Post Series on 1 John 3:11-24:
- Why Righteousness Attracts Persecution (1 John 3:11-15)
- Righteousness Looks Like Love (1 John 3:16-18)
- How Righteous Love Offers Assurance (1 John 3:19-24)
In the previous passage (1 John 2:28-3:10), John addressed the way in which Christians face setbacks in life with hope in the appearance of Jesus. Since we are God’s children now, and since we hope in the day when we shall be made like Jesus when he appears and when we see him as he is, then we purify ourselves as Jesus himself is pure (1 John 3:3). Then, John describes how Christians and no longer “practice sinning” since we have been born of God, and God’s seed in us makes it impossible to maintain a lifestyle of rebellion against God.
Instead, we now live to practice righteousness—and specifically, to love one another, a link that John makes explicit in 1 John 3:10: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Practicing righteousness is the equivalent loving our brothers (that is, our fellow believers).
John continues on this topic of practicing righteousness now in 1 John 3:11-15, but he explains a surprising consequence of practicing righteousness: righteousness attracts persecution:
11For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12We should 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. 13Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:11-15)
Why Righteousness Attracts Persecution
With almost identical language to what John had written earlier in 1 John 1:5, John now reminds his readers that the message they have heard from the beginning is that we should love one another. In 1 John 1:5, John had been explaining the nature of God, but here, John is drawing our attention again to the commandment of God to love one another. John wrote about the commandment to love in 1 John 2:7-11, but he has a different point to bring out now.
Specifically, John wants to prepare us for the persecution that practicing righteousness will bring. It isn’t as though we have had no warning about persecution, or that persecution is something new. In fact, John points all the way back to the fourth chapter of the Bible, when Cain (the son of Adam and Eve) killed his brother Abel. Only one generation removed from perfection in the Garden of Eden and already a man is murdering his brother!
Why did Cain murder Abel? John gives two reasons. First, Cain was “of the evil one.” This phrase in 3:12 (ek tou ponerou) is almost identical to the phrase from 3:10, “of God” (ek tou theou), which is an abbreviated version of the phrase used in 3:9, “born of God” (ek tou theou gegennetai). The imagery John is using here cuts a strict division between the only two spiritual families that exist in the world. Either you are born of God, or you are born of the evil one. Cain was born of the evil one.
What would it mean to be born of the evil one? When Jesus accused some of the Jews of being the offspring of the devil, he explained the significance of this phrase: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
The second reason John gives as to why Cain would murder Abel is this: “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” Somehow, when Cain contrasted his own evil deeds with his brother’s righteous deeds, he was provoked to murder his brother.
John then tells us that this was not a unique reaction, but the way that those born of the evil one still function: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” To this day, those whose deeds are evil hate those whose deeds are righteous. Specifically, your righteous love toward fellow believers provokes enough hatred for someone to persecute and even to murder you!
But even if we recognize that righteousness does attract persecution, that still doesn’t explain why this would be the case. What is it about righteousness that provokes hatred from those whose deeds are evil?
Why Persecution Offers Assurance
John doesn’t give a direct explanation, but he gives us an important clue in v. 14-15: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
When we come to salvation through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, something extraordinary happens. We actually pass “out of death into life.” It is this life, John explains, that creates in us a love for other Christians. Apart from this life, we cannot love the brothers, and we abide (remain/continue) in death. So, anyone who still hates another Christian does not have eternal life and continues in the footsteps of Cain and of the evil one.
John is teaching us here that persecution offers its own kind of assurance. When we experience persecution because our deeds are righteous, that is a sign of the change in our nature, and of the fact that we have passed from death to life.
But this raises two questions: (1) What kind of deeds are righteous deeds? and (2) In what ways do righteous deeds give us assurance, and what are the limits of that assurance?
We will look at those two questions over the next two days.