1 John 3: `Behold What Manner Of Love'

John McCort
Greencastle, Indiana

"One thing that we may have but which we cannot keep for ourselves is divine love. Love unexpressed will soon be love disposed" (Author unknown). This particular proverb sums up in a nutshell the theme of 1 John 3. 1 John is known as the book of love. Chapter 3 is the chapter that breaks down love into its practical application. Chapter 3 is broken down into three basic expressions of love: (1) The love of God toward man, (2) The love of man toward God, (3) The love of man to his fellow man.

1. The Love of God Toward Man (1 John 3:1, 2, 5, 8)

Chapter three opens with the phrase, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God." The basis of all love that Christians possess should begin with the love that God has shown toward man. By examining God's love for man, we can better understand the love that we should possess as Christians.

God's love for mankind was unconditional. God did not love us because we had done anything for Him. "Herein is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4; 10:11). God loved us while we were yet sinners and His enemies (Rom. 5:6-9). Thus, pure love does not depend on that love being returned or appreciated.

Jesus loved the world even though the world did not accept or appreciate Him. "For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not" (John 1:10-11). We ought to expect people of the world not to accept us. In fact, the Bible teaches that Christians will suffer persecution if they live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:2). Christians should even expect fellow Christians to mistreat them occasionally because Jesus came unto His own people and they persecuted and even betrayed Him. In the face of all of this persecution and rejection, Jesus just kept on loving mankind, even those who had betrayed Him to an angry mob to crucify Him.

2. The Love Of Man Toward God (1 John 3:4-10)

Our love toward God is manifested in our repudiation of a life of sin. We cannot continue to commit sin habitually and still claim to love God. "And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (3:3). The verb "purifieth" (hagnizei, present active indicative) is a continuous act, i.e. keeps on purifying. This demonstrates the conditional nature of our salvation. Even though God unconditionally gave His love to us, we must continue to purify ourselves. This process of sanctification is a lifelong process. We must continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.

The child of God must conform himself to the law of God. "Everyone that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness and sin is lawlessness" (3:4). The person who disregards God's law is guilty of sin. "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). "Going onward" means going beyond the scope and authority of God's law. There are those who affirm that the Christian is not under law but under grace. We are not under the Law of Moses but we are most certainly under law (Rom. 8:1; Jas. 1:25; 2:9-10). Thus, the Christian cannot separate righteousness from keeping God's laws and commandments. "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23). Iniquity is translated from the same Greek word (anomia) as lawlessness in 1 John 3:4, which indicates the seriousness of practicing lawlessness or iniquity.

The child of God cannot continue to practice sin and claim to love God. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him" (3:6). This passage is not teaching that the child of God cannot commit isolated acts of sin but that the Christian cannot continue to lead a life of sin or habitually practice sin. "In the passage under consideration, the verb sinneth not is the translation of ouch hamartanei, third person singular, of the present active indicative, of hamartano. Inasmuch as the chief characteristic of the Greek present tense is to indicate action on progress contemporary with the time of speaking, whereas the English verb does not distinguish between such action in progress, and a single act occurring, the significance of the verb sinneth, as used by the apostle, does not fully appear in the translation. It can be brought to the attention of the English reader only by an expanded translation thus: Whosoever continues to abide in him, does not keep on sinning (i.e. habitually as he did before his conversion.) Had the apostle intended to convey the idea that one who abides in Christ is incapable of committing a single act of sin he would have utilized the aorist tense" (Guy N. Woods, A Commentary On The New Testament, Volume 8, p. 265). "Whosoever sinneth (ho hamartanon). Present (linear) active articular participles ...the one who keeps on sinning (lives a life of sin, not mere occasional acts of sin as hamartesas, aorist active participle would mean)" (Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol, 6, p. 222).

"Perfectionists misunderstood this statement and think that it refers to total sanctification, has stopped sinning altogether. They disregard the tense. They ignore 1:8-10; 2:1;2;3:3. In 1 John 1:8-9, John makes confession also of his own sins. `If we keep confessing our sins.' So in Romans 7: 14-25, Paul deplores the fact of his still sinning, of the sin power trying to make him its war captive (v. 23). Philippians 3:12-13" (Lenski, Interpretation of Peter, Jude, John, p. 459).

Christians must change their lifestyle. Sin can no longer have dominion over us (Romans 6:9-I8). Although we may occasionally commit acts of sin (1 John 2:1-2), we no no longer make it a habit to practice sin. It is doubtful that we will ever reach a state of total perfection but we must attempt to purge our lives from habitual sin.

There are those who affirm that we may continue to habitually sin and still receive forgiveness of sins without repenting of those sins or confessing them. John earlier stated, "But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Forgiveness of sin is predicated upon us continuing to walk in the light. If we habitually walk in darkness, then we cannot expect to receive forgiveness. John further stated, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Thus, to receive the forgiveness of sin, we must walk in the light and continue to confess our sins as we commit them.

Instrumental music is a case in point. Instrumental music in worship is not authorized in the New Testament. Thus, instrumental music constitutes going beyond the doctrine or law of Christ. It is lawlessness. There are some who affirm that we can continue to habitually use the instrument of music in worship, refuse to repent of it, refuse to confess the sin, defend the sin, and still receive forgiveness of sin for using it. In other words, they affirm that we can habitually practice sin and lawlessness and still obtain forgiveness. This is exactly what John is teaching against. Paul said, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?" (Rom. 6:1-2).

God has never promised to forgive sin unconditionally. Forgiveness of sin has always been predicated upon our confessing the sin and repenting of it. The alien sinner is taught that his sins are conditionally forgiven when he repents of his sin and is baptized (Acts 2:38). The Christian is taught that his sins are conditionally forgiven when he repents of his sin (Acts 8:19-23), confesses his sin (1 John 1:9) and prays to God to forgive him of that sin (Acts 8:19-23; Rom. 8:26-27; 1 John 2:1). Where does the Bible teach that God will unconditionally forgive the sin of using instrumental music or any other sin for that matter? Sin cannot be separated from the law of God and neither can righteousness. We cannot ignore the law of God and still be counted righteous in the eyes of God.

"Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he cannot sin because he is begotten of God" (3:9). There are two words that we need to concentrate on - seed and begotten. Luke 8:11 explains what the sed of God is. "The seed is the word of God." When the word of God abides in us, then we will not continue to practice sin. This again emphasizes the fact that sin cannot be separated from the law of God. How are we begotten of God? "Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible through the word of God which liveth and abideth" (1 Pet. 1:22-23 cf. Jas. 1:18; 1 Cor. 4:15).

"In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil, whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother" (3:10). Character cannot be separated from conduct. Faith cannot be separated from works (Jas. 2:12-26). Neither can man's love for God be separated from keeping God's commandments. "And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected" (1 John 2:3-4). "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith unto faith" (Rom. 1:16-17).

3. The Love Of Man For His Fellow Man (3:11-24)

"For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning that we should love one another." Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus answered, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all of thy heart, with all of thy soul, with all of thy mind, and with all of thy strength. And the second like unto it is, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth and the phophets" (Matt. 22:26-40).

Our love for the brethren is based upon an unselfish attitude toward them. We are to love them unconditionally as Jesus loved us. Our active good will toward them should not be based upon their love for us nor should it be based upon them reciprocating that love toward us. Regardless of how we are treated, we are commanded to keep on loving.

A case in point is Cain and Abel. "Not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous" (3:12). Murder is the supreme act of selfishness. Cain was enraged with jealousy. Cain considered his feelings and had no consideration for the wants and needs of Abel. All hate is an expression of total selfishness. Conversely, all love is an expression of selflessness. It is also interesting to note that the method of Abel's murder is possibly alluded to in this passage. The word for "slew" in the Greek language literally means, "to butcher, to cut the throat like an ox in the shambles," Thus, Cain did not accidentally kill Abel if the inference from the Greek langauge is correct.

One of the true tests of our Christianity is our attitude and action toward brethren. We cannot claim to be the children of God is we harbor hate and malice toward the brethren. Constant bickering, squabbling, and feuding within a congregation is evidence that the congregation is filled with sin and hypocrisy. Love of the brethren, though, is not a pre-requisite of salvation but is an evidence of salvation. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit which demonstrate our fellowship with Jesus. "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" (Gal. 5:15). Literally, this passage means that we should not commit spiritual cannibalism.

Our love for the brethren is demonstrated not only in attitude but in action. Many brethren can speak eloquently of love and end up demonstrating their lack of love by their lack of deeds or works. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue: but in deed and truth" (3:17-18). The term "shutteth up his compassion" literally means, "graphic slamming the door of his compassion" (Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, p. 226).

Authentic love is truly a case where actions speak louder than words. "If a brother or a sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled? and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body? what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself" (Jas. 2:14-15). Love embodies more than warm feelings and kind words. Love is the very emodiment of unselfish action toward another. The opposite of love is hate. Hate embodies more than just bitter feelings toward another. I can demonstrate my hate for someone by merely ignoring their needs. I don't need to feel bitterness or antipathy for someone to hate them.


John summarizes the chapter in verse 22. "And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another even as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him." Character and conduct, faith and works, love and action, righteousness and the Word of God - none of these can be separated.


  1. Define sin.
  2. All who have their hope set on Jesus do what?
  3. Can the child of God habitually commit sin?
  4. Will God unconditionally forgive sin that has not been repented of or confessed?
  5. What is love?
  6. How was the love of God manifested toward mankind?
  7. Who abides in Christ?
  8. How can we identify true love?
  9. Does burning emotion always indicate the presence of true love?
  10. From this chapter what passages indicate that faith without works is dead?

Guardian of Truth XXV: 13, pp. 203-205
March 26, 1981