Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 12:12-16; 1 John 3:11-15; Job 14; Ezekiel 24-25
With verse 11, John returns to his distinctive phrase about the beginning and moves his emphasis from light to love. This will be the main theme of the second half of the letter. He also shows that doctrine is directly linked to ethics. Thinking about the message (which could be translated Gospel) should impact how we live. Following John’s general pattern, he elaborates with a negative example followed by a positive one.
We may wonder why John picks Cain as his negative example, but this was completely in keeping with that time. Cain and Abel were prominently featured in Jewish and early Christian literature, particularly when discussing the envy and hatred experienced by the early church. John picks up on this in reference to the world hating Christians, but notes that even fellow Christians can hate one another – even though that should not be. Those who have experienced God’s life should then reveal that life through love for one another. Echoing what Jesus warned, harbouring anger and hatred in our hearts can be equated with murdering our brother (Matthew 5:21-22).
This passage was addressed originally by John to those who remained in his church. They had experienced hatred from the world, which is to be expected since the world hated Jesus (John 15:18). But they also experienced hatred from those they knew, those who had seemed to belong to them (1 John 2:19) and were seeking to lead them astray (1 John 3:7). Like Cain, they claimed to follow God and did the religious thing. The Greek word translated murder means to butcher, in a sacrificial sense. It is only used here in the New Testament and highlights the sense of people doing something for God or religion, but with the wrong motives. The life of God was not in Cain, and he was engulfed in hatred.
Religious people can be inflamed in hatred when they see God’s life in others who do not follow their way. This appears to have happened to some in John’s church, and undoubtedly hurt some in his audience. How would they respond? When we are hurt by others close to us, how do we respond? Do we feel justified in hating back and lashing out at those who have hurt us? John calls on us to respond from the life of Christ within us, and not from death. If we allow hatred and vengeance to grow within us, even when it feels justify, we are rooted in death, not life. Repaying wrong with more wrong is wrong (Romans 12:21). True love is sacrificial, including sacrificing the right to retaliate. That is God’s job. In tomorrow’s passage, John goes on to explain what this looks like practically.