3:16 – The Rest of the Story – God’s Fulfillment of His Plan 9: 1 John

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan (Current location of study)
  • Our Response

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” – 1 John 3:16

This is the final study in the third part (God’s Fulfillment of His Plan) of this series on the 3:16s of the Bible. It is, in a way, a transitional one to the final phase of this study series – Our Response. In this study we see how Jesus, through the apostle John, teaches his Church how we are to love one another and how that love is demonstrative of God’s fulfillment of His plan for His people.

The context for this week’s verse is 1 John 3:11-24. The chapter actually begins with the statement, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” This is a cause and effect relationship that is part of God’s plan: He gave His love to us so that we could be his children. John offers the following discourse, then, to help explain this relationship.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

John begins this section by giving a practical example of non-love. When he says that the expectation to love one another is the message that has been taught from the beginning it is a two-fold statement. It refers to this message as fundamental to New Testament gospel/Christian teaching, but it’s also fundamental to all of Scripture, beginning with the first book of Genesis. Cain and Abel were the first two offspring of the human race, being the first two children born to Adam and Eve. Hence, from the beginning right standing (righteousness) before God was evidenced by the existence of love between family members.

Now, Cain and Abel were genetic brothers, but they were also representative of spiritual brothers through their relationship with God. Their relationship with each other was hindered by the fact that they had differing relationships with God. Genesis 4:4-5 says, “the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” We read in the next few verses God’s message to Cain: “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Cain’s attitude toward his brother stemmed from his attitude toward God. He was angry with God and this drove his choices. God told him that he must make deliberate choices which would overcome or overshadow that anger in order to avoid sin.

John continues by saying, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” In other words, our right relationship with God (through faith in Jesus) sets us at odds with those who are not in right relationship with God (those who reject faith in Jesus), just as Abel was hated by Cain because of his right relationship with God. John is specifically talking about the love we should have for “the brothers”, e.g. those who are part of the family of God. He says, in this week’s 3:16 verse,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

John turns from a negative example (Cain and Abel) to a positive one (Jesus). He says “By this we know love.” The “this” is the substitutionary sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf to verify God’s love for us – just as John told us in his gospel 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John then points out that this attitude of love that God has for us should be the same attitude we should have “for the brothers“. He says we ought to lay down our lives, but then clarifies that in the next verse by indicating that self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is not limited to physically dying, but rather to dying to our own selfishness as well. He says, in verses 17-18,

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Our attitude should be for to see what we can do for the benefit of our (God’s) family. He continues in verse 19:

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;

Our dedication to love for God’s family is our reassurance that we are in right relationship with God. However, as with Cain, sin still “crouches at the door” to lure us and turn our heart in directions it shouldn’t go, but John assures us that “God is greater than our heart” and we need to remember that and trust God. He says it this way:

for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.

John continues with the reminder that when our relationship with God is right, we can have when we approach him in prayer.

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

John wraps things up with this topic by reminding us of the fundamentals of the gospel and God’s plan revealed through all of Scripture.

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

This reiterates what Jesus said when asked to identify the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34-40): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He says that all of Scripture is tied to these two relational aspects – our relation to God and our relation to others. Hence we move into the final phase of this study of the 3:16s in the Bible – Our Response. We’ll look at Hebrews 3:16 next time.

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