Observations for discussion and questions:
The topic of this lesson focuses on two major passages, 1 John 3:11-24 and 1 John 4:7-5:4.
1 John 3:11-24 is carefully structured by the overall recurrences of we should love one another and the framing expression this is the/his message/commandment. The subunits are also defined the densities of recurrence brother/brethren (1 John 11-17), our hearts (1 John 18-22), and commandment(s) (1 John 23-24). The occurrence of “heart” in 1 John 3:17 prepares for its topical recurrence in 1 John 18-22, and the occurrence of “commandment” in 1 John 3:22 prepares for the focus on the topical recurrence of commandment(s) in 1 John 23-24.
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, we should not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.
In 1 John 3:11-17 the author picks up the topics of love and hate in relation one”s brother touched addressed in 1 John 1:3-11 previously and sharpens them in terms of unselfish sacrifice and murder respectively. Another connection with Jesus” teaching in the sermon on the mount is the connection the author makes between hate and murder (3:15, see Mat 5:21-23). In 1 John 3:18-22 he returns to reassurance of having confidence (1 John 3:21) in relation to God that was pursued in 2:28-3:3. And in 3:23-24 he returns to commandment(s) dealt with previously in 1 John 2:3-11.
Questions on 1 John 3:11-24
- Why is it that Christians can expect the “world” to hate them? How does what the author says about Cain throw light on this? What does this say about the inner workings of the human heart and how can being aware of this help us in our own lives in our dealings with others?
- Since Jesus laid down his life for us, the author concludes that we should lay down our lives for the “brethren.” What is his message here? Are we to take this literally? Does the text indicate a broader meaning? What does one do when a ”Christian” administrator expects sacrifice along such lines from you in your work for him?
- What is the basis for reassuring our hearts whenever they condemn us? Is it God being greater than our hearts or keeping his commandments and pleasing him? Couldn”t these two features be abused in order to over-ride one”s deeper conscience. What else does the author say that puts these two things into perspective?
- Compare the use of “commandment” and “word” in 1 John 2:3, 5, 7 with how it is used here in 1 John 3:23 in terms of contents. In what way is the author using “commandment”?
- The second passage to be dealt with is 1 John 4:7-5:4a. Here the density of recurrences of love/loves/loved delimits the passage as a whole. The subunit of 4:7-18 is delimited by recurrences in which a focus on God having sent his Son in the former part crosses over to a focus on perfect/perfected love in us in the latter half.
Here the emphasis is on God”s love for us as show by his sending his Son as atonement and savior. In the other subunit of 1 John 4:19-5:4 recurrence of commandment(s) holds this passage together while the focus on love for one”s brother in 1 John 4:19-21 as expressed by the topical recurrence of his brother crosses over to a focus on d love for God and Jesus in 5:1-4a as the recurrences of begotten/begetter expresses.
7 Beloved, we should love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.
19 We love, because he first loved us. 20 If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. 5:1 Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God, and every one who loves the begetter loves the begotten. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4a For whatever is begotten of God overcomes the world.
Many topics of the previous passage are returned to in this one: love for one another (1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11-12), being born of God (1 John 4:7), knowing God (4:7), Jesus as the expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10), the confession of Jesus as the Son of God (1 John 4:15), confidence for the day of judgement (1 John 4:17), love and hate for one”s brother (1 John 4:20-21), believing that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1), the close connection between God (here the ”begetter”) and Jesus (the ”begotten,” 1 John 5:1), keeping his commandments (1 John 5:2-3), and finally overcoming the world (1 John 5:4).
Questions on 1 John 4:7-5:4
- Given all the repetitions of previous topics certain features in this passage stand out: the definition of God as ”love” and the focus on perfecting love in us. The word for ”perfect” in Greek can also mean ”complete,” ”mature,” ”brought to completion.” Which of these would you prefer and why? Why do so many of us tend to feel uncomfortable with the word ”perfect” when it applies to us in spiritual and/or moral Maters? (See Mat 5:48 in the context of what Jesus says preceding it.)
- The statement, “We love because he first loved us,” has been used as a basis for the moral influence theory of atonement. Is this an adequate view of the atonement on its own? How does it fit with the “expiation” language used of what Jesus did regarding our sins (1 John 1:2; 1 John 4:10)?
- What makes the co-axis of love for God and of one”s fellow human beings such a profound foundation for discernment of one”s own integrity and to an important degree the integrity of others?