God created family to be a blessing, but from the beginning it was a battlefield. The first married couple hindered and blamed each other. Their children hated and killed each other. Their lack of love led to spiritual and physical death.
So, God created a new family in Christ—His church. They are clearly identified, not by size, shape or color, but by the practice of genuine love. “Christ-like love” is the spiritual DNA marker that identifies the true children of God (Eph. 5:1-2).
The apostle John wrote to churches who desperately needed a way to identify God’s true children. Some of their friends left the local church claiming to have superior knowledge to the apostles (1 John 2:18:27). They possessed the “real truth.” They were God’s “real children.” Everyone claimed to be in God’s family, so how could they distinguish the true from the false?
John provides three markers of the Divine parentage. First, faith is rooted in the sufficient message of the apostles (1 John 2:18-27—Doctrinal). Second, behavior is characterized by purity (1 John 2:28-3:10—Moral). Third, and the easiest to detect, God’s children love each other (1 John 3:11-24—Social). Love is the language God’s children are taught from birth.
“This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11)
God’s love made us His children (1 John 3:1), and we continue in the family only so long as we express that love to others. What a wonderful and most challenging truth!
However, sometimes love is lost between brothers. This is more than a tragedy. It is the work of “the evil one” (3:12). It aligns us with Cain who murdered his brother, was cursed by God, and cast out of society. At the root of this hostility is a hatred of righteousness. The truth of God is offensive to those who want to practice sin (3:12; John 3:19-20), and they seek to destroy God’s family with hatred and violence (1 Pet. 4:3-4). John’s readers personally experienced this sting of persecution (3:13; John 15:18-19; 17:14; 16:1-4).
God’s children should respond to such hatred with deeper love, especially for each other. Love is the evidence of our spiritual life. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (3:14). No one can rightly claim God as their Father when they fail to love His children! Conversely, each act of love deepens our confidence that we have “eternal life abiding” in us (3:15).
Cain is an example of the world’s hatred for God’s children, but Jesus is our model of how to love God’s children. Love is more than sweet sentimentality. Love is exquisitely defined by Jesus. Like a line out of a dictionary, John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (3:16). Love is about laying down “self” for others. And we expect John to continue with, “So lay down your life for Jesus,” but he does not! He says, we respond to the love of Jesus by “laying down our lives for the brothers” (3:16). Love is the daily act of laying down our time, money and ambitions, to do what is spiritually best for others.
John wants us to see how practical this love must be. Love must go beyond “word and talk” into practical “deeds” (3:18). We must open our eyes to see the needs of our spiritual family. These needs must then move our hearts to use all the varied resources God gives us to help them. This is how we know “God’s love abides in us” (3:17). Expressing genuine, practical love for God’s family is what identifies you as God’s child.
Once the mind understands Christ-like love, the conscience begins to wrestle with it. “Do I really love my spiritual family with the sacrificial intimacy of Jesus?” If Jesus worshiped with my church, how would He love the family of God? Am I loving them like that? Call your conscience to bear witness: “Do your actions demonstrate that you love God’s family?” Be honest. Your conscience stands before the Judge who knows the truth. Ultimately, His verdict is all that matters (see 3:19-21).
When our conscience gives evidence of brotherly love it results in a tremendous confidence that we are God’s child! “We have confidence before God” that “we abide in God and God in us” (3:21,24), because we love His family.
Armed with the love of Jesus we can pray powerful prayers (3:22) that Jesus will answer (John 15:7). Our prayers will not be selfish or worldly. They will be filled with the needs of others for their eternal good and God’s glory.
It is often said, “The breakdown of the family results in the ruin of a nation.” However, when there is a breakdown of love in God’s family the consequences are more than tragic. Some churches live in a post-war rubble because of a lack of love. However, every sacrificial service, every kind act, every forgiving word, every generous gift builds up the family of God so the world can see our Father. So, go ahead. Be His child and love His family…He does!
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
Bible Class notes on 1 John 3:11-24 (these were written for my personal use, so be merciful to me with any grammar mistakes)
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