Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament1 John 3
Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.
Behold what manner of love ...
Smith tells us that the Greek here has the implication "of what country," F3 suggesting that such love is not of earth but of that heavenly country, as if he had said, "what unearthly love!" F4 A. Plummer, however, denied that this is a legitimate deduction from the Greek. F5
The Father hath bestowed upon us ...
Christ used the expression "my Father," and taught his disciples to pray "our Father"; but the meaning here "includes both," F6 with perhaps the additional thought that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That we should be called children of God ...
The essential kinship of humanity with the Creator is glimpsed in such a concept as this, as it is seen also in the great truth underlying the doctrine of the Incarnation. God would not have become a man, unless it had been true that man had been created in God's image. The most glorious truth the world has ever received is in this invitation or "call" of God to become his children.
And such we are ...
It is no empty title. The believers "in Christ" are genuine children of the Father in heaven. The word rendered "children" ("sons" in KJV) is "[Greek: tekna], that is, related to God by the new birth; and this is a closer relationship than that indicated by [Greek: huioi] (Paul's word, stressing the analogy of adoption)." F7 While no doubt true, in a sense, such a comment should not obscure the fact that "adoption" in Paul's usage carries all of the full benefits and privileges of sons by generation, having also the advantage of illuminating the truth that sonship is all of grace.
For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
The reason for the world's hatred of Christians lies in their hostility to all truth and righteousness. They did not recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God. John's statement here, that the world did not know him, means that, "Although they saw the human Jesus, they did not recognize him as the Son of God." F8 In connection with the rejection of himself, Christ foretold the hatred of his followers (John 16:3); and in the holocaust so soon coming upon the Christians, the same root hatred of the light was assigned here as the reason behind it.
Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is.
It is not yet made manifest what we shall be ...
Sinclair thought that John made this statement in response to questions which Christians had raised regarding their future state; and it may well be true. People have always been curious regarding such things; "But we cannot say. It is not good for us to know." F9 We shall be like Christ, and that must be enough for us.
If we shall be manifested ...
"Grammatically, him should mean the Father; but it is impossible to think this is not a reference to Christ." F10 "What John is clearly saying is that our likeness to the Godhead will be realized in the coming of Christ." F11
We shall be like him ... for we shall see him ...
"This does not mean that seeing God (Christ) is a proof of our being like him, but the cause of our being so." F12 Furthermore, "The Apostle is speaking of an abiding sight of Christ, because a transient view of him would not be a reason for our being like him." F13 All people shall see him in the final judgment, but the view of the wicked shall be transient.
And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
And every one that hath this hope set on him ...
The RSV is a better translation: "Every one who thus hopes in him." This means, "every one who hopes in Christ." The great obligation of every person "in Christ" is to exhibit the righteousness and purity so perfectly exemplified in him.
There is another glimpse in this of the "perfection" that God requires of his children. Being as pure as Christ is pure is the same as being "perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), or being "holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15,16). This idea, or goal, of absolute perfection is unattainable in human strength; but it is achieved for Christians and ascribed to them by reason of their having denied themselves, being baptized "into Christ," and thus made partakers of his sinless perfection. People are saved, not in their own identity, but "as Christ," and "in Christ." This points up the great importance of the expression "in him" as used in this verse (RSV). This should not take away from the power of the exhortation that all Christians should strive to achieve and maintain the very highest state of purity and perfection of which they are capable. Sin can never be any casual business with the Christian.
Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
And sin is lawlessness ...
Here the KJV is far better: "Sin is the transgression of the law." And what law is in view? "He is not thinking of the law of Moses." F14 Nor can we agree with Blaney that, "transgression of the law of love" F15 alone is meant. "It means the law of God in the fullest sense, not Moses' law, but transgression of the will of God." F16 Particularly, it is "the law of Christ" which sin transgresses; and that may not be limited to any classification of Jesus' commandments, but includes "all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-10). Inherent in this is the epic truth that the grace of God has not abolished sin. The proposition that "we are not under law but under grace," while true enough as related to the law of Moses, does not relax any of the law of Christ (See more on this in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, pp. 115,117).
And ye know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin.
In him is no sin ...
Even the sins of Christians who are "in Christ" are cleansed automatically by the blood of Christ as long as they so remain. There is no compatibility whatever between Christ and sin.
He was manifested to take away sins ...
For more on what Christ came into our world to do, see under 1 Pet. 1:19.
And in him is no sin ...
Although in the present tense and bearing the meaning noted above, this is also true in the past tense of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22); he was holy, guileless, undefiled, and separated from sinners (Hebrews 7:26); he knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21); he was without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19), etc.
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him.
From what John had already stated in 1 John 1, we know that he had no intention here of contradicting himself with any teaching to the effect any one having committed sin was in no sense a Christian. Many of the scholars assure us, based upon the Greek verbs used here, that "sinneth" in this context means "leads a life of sin."
Abideth in him ...
This is the key to the sinlessness of Christians, since their sins are forgiven continually through the power of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7). It is only in such a sense as this that any child of God was ever sinless.
My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous:
In this verse, there is a strong suggestion that some of the false teachers who were troubling the church of that era were teaching that one could be saved without living a pure and godly life. Deceitful arguments to the same effect are current in our own times; and there has never been, perhaps, a period of church history when such deceitful heresies were not skillfully advocated. What John said here is: "Make no mistake about it, living the Christian life is the one and only proof of a person's being a Christian."
Even as he is righteous ...
This is possible only through perfect unity with and identification with Christ who is truly righteous. Nothing short of the perfect righteousness of Christ can ever save any one. Let every man decide, therefore, if he will dare to appear before God in judgment clad in his own personal righteousness alone, or if he will deny himself and be baptized "into Christ," thereby becoming a participant in that righteousness which alone is sufficient and efficacious.
he that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
The devil ...
Any willful or continual commission of deeds which are contrary to the will of God reveals the sinner for what he is, a child of the devil. Significantly, John, like all of the holy apostles, accepted without question Jesus' teaching regarding the malignant ruler of this world's darkness. John's teaching here is clearly derived from Jesus' words in John 8:44, and is like Paul's denunciation of Elymas as, "Thou son of the devil." (Acts 13:10). It is a false view that explains away John's powerful words here as an "impression he received from the law of Moses," due to his Jewish background! As Plummer said, "For every single time the devil is mentioned in the Old Testament, he is spoken of twenty times in any gospel or epistle!" F17 Someone wrote a question to F. F. Bruce, asking, "How can a child of God be of the devil?" Bruce replied: "He cannot; that is the point John is making." F18 Of course, for a child of God who might commit a sin occasionally, John had already written of the provision that God has made for that contingency (1 John 2:1,2). Here again, "doeth sin" refers to deliberate choice and continuity in sin.
The devil sinneth from the beginning ...
This does not mean from the beginning of time, nor from the beginning of Satan's existence, nor from the beginning of the Christian age, but "from the beginning of human sin" F19 in the garden of Eden. Jesus said of Satan, that "he was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44); and these texts shed a great deal of light on the purpose of the evil one. By Christ's denomination of him as a murderer," the purpose of Satan to accomplish the death of Adam and Eve is evident; and from John's mention of the devil's sinning from that same time shows that Satan's deception of Eve was a diabolical and sinful act. It was for that sin that God pronounced the curse upon Satan.
REGARDING THE ORIGIN OF SATAN
The Scriptures do not give a categorical answer to the question of Satan's origin; but Ezek. 28:12-19 has the nearest approach to an answer. If, as usually thought, "King of Tyre" in that passage refers to Satan, who had been "in Eden," who was lifted up because of his beauty, who "was created," who was perfect in his ways "till iniquity was found" in him, whose heart "was lifted up" because of his beauty, who was "corrupted" because of his wisdom, etc., then the origin of Satan is revealed in that remarkable passage.
Certainly, it is wrong to think of Satan's sharing, in any manner, the control of the universe with God. That he was the leader of a band of rebellious angels would appear to be a proper deduction from Jesus' mention of "Satan and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), leading to the supposition that Satan himself was, at first, an angel of God who led some of his fellow-angels into rebellion. This is an awesome subject, and little more than a few suggestions may confidently be offered. That there is indeed a being of great magnitude of powers, an inveterate enemy of mankind, the prince of this world, the ruler of the world's darkness, a prince of evil, who has organized and directed the wickedness of mankind is a fact so plainly set forth in the New Testament that only an unbeliever may deny it. The Lord's Prayer is a constant testimonial to the existence of Satan: "Deliver us from the evil one!"
Like the rest of the New Testament
authors, John had no doubt that behind
the rebel wills of men there is a
master-rebel, who sinned before they
were in being, and who, as the enemy
of all good, is called the devil, the
slanderer, Satan, or the
Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.
Whosoever is begotten of God ...
This is a reference to the new birth, as indicated in the KJV, "born of God," and as rendered in the New Catholic Bible and the New English Bible (1961).
Doeth no sin ...
As long as one who has believed in Christ, repented of sin, and been baptized into Christ, and in consequence of such obedience has received the earnest of the Holy Spirit, - as long as such a person continues in that status, he will not sin. The evidence of this is visible in countless thousands of Christians in all ages who have turned their backs upon wicked conduct and have taken seriously the high claims of their holy religion, the same being exhibited for all people to see in the godliness of their new lives in Christ. What is the reason for such a change? John gave it in the next clause.
Because his seed abideth in him ...
The New Testament supplies abundant proof of what the "seed" is which is mentioned here. It is the word of God. Paul instructed the Colossians to let "the word of Christ" dwell in them richly, etc. (Colossians 3:16), and John had in mind the same thing here. The Lord Jesus himself said of the kingdom of heaven, "the seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:11). In speaking of the new birth, Peter also mentioned the "incorruptible seed" which he promptly identified as "the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23). Therefore, it is the word of God which is eternal, incorruptible and continually abiding in Christian hearts. This word is no mere "dead letter," but "living, active ... and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12); and, with such a monitor of their conduct, Christians are strongly persuaded to continue in the path of honor. Indeed, if the child of God will walk fully in that holy light, he will be effectively restrained from all sin. God, however, has given people the freedom of their will; and a failure of the human will can always result in the commission of sin.
And he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God ...
This statement has been alleged to teach a whole anthology of errors, such as:
- The meaning is restricted to what Roman Catholic writers call "mortal" sins, and does not apply to ordinary sins!
- What is sinful in unbelievers (as adultery, greed, theft, etc.) is not sinful to the Christian!
- It is only the "old nature that sins"; the new man in Christ cannot sin. The new man is not connected in any manner with the old man! ("My old nature did it; I didn't.")
- John is here only holding up the ideal, or goal of the Christian life, not really meaning that the Christian cannot sin.
- It means that Christians cannot "consent to sin," that is, deliberately and purposefully walk in forbidden paths.
- It means that Christians cannot continue in a life of sin. Illustrations: Once, when travelling, this writer stopped at the entrance of a city and asked a policeman a question; and he volunteered the information that, "you cannot turn right on a red light in this city," not meaning in any sense whatever that it was impossible to do so, but that it was illegal to do so. John's words here may be viewed as exactly the same kind of prohibition, meaning, "those who are begotten of God are forbidden to sin"; it is against God's law. In view of what John said in 1 John 2:1,2, there could hardly be any doubt that this is exactly what he meant. "He cannot sin" is not a statement of impossibility at all, but a declaration of what is forbidden. Those commentators who see "impossibility" affirmed here favor the interpretation that makes "CONTINUING in a life of sin" to be the impossibility.
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.
In this the children of God are manifest ...
has the meaning that Christians may be identified by their conduct. Any and all transgressions of the law of Christ deny such transgressors any status whatever as children of God. Those who speak loudest about their "faith in Christ," but who do not display the type of behaviour set forth in the New Testament as Christian conduct, may in no sense establish by their profession a status which their unchristian lives deny. People who do not make a serious and consistent effort to do what the New Testament teaches that Christians should do are "the children of the devil." As Plummer said:
This teaching about the devil is not
at all agreeable to those who dwell
exclusively upon the sunny aspects of
the world and of life, and would shut
their eyes to what is dark and
terrible. They like to hear of a
Being who is all gracious and loving
... "the devil ... ?" They wish to
suppose that he belongs to the world's
infancy, and disappears as we know
Children of God ... children of the devil ...
This is the only place in the New Testament where these two expressions stand side by side" F22 and they correspond perfectly with the grand cleavage of humanity into two, and only two classes: the wheat and the chaff, the good and the bad, the sheep and the goats, those on the right hand and those on the left, the good fishes and the rejects, the builder on the rock and the builder on the sand, lovers of God and lovers of mammon, the wheat and the tares, the ready and the unready, the faithful and the unfaithful, the children of God and the children of the devil. It is easy to rationalize sin as "goodness" in the making, etc.; but it appears in the New Testament that these two classes are radical opposites and totally irreconcilable.
Neither he that loveth not his brother ...
This is cited as a particular instance of Christian character, and not as the sum total of it, much in the same manner that Paul often spoke of "faith in Christ."
His brother ...
Does this mean every man on earth, or does it have special reference to the Christian's brother in the faith? Despite learned opinion to the contrary, the conviction here is that it is the "brother in Christ" which is meant. Plummer said it means: "mankind at large," F23 citing the example of the good Samaritan as Jesus' example of "who is my neighbor?" Macknight also stated that the passage, "signifies all mankind, who are all brethren by virtue of their common nature and their descent from Adam." F24 The brotherhood of man is, of course, a fact "in Adam"; but the particular viewpoint of the New Testament is that of the "brotherhood in Christ"; and there is a world of difference in these. Significantly, Paul did not go about among the churches raising a collection for the oppressed heathen in the ghettos of Rome, but for the "poor saints" in Jerusalem. Although, there is a true sense in which the Christian loves every man on earth, it can never be the same as that for the beloved "in Christ."
Love of the world in general will issue in deeds, charities and benefits to "all people," to the extent that these may contribute to their redemption; but the apostolic restriction is sternly laid on this in the words, "As we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10). In this last clause, there is clearly a difference between the love of brethren and the love of the whole world. From these considerations, we believe that Blaney is correct in the view that, "Brother here means a brother Christian, as a representative of all Christians, rather than of all men." F25 The love of Christians is a mutual love (1 John 3:11), and no such love is possible for the world which hates Christians (1 John 3:13).
For this is the message which we heard from the beginning, that we should love one another:
We heard from the beginning ...
The unchanging nature of the Christian revelation is inherent in this. Not even the apostles busied themselves with the production of "new ideas" regarding man's redemption. The great basics of Christianity are unchanging, fixed and permanent. "When false teachers brought forth new and esoteric (secret) doctrines about faith and morals, their very newness refuted them." F26
That we should love one another ...
The mutuality of the love mentioned here is a denial that John is speaking of the Christians unilaterally loving all people. This distinction is important, because much of the current theology tends alarmingly toward mere "humanism" as the one and all of Christian teaching. Such a statement as that of Smith, while true enough in a limited sense, actually falls short of New Testament truth:
The righteousness of the Pharisees
consisted in ritual observance, that
of Jesus in love ... meaning "kind" or
"sweetly reasonable," F27
True Christianity, and the righteousness of Christians in any adequate sense, cannot mean merely the manifestation of an attitude of sweet reasonableness toward the human race. As John will point out before the chapter ends, it is the acceptance of all that Jesus taught which must characterize the response of Christians.
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.
The story of Cain is recorded in Gen. 4:1ff, where Cain's wickedness (which long preceded the murder of Abel) at last issued in his offering being rejected by God. In the ensuing hatred of Abel, Cain killed his brother. It is an important point to remember why God rejected Cain's offering. Stott has a remarkably clear word on this:
If Cain had done well, his offering
would have been accepted (Genesis 4:7).
According to Heb. 11:4, it was by
"faith" that Abel offered a more
excellent sacrifice than Cain ... we
may assume that God had revealed his
will to the two brothers ... By faith
Abel obeyed ... Cain was willfully
Stott's deductions in this are so obviously true that one may only wonder about those who consciously try to make allowances for Cain.
Cain was of the evil one ...
It is a mistake to suppose that God punished Cain merely for making a mistake in the worship; this reveals that Cain was controlled by evil principles. "It is inferred here that even before Cain slew Abel, there was something in the actions of the brothers that revealed their difference." F29 The New Testament reveals that Abel was righteous and that Cain's works were evil, as this very verse flatly declares.
And slew his brother ...
This sheds further light upon what is recorded in Gen. 4, where it is recorded merely that Cain rose up and slew his brother. The word John used in this place properly means: "slaughtered," "butchered," "by cutting the throat (jugulare) like an ox in the shambles." F30
And wherefore slew he him ... ?
It was not for any offense of Abel's against his brother, but simply and only because, "Cain's works were evil, and his brother's righteous." Thus quite early in human history the hatred of darkness against the light was revealed. Cain was the archtype of the world's eternal opposition to truth and righteousness. Roberts was of the opinion that John's choice of Cain as his example of evil could very possibly have been due to the fact that the odious heresy of the Cainites (which flourished a little later) might already have made its appearance at the time he wrote. F31
The heroes worshipped by this
monstrous system were Cain, Korah, the
Sodomites and Judas Iscariot. They
advocated such nonsense by means of a
"Gospel of Judas." ... They taught
that men could not be saved until they
had passed through every kind of
experience, even the most vile,
claiming that an angel attended their
orgies and urged them on to incur
pollution. Out of their debaucheries,
they claimed to have "perfect
knowledge," and did not shrink to rush
into such actions as it is unlawful
even to name? F32
Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you.
The apostle Peter wrote a similar warning (1 Peter 4:12), and Jesus Christ had repeatedly warned the apostles of the unyielding hostility of the world (15:18,19,25; 16:1ff; 17:14, etc.). Cain with his murderous attitude toward his brother who was righteous is the prototype of all the unregenerated people who ever lived. Although it is natural for the non-Christian world to hate Christians, it is not the business or intention of Christians to seek or encourage such hatred; but, rather, it is the purpose of God's children so to live and deport themselves as to disarm such hatreds and win the lost to Christ. In keeping with that purpose, Christians should diligently eliminate from their lives all lack of amiability, carefully avoiding all behaviour that might justly incur the world's hostility.
The reason why the wicked hated the righteous is that, "The good man is a walking rebuke to the evil man, even if he never spake a word to him. His life passes a silent judgment." F33 Alcibiades, a debauchee, said to Socrates, "I hate you; because every time I meet you, you show me what I am." F34 "There is still a Cain, the world, hating its Abel, the church." F35
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death.
We know that we have passed out of death into life ...
The true test of Christian achievement is not world opinion, but holy love within the heart. "Passed out of" is from a word that means, "passing from one form of government to another, and was used of transition from one place to another." F36 It is akin to the word "migrated."
Death into life ...
This strongly reflects the teaching of Jesus who said, "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25). All of the New Testament writers reflect the same thought. The old sinful life is death; the new joy in Christ Jesus is life.
He that loveth not ...
One whose heart is not healed, opened and expanded by love is still abiding in the old life which is death.
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
John here skipped a point or two in his argument, but it is nevertheless evident anyway. "His full argument is: where love is not, there is hatred; where hatred is, there is murder; where murder, there can be no eternal life." F37 An argument like this is squarely founded upon the teachings of the Master who equated the deprecatory word, the contemptuous epithet, and anger in the heart against a brother, with murder (Matthew 5:21-22).
Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
In such a verse as this the unattainability of the full Christian ideal is starkly clear. John did not here command Christians to lay down their lives for each other, but he thundered the principle that they ought to do it. Why? Because Christ did so for us. If the exhibition of such a love as this is the final test to be met before one can be saved, we must be convinced that heaven is going to be sparsely settled! Such an ethic is very much like that set forth in the parable of the good Samaritan, being simply beyond that which the vast majority of Christian people have ever dared to attempt. It is perhaps intended in such Scriptures as these that Christians shall behold the truth of their being "unprofitable servants," and utterly incapable of achieving, in any complete sense, that righteousness which alone can save. In the light of this verse, who could ever imagine that he merited salvation, or that he had earned it? We believe that John's purpose here was primarily that of illuminating this truth. Knowing human weakness and inability to survive such a test (at least in the general sense), God, in his providence, has most infrequently made it a test of Christian fidelity. There are other tests of love, however; and John will immediately turn to one of them.
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?
"This is a much more common and practical test, which all may be called upon to meet, Christian philanthropy." F38 A stingy Christian is a contradiction of terms. There is no use of one's imagining that he has the kind of love that would give up life for a brother, if the countless opportunities of aiding those in distress find no adequate response within him. In a sense, it is even more difficult to aid the poor and the needy than to suffer martyrdom. As Smith put it, "Martyrdom is heroic and exhilarating; the difficulty lies in doing the little things, making the petty sacrifices and self-denials which no one notices and no one applauds." F39 However, in a practical sense, no Christian can excuse himself from full compliance with the holy commandment in a matter like this.
Translators and commentators have devised all kinds of ways to tone down the import of a passage like this. Note the following:
"The well-to-do man who sees his brother in want, etc." F40
Doesn't this let most of us off the hook?
In answer to the question of how far one should go in giving to the poor, although this is theoretical rather than practical, for the vast majority are in no danger at all of exceeding proper boundaries in the exercise of this grace, John Wesley wrote this:
"Give to him that asketh thee ..."
Give and lend to any so far (but no
farther, for God never contradicts
himself) as is consistent with thy
engagements to thy creditors, thy
family, and the household of
Such a comment reveals the serious question of priorities which makes this one of the most difficult Christian commandments; and yet it is one that every child of God must receive and obey.
The very great difficulty of implicit obedience to such commands as those in these verses has been "solved" in a number of devious ways. There are some who talk a good game of loving others, but whose lives show no evidence of it. John will deal with that in the very next verse. There are others who are masters of the art of doing good with "other people's money." They organize enterprises and institutions which they propose to support with contributions from others, feeling that in this they have obeyed the Lord. However, it is the clear intention of the New Testament that the personal element in giving should be dominant. A great many of the charitable enterprises in any community are run exactly like hardnosed business establishments.
My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.
The prohibition here is not against expressions of love and concern for others; for, in their place, these are beautiful and helpful. What is forbidden is the substitution of loving words for needed assistance, which is here called loving "in word." An even worse error is that of merely using the vocabulary of love without any sincerity whatever, that is, talking of a love and concern for others without either the desire or any intention of doing anything except talking about it. This is called by John, "loving ... with the tongue." The world is loaded with "word" lovers and "tongue" lovers! Christians are expected to love "in deed and in truth."
Verses 19, 20
Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him: because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
In this verse, "heart" is used with the meaning of "conscience." "The heart in St. John's language is conscience; the word conscience is not found in his writings." F42
"Opinion is much divided on whether these verses are meant to inspire awe, or afford consolation." F43 There does not seem to be any way of arriving at an absolute certainty on this point, so both viewpoints (and translations) will be presented.
AS AFFORDING CONSOLATION
Westcott's paraphrase is: "We shall then still our heart in whatsoever it may condemn us, because we are in fellowship with God, and that fact assures us of his sovereign mercy." F44
David Smith explained the meaning thus:
The foregoing exhortation may have
awakened a misgiving in our minds: "Am
I loving as I ought?" Our failures in
duty and service rise up before us,
and "our heart condemns us." So the
apostle furnishes a grand reassurance.
The assurance is: (1) the worst that
is in us is known to God, and (2) God
sees the deepest things, and these are
the real things. If our intention is
to do his will, he takes account of
The translation in the New Catholic Bible also follows this pattern of thought:
A probable rendering of the Greek is:
"And in his sight we shall reassure our
hearts, whatever our heart may accuse
us of, because God is greater." F46
When conscience brings its
accusations, we may appeal to the
higher and final tribunal of
Omniscience. "Lord, you know
everything; you know that I love,
etc." (John 21:17). F47
Plummer in his comment on "God knoweth all things ..." has this:
This is an awful thought for the
impenitent, a blessed and encouraging
thought for the penitent. God knows
our sins, but he also knows our
temptations, our struggles, our
sorrow, and our love." F48
Despite the above, however, there is another viewpoint that must be considered.
AS INSPIRING AWE
It could mean: since our hearts
condemn us and God is infinitely
greater than our hearts, God must
condemn us even more. If we take it
that way, it leaves us only with the
fear of God and with nothing to say
but, "God be merciful to me, a
Our conscience is but the faint echo
of His voice who knoweth all things:
if it condemns us, how much more
The main objection to this interpretation was stated by Stott who thought that the emphatic purpose of the paragraph was that of healing wounded hearts and not that of "opening the wounds wider ... and striking terror into their hearts." F51 Despite this, we cannot rule out the possibility of this second meaning, for in so doing we might be guilty of presumption. Nevertheless, we dare to hope that the first meaning is correct. It could be that the blessed Spirit who inspired these precious words intended a certain ambiguity.
Beloved, if our heart condemns us not, we have boldness toward God;
Whatever consolation may have been intended in the preceding verses, a greater consolation is promised for the Christian who will keep his conscience clean.
and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.
Whatsoever we ask we receive ...
"This declaration is limited by the conditions, which in other passages of Scripture, are made necessary to our petitions being granted by God." F52 There is in this verse the implied condition that it is the prayers of the obedient which are answered.
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.
Believe in the name ... and love one another ...
To believe and love - this is the greatest and most important command that ever issued from the throne of glory." F53 The inclusion here of faith "in the name" of Christ shows that, "the commandments" mentioned in the preceding verse are "not only, or chiefly moral." F54 They include the whole spectrum of Christian duty. It is a gross mistake to consider Christianity as chiefly an ethical code, though it is also that. Belief, or faith, in this passage also "carries an overtone of commitment" F55 and actually means fidelity, or faithfulness, as generally in the New Testament.
These last two verses of the chapter (1 John 3:23,24) carry frequent references to the farewell discourses of Jesus (John 13,15). Obedience to divine commands, continuity in faith and love, promised answer to prayer, abiding in God, and the gift of the Spirit are among these.
His commandment ...
Orr pointed out that "believe and love" as used in this verse have the meaning of "trust and obey." F56 Barclay also agreed to this: "When we put these two commandments together, we find the great truth that the Christian life depends on right belief and right conduct combined." F57
And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.
Abideth in him, and he in him ...
This refers to the Christian's abiding in Christ and Christ's abiding in the Christian, "a metaphor derived ultimately from our Lord's allegory of the vine and the branches." F58 It is not, however, some mystical experience which is meant by this; "its indispensable accompaniments are the confession of Jesus as the Son of God come in the flesh, and a consistent life of holiness and love." F59 In this connection, it is also appropriate to point out that no one was ever truly "in Christ" who was not baptized "into him," as the New Testament repeatedly affirms (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26,27; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
And hereby we know that he abideth in us ...
this is only another way of saying, "hereby we know we are truly Christians."
By the Spirit he gave us ...
In Christians, this refers to "the influence of the Spirit renewing their nature, sanctifying their wills, and directing their actions." F60 We have called this the "Gift Ordinary" of the Holy Spirit, given to Christians as an earnest in consequence of and subsequently to their being baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38ff; 2:38ff and Ephesians 1:13). This is also called in the New Testament the "earnest' of the Holy Spirit.
In the wonderful words of this great chapter, the apostle John has revealed the true secret of the wonderful life in Christ, a life so glorious that it is appropriately described as a transfer from darkness to light, and as passing from death to life. The basics of it are profoundly simple. These are: the acceptance of Jesus Christ as God's only begotten Son, the confession of his name, being baptized into him, abiding "in him," having him "abide in" us, and responding to his great love by loving all people of the whole world, and "the brethren in Christ" with even a more fervent love. Such a life is the greatest adventure that human life on earth can offer, and those who dare to accept the challenge shall receive a final reward of eternal life with God in heaven.
Footnotes for 1 John 3
1: R. W. Orr, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 614.
2: Amos N. Wilder, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 251.
3: David Smith, The Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 182.
4: Harvey J. S. Blaney, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 376.
5: A. Plummer, Commentary on the Greek Text, Epistles of St. John (Cambridge, 1886), p. 71.
6: James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 601.
7: Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 376.
8: J. W. Roberts, The Letters of John (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1968), p. 77.
9: W. N. Sinclair, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 482.
10: Leon Morris, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1264.
11: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 78.
12: A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, 1 John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 71.
13: James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, 1 John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1969), p. 66.
14: W. N. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 483.
15: Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 378.
16: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 71.
17: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 72.
18: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 133.
19: W. N. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 484.
20: Charles Gore, The Epistles of John (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920), pp. 144, 145.
21: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 73.
22: Charles C. Ryrie, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1020.
23: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 73.
24: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 72.
25: Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 380.
26: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 88.
27: David Smith, op. cit., p. 185.
28: John R. W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 140.
29: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 89.
30: David Smith, op. cit., p. 185.
31: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 89.
32: Irenaeus, Against Heresies I, 31 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, n.d.), Vol. I, p. 358.
33: William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: The Westminster press, 1976), p. 85.
35: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 73.
36: David Smith, op. cit., p. 186.
37: W. N. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 485.
38: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 93.
39: David Smith, op. cit., p. 186.
40: From the New English Bible in The New Testament in Four Versions (New York: Iverson-Ford Associates, 1963), p. 763.
41: John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Naperville, Illinois: Alec R. Allensen, Inc., 1950), p. 34.
42: Ibid., p. 912.
43: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1057. <44> Ibid.
44: Charles C. Ryrie, op. cit., p. 1013.
45: David Smith, op. cit., p. 187.
46: The New Catholic Bible, op. cit., p. 317.
47: R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 616.
48: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 75.
49: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 86.
50: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 148.
52: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 78.
53: John Wesley, op. cit., p. 913.
54: Amos N. Wilder, op. cit., p. 270.
56: R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 616.
57: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 88.
58: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 150.
59: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 151.
60: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 79.
61: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 115.
62: David Smith, op. cit., p. 182.
63: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 577.
64: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
65: R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 147.
66: Michael Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered, p. 31 (As quoted by Robinson).
67: Michael Green, op. cit., p. 148.
68: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
69: James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 594.
70: David F. Payne, op. cit., p. 605.
71: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
72: Eldon R. Fuhrman, op. cit., p. 338.
73: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
74: R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 148.
75: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 578.
76: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
77: Albert E. Barnett, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 206.