In our previous meditation on John’s letters we looked at 1John 2:28 – 3:10 where John gives us a number of reasons why sin is wrong for those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ:

The person of Christ and the work of Christ make it clear that sin is wrong.

Our new identity as people who believe in Christ makes it clear that sin is wrong.

The nature and source of sin and evil make it clear that sin is wrong.

This wrongness of sin and evil is taught right through the Bible. The fact that our sin is forgiven through the atoning death and mediation of Jesus Christ does not change the nature of sin and evil. It is always wrong.

But, as we have seen previously, John makes a clear distinction between a person who claims to be a Christian committing individual sinful actions, and a person who claims to be a Christian continuing to live a life of on-going, unrepentant sinfulness. When he speaks of individual sinful actions (as in 2:1) he uses the Aorist Tense. When he speaks of on-going continuity of action he uses the Present Tense (as in 3:6, 10). John teaches that the individual sinful actions of a Christian are wrong, but are forgiven through the death of Christ (1:7 – 2:2), but a life of on-going persistent sin indicates that a person is not a Christian (even though they might claim to be a Christian), and is therefore not saved (2:9, 11; 3:6, 9, 10). To pursue a life of on-going sin is to demonstrate a lack of knowledge of God, of self, and of sin.

John’s point is that it is one thing to commit a sinful action, and it is quite another thing to live a sinful life.

Throughout his first letter John has much to say about the love that should characterise those who claim to know and believe in Jesus Christ. In stressing the importance of this love for each other he also stresses the utter inappropriateness of hating each other:

‘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; he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him’ – 1John 2:9 – 11.

In 3:11 – 15, returning to the theme of loving one another, John includes a further brief discussion of hate, using the example of Cain:

Cain belonged to the evil one. That is, he did not belong to God. He was under the control of the evil one and his actions reflected the actions of the evil one. This truth is similar to other things John has said about people who hate their brother:

They are in the darkness and walk around in the darkness; the darkness has blinded them (2:9, 11).
They are children of the evil one (3:10).

In contrast, those who believe in Jesus Christ:

Walk in the light (1:7).
Are children of God (3:1).
Have overcome the evil one (2:13, 14).

As Hebrews 11:4 tells us, the key thing that distinguished Abel from Cain was the fact that Abel was a man of faith, while Cain was not.

Cain’s hatred resulted in the murder of his brother. John makes a clear connection between Cain’s hatred and murder of Abel and the fact that Cain belonged to the evil one. It is from the evil one that all hatred, and hence all murder, have their source and their example.

Jesus Christ drew attention to this when some of the Jews wanted to kill him:

“‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.’

‘We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested. ‘The only Father we have is God himself.’

Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here... Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies... He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’” (John 8:39 – 47).

In his thoughts about Cain, John puts three conclusions before us:

Anyone who does not love remains in death – 3:14.
Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer – 3:15.
No murderer has eternal life in him – 3:15.

Both Jesus and John affirm that a life characterised by hatred is the life of a person who is still not saved: such a person remains in death; such a person does not have eternal life; such a person does not belong to God.

On the other hand, John says, those who have passed from death to life, those who know God and belong to God, are characterised by love – 3:14.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022