The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©

Study 10: LOVE OR HATE?

'For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and 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 wonder, brethren, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 'Any one 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 brethren. But if any one 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 speech, but in deed and in truth' (3:11-18).

These verses bring us back to that great mark of the Christian - love - and to the words of Jesus, 'By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another' (John 13:35). This is God's message to men and women, 'heard from the beginning' - from the beginning of the Christian life, from the beginning of God's showing us His purpose for our living - 'that we should love one another'. This letter began with the message that 'God is light' (1:5) and in 2:7-11 the way of love was shown to be the way of light and the path of hate to be the path of darkness. The letter has gone on to speak of the life of God which people have who are the true children of God. So it is said here that the way of love is the way of life and the path of hatred is the path of death.

a. Hatred, the pathway of death.

Verse 12 takes us back to Genesis 4 where for the first time in our Bible we see love and hate in what happened between the two brothers, Cain and Abel. From that beginning to the present there have been the two ways. We still make our choice between them. Abel wanted to please God and to serve Him. He had the joy and satisfaction; therefore, of offering to God what was pleasing to Him (Genesis 4:4). Cain hated Abel for it, as people always hate it when the truth and rightness of others shows them to be in the wrong, and as the unbelieving world hates the person who really lives as a Christian (verse 13). Hatred of what is right, leads to hatred of the person who does the right. Unless that hatred is dealt with, put out and forgiven, one evil will add to another.

Hatred in the heart will lead to poisonous words and murderous actions. Jesus called the person who hates others a murderer (see Matthew 5:21-24). When we love a person, we want for them life at its highest and best. When we hate them, we wish that they did not exist, we have the desire to destroy or just to neglect them in a way that would let them die as far as we are concerned. When we act like that we are showing certainly do not have the life of God in us. 'You know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him' (verse 15). We need to see absolutely clearly that hatred destroys the person who hates and those who are hated. Hatred, like sin of any other kind (verse 8), is the mark of the one who is still a child of the devil as Cain was (verse 12) and has not become a child of God.

b. Love, the pathway of Life.

Love is the sign of life, true life, spiritual life, the life of God in us. This is the sign that 'we have passed out of death into life' (verse 14). In our selfish ways we belong to the kingdom of the evil one, the kingdom of death. Through Jesus Christ we are brought out of that kingdom of evil and of death into the kingdom of light and love and life. Hatred takes and takes and takes what belongs to another person - takes even a person's life. Love gives and gives and gives - even life itself. The greatest way in all the world and in all history in which we know love is that the very Son of God came into our world and gave His life that we might live. We live because He died for us. His death also shows us how to live. The apostle Paul said that all life was different for him because of his coming to know this truth: 'The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). Because of that, he said, 'I have been crucified with Christ'. The old, self-centred, hate-controlled life had gone, there was new life in Christ. The apostle Peter said, 'Christ... suffered for you, leaving you an example' (1 Peter 2:21, see also Philippians 2:5-9 and John 20:21). So it says here, 'He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren' (verse 16).

There have been times when Christians have done exactly this, given themselves so that others might live. Every time of persecution of the Church has shown examples of men and women who have died to let other people live. The way that most of us, however, have to do that, is not by one great act of self-sacrifice, but by us day by day giving ourselves as 'a living sacrifice' (Romans 12:1). We must be very practical about the life of sacrifice. When we have earthly possessions and there are those whom we know are in need, what do we do? If we see and take notice and yet fail to give, can we honestly say that the love of God (and the life of God who is love) is in us (verse 17)? Nor is it any use just talking about love. It is easy to do that. Our love must be seen in action (verse 18) - sharing what we have, giving ourselves to those in need, working to change what is wrong and hurtful to people in the world around us.


Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace;

where there is hatred, give love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is sadness, joy;

where there is darkness, light;

Grant that we may not seek so much to be comforted as to comfort others,

For it is in giving that we receive,

in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and in dying, that we are born to eternal life.

(St Francis of Assisi)

For further thought and study.

1. What other examples like Cain can be given from the Bible where a person, offended at his wrong being rebuked, has acted violently against the one who has rebuked him? See, for example, 1 Kings 21 and Amos 7:10-13 and Acts 7:5 1 -60.

2. How is what James chapter 2 says about genuine faith like what is said in these verses about love? How should we apply both that passage and this to our own practical daily living? Where people suffer because of poverty, injustice and oppression, what more can and should Christians do than just giving material things?