Love and Hatred (vv.13-15)
In His teaching in the upper room, the Lord Jesus placed love and hatred side by side. "These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (Jn 15.17-18). In our current passage, John again puts these features in juxtaposition. Since the world was hostile to our beloved Lord, it is no surprise that it treats His people harshly and unkindly (v.13). If believers are exposed to a chilly blast of animosity at work, or in the home, or while witnessing, they should have the compensation of the warmth of family affection among their fellow-believers; the assembly should be a veritable haven, an oasis in an arid desert. People who make no contribution to that atmosphere of fond companionship have never been saved; they "(abide) in death". Those who do exhibit that love have the personal assurance that they have been transferred from the sphere of death into life (v.14). Genuine love gives a signal to the world that we are the disciples of Christ (Jn 13.35); genuine love gives us the personal assurance that we do possess eternal life.
John had not only heard the teaching of the upper room, but his mind had retained the instruction of the Sermon on the Mount. In His preaching, the Lord Jesus had made the link between causeless anger and murder (Mt 5.21-22). John now expands that thought and brands the man who hates his brother "a murderer", adding that "no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (v.15). John had been speaking about "that wicked one" (v.12) who was "a murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8.44); he had also referred to Cain, the first human murderer; he now places the man who hates his "brother" in the same category. Hatred is murder in embryo. "Esau hated Jacob" and his smouldering resolve was, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob" (Gen 27.41). Ingrained bitterness, offensive tirades, and chronic selfishness confirm a man's status as a phoney believer who knows nothing of saving grace.
Love and Sacrifice (vv.16-18)
As ever, the Lord Jesus is the supreme example of the truth being expounded. The greatest exhibition of love is observed at the cross: "he laid down his life for us" (v.16). The phrase indicates that what He did was voluntary; He laid down His life. It was also vicarious; it was for us. The fact that it was voluntary means that the pattern that He set encourages displays of love expressed in kindnesses that needs no prompting or coercion. But the major point that John makes is this - because it was vicarious the beneficiaries are under obligation to adopt the same attitude: "we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren". (The word "ought" carries the idea of an obligation or debt; we owe it.) "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another" (Rom 13.8). Calvary demands that self-centredness be abandoned.
John speaks of us laying down our lives for each other, but it is not to be taken literally, although some like Aquila and Priscilla and Epaphroditus did risk their lives for others (Rom 16.3-4; Phil 2.30). The concept is explained in the next verse. We lay down our lives for our brethren by living in their interests; it is to take their needs into account and to minister to them; it is to avoid sacrificing feelings of compassion on the altar of self-interest. The love of God does not abide in the tight-fisted "Scrooge" who glances at a brother's needs and extinguishes the flickering flame of pity (v.17). Avoid being like Nabal who hosted a banquet "like the feast of a king" in his own interests and yet refused to give David and his outlaw band a crust of bread (1 Sam 25). Never be like the priest and the Levite who could glance at human need and "(pass) by on the other side" (Lk 10.30-37).
Quite some years before John wrote, James had warned of the attitude that "sympathises" with those in need without doing a thing to help; "be ye warmed and filled" (James 2.16). John shows that real love is not expressed in such empty platitudes. "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (v.18). The glib, "I love you", would never put food in a hungry man's stomach or clothes on a shivering child. There has to be the "deed"; positive action proves the sentiment to be "in truth", genuine and concrete, not nebulous.
Love and Confidence (vv.19-24)
Once more, in v.19, John shows that such demonstrations of love yield a benefit for the benefactor: "hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him". We have been taught rightly that the assurance of salvation comes with taking God at His word. Another dimension is this; a generous spirit gives an added confidence that its possessor is a bona fide believer. This assurance is "before him". There is the awareness that even under divine scrutiny there is no suspicion of our being fakes.
There could be occasions when our hearts may "condemn us". Perhaps there are situations when a called-for expression of love is unfulfilled (v.20). A tender conscience will protest loudly! However, the omniscient God is greater than our hearts and has made provision for our failure as the epistle has already shown with its references to "the blood of Jesus Christ" and "the propitiation". Peter rested in the fact that even although his recent actions had not harmonised with his verbal expressions of loyalty, his Lord who knew all things knew that he really did love Him (Jn 21.17). (The fact that God "knoweth all things" is a great statement of one of the attributes of deity - the omniscience of God.)
The saint with a clear sky between himself and heaven can have "confidence toward God" in the matter of his approach to God in prayer (v.21). The word for "confidence", "boldness" (RV), appears four times in the epistle; in 5.14 it is again in connection with prayer. This confidence is engendered by obedience and doing "those things that are pleasing in his sight" (v.22). In the immediate context, the command to be obeyed is two-pronged. It involves believing "on the name of his Son Jesus Christ", then giving evidence of genuine faith in Him by loving one another (v.23). It is hugely significant that once more John describes the object of our faith as "his Son Jesus Christ". He is about to give warning of those who were denying aspects of truth conveyed in that comprehensive description of our Saviour. Some Gnostics denied His Sonship and deity. Some denied that He was Jesus, a real man. Some perceived "the Christ" to be an emanation that came upon Him and then departed! John exposes these antichrists at the start of ch.4.
The believer who obeys the command to love his brother has confidence to articulate his requests boldly in the presence of God with the expectation that God will accede to these requests (v.22). By contrast, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps 66.18).
The practical issues in these few verses should not be lost on us. Is our love just talk with no substance? Does practical affection strengthen our assurance? Can we with a conscience "void of offence" approach the Father in prayer? Is there a response to our requests? Does our love for the family of God prove our faith in the Son of God?
The chapter concludes with the repetition of a word that peppers the epistle, the word "dwell" or "abide" (v.24). John now highlights another feature of those who abide in Him and with whom He abides. They are the people who keep His commandments. He has been speaking of the specific commandment to love, but he seems to widen it out here, indicating that the general attitude of submission to God and obedience to His commands indicates that a man is living in fellowship with God, and that God in turn is happy to abide with him. The divine person who indwells every believer is the Holy Spirit, but it is also He who gives the awareness that we are living in intimate union with God. John speaks of God having "given" the Spirit to us. The aorist tense is used, looking back to a specific moment when that took place. That moment was the time of our conversion when through faith in the Lord Jesus He came to dwell. "The hearing of faith" brought the Holy Spirit (Gal 3.2). When we believed, He sealed us (Eph 1.13, RV). Thus, "we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us" (v.24, RV).
To be continued.