1 John 3:14-15, “14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
The opponents of Jesus were pious men, at least they appeared that way, on the outside. For example, the Pharisees were concerned with being theologically accurate concerning the law of God and tried to resist the sins of the Greco-Roman culture. With that said, it is clear from studying the Gospels, even though they were zealous for the law, their enthusiasm was not properly placed. Their obedience was only external, not internal. They did not truly delight in the law of God, nor did they understand the Law was concerned with the unseen attitudes of the heart (Matthew 23:23-26).
When we only focus on the external instead of the internal and external, we are at risk of the same danger as that of the Pharisees. It’s possible to read 1 John 3:12 and think, if we never kill someone, we are good in the eyes of God. The problem is if we read 1 John 3:12, in that way, we have missed John’s point as we saw in our last study. Furthermore, in 1 John 3:15, we see if we hate our brothers or sisters in Christ, we are murderers, and no murder, John says, has eternal life abiding in him. Those are very strong words, but they point to the seriousness of John’s point and the severe consequences therein. Physical murder results in more severe consequences than hatred alone. The second, we hate, our brothers or sisters in Christ, we are in the same class as murderers, John says following Jesus teaching in Matthew 5:21-26. In wishing ill upon fellow Christians, we align ourselves with death, and the old life before Christ, and thus stand opposed to life in Christ.
We may read this passage and think the logical conclusion is if someone murders or even hates, then they are beyond the possibility of forgiveness for hatred and murder. Yet, that view fails to understand the meaning of John’s teaching here. John is speaking of those with a fixed attitude to do evil. They have no desire to repent, no desire to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and zero desire for holiness. You and I as Christians will sin, but when we do so, we will repent, turn from it, and accept the consequences of our sin. If the Holy Spirit dwells in us truly, we will not hate our fellow Christians, but instead run to Jesus in repentance for any sin (1 John 1:7-10). With that said, if we are comfortable hating other Christians, or even replaying the tape of their offenses against us over and over in our hearts, which often breeds continued bitterness, anger, and resentment, then perhaps our salvation ought to be questioned.
Love for fellow Christians proves we have passed from death into life (1 John 3:14). John’s point is to give a test here, we have passed from death to life if we love fellow Christians. If we don’t love fellow Christians or we continue to harbor hatred, ill-will, and more, perhaps we have not passed from death to new life in Christ alone. The Christian may lapse in this but you and I will not stay in a state of hatred and anger over the long haul. Love for fellow Christians, in other words, should mark our lives, instead of hatred, anger, bitterness, etc. (Galatians 5:22). John Calvin in his commentary on 1 John 3:14 says, “No one sincerely loves his brethren, except he is regenerated by the Spirit of God, he [John] hence rightly concludes that the Spirit of God, who is life, dwells in all who love the brethren.”
In a meeting many years back now with one of my pastors, my pastor said, “Dave pray for the man” to which I responded, “No”. And I knew I needed to pray for the man that wasn’t the issue. The issue was, I didn’t like the guy in my Bible study. I honestly didn’t want to pray for him, but I knew I need to. I ended up praying for him and the Lord ended up changing my heart. In 1997, the Lord convicted me of bitterness against my father and the Lord reconciled my dad and me to each other the next day when we went out for a walk. It may appear to be easy for you to say all the right words. You may even know what they mean when it comes to biblical categories and even be able to explain them rightly to others.
With that said, if you aren’t willing to forgive others who have offended and hurt you and you instead replay the tape of their offense over and over in your head and hurt, you are doing the Christian life wrong. We are to forgive those who hurt us, and yes, that can take time. Yes, that can take the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and lives. But with that said, it is neither helpful, nor right to continue to replay the hurt and offense over and over in our hearts and minds. At various times in my life, I’ve been guilty of this myself, so I know how hard it is. But, when, we do so, we should replace these thoughts with biblical truth. Christ has wholly forgiven His people. He no longer holds a record of wrongs against us, even as He records all our deeds before His face. We are legally declared forgiven in the eyes of God, but He will also hold us accountable for all our deeds. And these truths help us see, that while we are forgiven through Christ, friends of God, we are still accountable to God. He who knows our hearts knows our thoughts, and the length of our days is also the one who fully forgives us. Now, I don’t know about you but that is so freeing. It means I can forgive others like the man in my Bible study and pray for him, or even my dad because I’m forgiven by Jesus.
How comfortable are you with forgiveness? Do you hold grudges? Do you also purposefully avoid speaking to Christians whom you dislike? Do you like me recount all the wrongs someone has done to you even after they have apologized? Please ask the Lord to help you search your heart and to make you distressed when you hate another Christian. If you presently hate someone, perform an act of love for that person today as you ask God to change your heart.