Yesterday at WL, Sam reminded us that it should be obvious whether we are following Jesus or not through the way we live our lives. And that’s John’s point in today’s reading as well.
He reiterates the message that his audience would have heard from the time of their salvation, that they should love one another. Remember that when Jesus summed up the commandments, he did so by saying love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40). So John again reiterates that message: love one another. He then gives an obvious example of love vs. hate that his readers would have been familiar with.
He goes to the example of Cain and Abel, a story that is told way back in Genesis 4. Abel presented a sacrifice that was righteous and acceptable to God, but Cain’s was not. So Cain, in his hatred, murdered Abel. Is there any doubt in that example as to who was filled with love and who was filled with hate? Certainly not! It should be the same with us.
Note too that John doesn’t expect this to be an easy task, to love those who hate. After all, Cain murdered Abel because he didn’t like that Abel’s sacrifice was righteous and accepted while his wasn’t. If we live our lives abiding in Jesus and loving others, there will be people who hate us for it. John wants to make sure that none of us are surprised by this. We shouldn’t be, especially since Jesus had already predicted that it would happen: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Jesus was hated by many, so it should not be a surprise when his followers are hated as well.
See, John has been carrying on this theme of “abide” in this letter, and he has urged the Christian to abide in Christ. Here, he uses a negative example: those who don’t love abide in death, and those who hate and murder do not have eternal life abiding in them. John picks up here on the ideas of Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount, when he raised the bar on the commandment not to murder by saying that the one who hates his brother is still breaking the heart of that command (Matthew 5:21-26). The idea here goes beyond mere external actions but also internal attitudes as well. Are you filled with hate? That often will manifest itself in outward actions (even sometimes to the extreme of murder), but it always starts internally.
So the question to ponder is actually quite simple, and it should be quite obvious: are you filled with love or with hate? The true follower of Jesus is filled with love! Why? Because we have been loved first by Christ! As John will say later in this letter, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Because we belong to Jesus – who first loved us and gave his very life to redeem and reconcile us – we love.
If you have truly experienced the love of Christ, you can’t help but show it to others. And it should be an obvious characterization of our lives.