Living a Life of Love

1 John 3:11-18

October 23, 2011 | Brian Bill

Think with me about two sets of brothers.  The first pair got their start a long time ago.  While there was friction in their family while they were growing up, their sibling rivalry reared its head in a heated and horrible way when they were older.  One brother raised cattle while the other focused his farming on crops.  Recognizing that God deserved recognition for blessing him, the younger brother slaughtered some of the firstborn of his flock, and generously and whole-heartedly offered the best portions to the Lord.  The older brother gathered a couple handfuls of grain and gave them half-heartedly to the Lord.

God was very pleased with the brother who made a blood sacrifice because his offering was motivated by faith.  But because the older one’s attitude and actions were wrong, the Lord expressed His disfavor.  This made the brother very angry and his face revealed his jealousy and desire for revenge.  The Lord appealed to him to do the right thing and warned him that sin was crouching at his door, ready to pounce on him.

Instead of listening to the Lord he came up with a scheme to eliminate his brother, attacking him and slitting his throat, causing his blood to pour out on the ground.  If God wanted a blood sacrifice he would give Him one!  A short time later, the Lord asked him where his brother was.  He lied and then snarled, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Oh, before I move on, in case you haven’t guessed by now, this guy who was contemptuous of God was named Cain.  You can read more about him in Genesis 4.

Let’s fast forward several thousand years when a second set of brothers come on the scene.  Known as hot heads, these brothers were angry dudes.  Surprisingly though, their bad tempers did not disqualify them as Disciples of Christ because Jesus invited them to join His traveling team.  Jesus even gave them a nickname by calling them Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder” (see Mark 3:17).  

One time their mother requested a place of honor for them and she was put in her place (Matthew 20:20-24).  I can’t help but wonder if they put her up to this.  Another time one of them tried to stop someone from doing ministry because he wasn’t in their special group.  This time Jesus put him in his place (Mark 9:38).  Being slow to learn and quick to pull the trigger on their temper, the brothers became very angry when some Samaritans did not offer lodging to the team and turned to Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?”  Jesus rebuked them soundly for their desire to roast people they didn’t like (Luke 9:54).

Their crankiness turned into compassion

Something happened though as these brothers continued to follow Jesus.  In the place of anger, they both became more affectionate.  Their crankiness turned into compassion.  Their selfishness was transformed into selflessness.  Instead of being livid, they became loving.  One of them developed a new nickname and became known as the “Apostle of Love.”  You know him as John and Jesus transformed him from pride, jealousy and anger into a man who couldn’t stop talking about living like Jesus and loving like Jesus.  

Known as the “one who Jesus loved,” John became the one who “loved Jesus and others.”  After all the others scattered when Jesus was arrested, John is the only one who stood by Christ when He was on the cross, and lovingly took Mary into his home as his own mother (John 19:27).  His loud anger had been replaced with loving action.  And this all happened because he “leaned on Jesus” and abided with Him (John 13:22-25).  It was this same John who wrote the gospel that bears his name, the letters called 1, 2 and 3 John and the Book of Revelation.

Cain or Christ

As we continue in our verse-by-verse study of John’s letter known as 1 John, we see again the apostle’s teaching method of contrasts and comparisons.  There at least four of them in chapter 3:

  • Children of the Devil vs. Children of God
  • Death vs. Life
  • Hate vs. Love
  • Cain vs. Christ

These contrasts, in particular the one between Cain and Christ, will help us understand our passage today.  In verse 11 we read John’s repeated refrain, “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”  The basic truths of Christianity are from the beginning, which means that they are unchanging and lasting.  In contrast, the false teachers brought forth new and secret doctrines.  Because love transformed his life, John can’t stop talking about how love can change ours.

A wise older preacher once said to a younger one, “Say something, and then say what you’ve said, and then say it again.”  That’s what this little letter of 1 John is like as the Apostle John keeps repeating the same truths.  Jerome, an early Christian, reports that when the aged apostle was so weak that he could no longer preach, people would carry him into the congregation at Ephesus, and he would give just one exhortation: “Little children, love one another.” Apparently his hearers grew tired of the same message every Sunday so they asked him why he kept repeating himself.  He responded, “Because it is the Lord’s command, and if that is all that you do it is enough!”

We’ve already been reminded of the importance of love in 2:7-11 and the major part of chapter 4 focuses on this theme.  John refers directly to Jesus’ command that we love one another five different times.  In addition, the word “love” is used 35 times in the book.  We need to hear this repeatedly because our default mode is selfishness, not selflessness.  

Again, using stark contrasts to show the difference between true believers and unbelievers, between those who are holy and those who are heretics, we’re going to learn that the love of God should cause us to live a life of love.

Our outline today is simple.  

  • Don’t be a loser like Cain
  • Be a lover like Christ

Don’t Be a Loser Like Cain

To help us see what Cain was like, I’m going to utilize some sub points from a sermon by Ed Wood.

1. Don’t be a murderer. 

Let’s look at verse 12: “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him?  Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”  Cain becomes the poster person for the “child of the devil” as spelled out in verse 10.  In Jewish and early Christian writings he serves as an example of someone who deliberately disbelieves and disobeys.  In Jude 11, we read about people who are like “unreasoning animals” – “Woe to them!  They have taken the way of Cain.”  By the way, some of the later Gnostic false teachers called Cain their hero!

It’s a sad commentary that one does not need to go very far in the Bible to see the disastrous consequences of disobedience.  Adam and Eve commit the original sin in Genesis 3 and in Genesis 4 we see that their first offspring ends up murdering their second son.  These brothers were raised in the same home and had the same influences.  I’m sure Adam and Eve wondered where they went wrong as parents.  Some of you probably wonder the same thing.  Can I give you some encouragement today?  Sometimes you can do things right and your children can still go wrong.  Also, if you see your kids at each other’s throats, take heart that the first family was also filled with friction.

The word for “murder” here is quite graphic.  It literally means, “To slit one’s throat” or “to butcher.”  He butchered his brother because Cain “belonged to the evil one.”  This word “evil” means that which is in active opposition to the good and is used in Genesis 2:13 to refer to Satan.  We know from Hebrews 11:4 that Abel’s sacrifice was “better” because he offered it “by faith.”  His heart was right while Cain’s wasn’t.  

Notice that this account is filled with God’s mercy as He urges Cain that it’s not too late to do the right thing in Genesis 4:7: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Instead of repenting, Cain removed his brother.  He ignored God and listened to Satan and as a result sin had him for lunch.

To help us understand a bit of what’s going on here, suppose that you and your neighbor have huge lawns.  You mow only when you have to while your neighbor mows, trims, uses fertilizer and weed killer, and waters his lawn all the time.  People who drive by always comment on his lush lawn while calling your grass gross.  You could put more time into your lawn but you decide that it would be easier to simply kill your neighbor and then his lawn would eventually look as bad as your own.

That’s similar to what Cain did.  Instead of changing his attitude and actions, he chose to eliminate his brother because he was making him look bad.  He attempted to lower the standard to how he was living his life.  Proverbs 29:27 says that “…The wicked detest the upright.”

2. Don’t be filled with malice. 

Drop down to verse 15: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”  The difference between murder and hatred in the heart is just the outward act.  

About half way through the first book of the Bible we learn about what happened in the heart of another brother when he was deceived by his sibling: “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him.  He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Friend, if you’re holding a grudge, this hatred amounts to murder.  That’s actually what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’   But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…”

Incidentally, the issue in 1 John 3:15 is whether a person can continue being a murderer and still have eternal life in him.  We know that murderers can be forgiven and saved when they repent and receive Christ.  The murderer mentioned here did not once have eternal life and then lose it; he never had eternal life to begin with.  

Friend, if you’re nursing a grudge or find yourself filled with malice, know this: You are more like Cain than Christ.

3. Don’t be miserly. 

Verse 17 gives the third way people live like Cain: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  Cain-like people murder, they hate on others and they also are indifferent to the needs of the needy.  That’s why we can say that an uncaring indifference toward others is the opposite of love.

We’ll come back to this verse in a bit but I’d like to point out two things here.  First, notice that the person “sees” the need.  It’s not like he has no idea.  Second, the phrase, “no pity” has the idea of “closing a door.”  When we see a need and then slam the door, we’re not being like Christ.  

That’s enough about Cain.  Let’s now talk about Christ.  Instead of being a loser like Cain we can be a lover like Christ.

Be a Lover Like Christ

I read a story this week about an Iowa couple, married for 72 years, who died holding hands in a Des Moines hospital within 70 minutes of each other.  Their son explained what happened: “It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going.  But we were like, he isn’t breathing.  How does he still have a heart beat?  The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands and it’s going through them.  Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.”  The couple reportedly was holding hands Tuesday at their funeral in their caskets.  Their family said the plan was to cremate them together and mix their ashes. (10/19/11,

Love like this gets our attention because it’s so unusual in our world today.  The love of Jesus as lived out through the lives of His followers is even more unique.  For this next section, I found the three action words used by Alan Carr to be very descriptive.

1. Love extensively. 

Verse 14 tells us that we can have confidence that Christ has moved us from death to life by looking at the extent to which we love one another: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers…”  I love that phrase, “passed from death to life.”  It means to pass over from one place to another.  Christ takes us from judgment to joy, from sin to satisfaction, from death to life.  That’s exactly what Jesus said in John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

When you know Christ it should show

To say it another way, the evidence that we have been born again is when we find ourselves loving the unlovely.  A stranger met a small girl carrying her little brother and said, “What a burden you’ve got there.”  To which the child replied, “This isn’t a burden; it’s my brother.”  When you know Christ it should show.  To love our brothers and sisters in Christ should not be a burden.

Using another one of his bold statements, the last part of verse 14 says that an absence of love reveals that we are still spiritually dead: “…Anyone who does not love remains in death.”  We’re more like Cain than Christ when we do not love extensively.

Look at verse 16: “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.” Cain took a life; Jesus gave His life for us.  This is the ultimate definition of love.  He gave His life “for us,” which means He died in our place, on our behalf.  To know what it means to love, look at the life and death of Jesus.  He died:

  • Voluntarily.  He died for us willingly.
  • Vicariously.  He died for us in order to save us.
  • Victoriously.  He “laid down” His life, once-for-all and cried out from the cross, “It is finished!”

Most of us know John 3:16 but 1 John 3:16 is more challenging because we’re called to have the same kind of love for others that Jesus has for us.  The word “ought” speaks of owing someone, of being in debt.  We owe it to each other to love as Jesus loved.  We’re called to lay our lives down in love.  Here’s a definition of love that I’ve found helpful: “A self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.”

Cain was all about self-love; Christ is all about selfless love.  This is love without limits.  

A woman was surprised at church one day when another woman, who had often snubbed her, went out of her way to give her a big hug before the second service.  She wondered what had caused the change of heart.  She got her answer at the end of the service when the pastor gave this challenge: “Your assignment for next week is the same as last week.  I want you to go out there and love somebody you just can’t stand” (thanks to Steve Cole for this illustration).  Let’s love extensively.

2. Love expensively. 

There is a cost to following Christ.  We see this first in verse 13: “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.”  The word for “surprise” means to cease wondering or being shocked.  If Christ was hated then Christians will be as well.  Jesus was very clear in Matthew 10:22: “All men will hate you because of me…”  Matthew Henry once said: “Christ’s followers cannot expect better treatment in the world than their Master had.”

I read a story just this week from Compass Direct News about a 17-year-old Somali Christian who was beheaded on September 25th while his parents were at work.  Militants in Somalia have vowed to rid the country of Christianity.  While this is shocking we shouldn’t be surprised when this happens.  There’s a cost to being a Christian.

That expense might be money, materials or moments of time.  Let’s ponder verse 17 again: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  We move from the plural “my brothers” to the singular “if anyone.”  Likewise, we must move from the general to the specific.  A stingy Christian is a contradiction in terms.  “Material possessions” comes from two words.  Kosmos, which means world and bios, meaning life.  It’s the idea of having something in this world that can sustain life – money, food, clothing, shelter, or a home for an orphan (by the way, I want to invite you to a night of worship on November 19th in order to support the Duncan’s and Bell’s as they pursue international adoptions).

We might not be called to die as part of our discipleship but we are called upon to see the need and meet the need, to heed what God calls us to do.  It may involve dying for someone but we do know that it means living for someone.  One person wrote: “Martyrdom is heroic and exhilarating; the difficulty lies in doing the little things…which no one notices and no one applauds.”   

Love isn’t always extreme; it’s often practical and quiet, not always public but private.  One example of this is the ministry that Steve Folwell heads up called, “Faith in Action” as he collects furniture and appliances and then connects those in need with items that have been donated.  I’m reminded of James 2:15-17: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” 

3. Love expressively. 

John summarizes what it means to love like Jesus loved in verse 18: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” C. S. Lewis put it well when he said, “The more often we feel without acting, the less we will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less we will be able to feel.”  Warm words must be accompanied by warm deeds.  I wrote this down: Heed the need and do the deed!  Words are good but works are better

Talking about love is very easy; it’s another matter to be walking in love.  To love the world to me is no chore; my big trouble is the guy next door.  I heard about a man who said to his girlfriend, “Honey, I love you.  I’d climb the highest mountain for you; I’d swim the deepest stream for you; I’d fight a jungle of lions for you…and if it doesn’t rain I’ll be over to see you tonight.”  To love “in word” is to simply talk about someone’s needs, but to love “in action” is to do something about it.

As we approach the Christmas season, we’re reminded of how much we’ve been given in Christ.  In order to express our thankfulness to Him we must give to those in need.  Hebrews 13:16 says, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

A certain “sermon-sampler” had heard that a celebrated pastor was going to the be the guest preacher in a local church but he didn’t know which church it was so he traveled from place to place hoping to the find the popular preacher.  At last, he found the church and hurried inside.  He heard some singing and wondered if it was the music before the sermon or a song that was being played after.  Sticking his head inside the door, he asked an usher, “Is the sermon done?”  To which he heard this wise reply, “No, it’s got to be done!”

Truth is not simply something to be believed; it’s something to be done.  All doctrine begins with do and ends with done.  Are you a Cain-follower or a Christ-follower?  The love of God must cause us to live a life of love.  How are you going to do that?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?