Brotherly Love

Title: Brotherly Love

Bible Book: 1 John 3 : 11-24

Author: Gil McKee

Subject: Love, Brotherly; Love, Christian; Christian Living



Today we return to our study in the book of 1 John; and we find ourselves at verse eleven of the third chapter where John introduces one of his favorite themes – brotherly love. Of course, the matter of love in general is a major concern in this book.

In fact, I went back through this entire First Epistle this week and tried to count how many times John used the word love, loves or loved. If my observation is correct he uses the word love forty-nine times and the word loves six times and the word loved four times for a total of fifty-nine times in this one brief epistle. There are only a hundred and five verses in the whole letter. So obviously, love is an important theme in this book.

Of those fifty-nine uses of the word love in this First Epistle, twenty-two of them refer to Christians loving one another. This is the love that we so often call brotherly love. In other words, twenty-two times in this little letter John uses the word love to speak of brothers and sisters in Christ loving one another.

Although John actually makes his first reference to this subject in the latter part of verse ten, he gives his first words of instruction concerning brotherly love in verse eleven. And that is where we begin our reading this morning. (Read Text)

From these verses we can learn three things about brotherly love. First notice…

I. The imperative of brotherly love

1 John 3:11-15

In verse eleven John no doubt has on his mind the words of Jesus as recorded in the thirteenth chapter of the gospel of John: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Jesus was clear: As He has loved us, in the same way we are to love one another. But He also made it clear that brotherly love is more than just a command, it is the characteristic or mark of the Christian life.

How many of you this morning are wearing some kind of symbol on your lapel or around your neck to show that you are a Christian? Maybe it’s a cross necklace or a cross pin on your tie or lapel. Maybe it’s a symbol of a Bible or a dove. It might even be a gospel story tie – a tie with pictures or the words of certain scriptures that bear a Christian witness. But you are wearing or have on your person some kind of symbol that reminds you and others of your relationship with Christ? Let me see your hands.

Did you know that people have been doing that for centuries? And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wearing those symbols. But Jesus gave us a universal symbol and mark that is to last throughout all the ages until He comes again. And that is the mark of brotherly love. He made it clear that the distinguishing mark in a Christian’s life is that we love one another.

In verse twelve John presents the antithesis to brotherly love. He takes us all the way back to Genesis and the first two brothers – Cain and Abel. Most of us are familiar with the story of how both Cain and Abel offered a sacrifice of worship to God. However, unlike Abel who offered an animal sacrifice which was the acceptable sacrifice to God, Cain offered a sacrifice of his own choosing from the ground. Abel’s sacrifice was an act of obedience to God’s command while Cain’s sacrifice was an act of disobedience to God’s command. Therefore, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God but Cain’s was rejected.

As a result, Cain resented and hated his brother and brutally murdered him. And John says, “And why did he murder him?” And the answer is very straightforward: “Because his works were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” It’s as simple as that! As one commentator put it: “Cain was evil and hated righteousness so greatly that he even killed his own brother, whose righteous deeds had rebuked him.”1

That’s why John tells us in verse thirteen that we are not to be surprised if the world hates us. In fact, the Bible goes as far as to say: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12 (NASU) And why is that; because the situation in our day is no different than the situation of Cain and Abel’s day. The ways of the world are evil and rebellious toward God while the ways of a true believer will be righteous and obedient toward God. Therefore the world resents the righteous and their righteous actions because they expose the unrighteous and rebellious deeds of the ungodly. Light always exposes darkness!

And please notice this important detail. Cain didn’t kill Abel because Abel flaunted his righteousness before Cain. Abel didn’t yell and scream in anger against Cain’s behavior. He just simply worshipped God in an acceptable manner by obeying Him. And because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but rejected Cain’s based on God’s standard, Cain resented and hated Abel.

That is why some people have such resentment and hatred toward Christians and Christian values today. It’s not because all Christians are flaunting righteousness before them or that Christians are forcing them to do something they don’t want to do or even that Christians are judgmental of their life choices. It’s just that people who are rebellious toward God live their lives by their own standards rather than God’s standards and are made to feel very uncomfortable when they are exposed to the truth of God’s standard. And it is a resentment caused by that exposure to truth that causes people to sometimes lash out at Christians

Then in verse fourteen John uses another phrase that he no doubt recalled from the words of Jesus. John calls Christians those who have passed from death to life. Jesus said it like this in John 5: "I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24 (HCSB)

What Jesus said and what John affirms in our text this morning is that the key mark and evidence that assures us that we have passed from death to life is brotherly love. But he says the opposite is also true: The one who does not love his brothers remains in death. In other words, a lack of brotherly love is evidence of a lack of a personal relationship with Christ.

Verse fifteen simply reinforces what John has just said in verse fourteen. He says: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” 1 John 3:15 (HCSB)

According to this verse, hatred is the moral equivalent of murder. In fact, Jesus said something very similar to this in the fifth chapter of Matthew: "You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NASU)

Now, of course, we all know that being angry and hateful enough to kill somebody is not the same thing as actually killing somebody. I suspect that most of us have been angry enough at one time or another in our life to kill someone but didn’t. But murder is always motivated by hatred; and what Jesus is saying here is that the only difference between murder and hatred is the deed itself because the attitudes are the same. In other words, if I hate somebody, I am no different from a murderer in my attitude. And the judgment against a person who habitually murders and a person who habitually hates will be the same.

By the way…I use the word habitually because John again uses the present tense of the verb when he mentions everyone who hates his brother. As we learned in the first ten verses of this chapter, a verb in the present tense does not refer to an occasional act but rather to a continual and habitual pattern of behavior.

So John makes it clear that it is imperative for the pattern of a Christians’ attitude and actions to be brotherly love, because hatred is not compatible with one who has eternal life residing in him.

Second, John points out some of…

II. The implications of brotherly love

John begins verse sixteen by saying: “This is how we have come to know love.” In other words, the following are some implications of love. And in the next few verses he gives four specific implications. First, he says that…

A. Brotherly love sacrifices. (16b)

John begins in the latter part of verse sixteen by pointing out the ultimate expression of sacrificial love - that Jesus laid down his life for us. Jesus said it Himself in John 15: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13 (NASU) Jesus sacrificed His life so that we might live.

And after reminding us of Christ’s sacrificial example, John drops the bomb! He says: “We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16b (HCSB) The context of John’s language is unmistakable. He is saying that we should love one another to the extent that we would be prepared to give our lives for each other.

In John’s day he quite possibly could have been thinking about Christians laying down their lives for other Christians during a time of persecution or Christians laying down their lives in the service of the gospel. But at the very least he was emphasizing the extent to which we should be willing to sacrifice in loving and caring for one another.

But he points out a second implication in verse seventeen.

B. Brotherly love shares. (17)

While most of us will probably never be called upon to love others through martyrdom, we are certainly in a position to practice what the Bible calls for in verse seventeen. Brotherly love is love that gives to those in need. And the Bible says very clearly here that if a brother or sister in Christ is in need (not want) and we do nothing to help them, we are lacking in the love that gives evidence that we are truly children of God.

The need of our world today is not heroic acts of martyrdom, but for heroic acts of sharing. The need of the world is for food and clothing and jobs. And the responsibility of those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ is to do what we can to share with others who are in need.

I certainly understand that the needs around us can sometimes seem overwhelming; and we are often discouraged by the fact that we can’t do everything or meet every need. But John would say that a true Christian’s attitude would be: “I might not be able to do everything but how can I not do something?”

I was reminded of this very thing while we were in Uganda. (Refugee Camp – need for places to live) We can’t do everything but we can do something because brotherly love shares.

C. Brotherly love serves. (18)

According to verse eighteen, brotherly love doesn’t just talk about loving others; it puts love in action by serving others. We’ve all heard the cliché, but how true it is: “Actions speak louder than words!” Brotherly love takes action! Brotherly love not only sacrifices and shares, but it actively serves.

Fourth, John says that…

D. Brotherly love secures. (19-20)

Verses nineteen and twenty present us with a wonderful truth. Because brotherly love is the mark by which people will know that we belong to Christ…it is also a source of assurance to the believer himself that he is a child of God. In John’s words, “That is how we will know we are of the truth.”

And the assurance of our salvation, John says, “will convince our hearts in His (God’s) presence.” The word translated will convince means “will persuade.” Some language scholars translate the word, “will tranquilize.” In other words, John is saying that it is possible for believers to know that one day when we stand in the presence of our holy and awesome God, we can stand before Him with a calm, tranquil, and confident heart.

All of us know what it is for our heart to at times make us feel guilty. Let’s face it…sometimes we fail to meet our own expectations for our lives, much less God’s. As Paul said in Romans 7, we do things we know we should not do and don’t do things that we know we should do. Unfortunately, we are all too often reminded that we still struggle with sin and fail. And sometimes when we find ourselves yielding to temptation we are even prone to wonder if we are truly saved at all.

But how comforting it is to know in those times that God is greater than our hearts and that our salvation does not depend upon our feelings but upon God’s facts. And the facts are that God has provided salvation full, free, and forever through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. The Bible then says that it is by faith that Christ’s sacrifice is appropriated to an individual’s life. Then once the facts have been appropriated by faith we experience the joy and peace of God’s salvation in our life.

So even when our heart condemns us, John says that God is greater and His salvation takes care of all our sins, including those occasional and temporary lapses of sin that we all find ourselves committing from time to time.

The hymn writer said it well:

“Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

Finally, John points out…

III. The importance of brotherly love

1 John 3:21-24)

I know I am out of time but let me just quickly show you two important things in verses twenty-one through twenty-four. First, being obedient to the Lord and loving one another like we should directly affects our prayer lives. Listen…there are people today who scratch their heads and wonder why God doesn’t seem to answer their prayers. They feel like He is a million miles away and they say, “God, why don’t you answer me?”

Well, John says in verse twenty-two that we can receive whatever we ask from Him because we keep His commands and do what is pleasing in His sight. Simply put…if we are harboring hatred and anger against someone then our prayers will not get past the ceiling. And the reason for that is that Jesus said very clearly that if we forgive others of their sins against us then our Father in heaven will forgive us of our sins against Him. But if we refuse to forgive others then our Father in heaven will not forgive us. In other words, when we have unconfessed sin in our lives it clogs our fellowship flow with the Father. A build up of unconfessed sin is to our spiritual condition what plaque is to our cardiac condition. Brotherly love is important to our fellowship flow with both God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But John also emphasizes the importance of brotherly love by coupling it with the command to believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ. In fact, it really parallels what Jesus said Himself when He was asked about the greatest commandment in Matthew 22: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’" Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

Jesus was simply saying that when you boil it all down the two most important things in life are to love God and to love others. And loving others begins with loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

1 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 133.


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