.) We ought to have such love for the cause of our Master as to be willing to cross oceans, and snows, and sands; to visit distant and barbarous regions, though at imminent risk of our lives, and though with the prospect that we shall never see our country again. (5.) We ought to have such love for the church that we shall engage heartily and constantly in services of labor and self-sacrifice on its account, until, our work being done, exhausted nature shall sink to rest in the grave. In a word, we should regard ourselves as devoted to the service of the Redeemer, living or dying to be found engaged in his cause. If a case should actually occur where the question would arise whether a man would abandon his Christian brother or die, he ought not to hesitate; in all cases, he should regard his life as consecrated to the cause of Sion and its friends. Once, in the times of primitive piety, there was much of this spirit in the world; how little it is to be feared, does it prevail now!
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews