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© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

John has said previously (2:5 – 11) that love is a test that proves or disproves our claim to be ‘in him’. There John said: ‘Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light ... whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness’ (2:9 – 11).

Now John again talks of loving and hating as the divide that identifies the integrity of any claim to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

Read 3:11 – 24. What significance does John give to love and hate?








In verse 11 John states that loving one another ‘is the message you heard from the beginning’. In other words, the original apostolic proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ included the command, the obligation, to love one another. The gospel they preached included teaching about the lifestyle appropriate for those who have received the love of God. John stresses both the importance of love and the utter inappropriateness of hate.


John’s first argument for the importance of love focuses on the opposite of love – hate. John refers to Cain as an example of hate. This is a reference to Genesis 4:1 – 10, where we read the report of Cain’s hatred and murder of his brother, Abel.

John makes the following points:

[1] Cain belonged to the evil one – verse 12. John has already told his readers that they ‘have overcome the evil one’ (2:13, 14), and that it is the ‘children of the devil’ who do not love. Here in 3:12 John says ‘do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one’. The ‘evil one’ is the source of all hatred. The evil one is the enemy not only of Christ but also of believers.

[2] Cain murdered his brother... Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer – verses 12, 15. Murder is the ultimate expression of hatred, so John puts hatred in the same category as murder. Even when it is not expressed in actual physical murder, hatred is a destructive force, with potential to destroy people emotionally and mentally, and to destroy relationships, careers and reputations.

Check these verses. What do they teach about -
John 8:44 – The source of murder?

Matthew 5:21 – 22 – The emotions that are behind murder?


[3] Cain’s hatred arose out of personal jealousy – ‘because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous’ – verse 12. If we read the Genesis report we learn that Cain was ‘very angry’ because his offering was not accepted by God, but Abel’s was. The reason Abel’s was accepted was because Abel’s offering was an expression of faith, whereas Cain did not have faith – see Hebrews 11:4. It was Abel’s faith that rendered his actions ‘righteous’. But Cain, who, John says, ‘belonged to the evil one,’ did not have faith: his offering to God was not an expression of faith in God, and was therefore unacceptable.

For those who are ‘in Christ’ such personal jealousy is outlawed because in Christ everyone has the same ‘righteousness’ and the same acceptance with God. In Christ, there is no reason for any kind of rivalry, feelings of superiority, feelings of inferiority, or anything else that assumes any kind of divisions or levels in the body of believers. There is no such thing as the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. There is no such thing as those who have ‘arrived’ and those who have not. Everyone who in ‘in him’ is gifted with the same grace-based relationship with God, with the same ‘righteousness’ of Christ freely credited to them – apart from works, apart from law. No one needs to strive for acceptance with God or compete with others for acceptance with God; nor should any Christian need to strive or compete for acceptance with other believers.

Look at these verses. What do they say about the equality of all who believe in Jesus Christ?
Romans 3:22 – 24

Galatians 3:26 – 28

Ephesians 2:11 – 18

Colossians 3:8 – 11

[4] The world’s hatred of believers is not surprising – verse 13. Following directly after his reference to Cain who hated and murdered his brother, John tells us not to be surprised if we similarly experience hatred from ‘the world’ – from those who do not know Christ.

What do these verses say about this inevitable hatred?
Matthew 10:22

Matthew 24:9

Luke 6:22

John 15:18 – 25


John 17:14

In John 7:7 Jesus said that the world hated him because he testified that what it does is evil. The Spirit of Jesus, dwelling in believers, similarly testifies to the guilt of the world (John 16:7 – 11). Believers are children of the light: the world is still in the darkness. There is constant tension between the two, for the two are in conflict with each other: truth verses deception; light versus darkness; life versus death (1John 3:14); children of God versus belonging to the evil one.

The hatred of the world ought not to surprise us.

[5] Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life in him – verse 15. John here tells us that a life of habitual hatred indicates that a person is not saved. The verb ‘hates’ is present tense – ‘all hating their brother’. There is an inbuilt contradiction here: to claim to have ‘eternal life’ in Christ, and at the same time to be characterised by hatred, that is, to be a ‘murderer’, makes no sense. The person who has received the gift of eternal life cannot believe it is okay to hate, that is, to murder. The person who is ‘in Christ’ who is life, cannot rightly from that position mete out death to his brother by hatred.



In 3:11 – 15 John tells us:

That the command to love one another was part of the original message about Jesus Christ proclaimed by the apostles – verse 11.

That love for our fellow-believers (our ‘brothers’) is proof that ‘we have passed from death to life’ – verse 14).

That ‘anyone who does not love remains in death’ – verse 14.

Just as John was very strong in what he said about hate, so here he is very strong in what he says about love, and about the lack of love. The presence of love in a person’s life validates their claim to believe in Christ. The absence of love in a person’s life renders their claim to be in Christ invalid: if, John says, you do not love, you actually do not have the ‘life’ that is promised to all who believe in Jesus Christ. You are still spiritually dead. John is, in effect, saying that if you do not love, you do not really believe.

Compare this statement from verse 14 – ‘we have passed from death to life’ – with Jesus’ statement in John 5:24: ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me ... has crossed over from death to life.’ The same word – metabaino – is used in both statements. In both, the perfect tense is used, indicating something that has occurred in the past and is still in place in the present.

Just as the real Jesus and eternal life go together, so the real Jesus and love go together. This creates an irreducible trilogy: the real Jesus, life, and love. If a person has received the real Jesus that person also has eternal life, and that person will also love.

B.1 What is this love? – 3:16 – 18
Having stated the extreme significance of love, John now tells us how we can know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (And he will have more to say about this in chapter 4.)

Read these verses. What does the death of Jesus teach you about love?
John 3:16, 17

John 15:13

Romans 5:8

Galatians 2:20

Ephesians 2:3 – 5

Ephesians 5:1, 2

Ephesians 5:25


The measure and the definition of love is Jesus Christ laying down his life for us. His death teaches us what love looks like. His death also teaches us who we should love.

From the above verses, answer these questions:
Are the people loved by God worthy or unworthy of his love?

Is the love of Jesus Christ for us superficial or deep?

What is the extreme expression of his love for us?

The deep, costly love of Jesus Christ for us was demonstrated in his dying for us. So great is his love that he gave up his life to secure our salvation. And he did this while we were still sinners, while we were still his enemies. This, John says, is how we know what love is. This is what love looks like.

Read 3:16 – 18. What does John say we will do if we have this kind of love?
Verse 16

Verse 17

Verse 18


We will find that John has much more to say about love in 4:7 – 21. But for now, having potentially shaken his readers by his strong words about love and hate, he again interrupts his comments to reassure his readers.