Bob spoke on 1 John 3:3-11 this week, and as I sat reading my Greek Interlinear and listening to him speak, it struck me how well united the passage was with my current study in Matthew 5. So before looking deeper, let’s read the passage (NLT):
And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By obeying his commandments. If someone says, “I belong to God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. But those who obey God’s word really do love him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.
Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment, for it is an old one you have always had, right from the beginning. This commandment-to love one another-is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. This commandment is true in Christ and is true among you, because the darkness is disappearing and the true light is already shining.
If anyone says, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves other Christians is living in the light and does not cause anyone to stumble. Anyone who hates a Christian brother or sister is living and walking in darkness. Such a person is lost, having been blinded by the darkness.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells his listeners that they must look beyond the commandment against murder, and see if in their hearts lives anger or bitterness. He asks them to look deeply for any sources of contention between them and their neighbors, things that ought to be resolved quickly, rather than allowed to fester. 1 John fills in with context; God has loved us, and if we cannot show love to our Christian brothers and sisters, we prove that we have no part with God.
Matthew 5 also shares Jesus’ words about honesty and oath-taking, in which he challenges his listeners to live by their words and to make their words simple affirmation of truth. 1 John 3-6 shows us that the one who claims to know God (for the word translated here “belong” means “to know”) but does not obey his commands is a liar. And John’s whole point is that the obedience we show in response to the transforming power of the Spirit in our lives give us confidence that we are His.
This does not mean we are never going to sin as believers, and even before this passage John shares that it is Jesus’ death that takes care of our sin. My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who pleases God completely. He is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world (1 John 2:1-2). But if we consistently prove through our disobedience that we have little regard for Jesus’ words and example, little time for God’s purposes and heart, then we can know that the love of God is not within us. The question is, what will we do with that knowledge?
In this passage John shares that the commandment he is sending their way is an old one, to love one another. Love is what guides us to seek forgiveness, run from pride, deal in honesty and follow Jesus’ example in every other conceivable way. Jesus spoke of the law in Matthew 5 with a full understanding of this commandment, the one overlooked by the religious leaders blindly leading the nation.
…Yet it is also new. This commandment is true in Christ and is true among you, because the darkness is disappearing and the true light is already shining. When we choose to live by love, rather than live to the minimum requirement, our world changes. God lights the way for us to please him, to share his message, to find joy in suffering, and to find peace in the midst of trials. Obedience is the mechanism by which we see the light which is already pouring down. It is the proof of God at work in our lives.