We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:14-16)..
John has been encouraging Christians in his letter to be faithful to God: to walk in light and not in darkness (1 John 1), to follow His commandments, walking in the way Jesus walked, and by loving one another (1 John 2:1-17), and avoiding false teachers and teachings and to hold fast to what is true (1 John 2:18-29).
In 1 John 3:1-13, John has been emphasizing righteousness and love. Those who have hope in Christ purify themselves, practice righteousness, and show love; those who are of the evil one do none of these things, but live in lawlessness and unrighteousness (1 John 3:1-11). Christians have heard the message from the beginning that they are to love one another, and that the should not marvel that the world hates them for their stand for righteousness (1 John 3:12-13).
John continues his contrasts in 1 John 3:14-16. Those who do not “abide” in love abide in death (1 John 3:14). The one who “hates” his brother is considered as a murderer, and murderers cannot obtain eternal life (1 John 3:15)!
John has already spoken of “hating” one’s brother (1 John 2:11). While our standard definition of “hate”– detesting or despising another, seeking their harm– certainly is included here, John has a broader view in mind. “Hate” here is the absence of love. Therefore, even if Christians may not really show intentional ill will to their brother, by not loving their brother like they should, they still “hate” him! John speaks of this hatred in most stark terms: it is equivalent to murder. Since all life comes from God (Acts 17:28), and as John will soon make evident, God is love (1 John 4:8), where there is an absence of love, there is an absence of God, and where there is an absence of God, there is an absence of life. John’s logic, therefore, is clear: if you do not show the life-sustaining love of God toward others, you might as well be actively killing them. No one doubts or denies the eternal fate of those guilty of murder!
All of this serves to emphasize the great value of love, which is one of John’s great purposes in this letter. We may know that we have passed from death to life if we love the brethren (1 John 3:14). We know love because of the love of Christ for us, that He gave His life for us, and we should therefore give our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).
John, therefore, does not leave us in doubt regarding how we should love our brethren. John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 are wonderfully complementary passages. Jesus explains how God demonstrates his love for the world by giving His Son for our redemption in John 3:16, and John shows how we should be willing give our lives for one another in 1 John 3:16.
There is value in the obvious explanation of this verse: just as Jesus died for the sake of those who would believe in Him (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:5-11), so if we are called upon to die for the sake of Christ, we should do so. That is absolutely true. But we can “lay down our lives” for one another by “dying” to self and “living” to serve (Romans 6:3-7, Galatians 2:20). When we cease seeking our own good and our own interests and live to serve the good and interest of others, we begin to better reflect the love of Christ toward our fellow man (Matthew 20:25-28, Philippians 2:1-11). We must die to self and live for others if we are going to obtain the eternal life that God promises. Let us, therefore, turn away from death and live for God, and seek to love one another as Christ has loved us!
Ethan R. Longhenry