Summary: Children of the Resurrection are not marked by 1) Murder (1 John 3:12, 14), 2) Hatred (1 John 3:13, 15), and 3) Indifference toward other children of God (1 John 3:16–18).
A recent story in a popular magazine gave some suggestions for “How to Heal a Family Feud.” It was sprinkled with anecdotes of families torn apart by petty squabbles, carefully nursed grudges, perceived and real hurts, and substantial doses of anger. But there were also stories of happy endings as old wounds were healed and divided families were reconciled. The story included practical advice for bringing about such happy endings—prompt action, candidness, clearing the air, moving ahead step by step and so on. It sounds simple enough. Why is it, then, that rifts and feuds in the family we know as the church are so seldom resolved with such clean and happy endings? And, more to the point for our discussion, why is it that John’s own church could not settle its dispute and restore the bonds of fellowship?
To interpret the rift in his church family, John uses the story of the first family and its two sons, Cain and Abel. This story does not have a fairy-tale ending with everyone living happily ever after. But two features of the story make it useful. First, the story of Cain and Abel is…the account of the evil actions of one brother, Cain. In his evil actions, Cain showed that he was no true brother to Abel. Second, Cain’s evil act created such a great rift in the family that we can longer even speak of a break in the family: it created two entirely separate families (Thompson, M. M. (1992). 1–3 John (1 Jn 3:11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).
John’s dualistic language points both descriptively and prescriptively to the identifying characteristics of those in the light and those in the darkness. John now picks up one of these identifying marks as he speaks of the children of God as those who are to love one another. John directed his readers back in 1 John 3:11 to the message they had heard from the beginning, referring to the beginning of gospel proclamation. That teaching included the truth about Jesus Christ, the gospel, humanity’s sinful condition, and the need for righteous living, as well as the command to love one another. The apostle urged his readers to remember what they were first taught and not allow anyone to lead them astray (cf. Jude 3). In one sense, the command to love one another was very old (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:10). But in another sense, it was new. Love had never before been manifested as it was by Christ—culminating in His sacrificial death for those He loved. “This is My commandment,” He declared, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13; cf. Luke 19:10; Gal. 2:20; Rev. 1:5). The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect model of the love God has always commanded. Though believers cannot love to the degree He loves, they can obey John’s command to love one another (3:23; 4:7, 21; 2 John 5; cf. Rom. 12:10; 13:8–9; Gal. 5:13–14; Col. 3:14; Heb. 10:24; 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 4:8) the way Christ loved, by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 5:5), lovingly and selflessly sacrificing for others. The present tense of ἀγαπῶμεν (“we must love”) suggests that the demand for love is continuous (Smalley, S. S. (1989). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 51, p. 183). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.) Demonstrating love is our obligation—regardless of feelings, irrespective of circumstances, and despite how “unlovable” a person might be. Consider the people God has placed in your life. Is your love for them characterized by cautious restraint, or do you apply your love at full strength? (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1998). 1, 2 & 3 John (p. 71). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.)