Read 1 John 3:11-24
I’m one of those who was raised under the adage of “actions speak louder than words.” My mom and dad didn’t have much to give financially, but that never prevented them from showing kindness to others and giving what they could. They taught us to do the same. For many years, I heard the louder call to get a good education, high paying job, and take care of my family by working hard. None of this is terrible, of course, unless we learn the lesson to ignore our brothers and sisters in need. These short verses provide a call to action, a demand to do something more than just talking about the other side of town.
John begins by reminding his readers about the age-old story of Cain and Abel.
Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 1 John 3:12
Here’s a brief overview of the story in Genesis 4 from Hebrews:
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. Hebrews 11:4
In short, Cain didn’t select an offering that was of any value; he merely grabbed some fruits of the soil. Abel was careful to select choice meat from some of the firstborn from his flock. Abel’s choice revealed his thoughtfulness while Cain’s offering was something like, “here, this should do.” That did not sit well with God. The story of Cain and Abel is an interesting story that compels us to look for the root cause of the problem–a matter of the heart.
So where is our heart? John removes the gloves and smacks us with this reality:
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 1 John 3:15
He’s repeating lessons he learned from Jesus. The bar is raised high for those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers. In this case, hate equals murder. And the punishment for murder is death.
That’s hard to hear, but John isn’t done yet. The next challenge is the center of daily conversation at our home.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18
Is this why we distance ourselves from those in need? Not knowing every Chris, JC, John, Bill, Lucy, etc., means they can’t be my brother or sister; therefore, I don’t need to care for them. If I keep my head down and eyes averted, I can avoid John’s call for compassion. I hope you feel the tension in this approach.
Who is my brother or sister? Who is my neighbor? Honestly, if I find myself asking these types of questions, I’m pretty sure I not only know the answers, but I am most likely guilty of being cold-hearted. I am not acting as one who is a son of God, adopted into His royal family.
John reminds us we should not be this way! If we jump back to Genesis 4 and read the whole story of Cain and Abel, we see a God who gives second chances all the time. Even for murderers. For those of us who have chosen to follow Christ, we should want to do that which pleases Him. As a bonus, He promises to give us anything we ask.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 1 John 3:21-22
The verse above implies that we keep his commands. John makes this as clear as possible in the very next verse:
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 1 John 3:23
Why is it so hard to love one another? That’s a trick question, of course. If you get to know me well enough, I will no doubt let you down at some point. Not that I mean to but I am hopelessly human. I will make mistakes. I will misinterpret your intentions and say something hurtful. It’s hard to love one another because it requires a genuinely selfless heart that is more focused on what God than personal agendas.
The prize is worth the effort.
The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 1 John 3:24
God promises to live in us, His Holy Spirit.
Search your hearts, all those who call Jesus Lord and Savior. See that God is there all along, even when we make mistakes. Who is your neighbor now? Who are your brothers and sisters? If the Spirit lives inside you, I think you know the answer now.
Now that you know go out and love others. Go out with confidence knowing that the Father is smiling.