Over the last few weeks in our “Letters from John” series, we’ve discovered that John is just a little redundant when it comes to a couple of the things he wants to make sure to communicate to his readers. The most significant, to me, is his repetition of Christ’s commandment: “Love one another.” Here in chapter 3, he gets into some detail about just what “loving one another” looks like, lived out.
In verse 12, he challenges us to not be like Cain, who murdered his brother. Ok, check. That sounds like an easy one, right? Don’t murder. However, I think it goes deeper than that, & touches on the motivation for Cain murdering Abel: jealousy. Genesis 4 tells how Cain was a farmer, while Abel was a shepherd. The time came for a sacrifice offering to be made to the LORD. Cain gave some of the leftovers of his harvest; Abel made a sacrifice of the best lamb in his flock. As a result, God rejected Cain’s offering, but accepted Abel’s. God’s favor made Cain so angry (& jealous) he schemed to get Abel alone in a field, & killed him.
Both Cain & Abel knew what God wanted in a sacrifice – their parents, Adam & Eve had firsthand experience with what God wanted: their very best. Abel chose to approach God & God’s terms, & Cain didn’t. Abel was received – Cain wasn’t. Cain’s jealous response, (birthed out of evil, John tells us) revealed the death & darkness that lived in him, while Abel’s showed the life & light dwelling in him. Death. & life.
Loving our brothers demonstrates that we’ve crossed over from death to life… that we’ve allowed God’s love, light, & life to be made manifest in us.
John continues in verse 16 – using Jesus’ example of love shown in how He laid down His own life for His followers… & John urges his readers to do the same. Since in Jesus’ case, this meant Christ’s death on the cross, does that mean that we are called to do the same? I say yes. Here’s how it can work on a daily basis.
Laying down our lives for others can be much more than dying in someone’s stead… it can also be love that is shown as we serve others & look to put their needs & interests before our own (ala Christ’s example from Philippians 2:1-10). This demonstrates that we have crossed over from death (the pattern of this world) to life (the pattern modeled by Christ.) Finally, this repeated command to love one another isn’t an abstract one – it is imminently practical, & demands that we look for ways to do what we believe Jesus would be doing if He were walking in our shoes. Because, when you think about it, He is.