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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

1 John 3

 

 

Verse 1

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

Behold - calling attention to something wonderful, little as the world sees to admire. This verse is connected with 1 John 2:29. All our doing of righteousness is a mere sign that God, of His matchless love, has adopted us as children: it does not save us, but indicates that we are saved of His grace.

What manner of - how surpassingly gracious on His part, how precious to us!

Love ... bestowed. He does not say that God hath given us some gift, but love itself, the fountain of all blessings; not for our works, but of His grace (Luther).

That , [ hina (Greek #2443)] - resulting in. The effect aimed at in the bestowal of His love is, 'that we should be called children of God.'

Should be called - should have such a glorious title (imaginary as it seems to the world), along with the glorious reality. With God to call is to make really. Who so great as God? What nearer relationship than that of sons? 'Aleph (') A B C, Vulgate, add, 'And we ARE so' really.

Therefore - because 'we are (really) so.

Us - the children, like the Father.

It knew him not - namely, the Father. 'If they who regard not God hold thee in any account, feel alarmed about thy state' (Bengel). Contrast 1 John 5:1. The world's whole course is one great act of non-recognition of God.


Verse 2

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

Beloved by the Father therefore by me Beloved - by the Father, therefore by me.

Now - in contrast to "not yet." We already are sons, though unrecognized as such by the world, and (as the consequence) we look for the manifestation of our sonship, which not yet has taken place.

Doth not yet appear , [ efaneroothee (Greek #5319)] - 'it hath not yet (at any time, aorist) been manifested what we shall be,' what glory we shall attain by virtue of our sonship. "What" suggests a something inconceivably glorious.

But - omitted in 'Aleph (') A B. Its insertion gives a wrong antithesis. Not, 'We do not yet know manifestly what, etc., but we know,' etc. Rather, the manifestation to the world of what we shall be has not yet taken place. We know (in general, with well-assured knowledge) [ oidamen (Greek #1492)] that when [ ean (Greek #1437)] ('if' expressing no doubt of the fact, but only as to the time: also implying that on the coming preliminary fact the consequence follows, Malachi 1:6; John 14:3) He (not 'it,' namely, that which is not yet manifested, Alford) shall be manifested (1 John 3:5; 1 John 2:28), we shall be like Him (Christ: sons substantially resemble their father: Christ, whom we shall be like, is 'the express image of the Father's person:' so in resembling Christ we shall resemble the Father). We wait for the manifestation (Romans 8:19, the apocalypse: applied also to Christ's own manifestation) of the sons of God.

After natural birth, the new birth into the life of grace is needed; to be followed by the new birth into the life of glory: the two alike are 'the regeneration' (Matthew 19:28). The resurrection of our bodies is a coming out of the womb of the earth: being born into another life. Our first temptation was that we should be like God in knowledge: by that we fell: but raised by Christ, we become truly like Him, by knowing Him as we are known, and seeing Him as He is (Pearson, 'Creed'). As the first immortality, which Adam lost, was to be able not to die, so the last shall be not to be able to die. As man's first free choice was to be able not to sin, so our last shall be not to be able to sin (Augustine, 'Civit. Dei,' b. 22:, 100: 30). The devil fell by aspiring to God's power; man, by aspiring to His knowledge; but aspiring after God's goodness, we shall ever grow in His likeness. The transition from God to "He," "Him," referring to Christ (who alone is said in Scripture, to be manifested, not the Father, John 1:18), implies the unity of the Father and the Son.

For ... Continual beholding generates likeness, (2 Corinthians 3:18); as the face of the moon, being always turned toward the sun, reflects its glory.

See him - not in His innermost Godhead, but as manifested in Christ. None but the pure can see the infinitely Pure One (Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 22:4). In all these passages [ opsomai (Greek #3700)], not the action of seeing: but the state of him to whose eye or mind the object is presented; hence, the verb is always in the middle, or reflexive voice, to perceive, inwardly appreciate (Tittmann). Our spiritual bodies will recognize spiritual beings hereafter, as our natural bodies do natural objects.


Verse 3

And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

This hope - of being hereafter "like Him." Answering to "we know" (1 John 3:2); so far from it being a vague, uncertain hope. Faith, love, and hope, concur (1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23). In , [ epi (Greek #1909)] - 'resting upon Him:' on His promises.

Purifieth himself - by Christ's Spirit in him (John 15:3; John 15:5, end). One's justification through faith is presupposed (Acts 15:9).

As he is pure , [ hagnos (Greek #53)] - unsullied with uncleanness. The Second Person, by whom both the Law and Gospel were given.

Sin is incompatible with birth from God (1 John 3:1-3). John often sets forth the truth negatively, which he before set forth positively. He had shown birth from God involves self-purification; he now shows where sin - i:e., absence of self-purification-is, there is no birth from God.


Verse 4

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

Whosoever , [ Pas (Greek #3956) ho (Greek #3588)] - 'Everyone who,' etc.

Committeth sin - in contrast to 1 John 3:3, "every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself" (cf. 1 John 3:7).

Transgresseth also the law , [ poiei (Greek #4160) teen (Greek #3588) anomian (Greek #458)] - 'committeth transgression of law.' God's law of purity; so shows he has no such hope of being hereafter pure as God is pure; therefore, that he is not born of God.

For , [ kai (Greek #2532)] - 'and.'

Sin is the transgression of the law - definition of sin. The Greek ('Aleph (') A C but B [ hamartia (Greek #266)], without he) having the article to both, implies they are convertible terms. "Sin" [ hamartia (Greek #266)] is a missing of the mark, God's will to be ever aimed at. (Romans 3:20, "By the law as the knowledge of sin.") The crookedness of a line is shown by juxtaposition with a straight ruler.


Verse 5

And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.

Additional proof of the incompatibility of sin and sonship: the very object of Christ's manifestation in the flesh was to take away (by one act) entirely [aorist, aree (Greek #142)] all sins, as the scapegoat did typically. And - another proof.

In him is no sin - not 'was,' but "is," as 1 John 3:7, "He is righteous," and 1 John 3:3. Therefore we are to be so.


Verse 6

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Christ's entire separation from sin implies that those in Him must also be separate from it.

Abideth in him - as the branch in the vine, by vital union, living by His life.

Sinneth not. So far as he abides in Christ, he is free from all sin. The ideal of the Christian. The life of sin and the life of God exclude one another, as darkness and light. In matter of fact, believers do fall into sins (1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10; 1 John 2:1-2); but all sins are alien from the life of God, and need Christ's cleansing blood, without application to which the life of God could not be maintained. He sinneth not so long as he abideth in Christ. He that falls into sin is a man: he that boasts of sin is a devil: he that grieves at sin is a saint (Fuller).

Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him , [ heooraken (Greek #3708)] - 'has not seen, and does not see Him.' The ideal of Christian intuitive knowledge is presented, John 10:4. All sin is at variance with the notion of one regenerated. Not 'whosoever is betrayed into sins has never seen, nor known' God; but in so far as sin exists, in that degree spiritual intuition of God doth not exist in him.

Neither - `not even.' To see spiritually is a further step than to know; for by knowing we come to seeing by vivid, experimental realization.


Verse 7

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

The same truth, with the addition that he who sins is, so far as he sins, "of the devil."

Let no man deceive you - as antimonians would.

Righteousness - `the righteousness' of Christ or God.

He that doeth ... is righteous. Not his doing makes him righteous, but his being righteous (justified by the He that doeth ... is righteous. Not his doing makes him righteous, but his being righteous (justified by the righteousness of God in Christ, Romans 10:3-10) makes him to do righteousness: an inversion common in familiar language, logical in reality, though not in form, as an Luke 7:47; John 8:47. Works do not justify, but the justified man works. We infer from his doing righteousness that he is already righteous (i:e., has the true and only principle of doing righteousness-namely, faith), and is therefore born of God (1 John 3:9); just as we say, The tree that bears good fruit is a good tree, and has a living root: not that the fruit makes the tree and its root good, but shows that they are so.

He - Christ.


Verse 8

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

He that committeth sin is of the devil - in contrast to "he that doeth righteousness" (1 John 3:7). He is a son of the devil (1 John 3:10; John 8:44). John does not say, 'born of the devil,' as he does "born of God;" for 'the devil neither creates nor begets; but whoever imitates the devil becomes his child by imitation, not by proper birth' (Augustine, 'Tract.,' 4: 10). From the devil there is not generation, but corruption (Bengel).

Sinneth from the beginning - from the time that sin began; that he became what he is, the Devil. He kept his first estate only a short time after his creation (Bengel). Since the fall of man (at the beginning of our world) the devil is (ever) sinning (he has sinned from the beginning, is the cause of all sins, and still goes on sinning). As author of sin, and prince of this world, he has never ceased go seduce man to sin (Luecke).

Destroy , [ lusee (Greek #3089)] - break up and do away with: bruising and crushing the serpent's head.

Works of the devil - sin, and its awful consequences. Christians cannot do that which Christ came to destroy.


Verse 9

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Whosoever is born of God - `everyone that is begotten of God.'

Doth not commit sin - his higher nature, as begotten of God, doth not sin. To be begotten of God, and to sin, are states mutually excluding each other. In so far as one sins, he makes it doubtful whether he be born of God. His seed - God's living Word, made by the Holy Spirit the seed in us of a new life: the continual mean of sanctification.

Remaineth - abideth in Him (note, 1 John 3:6; John 5:38). Not contradictory to 1 John 1:8-9 : The regenerate show the utter incompatibility of sin with regeneration, by at once cleansing away every sin into which their old nature betrays them, in the blood of Christ.

Cannot sin, because he is born of God - `because it is of God that he is born' (cf. the Greek order with that of the same words in the beginning of the verse): not 'because he was born of God' [ gegenneetai (Greek #1080), perfect; present in meaning, not aorist]: not, Because a man was once for all born of God he never afterward can sin; but, Because he is born of God, the seed abiding now an Him, he cannot sin; so long as it energetically abides, sin can have no place. Compare Genesis 39:9, Joseph, "How CAN I do this great ... sin against God?" The principle within is at utter variance with sin, and gives a hatred for all sin, and an unceasing desire to resist it. 'The child of God receives wounds daily, and never throws away his arms, or makes peace with his deadly foe' (Luther). The exceptional sins of the regenerate are owing to the new life being suffered to lie dormant, and to the sword of the Spirit not being drawn instantly. Sin is ever active, but no longer reigns. The believer's normal direction is against sin; the law of God after the inward man is the ruling principle of his true self, though the old nature, not yet fully deadened, rebels. Contrast 1 John 5:18 with John 8:34 : cf. Psalms 18:22-23; Psalms 32:2; Psalms 119:113; Psalms 119:176. The magnetic needle, the nature of which is always to point to the pole, is easily turned aside, but always re-seeks it.

Children of the devil - (note, 1 John 3:8; Acts 13:10.) There is no middle class between them and the children of God.

Doeth not righteousness. Contrast 1 John 2:29.

He that loveth not his brother (1 John 4:8) - a particular instance of love, which is the sum of all righteousness, and the token (not loud professions, and even seemingly good works) that distinguishes God's children from the devil's.


Verse 10

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 11

For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

The message , [ angelia (Greek #31)] - 'announcement,' as of something good; not a mere command, as the law. The Gospel message of Him who loved us, announced by His servants, is, that we love-not here all mankind, but our brethren in Christ, children of the same family of God, of whom we have been born anew.


Verse 12

Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.

Who - not in the Greek.

Of that wicked one - `evil one:' corresponding to "because his own works were evil." Compare 1 John 3:8, "of the devil," in contrast to "of God," 1 John 3:10.

Slew he him? because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous - through every and hatred of his brother's piety, for which God accepted Abel's, but rejected Cain's offering. Enmity from the first existed between the seed the woman and that of the serpent.


Verse 13

Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

Marvel not. The marvel would be if the world loved you.

The world - whom Cain represents (1 John 3:12).

Hate you - as Cain hated his own brother, to the extent of murdering him. The world feels its bad works tacitly reproved by good works.


Verse 14

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

We - emphatic: hated as we are by the world, we know (as an assured fact) what it knows not.

Passed , [ metabebeekamen (Greek #3327)] - changed our state. (Colossians 1:13).

From death unto life , [ ek (Greek #1537) tou (Greek #3588) ... eis (Greek #1519) teen (Greek #3588)] - 'out of the death (which enthrals the unregenerate) into the life' (of the regenerate). A palpable coincidence, the beloved disciple adopting his Lord's words (John 5:24, end).

Because we love the brethren - the ground, not of passing over out of death into life, but of our knowing that we have. Love is the evidence of our justification and regeneration, not the cause. 'Let each go to his own heart: if he find there love to the brethren, let him feel assured he has passed from death unto life. Let him not mind that his glory is only hidden: when the Lord shall come he shall appear in glory. He has vital energy, but it is still winter: the root has vigour, but the branches are dry: within there is vigorous marrow, within are leaves, within fruits; but they must wait for summer' (Augustine).

He that loveth not. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, omit "his brother" (C), which makes the statement general.

Abideth - still.

In death - `in the (spiritual) death' (ending in eternal death), the state of all by nature. His want of love evidences that no saving change has passed over him.


Verse 15

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Hateth - "loveth not," 1 John 3:14 : there is no medium. 'Love and hatred, like light and darkness, life and death, necessarily replace, as well as exclude, one another' (Alford).

Is a murderer - because indulging that passion, which, if followed to its natural consequences, would make him one. '1 John 3:16 desires us to lay down our lives for the brethren; duels require one (awful to say!) to risk his own life, rather than not deprive another of life' (Bengel). God regards the inward disposition as tantamount to the outward act which would flow from it. Whomsoever one hates, one wishes dead.

Hath - such a one still "abideth in death." Not his future state, but his present is refuted to. He who hates (i:e., loveth not) his brother (1 John 3:14) cannot, in his present state, have eternal life abiding in him.


Verse 16

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

What true love to the brethren is, is illustrated by Christ's to us.

Hereby - `herein.'

The love of God. "Of God" is not in the original. Translate, 'We arrive at the knowledge of LOVE' we apprehend what true love is.

He - Christ.

And we - on our part, if necessary for the glory of God, the good of the Church, or the salvation of a brother.

Lives. Christ laid down His one life for us all: we ought to lay down our lives severally for the lives of the brethren: if not actually, at least virtually, by giving our time, care, prayers, substance: 'Non nobis, sed omnibus.' Our life ought not to be dearer to us than God's own Son was to Him. The apostles and martyrs acted on this principle.


Verse 17

But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

This world's good , [ bion (Greek #979)] - 'livelihood' or substance. If we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16), how ranch more our substance?

Seeth - not casually, but deliberately contemplates as a spectator [ theooree (Greek #2334)].

Shutteth up his bowels of compassion - momentarily opened by the spectacle of his brother's need. 'The bowels' mean the inward parts, the seat of compassion.

How. How is it possible that "the love of (i:e., to) God dwelleth (abideth) in him?" Our superfluities should yield to the necessities-our comforts, and even necessaries, in some measure, to the extreme wants-of our brethren. 'Faith gives Christ to me; love flowing from faith gives me to my neighbour.'


Verse 18

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

When the venerable John could no longer walk to the meetings of the Church, but was borne there by his disciples, he always uttered the same address; that one commandment which he received from Christ, comprising all the rest, the distinctive feature of the new covenant, "My little children, love one another." When the brethren asked why he always repeated the same thing, he replied, 'Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this one be attained, it is enough' (Jerome).

In word - `with word ... with tongue, but in deed and truth.'


Verse 19

And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.

Hereby - `herein;' in loving in deed and truth (1 John 3:18).

We know. 'Aleph (') A B C have 'we shall know,' namely, if we fulfill the command (1 John 3:18).

Of the truth - real disciples of, belonging to, the truth, as it is in Jesus: begotten of God with the word of truth (James 1:18). Having the truth radically, we shall not love merely in word and tongue (1 John 3:18).

Assure - persuade, so as to cease to condemn us; satisfy the doubts of our consciences as to whether we be accepted before God or not (cf. Acts 12:20, "having made Blastus ... their friend," 'persuaded'). The "heart," the seat of the feelings, is our inward judge; the conscience, as witness, acts either as our justifying advocate, or our condemning accuser, even now. John nowhere (except John 8:9, rejected by the oldest manuscript) uses conscience. Peter and Paul alone use it.

Before him - in the sight of Him, the omniscient Searcher of hearts. Assurance is the designed experience and privilege of the believer.


Verse 20

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

Bengel takes this as consoling the believer whom his heart condemns; who therefore, like Peter, appeals from Bengel takes this as consoling the believer whom his heart condemns; who therefore, like Peter, appeals from conscience to Him who is greater than conscience, "Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee." Peter's conscience, though condemning him of his denial of the Lord, assured him of His love; but fearing the possibility, owing to his fall, of deceiving himself, he appeals to the all-knowing God (John 21:17): so Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:3-4). So, if our heart condemn us of sin in general, yet if we have the one sign of sonship, love, we may still assure our hearts, knowing that God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. But Alford objects, Thus hoti is translated 'because' in the beginning, and '(we know) that' in the middle of the verse. If the verse were consolatory, it probably would have been, 'Because EVEN if our heart condemn us,' etc. Translate, 'Because (the reason why it was stated in 1 John 3:19 to be so important to "assure our hearts before Him") if our heart condemn [kataginoskee] ('know [anything] against us:' in contrast to 'we shall know that we are of the truth') us (it is) because God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.' If our heart judges us unfavourably, we may be sure that He, knowing more than our heart knows, judges us more unfavourably still (Alford).

Compare the ellipsis, 1 Corinthians 14:27; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 8:23. The condemning testimony of conscience is not alone, but is the echo of the voice of Him who is greater, and knoweth all things. Our hypocrisy in loving by word and tongue, not in deed and truth, does not escape even conscience, though knowing but little, how much less God who knows all things? I prefer the consolatory view. For [ peisomen (Greek #3982)] 'we shall assure our hearts' (note, 1 John 3:19), is gain over, so as to be stilled, implying a previous self-condemnation by the heart (1 John 3:20), which is got over by the consolatory thought, 'God is greater than my heart,' which condemns (knows against) me: God 'knows all things' [ ginooskei (Greek #1097), not kataginooskei, 'condemns'], therefore knows my love and desire to serve Him; knows my frame, so as to pity my weakness (Psalms 103:13-14). This gaining over of the heart to peace is not so advanced experience as having CONFIDENCE toward God, which flows from a heart condemning us not. The first 'because' applies to the two alternatives (1 John 3:20-21), giving the ground of saying, that having love we shall gain over, or assure our minds before Him (1 John 3:19): the second 'because' applies to the first alone-namely, if our heart condemn us. When he reaches the second alternative (1 John 3:21), he states it independently of the former 'because,' which connected it with 1 John 3:19, inasmuch as CONFIDENCE toward God is a further stage than persuading our hearts, though always preceded by it.


Verse 21

Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

Beloved. There is no But contrasting the two cases, 1 John 3:20-21, because "Beloved" sufficiently marks the transition to the case of walking in full confidence of love (1 John 3:18). The two results of being able to "assure our hearts before Him" (1 John 3:19), and of 'our heart condemning us not' (of insincerity as to the truth in general, and LOVE in particular), are:

(1) confidence toward God;

(2) a sure answer to prayer.

John does not mean that all whose heart does not condemn them are therefore safe before God; for some have their conscience seared, others are ignorant of the truth: it is not sincerity, but sincerity in the truth, which saves men. Christians are meant: knowing Christ's precepts, and testing themselves by them.


Verse 22

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

We receive - according to His promise (Matthew 7:8). Believers, as such, ask what is in accordance with God's will; or if they ask what God wills not, they bow their will to God's; so God grants them either their request or something better.

Because we keep his commandments - (cf. Psalms 34:15; Psalms 66:18; Psalms 145:18-19.) Not that our merits earn a hearing, but our works of faith being the fruit of His Spirit in us, are 'pleasing in God's sight; and our prayers being the voice of the same Spirit in us (Romans 8:26), necessarily are answered by Him.


Verse 23

And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

God's commandments summed up in the one Gospel commandment.

This is his commandment - singular: for faith and love are not separate commandments, but indissolubly one. We cannot truly love one another without faith in Christ, nor truly believe in Him without love.

Believe - once for all [aorist, pisteusoomen (Greek #4100), B but 'Aleph (') A C, pisteuoomen, 'continually believe].

On the name of his Son - all that is revealed in the Gospel concerning Him, and on Himself, in His person, offices, and atoning work.

As he - Jesus.


Verse 24

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

Dwelleth in him. The Believer dwelleth in Christ.

And he in him - Christ in the believer. Reciprocity. 'The key-note of the letter, abide in Him, with which the former part concluded' (1 John 2:28) (Alford).

Hereby - `herein we (believers) know that He abideth in us, namely, from (the presence in us of) the Spirit.' This prepares, by mention of the true Spirit, for the transition to false "spirits," 1 John 4:1-6; after which he returns again to love.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 3:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/1-john-3.html. 1871-8.

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