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1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 and 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. 13 Do not wonder, brethren that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love; that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But if any one 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? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”

It seems that there is conflict and strife among the people John is writing to. John wants his readers to see how this new life we have in Christ affects all of our relationships, especially here with fellow believers.

John begins this section by mentioning Cain and urging his readers to not be like him, but to love one another. He reminds them that Cain murdered his brother and he says that he did this because “his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” What was it about Cain’s deeds that were evil and why is he the one John chooses to serve as a contrast to the kind of behavior John hopes to encourage?

The story of Cain and Abel is found in Genesis 4:3-16. Cain brought the Lord “an offering of the fruit of the ground,” while Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” God “had regard” for Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. Cain reacted to this in great anger and God said to him, “‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance 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 for you, but you must master it.’”

Cain did not give an offering God had regard for, perhaps because it was not of the first of his crop. But God does not reject him for this and it appears from God’s response to Cain that Cain has every reason to believe that if he listens to God and goes on and does what is acceptable, God will have regard for his offering as well. But instead Cain is envious of his brother. He is preoccupied in comparing himself with his brother. He is more angry that his brother has God’s regard than he is in making the necessary changes in his own life and having a better relationship with God. This really comes through when he does not heed God’s encouragement and warning, but rather allows his jealousy to eat away at him until he actually murders Abel.

(How this will be more acceptable to God must have not crossed his mind. It probably was never at the top of his mind; just doing better and getting more approval than others must have been what was really his aim, even when he gave his first offering).

John goes on in the next verse to remind his readers that it is not surprising that the world hates them. There are many Cains out there whom God is encouraging and warning, but they are more interested in accusing Christians of claiming to be “holier than thou.”

I think John also sees that part of what tempts Christians to be jealous and envious of each other, as Cain was, is the world’s negative reaction to them for being Christians. The pressure from living in a hostile world and a desire to be liked and accepted by those in the world easily leads to comparing ourselves with our sisters and brothers. We look at other’s lives and are tempted to feel better about ourselves if they are in trouble or in doubt or are not as mature as we are. Or we are tempted to be jealous of them and to look for flaws in their lives or make cynical remarks about them to others. Being threatened, we put others down. When we focus more on the other person, we become distracted from our own relationship with God-- the only thing we can really do anything about.

John reminds them in v. 14, that they have passed out of death into life. When we get caught up in comparisons in such a way as to lead to jealousy, then we are acting as if we do not live in a new life. We have died--we no longer have to justify ourselves to others, or even to ourselves. We have handed our lives over to Jesus. He is the only one who can tell us who we are, tell us our story--and it is a story that is still unfolding. In fact it is not yet clear what any of us who are in Christ will be. Paul says our lives are hid in Christ. This makes our tendency toward comparison, envy, and hate even more crazy. Only Jesus knows the truth about me and about others. John is encouraging his readers (again!) to focus all their energy on abiding in the one who is light, who has separated them from their sins, who has made them His children, and who is continuing to make this truth manifest in all of our lives.

John wants to impress on his readers how deadly this kind of thinking is. He says in v.15 that anyone “hates his brother is a murderer.” To continue down a path of comparison is to be in danger of being eaten out from inside. To think of becoming more concerned with hating our sister or brother, than letting God tell us about the child He made us to be!

What is love? Well, instead of destroying another’s life, love is when Jesus laid down his life for us. For Cain to have not killed Abel, he would have had to kill the jealousy and hatred inside him. When Jesus died for us, he died to all of our hate, jealousy and sin. We can accept His death for us, a death we could not accomplish on our own, and we can abide in His new life for us. As we grab a hold of this new life, we can see what an utter waste of time it is to be comparing ourselves to other Christians, indeed how destructive it is.

In the last 3 verses of this passage John speaks of right relationship between ourselves and other Christians. We are to lay down our lives for one another. There is a lot that could be said on the meaning of these words. I just want to focus on two things. First of all, Jesus laid down His life out of the fullness of His life with the Father. He did not do it to be approved/liked, or because He needed to. He knew who He was, He knew where He was going, and He loved us just as we needed to be loved in the deepest, most profound way. We can only lay down our lives, by first and continually receiving the life He gave us by His life, death, and resurrection.

Secondly, I think it means that when we lay down our lives for others we are participating in God’s own giving of His life to that person, looking to see what He is doing in their lives and calling us to be a part of it.

In the last 2 verses, John makes the point that love is something we do more than something we feel. We choose to love others out of trust in God’s work in us and in them. If the feelings of love are not there, we can trust in God to change that in us as we act in love out of our faith.

I found this an interesting passage to work through. John is warning us not to get caught up in either puffing ourselves up or tearing ourselves or others down in order to make ourselves feel better. The truth is we are not perfect--as John said in the 1st chapter. Our hope is not in being at least better than so-and-so, but is in the living God who has shown us that He is trustworthy to heal us completely and make us truly whole. As we give up justifying ourselves and allow God to show us all that He is healing us from, we can experience more and more the freedom to love our sisters and brothers rather than compare ourselves with them. He will continue to remind us of these things, whenever we find ourselves ready to beat ourselves up or tear others down.

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