Summary: How can we be assured of our election? It is demonstrated in our love for God, then our brethren, then our neighbors, and finally to our enemies
In the previous section, we are told that what one does defines the person. A person is not who he/she claims to be unless they can back their words with actions. If one speaks like Jesus and acts like the devil, he/she is the latter. The principal distinguishing mark which differentiates God’s people from everyone else is love. Love and righteousness here are seen as two sides of the same coin.
On the other hand, hate and unrighteousness are also paired and are shown to be the marks of a life dominated by Satan. Hate is demonstrated in the actions of Cain against his brother Abel who was slain like an animal by having his throat ritually cut.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 13: Stop being amazed that the world hates you!
Here the world is paired with Cain in the previous verses. John just finished stating that Cain had just killed Abel out of jealousy and hate because Abel’s faith in God outshone Cain’s works. Cain is the example of all who would justify themselves before God. The world tries to dictate terms to God as though He was the servant. So when God chooses another way than that, they are outraged. It is also a warning that our testimony for Christ can be a call to martyrdom. Jesus has as much said so elsewhere.
We must also be warned that the world’s hatred of us is more than just a possibility. We can be thrown off by the word “if” as though this may happen rather than will happen. But the Greek work here is åἰ, ee, which is better translated “since”. The world cannot but hate the Christian. The world’s wisdom and way of doing business is totally contrary to the will of God revealed in the Bible. Paul makes much of this distinction in I Corinthians. The world considers the ways of God to be foolish. Many of those who had left the church to do religion on their own had rejected God’s wisdom for their own. The preaching of the cross and suffering would be anathema to such worldly people. And when they perceive that the true Christian has peace and acceptance with God, and they don’t, they will get angry, mock, persecute, and even kill the Christian out of jealousy. If only the world would realize that the way to acceptance is simply to believe on and confess Christ.
Verse 14: WE know than we have been transformed from death unto life because we love the brethren.
The question is often asked—how can I KNOW that I am a Christian and have eternal life. If there is ever a question we want to be sure about, it is this one. Many a Christian has been tortured over this including Luther and Wesley. We would like to see some sign come down from heaven like Jesus saw at His baptism. If we could just see the Holy Spirit come upon us like a dove or hear the words of election from God in heaven! If we could just touch Jesus and feel the wounds inflicted upon Him, to behold Him, or to hear Him. what a privilege John had been granted! If we remember, John begins the epistle with a reminder that John himself was an eye, ear, and touch witness of Jesus. To the rest of us, we would have to be content with accepting John’s, Peter’s, or some other eyewitnesses’ testimony except for the fact we are given this verse.
How do we know that we are Christians and have everlasting life? The assurance is right at hand. Jesus had told the apostles that our love for each other was a witness to the world that we are Christians. We sing the song “They will know that we are Christians by our love”. But even more importantly, we know that we are Christians by our love. We need not to look to heaven for a sign. All we need to is to see if we are walking in love with our Christian brothers and sisters and we can be sure that we are secure. At first this sounds deceptively simple until we realize that this is far easier said than done. We might ask like some of the Pharisees asked, “And who is my neighbor?” The Pharisees had assumed that their brother was the nearest Jewish neighbor. Gentiles and Samaritans did not count. Jesus answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It is difficult if not impossible to determine who are our Christian brothers and sisters. We, like the Pharisees, would naturally gravitate to those who are most like us culturally, economically, or racially. And we easily jump to the same wrong conclusions the Pharisees did. Some of those who we would think are good Christians are not, and some that we think are the scum of the earth are really good Christians.