1 John 3 Commentary


Right behaviour for God’s children (3:1-10)

John cannot find words to express his feelings when he considers the great love God has shown in making sinful people his children. They now think and act according to the nature of their heavenly Father, with the result that unbelievers, who think and act according to the world’s standards, cannot understand them (3:1). God’s children know little about the nature of life in the world to come, but they know at least that in some way they will be like Christ. This is good reason for them to become as much like Christ as possible in their present lives. They should be pure in thought and behaviour as he was (2- 3).

According to the bold assertions of the false teachers, knowledge is all-important and behaviour does not matter. John contradicts this, pointing out that sin is the breaking of God’s law. Therefore, if people deliberately carry on sinning, they know neither God who gave the law nor Christ who takes away sin.

John is not saying that Christians cannot sin (he has already shown the impossibility of this in 1:6-10), but that they do not sin as they like. They may have failures and make mistakes, but they do not sin habitually (4-6).

The behaviour of people shows whether they belong to Christ or the devil. They cannot belong to both, as the two are opposed to each other (7-8). If they are true Christians, they will have a divine power within them fighting the devil so that they might not sin. If they sin habitually, it shows that they are not Christians (9-10).

God’s children love one another (3:11-24)

Since Christians do what is right and refuse what is wrong, their lives will be characterized by love. But the world will not respond kindly to their goodness, just as Cain did not respond kindly to Abel’s (11- 12). When sinners are shamed by the uprightness of others, the outcome usually is that they hate them for it (13). Hate produces murder, and murder is obviously not a characteristic of the Christian (14-15).

Those who have genuine love, instead of taking the lives of others, would rather sacrifice their own. Self-sacrifice, even in the everyday things of life, is the chief characteristic of love. Love is proved by actions, not words, as Jesus Christ showed, and Christians must follow his example (16-18).

With such high standards before them, some Christians may feel guilty that they have failed to practise this love. They may even doubt their salvation. John assures them that they have no need for uncertainty. God knows their good intentions and sees even those acts of kindness of which they themselves are not aware. They must not doubt, but have confidence when they come into his presence (19-21). If they are obedient to his commands, they can be assured that he will answer their prayers. The indwelling Spirit reinforces this assurance and enriches their fellowship with God (22-24).

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