I John 3:13-23
In a Nutshell
It is not the world's rejection of Jesus Christ that motivates His disciples. It is nothing other than the love of Christ which gives them no choice.
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Where does the idea come from that the One who knows all things remains remote and disinterested from the astonishing creation He has given us?
13 [So,] do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, [when you discover] that the world hates you. 14 We know we have passed from death to life because of the love we share with the brothers and sisters. We know that to fail to love is to abide in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that a murderer can receive no perpetual hold on eternal life. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters. 17 How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses them help? 18 So, little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And it is in this way that we will know that we are acting truly and will be able to reassure our hearts before Him 20 even when our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we are bold before God receiving from Him whatever we ask, because we obey His commandments and do what pleases Him. 23 And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us.
During Jesus' ministry He went among His local community. When He taught in the synagogue there was, at first, surprise [HEXEPLESSONTO], which then became a moral panic, and those of his own home town were deeply scandalized [HESKANDALIZONTO] (John 1:11) by Him. On that occasion, Mark tells us:
And on account of their unbelief Jesus marvelled (Mark 6:6).
This experience, we are told, was a surprise to Jesus. This disbelief came to the Son of God as a wonder, even as a miracle. And yet now in this passage from John's letter we hear the disciple whom Jesus loved telling his readers:
Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, upon discovering that the world hates you.
What are we to make of this? Jesus marvelled as the disbelief of those of His own home town who preferred to find refuge in their own cruel rumour-mongering gossip about Him. Meanwhile the disciples of Jesus are told explicitly not to be surprised when faced by the hatred of the world! Is this not somewhat dissonant?
John has reminded his readers of an ancient struggle that has long been part of the human story: Cain and Abel. Don't be gobsmacked!
Cain had gobsmacked his righteous brother to death! So, don't be gobsmacked!
How are we to understand this? Recall that I have suggested that this letter should be read as John's indisputable, although somewhat indirect, reference to his own failings as a disciple of Jesus, not only during Jesus' ministry but more particularly during His trial.
Jesus was gobsmacked by that police officer for noting the inherent injustice in the High Priest's examination! That was when the world's hatred of the Righteous One was clearly evident to this "disciple whom Jesus loved".
And what, of this world's power and influence, did this disciple have on that occasion? Not much but what he had was the word of a disciple who, from the outset, had been taught by Jesus. But at that moment, had he not been incapable of showing, in deed and truth (v.18), his love for this "brother in need"?
What then? Was John to live the rest of his life emotionally trapped by his own disappointment about what he had failed to do back there in the house of Annas, the House Priest? Did he not carry the heavy guilt of a heart that condemned him (v.20) for his lack of courage, for his silence?
No! But why not?
The answer that is given to our questioning here is simple enough and John confesses it:
God is greater than our hearts and knows all things (v.20).
Could it be that John may have only come to know about his failure - how his deepest sentiments [SPLAGCHNA] (v.17) had utterly failed at that decisive moment for the salvation of the world - some time after Jesus had risen (see John 21:20-25), or even after he had ascended to send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to anoint His disciples with "power from on high"? I find that to be a compelling suggestion concerning the way this letter should now be read by us.
What we conclude from this is that what John witnessed when Jesus was on the end of a vicious "gobsmacking" from the bullying police office, was of such global and cosmic significance that it is presupposed by John's subsequent life of heeding the call to an indiscriminate love in deed and in truth. And he writes as one, "with complete confidence toward God" (v.21), proceeds to commend a life of love for one another (v.23). The Christian life thereby finds its orientation and summation.
Whatever failing John had, and whatever self-criticism he had of his own failings, he came to know that it was not the end of the story. We might say that this letter tells us his joyous announcement of the beginning of a new chapter. He wrote this letter as one called to practise righteousness, by doing what is pleasing to Our Father in Jesus Christ, to heed the way of the Spirit which He has sent (v.24), and to keep His commandments in a life pleasing in His sight.
God actually enjoys those believing in His Son showing their faith by loving one another (v.23).