Throughout John’s letter there are several topics that seem to be recurring. These topics are not necessarily a repetition, but rather, a peeling back of various layers that takes us deeper into what is needful to be in right fellowship with God and with one another. One of those recurring topics is the topic of love. In 1 John 3:11-24 we see three types of relationship, two of which are expressed negatively and the other positively.
Relationship expressed by hatred. 1 John 3:11-15 says,“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” John reiterates the fact that the message we have heard from the beginning is that we should love one another. This is a lesson that is engrained in the life of every born-again believer at the time of their conversion. God puts within us a love for one another and this love is commanded of us by our Lord. There is a difference, however, between loving someone and being unloving. Many times Christians can act unloving toward one another. “We may have difficulty loving some Christians who make it hard to love them, but a fundamental desire to love them will show through our lives. Even Jesus’ disciples quarreled among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. That was an unloving thing to do. It did not, however, relegate them to the realm of the unsaved.” John warns us to not be like Cain who killed his brother. Those who express hatred in such a way has not passed from death to life. Such hatred toward others is a sign that true conversion has never occurred. If you are truly born again, you may have those you dislike or not get along with, but you cannot live with hatred in your heart. Sometimes we live as though we are dead. We are truly born-again, but we live as if we are not. Paul described such believers as carnal Christians. When you live as a carnal Christian, your fellowship with God is broken. There is a separation. You cannot expect God’s blessing and hand of favor on your life if you, as a Christian, have hatred toward others. Sometimes such hatred is expressed by the words that we say. Our words either speak life into others or death. Sadly, this is a problem among many believers. We may not cause physical harm to someone we dislike, but we may harm them by the words we say. Many churches have fallen apart because of the murderous and hateful words that is said. John warns against such things. If the love of God is in us, then how can we express such hatred toward others? Consider the relationships you have with others. Do you love your family? Do you love those who are of the household of God? If you truly love them, then you will not seek to destroy them. If you truly love them, then you will purposely incite division and strife. Is there anyone that you need to seek forgiveness from? Is there anyone you need to forgive? Our fellowship with God and with each other can never be strengthened as long as we harbor hatred in our hearts toward others.
Relationship expressed by indifference. Hatred amongst true believers in Christ is a very rare thing and cannot last. The Holy Spirit will not allow a true believer to live in hatred toward another believer. However, though hatred amongst believers is rare, indifference is much more widespread. Verses 16 & 17 says, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” John asks a very convicting question. How can we say that we have the love of God in us when we lack compassion for our brothers and sisters? Such indifference can be very common in the church today. Many believers wonder why they seem to miss out on God’s blessings. They scratch their heads and wonder why God won’t send a revival. Could it be because of indifference? Our fellowship with God and with each other will never be what it ought to be when there is such a blatant lack of compassion in the hearts of believers. If the love of God is in us, then we will lay down our lives for others just as Jesus gave His life for us. If the love of God is in us, we will give of our time, talents, and treasure to be a blessing to others. John is quick to note that love is not a feeling or an intention. Love is a choice that binds us to a distinctive course of action. The Teachers Commentary says, “We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers,” John said. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (vv. 16–17) Love is not a matter of words but of acts.” Sadly, many Christians today live with indifference. They say they care for others, but in action, there is no evidence. We are quick to say we love someone, but we are less enthusiastic about showing love to someone by meeting a tangible need in their life. Warren Wiersbe writes, “If I am going to help my brother, I must meet three conditions. First, I must have the means necessary to meet his need. Second, I must know that the need exists. Third, I must be loving enough to want to share. A believer who is too poor to help, or who is ignorant of his brother’s need, is not condemned. But a believer who hardens his heart against his needy brother is condemned. One reason Christians should work is so that they may be able “to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). In these days of multiplied social agencies, it is easy for Christians to forget their obligations. “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10, nasb). This “doing good” need not be in terms of money or material supplies. It may include personal service and the giving of oneself to others. There are many individuals in our churches who lack love and would welcome friendship.” Wiersbe goes on to say, “If we want to experience and enjoy the love of God in our own hearts, we must love others, even to the point of sacrifice. Being indifferent to a brother’s needs means robbing ourselves of what we need even more: the love of God in our hearts. It is a matter of love or death!” The bottom line is that you cannot be in right fellowship with God and with each other if you are indifferent toward the needs of others.
Relationship expressed in love. In contrast to hatred and indifference, a true Christian who is in right fellowship with God and others will express their relationships in love. Verses 18-24 says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” There are three things we see in these verses concerning the relationship expressed in love.
First of all, we see the action of love John says we are to love in deed and in truth. Our love for one another should be genuine and should be expressed in action. “The true test of love is not one’s verbal profession of it (loving with words or tongue) but his willingness to help and thus to love … with actions and in truth.” You may say, “well I have nothing to give, how can I help others?” Allow me to share with a personal story that illustrates true Christian love. My wife grew up in what you would call a low-income family. Sometimes we may make the comment that we are poor. Yet in reality we don’t know what poor is. My wife’s family did not live in poverty like you see in undeveloped countries, but, according to American standards they were very poor. My wife’s grandmother, Iris Day, who is with the Lord now, had a heart of gold. She exemplified the love of Christ in her words and actions. I had the privilege of serving as her pastor for several years. One year, we discovered a great need in my wife’s family. Her niece’s and nephews were also living in poverty, and they had nothing for Christmas. Their clothes were worn and torn, and they literally had nothing. The deacons of our church decided that we should take up a collection to help this family provide clothes and gifts for these children for Christmas. I made the announcement in church that there was a family in the church that needed help and we would accept donations to help them. A week later, the treasurer of our church came to me in tears. She didn’t know what to do. She revealed to me that Iris Day, not knowing that it was her own grandchildren that the church was helping, gave what little money she had to give to this family in need. For her, giving anything was a tremendous sacrifice and we all knew it. I told the church treasurer to let it be and we added to that sacrificial gift and gave those children the best Christmas they ever had. This, my friend, is Christian love. Even the poorest of the poor was willing to give. This reminds me of the widow in the scriptures that gave all that she had. One thing that always struck me about my wife’s grandmother and parents is though they were and are tremendously poor, they were and are some of the most giving and most happiest people I have ever known. May God help us to love in action.
Secondly, we see the confidence of love. John says, we can have confidence in our salvation by the love that is in our hearts. Christian love is placed in the heart of believers by God Himself. Such love is evidence of genuine faith. You can be confident that your salvation is secure because of the love that you have in your heart. We do not love in order to obtain salvation, we love because we have salvation. If you have the love of God in your heart you will know it, and if the love of God is in your heart then you can know with confidence that your salvation is real.
Finally, the relationship expressed in love also has brings the benefit of love. There are two benefits of love that John describes. (1) Answered Prayer. God has a way of paying close attention to the prayers of those who have His love in their hearts. Some of the greatest prayer warriors I have known were also the most loving people I have known. If you want God to answer your prayers, then you must not only have the love of God, but you must also live in that love. (2) Abiding in Christ. Those who live in the love of Christ will have their fellowship with God continually strengthened. As you grow in love, you will grow closer to the Lord.
Having a strong fellowship with God and with others requires a life of love. Examine your heart. Do you have the love of God in you? If so, how have you been expressing that love lately?
 Walvoord, J. F., & Zuck, R. B., Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 897). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.