In 1 John 3:11-18, John gives us two ways that born again people love.
- Humbly rejoice at the greatness of others.
- Humbly sacrifice to meet the needs of others.
In verses 11-15, John tells us to rejoice at the greatness of others (especially Christians). He also tells us how not to love. He writes, “We 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” (vv. 12). Cain was jealous and was completely unable to rejoice with his brother Abel for his sacrifice offered to God. John continues in verse 15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” When others succeed, the born again don’t murder them. They rejoice for them. I especially need grace in this. Lord, help me to celebrate the greatness of others instead of envying them!
In verses 16-18, John adds that a born again person loves others (especially Christians) by sacrificing to meet their needs. He writes, “We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (vv. 16-17). The question is rhetorical. John says, “If you ignore the needs of people you don’t really have God’s love in you!” Lord, help me give sacrificially to others who are in need!
John ends with this tender, yet firm, command: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (v. 18). This doesn’t mean that we only love through actions. It doesn’t mean you are excused from saying to a Christian brother or sister, “I love you” (in a non-romantic sense!). It also does not mean that people get saved because we give them food or drink. Don’t mistake John: gospel people speak loving words, and the gospel message still needs to be spoken to non-Christians. Without loving, sacrificial actions (like rejoicing for people and providing for their basic needs), the gospel will not be taken seriously.
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Update: To clarify, when I say “greatness of others,” this may refer to whatever reflection of our Creator you see in others. No one has inherent greatness (see Rom. 3:10-12), but God bestows upon his people a taste of his glory in our character, personality, talents, abilities, etc. As for non-Christians, they are also made in the image of God and still have amazing talents, abilities, and creative capacities. We should celebrate these things in them as well and help point them to their Creator who gave them these gifts.