The Story of God and 1 John 3:11–18
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
I would imagine several sermons pivoted around this verse over the past several days celebrating Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday. It’s also the pivot verse in a passage Constantine Campbell engages in his new 1, 2, & 3 John commentary from The Story of God Bible Commentary series.
This resource offers a clear and compelling exposition of John’s epistles, as well as a guide for everyday readers in how to creatively and faithfully live out John's lessons contextually. (Like each volume in The Story of God Bible Commentary series, Campbell explores this passage through the SGBC's three lenses: Listen to the Story, Explain the Story, Live the Story.)
1 John 3:11–18 follows an important passage on our identity as children of God, 2:28–3:10. “While the previous passage was primarily concerned with identification,” explains Campbell, “this passage offers direct application: believers are to love one another.”
Which makes it the perfect passage to meditate on as post-Resurrection people.
Listen: Love One Another
If you listen to the Story by reading through 1 John 3:11–18, you will hear several themes:
There is a strong correlation between love and life, as well as hate and death. Love is evidence that we have eternal life. Those who hate remain in death. With their confidence of eternal life, believers are able to lay down their lives for others, just as Jesus did. While love makes us willing to give up our lives of others, hate makes others willing to take life. (113)
Campbell highlights several other texts in Scripture which correlate with this one: Genesis 4:1–16; Matthew 5:21–22; John 10:11; 15:12–13, 18–25.
The voice of the Story of God is consistent with what John expresses here: “Love is expressed in practical terms. Believers are to provide for those in need, showing love in action” (113)—in the same way as Christ.
Explain: Love and Life, Hate and Death
The idea that we post-Resurrection people “should love one another” (3:11) is basic to our Christian life because it is fundamental to Christian teaching. “This is the message John’s readers ‘heard from the beginning’ (3:11), which likely refers to the beginning of their Christian lives" (114).
Campbell launches into an extended explanation of how John leverages the dramatic example of Cain and Able in order to illustrate this central teaching. In short:
The one who does right is a child of God; the one who does wrong is a child of the devil (1 John 3:7–10). Cain’s actions were evil (ponera) because he belonged to the evil one (tou ponerou) (114).
John explains that we follow in Cain’s footsteps every time we hate. Instead, we’re called to love. But what kind of love? The Jesus-inspired kind:
Jesus’s death is not only theologically significant; it is exemplary. While Cain was an exemplar of hate in action, Jesus is the example of love in action…Just as hate takes away life, so love offers life. (117)
In summary, “This passage draws a connection between love and life as well as hate and death...Genuine love takes action in caring and providing for those in need and is powered by God’s love in us, as modeled by Jesus” (118).
Live: Sacrifice, Give, Love with Actions
Preachers often reflect the sentiment of Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Campbell isn’t sure John would agree:
In his customary binary fashion, it seems clear that John regards love and hate as opposites. While love seeks the welfare of another, hate seeks destruction. (118)
Christ’s love is the cure. He and his love are able to deliver us from love’s opposite. Such deliverance comes not only from the power of his death and resurrection, but also from the power of his life of love. Campbell notes that this life exemplifies as well as defines love, which John says in 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." Christians are called to follow Christ both literally and figuratively:
- “like Jesus, a person might lay down his or her physical life for the sake of another”
- “laying down one’s life means giving something up for another” (122)
Campbell notes that the example John offers to illustrate laying down one’s life—sharing material possessions through a heart of compassion—in many ways reveals the true nature of the heart. For as Campbell writes, "If anyone sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" (123)
“Compassion, generosity, and giving are traits shared by those who truly know the love of God. His compassion and generosity toward us teach us how to love others” (124).
Use Campbell’s guide to John’s letters to gain a fresh, clear understanding of the Story of God in these letters—as well as your own story in their light.
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