“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should 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. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone 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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” (1 John 3:11–24 ESV)
This section is highlighting Cain’s unacceptable sacrifice with Abel’s acceptable sacrifice. Ultimately, it does not seem to matter what their sacrifices were, but the heart behind the sacrifice. God is after contrite hearts that offer sacrifices by faith alone (Psalm 51:17). Actions speak louder than words and we learn that Abel’s sacrifice was offered by faith and was deemed righteous (Hebrews 11:4). Cain was evil and did evil, for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:43-45 & Matthew 12:34). The difference between good and evil is seen in actions that flow out of the heart. The redeemed will have increasing goodness flow out of them as the fruit of transformation. Don’t be surprised that the world hates you – for it is evil.
John emphasizes the continuing ethic to love one another. Love for one another is rooted in God’s love for us (1 John 4:19). Love for others, and especially the saints, is a sign that we have been raised from death to life. The one who does not love abides in death. John sounds like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26) when he says that those whose lives are marked by hate are murderers and no murderer has eternal life. It is jarring, John is saying that if our lives are marked by hate instead of love then we are not redeemed. That is a hard saying. External compliance to God’s commands is inadequate to save. A moral ethic of being good doesn’t require saving faith. Jesus’ mission was not to make immoral people moral or to make bad people good – Jesus came to make dead people alive. We should not murder (Exodus 20:13), but more than that we should kill coveting which leads to hate, anger and ultimately can lead to murder.
The love of God compelled Jesus to action. Jesus loved us and went to the cross. Love is active, not passive, love is not primarily an emotion. Because Jesus sacrificed for us, we can sacrifice for Him. He is not just our model, but also our power to love. If we see a brother in need and callously blow it off, we are not abiding in love. Let’s not love in talk, but in action. True obedience involves not just our words of profession, but our obedience in love (3:18). As we walk in a love that is rooted in His love for us, we reassure ourselves that we are His children.
When we become convicted of sin, God is greater than our heart or our sin. He offers forgiveness. He is greater than us. A clear heart leads us to boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). John makes a connection between our obedience and God answering our prayers. Is this, “I obey, therefore God gives me what I want?” No, this is not the secret formula to get what you want. This is a picture of an abiding, dependent man who is praying confidently before the Creator of the universe because he know that he has an Intercessor in heaven. The commandment is to believe and out of that to love. Our work is one of belief, one of faith (John 6:29). Abiding produces faith which yields obedience. We are not made right by our obedience – that is religion, but our obedience does bear witness to our transformation. The Holy Spirit of God is the One that bears witness with our spirit. “Abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, & transform our affections.” -Sinclair Ferguson