“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:11, NLT).
1 John 3:11 serves as the transitional verse between section one and section two of the epistle. During the first half of the book, John has written under the theme, “God is Light.” Now he turns his attention to the next heading, “God is Love.” And the first thing he wants his readers to know about God’s love is that God expects his children to love one another. To emphasize his point, John gives a negative example with a consequence, then a positive example with a consequence.
“We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous” (1 John 3:12, NLT).
It’s fascinating that John uses a crime of passion as a negative example of Christians not loving one another. The story of Cain and Abel is legendary. As you recall, Cain and Abel had two very different approaches to worship. Cain was a farmer and brought an offering from the harvest of his crops. Abel was a herdsman who brought a sacrificial offering from his flock. In short, God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s. Cain was disappointed and angry. Even though God warned him to respond appropriately, Cain took matters into his own hands. Ironically, Cain killed his brother by slitting his throat–perhaps in the same fashion Abel killed his sacrifice. The consequence of such brother on brother hatred is significant.
“So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them” (1 John 3:13-15, NLT).
What I believe John is conveying through these verses is that when Christians do not love one another it hurts our Christian testimony and hinders our mission in the world. The proof of our faith is not our doctrinal purity or our orthodox practice. Jesus said that the world will know that our message is real through our love for one another (cf. John 13:35). If we hate or hurt our Christian brothers and sisters, we have nothing compelling to offer those who have yet to experience Christ’s grace and forgiveness. We are silenced. Loving one another is indeed a high standard, yet it is the standard. Tomorrow we’ll look at the positive example of Jesus to see exactly how to love one another.