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 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
(1 John 3:11-18, NASB).
There is an extreme black and white contrast going on here. You are either as Cain, as the world, and you murderously hate the believing brethren, or you love the brethren. You can tell pretty easily which side you are on. There is this question, like at the last supper when Jesus said, “One of you will betray Me,” and the disciples asked, “not me? Right?” We want assurance that we are not murdering Cains, church-hating antichrists ourselves.
And so the hallmark of the Christian is love. We know because of love. Notice that we know that we have passed, that we have made a fundamental transition. Something has changed. It is not simply a personal moral transition. It is environmental. It does not say, we know that we have truly repented. It says, we know that we have passed out of one place and into another.
My family used to vacation in Mexico back in the 60’s and early 70’s. We would drive through south and west Texas. You could instantly tell the difference when you entered Mexico. You had passed out of one environment and entered into a completely new environment. The colors were different, the people were different, the language was different, the food was different, the money was different, the smell was even different. You knew that you had passed out of the United States and into Mexico.
Same here: this isn’t simply an exhortation to love more practically. As a Christian, you have left a general environment of the lust of the eyes and flesh, of hatred, of murder, and have entered a general environment of kindness and love and sacrificial giving. He is saying, you have left the world’s kingdom and have entered the Kingdom of God! Smell the fresh air and embrace the strange and beautiful ways of your new country. In this country people love each other and give sacrificially to each other. That’s how we roll. You will want to get used to the customs in your new home. We will all give sacrificially and without judgment to you, and you will want to acclimatize and do the same.
Notice once again that at the heart of the passage we find the propitiation. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us. I do not want to let you usurp this into being primarily and example for us to follow. This is the wrong take. He is saying, Jesus was so taken with these brethren of yours, that He died for them. Look at them as being that wonderful and that important.
But of course there is more. When we come together in any way, we are still sinners in need of confession and cleansing. It is easy and almost instinctual to start keeping a running little mental database of the things that offend you and irritate you about people. We think, I’m not murderous here, but so and so always does such and such, and I just don’t know how I can work with them on this or that. We have many offenses between us, many just reasons why love remains theoretical and not actual. We withhold blessing because of small injustices. The law still kind of reigns over our relationships in subtle ways.
But He laid down His life for us. These injustices between us, these practical irritants, have been avenged. This slightly off-base irritating brother has been DIED FOR. He is Abel offering his blood sacrifice, and along with God, I count his offering as sufficient. I cannot make better justice happen than that. The dynamic between is not judgment therefore, but Christ-forged forgiveness. Because He laid down His life for the brethren, we ought to believe that propitiation to be sufficient for them, and sacrifice our small interests for their benefit as well. This is why the propitiation is at the heart of the community of believers, and why the hallmark of this community is a lack of judgment and a huge level of kindness and practical blessing.
We need not close our heart against a brother. Why would we do that? Because we deemed that the blood of Jesus was insufficient for that brother’s perceived sins and injustices against us. Because grace reigns over us, we can be free with helping them out in every way at our disposal without worrying about if they deserve it. We are the community of people that says, of course they don’t deserve it! We don’t bless because of deserving, we bless because Jesus died for us and this is the very tiny least we can do for each other now.
We know love by His blood, and so we love because the wrath is gone between us. he gave me everything, what shall I withhold? Why should I withhold it? My reasons are all gone.
And so we are known by our love, because as a people we stand together in grace and redemption in Christ.