This is the third study of my series of studies on John’s first epistle. If you have not read through the first two studies of this series, certainly be sure to do so! Also, if you have not read any of this season of studies, be sure to do so!
The third chapter of John’s first epistle continues in the thought about love. We have John speak about how true fellowship with the Lord works in the first study of this series. You will recall that John said that if we have fellowship with God, then we should have fellowship with all of those around us. As you have seen me say on several occasions, love is what our faith is built on! It is imperative that every believer move about with love in their heart (spirit).
Quick note for before you start this study: Studies are written out to be longer than my sermons and the Sunday School lesson commentaries. I skip a couple of weeks with posting bible studies because not everybody can complete a study in one sitting. Take your time and do not rush through my studies! Take it one day at a time if you need to do so. I will recommend a stopping point below for taking a break. Enjoy this study and share it with others!
Behold God’s Love
This chapter opens with John saying, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God (v.1).” If you have read one of my studies on the subject of love before, then you know that I often reference the Greek words of love. The reason why this is often done is because the New Testament was written in Greek.
Words of love
So, before I even get further into scripture, let’s go ahead and knock these Greek words for love out of the way so that we can understand the kind of love being talked about here. These are some of the Greek words of love that you will commonly see – érōs, philía, storgē, and agápē. I believe I once read that there are some seven to maybe even ten Greek words for love but for this study, we are going to stick with these four.
Eros: an erotic and sexual love. This type of love does not appear in the New Testament. The Greeks were big on erotic love – they built temples to their gods Eros and Aphrodite who they worshiped through sex.
Philia: is a friendly and brotherly type of love. This is a love that does appear in scripture. Storge: a familial type of love. Sometimes the love referenced in scripture is brotherly while at other times the love mentioned in scripture is familial. Any time scripture references God’s love, however, it is talking about love in its highest form.
God’s love, agápē, is a manner of love that is unconditional and pure. This form of love is a love that is compassionate towards others – not just family and friends but for strangers and even enemies. This love is an empathetic kind of love that instead of being selfish is selfless. This is the love of God that we see throughout scripture. John wants us to behold this manner of love in our study. I always say that when you want to understand true love, the first place you should look is at God.
Man’s opposition to God
John goes into speaking about the manner of love that is God’s love in the next few verses of this chapter. Let’s skip down to the fourth verse where John says, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness (v.4).” Now, John does not say this just to say it; no, there’s a reason for this statement. The reason being to illustrate God’s love towards us. How so, you ask? To answer that question, we must consider what we are.
Sin is lawlessness because it stands in opposition of God. When we say that God is righteous, we are saying that everything the Lord does is justified. John wrote that the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
God determines what is just and unjust. Man believes he determines what is right, but as Solomon said, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Prov. 14:12).” Why is this the case? Because such a way (a way without God) opposes the way that God has determined to be the just and right way.
Let’s remember that God gave the Israelites the Law for a purpose. The Israelites had been living all their life, before they received the Mosaic Law, in a way that they believed to be right. Yet, as we have learned, the Mosaic Law pointed out just how much the way of man opposes God. So, the reason God gave the Israelites the Law was so that they could live in a manner that He considered to be just.
Even with the Mosaic Law, we know that man continued to sin, right? In our world today, mankind still continues to oppose the way (the instructions) of God and live lawlessly. So, what does the Lord do about this? Did God turn to hatred and abandon the world? There are many people who believe that God is absent in our world today.
The manifestation of Christ
John, in the next few verses, begins to speak about the only begotten Son of God. He writes, “And you know that He (Christ) was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin (v.5).” In Christ, you will be able to behold the Lord’s love. Jesus, God in the flesh, said, “For God so loved the world (mankind) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”
I often say that if there is one scripture any person needs to hear and know, it is John 3:16. Why? Because it shows the love that God has towards all of us, even as sinners. Between the Old and New Testament, the Lord silently watched this world of ours. When I say silent, I mean that there were no prophets or signs from the Lord to the Jews or the rest of the world. Sin simply spread in the world and I believe that span of 400 years to be one of the darkest time periods, spiritually, in our world.
After that 400 years of silence, John the Baptist appeared on the scene preaching Christ and repentance while also baptizing with water unto repentance (Matt. 3:1-3, 11). Then Christ appeared shortly after and revealed the glory of God to mankind through His teachings and miracles. Afterwards, Jesus died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the grave confirming His deity to man.
All have sinned but all have been loved
Let us understand this: at one point in time, every person that lives or has lived, has been a sinner. This truth is inescapable for all of us! When Adam ate of the fruit in the garden, sin entered into God’s creation and began to pollute and to corrupt. Adam and Eve attempted to hide from God because they knew they had committed an act of opposition against God (Gen. 3:8).
Yet, this sinful act was met by a merciful God, right? Yes, He certainly put them out of the garden but not before providing them better clothing (Gen. 3:21). (In our sins, God still provides for us – Matt. 5:45.) One of their sons, Cain, murdered the other, Abel and yet Cain, while he was cursed (Gen. 4:11-13), was still allowed to live (Gen. 4:15); he married and had a family and even built a city.
Sin spread through the world and we were all born into a corrupt world. We learned how to live and do things that were taught to us by a corrupt world. To this day, many people suffer from solely living by a worldly logic that they have accepted to be the whole truth. All the while this is happening, God has an open door of access to any who wish to be forgiven of their lawlessness against Him. God still wants to be in fellowship with all of us, even though we trespass against Him!
Fellowship with God because of His love
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom. 5:10).” Note that Paul said that we were “enemies” of the Lord – because we stood in opposition.
In this epistle of John, John plainly says to us, “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning (v.8).” So, imagine being in fellowship with one who was once your enemy! I suppose, some of us do mature to the point that we can be acquainted with or friends with someone we may have not liked at one point in time. We consider such actions of love to be a huge step to take.
God, on the other hand, does not hesitate when it comes to loving those who once were as the devil. The Lord still wants to be in fellowship with someone who once stood in opposition against Him! God loves us and wants to be in fellowship with us! John writes that this is the purpose why Christ was manifested in our world – God being in fellowship with mankind (v.8). Sin prevented such fellowship from ever being possible, but Christ becoming the propitiation (appeasement sacrifice) for our sins makes such a fellowship possible.
Stopping point: you have made it through the first part of this study. Take a break if needed and return back to this point to continue. This is the bookmark point of this study. If you do not feel like pausing, let’s dive deeper into this study!
The Necessity of Love
Now, let’s pay very close attention to the next scripture in this chapter because I feel this is central to this chapter and even to our faith. John says, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother (v.10).”
Do you notice what John says is practicing the righteousness of God? It is not going to church worship service. It is also not going to bible study nor is it praying diligently. Yes, these are most certainly things that we do in our faith. However, there are many who attend worship service and go to bible study, but are not righteous in any way.
John says that the practice of righteousness comes down to whether or not we love our neighbor. I believe that there is a big misunderstanding when it comes to what faith looks like. What I mean by this is that many people have been taught that faith in God is going to church and praying. However, you should know that we go to worship service, bible study, and pray to God because we have faith in the Lord.
Faith, as you have probably heard, is an action. The verse that all of us have heard and know comes from James who stated, “faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:20, 26).” James was not talking about going to church service or to bible study when he wrote that scripture. So, if we are going to be righteous in God and say that we have faith in Him, then there is a practice that we must do. The practice: acting as God acts! God is love (1 John 4:8)! If God is love, then His children ought to be love as well!
What kind of fruit do you bear?
Now, let us also pay very close attention to John saying in that verse, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest.” The ‘this’ in this verse is the act of loving others. To manifest: to make evident or certain by showing or displaying. So, the act of loving others is revealing of who is truly a child of God and a child of the devil. Now, we must remember that the kind of love being spoken of here is the agápē love that we defined earlier. (Be sure to go back and look at that definition.)
Many years ago, when I first began preaching, one of the first series of sermons I did was about the fruit we bear. (That series is not online – I will need to re-preach that series!) I believe what John says in this tenth verse ties a great deal into the fruit that falls from our trees
In the teaching of the beatitudes, Jesus says to the apostles, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles (Matt. 7:15-16)?” Again, if you are a child of God, it will be evident by the fruit you bear and if you are a child of the devil, it will be evident by the fruit you bear.
False prophets will say all kinds of good things that are sweet to the ear, but their actions actually tell the truth. The problem that many of the religious leaders had in their day is that when Jesus arrived on the scene, they could no longer skate by on their words. Jesus was teaching the Jews to take a look at what they do and not necessarily at what they say.
John’s great concern
Now, if you recall from our most recent study in this series, John spoke to the spirit of antichrist. John said, “you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour (1 John 2:18).” Then John touched on a point that I mentioned in the last study when he said that those antichrists “went out from us, but they were not of us (1 John 2:19).”
The actions of ones who would call themselves a true believer was a great concern for the apostle John. John had met a great multitude of believers in his lifetime – from the days of walking with Jesus to the time he was known as “the elder”. In his later years, I picture a man who cared a great deal about the true believer and in this great care, he was concerned for them.
In the opening to this epistle, we saw that John was writing this epistle so that our fellowship with God could be true. In the second chapter, John plainly tells us that he did not want us to sin (1 John 2:1). In this third chapter, John is saying, again, that if you – who have called yourself a follower of Christ – are not practicing that agápē love, then you’re not living righteously.
If you are not practicing that agápē love and are calling yourself a follower of Christ, what kind of fruit do you suppose is falling from your tree? Seriously consider that thought for a moment. Jesus said, if we’re not practicing love, then good fruit is not falling from our tree. Jesus said, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18).”
Let’s not stop there, Jesus had more to add. He says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt. 7:19).” Jesus had been talking about prophets (teachers or preachers) in that section of scripture. That said, I believe this also holds true for any person who proclaims to be a follower of Christ but does not practice righteousness. John taught and said to his readers, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (v.15).”
Stopping point: you have made it through the second part of this study. Take a break if needed and return back to this point to continue. This is the bookmark point of this study. If you do not feel like pausing, let’s finish up this study!
How Our Love Should Work
As we come down to the end of this chapter that has focused a great deal on love, we see John speak to how our true agápē love should work. You will note that John, again, mentions the love of God and how Christ displayed His love towards us by laying down His life (v.16).
Let us remember what Jesus told the apostles about this. He said to them, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:12-13).” So, again, we see John teaching what he had been taught by Christ! He then says in that same verse that we should, “lay down our lives for the brethren.”
The high point we should strive for
Now, what does he mean here? First: should we literally be willing to lay down our life for others? I believe many of us would do this for those who we truly love, right? A mother and father, in most cases, we easily lay down their lives for their children. This is a kind of love that many of us cannot understand if we are not parents. That certainly sounds very similar to the kind of love that Jesus had for us.
Secondly: John specifically mentions the word brethren so, is he saying we should only be willing to lay down our lives for fellow believers? Actually, I do believe that is what John was saying here in that verse. Yet, to go a step further, Jesus laid down His life for all of those who would believe and those that would not believe. Jesus gave up His life for all people. I truly believe we should love all people, but there is certainly a greater love that we have for our brothers and our sisters, right?
Now, I don’t know how many of us would be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in Christ! I don’t believe I have reached that point just yet! I certainly would lay down my life for a few who I am close to, but I have a ways to go to get to the point that John is speaking of here. This is the high level of love that I believe we, especially as true believers, should be striving for.
Where we can begin
John gives us a starting point as to where we can begin in agápē love. He says, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him (v.17)?” So, in other words, when you are able to help those who are in need, you should not shut up your heart from them.
I feel like this is an easily understandable principle of love to understand because, how do you not help someone in need, right? This kind of love we know and understand at a very early age! A little toddler will help quickly help a fellow toddler, right? This, again, is the selfless love that is expected from agápē love.
James, in his epistle, wrote, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit (Jas. 2:15-16)?”
It does no good to wish well when you actually have the ability to do something to help one in need. This is why I get bothered sometimes when people talk about how they will pray for someone but never lift a hand to help when they can lift that hand. Most times, people don’t even bother with praying for the one in need which makes it even worse because certainly we can pray out of our love for someone, right?
Love is an action
We have essentially already stated that love is an action. You will recall that earlier in this study I said faith is an action. John makes this point as well when he says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (v.18).” Love is no good when it simply sits still, right? So our love must move, it must go to work.
There are a few more verses left in this chapter, but I feel like I want to end it with the point of not loving in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. Such a beautiful sentiment from the apostle John. John tells us that we should keep God’s commandments which Jesus said hung on loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (v.22) (Matt. 22:37-40).
We should always strive to keep God’s commandments and please the Lord. As John says in the last verse of this chapter, our goal is to abide in the Lord. If we keep His commandments, we know that we abide in Him and that He abides in us as well. What this means is that we know that by doing this, our fellowship with the Lord is true.
You see how it all ties in? I certainly hope that you enjoyed this study and that you will share this study with someone! I also hope that you will return for the next part of this study series. My goal is to have the next study be available by 3/24/21 and the last study of this season available by 4/14 or 4/21/21.