The Test of Love
1 Corinthians 13
1 John 3
1 John 3:1, 2, 11–24
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Recite 1 John 3:16 from memory.
2. Compare and contrast John 3:16 with 1 John 3:16.
3. Commit to imitating Christ’s love by sharing one possession with a Christian brother or sister in need.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Mar. 5—Love Is Eternal (1 Corinthians 13)
Tuesday, Mar. 6—Jesus Commands Us to Love (John 13:31–35)
Wednesday, Mar. 7—A Widow’s Gift of Love (Mark 12:38–44)
Thursday, Mar. 8—God Loves Us (1 John 3:1–5)
Friday, Mar. 9—Avoid the Wrong (1 John 3:6–10)
Saturday, Mar. 10—Evidence of New Life (1 John 3:11–15)
Sunday, Mar. 11—Love as Christ Loves (1 John 3:16–24)
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
—1 John 3:2
Why Teach this Lesson?
A certain congregation has a volunteer ministry group called HomeWorks. This ministry helps church families and neighbors in need of minor home repairs. The group has shingled roofs, built wheelchair ramps, restored a porch, and done many minor plumbing and electrical repairs. Some projects take a few hours while other projects have taken up to two months to complete. All the money for repairs comes from the pockets of the volunteers or from donations to the ministry. What a wonderful demonstration of selfless love for other people! This ministry is a dynamic demonstration of compassion and a fulfillment of Christ’s call to love one another.
Christianity is, in a sense, a lifelong test of love. But your students may wonder, “What is the nature of this test, and how do we pass it?” The “final exam” will be on how we have loved the Lord and how we have loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are not saved by works of love, of course. Yet the way we express Christian love demonstrates our faith. Love is the test that reveals whether or not a believer is really walking in the light. This lesson stresses that the practice of Christian love is a priority item with our God.
A. Will We Be Tested on This?
A high-school teacher has spent hours preparing a special lesson. As she launches into her enthusiastic presentation, a hand goes up in the back row. The laziest student in the class raises the predictable question: “Will we be tested on this?” The implication is clear. If the material is not going to be on a test, then the student is not going to bother to learn it.
The apostle John wants his readers to know something for certain: they are going to be tested on the subject of love. God has already shown them his love; now he expects them to show this same kind of undeserved, unearned love to one another.
“The royal law found in Scripture” is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8). Love is the defining mark of Jesus’ followers. It is the first fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22); it is the crowning virtue to be added to a Christian’s life (see 2 Peter 1:7). Love holds all the other virtues together in “perfect unity” (see Colossians 3:14). Even when measured against faith and hope, the greatest of the three is love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).
B. Lesson Background
John wrote this epistle against a background of false teachers who came to be known as gnostics. Among other things, gnostics taught that it did not really matter if a person had morality or love—as long as he or she had “secret knowledge.” To combat this false teaching, John emphasized the interconnection of right belief, right actions, and right love. To put it another way, it is the right involvement of head, hands, and heart. The child of God must believe the truth, obey the commands, and love the brethren.
Of these three areas, John’s clear favorite is the emphasis on love (although they cannot really be separated). In last week’s lesson John equated the life of love with walking in the light. Today he will examine God’s love, the world’s lack of love, and the saints’ love that meets every test.
I. Majesty of Love (1 John 3:1, 2)
Pure, unselfish love is a beautiful thing. The ultimate example of love is the love of God himself, which he showed when he invited unworthy people back into fellowship. John calls his readers to contemplate what kind of love this is and to imagine what the outcome of this love will be.
A. Our Present (v. 1)
1. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Look! What a wonder! Consider how great is the love that God has offered! With these thoughts John calls his readers to ponder the degree of love it took for God to adopt us as his children. How can God love us when we have been sinful and unworthy?
It is through Christ that God has forgiven us and welcomed us into his family. If we will only think about it, we will realize that it is not the having of merit or knowing secrets that will take us to Heaven. Rather, it is the love and grace of God.
The family of God must take note, however, that the world does not understand or approve of us. The fallen, unregenerate world refuses to know God, so it is only to be expected that the world will not look favorably on God’s people. In spite of this, it is an eternal privilege for believers to be called children of God. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
B. Our Future (v. 2)
2. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
As children of God, Christians have a glorious future. We are heirs of a Father who owns the whole universe. We as God’s children will be changed (see 1 Corinthians 15:51–54), with bodies transformed into something far more glorious (see Philippians 3:21).
What we eventually will be has not yet been disclosed fully. Even so, we do know this: when Jesus appears at his second coming, we shall see him as he is. At that time we shall be like him, with glorious bodies made eternal and incorruptible. Just as God made our bodies in the beginning and pronounced everything “very good,” by his same power our bodies will be made even better.
God’s immense love was poured out on people who deserved just the opposite. He invites us to come out of our rebellion to live in a heavenly home. The cost to God to issue this invitation was the life of his Son. When we consider the degree of love it took to do that, is God’s command that we love one another so burdensome? The other person has not earned our love. But neither have we earned God’s love.
What Love Can Do
George and Janet had been married for several years but were unable to start the family they so badly wanted. At last they were able to adopt a baby. But this baby had suffered from parental neglect. The little girl was a tragic sight to behold. Her skin was covered with lesions; her frail body bore the signs of abuse.
George and Janet came to visit their minister and his wife to show them the baby. The new parents proudly unwrapped the blankets and thrust the baby into the arms of the minister’s wife with the words, “Isn’t she beautiful?” The truth was that she wasn’t beautiful physically; she showed the evidence of the former abuse. It was all the minister and his wife could do to feign an appreciation for a beauty they did not see. They could only state their joy that the three were now a family.
A few months later the family returned for another visit. This time there was no doubt: the baby was indeed beautiful! Tender care had transformed the infant from an object of neglect and abuse into a symbol of what happens when love does its wonderful work. God has brought us into his family, even though the spiritual abuse we suffer is self-inflicted. We cannot imagine how great the difference can be when we let his transforming love work its power on us! —C. R. B.
Visual for Lesson 2
Point to this visual as you ask, “How do we recognize needs that God expects us to meet?”
II. Message of Love (1 John 3:11–15)
God shows us the triumph of love at its best, but the fallen world shows us the failure to love at its worst. From a negative example we can learn what it is to reject the message of love.
A. Don’t Be Like Cain (vv. 11, 12)
11. This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
It was God’s intention from the beginning that we should love one another. But what beginning is John talking about? Even before the church was established, Jesus proclaimed that “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). But John may intend the phrase from the beginning to go back even further, as the next verse shows.
12. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.
Satan, the evil one, tempted Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. More sin followed, bringing hatred and murder into the lives of their sons. When Cain’s offering was rejected and Abel’s was accepted, sin was at the door (Genesis 4:7). Refusing to listen to God’s counsel, Cain allowed jealousy to overrule love. So he murdered his brother out in the fields.
Cain was furious because his own offering from his garden did not win the approval of God while Abel’s offerings from his flock did. Abel had made his offering “by faith” (see Hebrews 11:4). The same is not said of Cain’s offering. Cain’s own actions were evil, but the actions of his brother were righteous (compare Matthew 23:35). “The way of Cain” (Jude 11) is detestable.
The Opposite of Love
Graham Greene wrote the novel The Quiet American in 1956. The novel is set in about 1952, when France was fighting a war to hold on to its colonial power in Southeast Asia. In the novel, Thomas Fowler is a British journalist living with his mistress in Saigon. Alden Pyle, “the quiet American,” disrupts Fowler’s degenerate, opium-smoking, life at ease when he develops a romantic interest in Fowler’s mistress. Using political ideology as his rationalization, Fowler conspires to have Pyle murdered.
The book and the movies that followed in 1958 and 2002 were subject to speculation about the author’s political motivations. Regardless of the political spin, the story echoes the problem of allowing passion and self-interest to cause a person to hate and even murder.
It’s a story as old as the one John reminds us of: Cain’s attitude toward his brother and the murder that resulted. It is a topic that has timeless relevance. The ugliness of a lack of love in our hearts can cause us to gossip, condemn, backbite, or even do things much worse! —C. R. B.
B. Don’t Be Surprised (v. 13)
13. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.
Hatred is nothing new; it has existed in every generation. Therefore, John’s readers should not marvel that this hatred is now directed against them. This is particularly true in light of what Jesus said to his disciples in the upper room: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
C. Don’t Fail This Test (vv. 14, 15)
14. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.
The hatred of Cain is an old story, and the hatred of the world is probably not surprising. But what about hatred within the family of God? It is inconceivable! If a believer doesn’t love his brother it signifies that such a person either has never come all the way into life or has gone back and now abides in death.
15. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
To put it more bluntly, anyone who claims to be within the community of God yet hates a fellow believer is a murderer. Jesus said something similar in the Sermon on the Mount. The Law of Moses said, “Do not murder,” but Jesus added that “anyone who is angry with his brother” is in danger of the same judgment (see Matthew 5:21, 22). John shows the chilling twofold reality of this. First, the person who hates his brother is a murderer. Second, no murderer has eternal life in him. Hatred and murder are in the same moral category.
III. Measures of Love (1 John 3:16–24)
Cain and the fallen world failed the test of love. But God’s children can pass this test. In the following verses John outlines measures or tests of love. John presents this in a positive way, as if he expects his readers to live up to them. The theme is one of obedience.
A. Practical Test (vv. 16–18)
16. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
The first measure of love is a practical test. The love of God is a love that we can perceive in action. When God loved the world, he sent Heaven’s greatest gift. Jesus came and laid down his life for us—unrepentant enemies of God (see John 3:16; Romans 5:8, 10; Colossians 1:21, 22). Love like God’s love could give nothing less. God’s children should resemble their Father in this kind of love. We should be willing to do just about anything for our brothers (see John 15:12, 13).
17. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
Sometimes a person claims to be a loving member of the church, but that person’s actions (or lack of actions) show otherwise. He or she may have plenty of material possessions with which to help. But when a fellow Christian is in need, the person who is well off does not care. How can the love of God be in such a person?
18. Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
Therefore, love must be put into action. Addressing his readers endearingly as dear children, the aged apostle speaks as a loving father (compare 2 John 1). He urges his readers not to love merely with words or tongue, paying mere lip service to the Lord’s command (compare Matthew 7:21; James 1:22–25; 2:14–17). God wants his children to put their love to work with actions and in truth.
The earliest church in Jerusalem was a good example of this. In that community of love, “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32).
B. Inward Conviction (vv. 19, 20)
19. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence
The words this then link this verse to what has just been said. It is by our actions that we know that we belong to the truth. If the Christian’s loving actions are genuine and substantive, that is positive evidence of a right relationship to God. Knowing truly that we love produces confidence within our hearts, even to the extent that it will set our hearts at rest, so we can stand before God at judgment. This is blessed assurance at its best!
20.… whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
But what if our hearts should happen to condemn us? What if a tender conscience, manipulated by the devil, fills us with misgivings and doubts? The good news is that God himself is the final court of appeal; the devil cannot go over his head! We can rest assured that God, who knows everything, is well aware that we love him and we are sincerely trying to love his children the best we can.
C. End Result (vv. 21–24)
21. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God
Now John leads his beloved readers beyond the possible self-doubt of verse 20. If our hearts do not condemn us—and there is no reason that they should do so—then we can enjoy confidence before God. Having this kind of confidence in the presence of our creator is not unreachable, especially when we remember that it is Jesus himself who makes it possible (Hebrews 4:14–16).
22.… and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
John’s focus on hands, head, and heart—in whatever sequence—is repeated frequently throughout his epistle. Moving from verses 20, 21 to verse 22 takes us from heart back to hands. When we keep God’s commands, that is, do what pleases him, we are promised that we will receive anything we ask.
Our loving Father will not withhold his blessings from his children. This presupposes, of course, that we ask in a spirit of love and that we ask for things that are according to his will. “This is the confidence that we have in approaching God: that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Asking for blessings also presupposes that we ask with right motives. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
23. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
Now John moves us from hands to head in declaring what we must believe. Jesus was asked on one occasion, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” He answered in these words: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28, 29). Similarly, John says that God’s command is simply this: to believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Added to this is the further commandment to love one another (compare Matthew 22:36–40). The right belief plus the right love fulfills God’s demands.
24. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
When God’s child is obeying, believing, and loving as John has directed, then he or she is keeping God’s commands and dwelling in God. More than this, God is also dwelling in him or her. This closely parallels a promise of Jesus: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
This divine presence in the life of the believer is identified in this verse as the Spirit he gave us. The abiding Spirit confirms to us that God is with us and in us (see Acts 2:33, 38; Romans 5:5; 8:14–16).
A. Love: The Final Exam
Love is a verb, not just a noun. It is an action, not just an emotion. We know that faith without actions is dead (James 2:17). We could also say that love without actions is dead. When John writes about love, he writes about doing more than feeling. The command to love one another is a call to action.
God’s “final exam” for his people on Judgment Day will not count how many church services were attended or how many verses were memorized. What he is interested in most of all is how our belief expresses itself in love. If we fail the test of love, we can never make up for it with any “extra credit” we may think we can gain from a flurry of religious activities.
B. Love: The Commencement
The context of 1 John suggests many ways that love can be put to work. We can show our love for God by committing ourselves to his Son and clinging to the truth of his Word. If we truly love God, we will not dishonor his Son by lazy discipleship (Hebrews 6:12). If we truly love God, we will not allow false teachings against his Word to stand (1 Timothy 6:3–5). Love and light must walk hand in hand.
We also show our love for God by loving his children. God wants us to combine our love for him with our love for one another. This kind of shared love is what characterizes living in God’s community—the church. Our love for one another is to be genuine and practical. Mere lip service cannot feed the hungry or clothe the naked. Real love is always ready to reach out.
Finally, we can show our love for God and his church by “talking up” our eagerness to go to Heaven. It is not a cop-out on this world to be eager to go to the next. When Jesus returns and we are suddenly, gloriously changed, we will live forever in fellowship with God, Jesus, and all our fellow saints. If we really treasure the reward of Heaven, we will want to bring the lost into the community of the saved. Inviting someone to join us on the road to Heaven is the ultimate expression of loving one another.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing