1 John 3

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  • 1 John 3:1.
  • See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and we are. Therefore, the world does not know us because it did not know him.

    The initial “see” is an imperative and serves to focus on an aspect that is truly amazing. In this context, the Greek word potapós (what kind) may be understood to denote “how great,” “how wonderful,” or “how amazing” the love is. That sinful humans would be granted the unparalleled dignity of being called “children” of the pure and righteous God is an expression of love beyond compare. According to the oldest manuscript evidence, this is followed by the confident assurance, “and we are” (truly God’s children).

    The “world” that is at enmity with God, however, does not know, recognize, or acknowledge “us” as God’s children. This is “because” those who are a part of this world do not know him. People who are alienated from God and to whom a spirit-led life is foreign do not know or recognize the Father. They have no relationship with him. Therefore, it is impossible for them to recognize or acknowledge the spirit-led children as being his very own.

    Notes:

    Although numerous manuscripts read “has given us,” others, including fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, say “has given you.” In still other manuscripts, there are variations in the form of the verb.

    Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and numerous other manuscripts read “not know us.” The original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus is “not know you,” which is also what many later manuscripts say.


  • 1 John 3:2.
  • Beloved ones, now we are children of God and it has not yet been revealed what we will be. We do know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him as he is.

    Believers are addressed as “beloved ones,” for they are all members of the same spiritual family. This is followed by the conviction that all share—“now we are children of God.”

    It has not yet been revealed just what “we will be” in the glorified, sinless state. Although enjoying the status of being God's children during their earthly sojourn, believers are not in a position to comprehend this aspect.

    The second occurrence of the verb for “manifested” or “revealed” is third person singular and so could refer to “his” being revealed or “its” being revealed. Therefore, the words could apply to Christ’s being revealed in glory or to the time when it would be revealed to God’s children just what they will be. If the reference is to Christ, then all of God’s children would be like him and see him as he is in his glorified state. The unique Son of God is like the Father, the flawless reflection of his very being. (Compare Hebrews 1:3.) Accordingly, the “children” would then also be like their Father and see him as he truly is. (Compare Matthew 5:8.)


  • 1 John 3:3.
  • And everyone who has this hope upon him purifies himself, just as that one is pure.

    The hope of seeing the one who is pure rests upon the Father or the Son on whose promise the believer can rely. Either the Father or the Son may here be designated as the one who is pure. Both the Father and the Son are pure in the absolute sense. Therefore, all who have the hope of seeing the one who is pure just as he is would endeavor to live uprightly in harmony with this marvelous hope. Theirs would be a life of active cooperation with God’s spirit. Others should be able to see evidence of their progress in virtuous living. The process of purifying themselves would never stop. (Compare 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:12-16; 1 Timothy 4:14-16.)


  • 1 John 3:4.
  • Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.

    Sin is a missing of the mark of moral rectitude in thought, attitude, word, or deed. In view of the earlier reference indicating that believers are not free of sin in the absolute sense (1:8-2:2), evidently sin is here being represented as a habit or a way of life distinguishing the proponents of error. “The sin” was a rejection of God and his law, or the deliberate refusal to let divine law govern individual action and the relationship with fellow humans. Habitual practicers of sin acknowledged no accountability to God for their actions. Such sin is lawlessness, a flagrant revolt against divine law.


  • 1 John 3:5.
  • And you know that he was revealed that he might take away sins, and in him no sin exists.

    The antichrists or false teachers conducted themselves in a manner that was contrary to the purpose for which the Son of God came to the earth. Believers knew or recognized that the Son of God laid down his life to effect a liberation from sin. The one without sin died for sinners. Therefore, the practicers of sin treated Christ’s precious sacrifice with contempt.

    Notes:

    Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and a few other manuscripts read oídamen (we know), whereas the majority of manuscripts say oídate (you know).

    The word “sins” appears in extant manuscripts with or without an accompanying “our.”


  • 1 John 3:6.
  • Everyone who abides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen him or known him.

    If the words about abiding “in him” are directly linked to the previous verse, the pronoun “him” would apply to Christ. Because of the statement that follows about “seeing” and “knowing,” however, “him” could mean the Father. Everyone who is at one with the Father or the Son lives a virtuous life, not a life of sin.

    “Everyone who sins has not seen him or known him.” Based on 3:1, the pronoun “him” may be understood to refer to the Father. Habitual practicers of sin cannot “see” or perceive the pure and righteous God. Their defilement blinds them. (Compare Titus 1:15, 16.) They do not know him, for, as corrupt persons, they have no relationship with him and are no part of the family of his beloved children.


  • 1 John 3:7.
  • Little children, let no one deceive you. The one practicing righteousness is righteous, as that one is righteous.

    John again affectionately referred to believers as “little children” or “dear children” (teknía; see note) and urged them, “let no one deceive you.” The deception involved the claim that virtuous conduct had no bearing on one’s standing before God. The very opposite is true. Upright conduct identifies one as an upright person, and as one having a relationship with the one who is righteous in the absolute sense. This one is either the Father or the Son. Because he is righteous, only persons whose lives are virtuous could be a part of the family of God’s beloved children. Anyone claiming otherwise would be a deceiver.

    Note: Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and a number of later manuscripts read paidía (young children), whereas teknía (little children, dear children) has the better manuscript support. The basic meaning, however, is the same.


  • 1 John 3:8.
  • The one practicing sin is from the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this reason the Son of God was revealed, that he might destroy the devil’s works.

    The practicer of sin has a different father. A person reveals who he is by his attitude, words, and actions, and thereby also shows who his father is. (Compare John 8:42-44.) The Greek word for “devil” (diábolos) means “slanderer” or “false accuser.” Once the spirit person who is called “the devil” became guilty of the first slander against God, he persisted in his defiant course. Accordingly, “from the beginning” or from the start of his being the ultimate slanderer, he has been sinning, always missing the mark of rectitude.

    The “devil’s works” embrace his complete record of sin, including all the sins of the world of mankind alienated from God. Through his sacrificial death, God’s Son effected a liberation from sin for all who, in faith, accepted this loving provision for them. He thereby fulfilled the purpose for which he came to the earth, and this was to destroy the devil’s works. Therefore, those who choose to continue living a life of sin are conducting themselves contrary to the reason for Jesus’ sacrificial death.


  • 1 John 3:9.
  • Everyone who is generated from God does not practice sin, because his seed remains in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been generated from God.

    God’s children are recognized by their living virtuous lives. Theirs is not a life of sin. The reason for this is that God’s “seed” remains in them. Likely this “seed” refers to what has been implanted in believers that brought about their newness of life as God’s children. The principle or germ of this new life came to be their possession through the operation of God’s spirit upon them, and that new spirit-led life is an upright life.

    That being a child of God is incompatible with a life of sin is reemphasized with the words, “and he cannot [practice] sin, because he has been generated from God.” No child of God can be a person who chooses to continue living in sin.


  • 1 John 3:10.
  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone not practicing righteousness is not from God, nor [is] the one not loving his brother.

    The task of distinguishing the children of God from those of the devil does not demand one’s having the ability to disprove plausible arguments. In the case of the children of God, one would be able to see clear evidence of virtuous living in attitude, word, and deed. Furthermore, one should be able to sense warm affection and concern, the kind of love that exists among brothers who deeply care about one another. The absence of an upright life and a loveless spirit are not of God but of the devil. A person whose life is continually defiled by sins of the spirit—hatred, jealousy, envy, rage, arrogance, spitefulness, vindictiveness, sneakiness, and the like—is no more a child of God than is the one who in other ways habitually acts contrary to divine law.


  • 1 John 3:11.
  • For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

    At the very start of their life as believers, they heard or came to know that, as members of the one family of God’s children, they should love one another, maintaining a caring, self-sacrificing disposition.

    Note: The word “message” (angelía has strong manuscript support, including fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and many other later manuscripts. A number of manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, read epangelía (promise).


  • 1 John 3:12.
  • Not like Cain who was from the evil one and slaughtered his brother. And why did he slaughter him? Because his works were evil, but those of his brother [were] righteous.

    God’s children are “not like Cain,” the child of the evil one. In the case of Cain, the envy that developed into murderous hatred and moved him to kill his brother was devilish. “And why did he slaughter him? Because his works were evil, but those of his brother were righteous.” He resented that God’s approval was revealed in the acceptance of his brother’s sacrifice because his deeds had been virtuous. Instead of abandoning his “evil works” and imitating the noble example of his brother, Cain chose to slay him, thereby revealing himself to be a child of the evil one or the devil. (Genesis 4:3-6)


  • 1 John 3:13.
  • And do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you.

    Because children of God are no part of the world at enmity with him, condemning it by their virtuous life, they incur its displeasure. Individuals who experience great discomfort when feeling self-condemned often ridicule and lash out against those whose way of life is markedly different from their own. So, for believers, it should cause no astonishment when they become objects of the world’s hatred.

    Note: Manuscripts vary in including or omitting the initial kaí (and) in this verse.


  • 1 John 3:14.
  • We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers. The one not loving remains in death.

    Before accepting the atoning benefits of Christ’s sacrifice, believers, like the rest of the world of mankind, found themselves in the state of death. This is because sin leads to death.

    The letter to the Ephesians (2:1-5, NRSV) describes the transferal from death to life in greater detail: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

    In his letter to Titus (3:3-5, NAB) Paul, in like terms, spoke about what had once been the situation with those who had become children of God and their marvelous deliverance. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit.”

    The unmistakable evidence that believers had passed from death to life was the love existing among them. Jews and non-Jews, men and women, and slaves and masters had become fellow members of the one spiritual family, enjoying spiritual equality as beloved children of God. The divisions that had formerly given rise to animosity, envy, and resentment had been abolished. The love that believers had for one another, their brothers, contrasted sharply with their past life in the world alienated from the Father. Therefore, they knew that they had passed from death to life, having ever before them the evidence of the kind of love that exists among caring, self-sacrificing brothers.

    In the case of one who does not have this love, any claim to being a child of God is false. He “remains in death,” indicating that he never passed from death to life but continued in a state of death in the world alienated from God.

    Notes:

    A number of manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, read “our brothers.”

    Numerous manuscripts, after “does not love,” add tón adelphón (the brother) or tón adelphón autoú (his brother).


  • 1 John 3:15.
  • Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

    The case of Cain illustrated that one hating his brother is a murderer. Those who hate would never come to the rescue of anyone who is the object of their intense hostility. They would not respond with care and compassion upon seeing those whom they hate in a state of desperate need.

    Persons with a hateful, murderous disposition are dead. The newness of life, the eternal life distinguished by knowing God and Christ as members of the beloved spiritual family, would not be abiding in them. Believers knew this to be a fact.


  • 1 John 3:16.
  • By this we know love, because he laid down his soul for us, and we are obligated to lay down our souls for our brothers.

    Believers have learned what real love is from the Son of God. While believers were in a state of alienation from the Father, Christ died for them. He willingly gave up his soul or life, suffering for them to make a liberation from sin and death possible. This expression of love for those who were neither upright nor good is beyond comprehension. It is a love that far surpasses even the most outstanding expression of love and so remains beyond compare.

    The love of Christ rightly makes believers feel deeply indebted and prompts a noble recognition of their duty to love. Because of what the Son of God has done for us, “we are obligated to lay down our souls for our brothers,” putting their interests ahead of our own, protecting them from harm, and coming to their aid in times of need. Under certain circumstances, this can mean literally giving up our soul or life for them.


  • 1 John 3:17.
  • But whoever has the world’s [means for sustaining] life and sees his brother having need and shuts his compassion toward him, how can the love of God abide in him?

    One would expect that the person having the means and the capacity to render aid to the brother who is seen or recognized as being in need would respond compassionately and provide help. When the needy brother is callously cut off from compassion, however, the person doing so could not possibly have the “love of God” abiding in him and motivating his actions. The expression “love of God” may mean (1) the kind of love God has or godly love, (2) God’s love for the individual, and (3) the person’s love for God. The person who would treat a needy brother without compassion could not possibly be a possessor of godly love. He could not do so and personally have experienced the depth of divine love for him. It would be impossible for him to love the invisible God while hurting God’s visible, needy child.


  • 1 John 3:18.
  • Little children, let us not love in word nor with the tongue but in deed and truth.

    Once again believers are affectionately addressed as “little children” or “dear children” (teknía), and many manuscripts include the pronoun “my” (mou). Words of care, concern, and affection may be expressed, but are hollow when there is no follow-through with loving deed or action. A love limited to words is a very weak love, never producing self-sacrificing acts. To love only with the tongue is to make expressions that may sound pleasant to the ear but are insincere, absent of any heartfelt feeling and any intent to respond with genuine care and concern. Such loving with the tongue is the very opposite of love in truth, manifesting a love that is real.

    Note: The Greek conjunction allá (but) is a strong indicator of contrast.


  • 1 John 3:19.
  • And by this we shall know that we are of the truth and shall convince our hearts before him...

    Believers are keenly aware of their personal failings in being imitators of God and Christ. They know that their walk is not flawless and, therefore, continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness, looking forward to the time when they can be upright in the ultimate sense. (Matthew 5:6) Proponents of error can exploit the painful awareness of failings and, with plausible arguments, cause believers to entertain doubts about their standing before God, plummeting their hearts or deep inner selves into a state of upheaval.

    The way in which believers can convince or calm their troubled hearts is not by diligently developing counterarguments but by considering whether their lives reflect genuine love that expresses itself in caring and compassionate deeds. Being “of the truth” or belonging to the truth is confirmed “by this”—loving in “action and truth.” The expression “of the truth” evidently is to be understood as being attached to the truth that God’s Son, who is the truth, revealed in his life and teaching. Because the truth is bound up with Jesus Christ, all who belong to the truth are at one with him and members of the family of God’s children. Based on the words in the next verse, the one before whom believers reassure their hearts is evidently the Father.

    Notes:

    Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and numerous later manuscripts do not include the initial kaí (and). Other variant readings are “from this,” “and this,” “and from this,” and “but from this.”

    A number of manuscripts have the present tense for “we know” (ginóskomen) instead of the future tense “we shall know” (gnosómetha).


  • 1 John 3:20.
  • ...whenever the heart condemns us, because God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

    If it should happen that the heart condemns us, we have the assurance that “God is greater than our heart and knows everything.” Our loving heavenly Father is a better and more compassionate judge than the believer’s heart or deep inner self. Because of their failings, believers may, at times, be troubled by feelings of unworthiness and begin to doubt how God could possibly love them. The Father who gave his own Son for us in expression of his boundless love, however, does not take this narrow view of us when we stumble in our walk with him. He looks upon us as the obedient children we want to be and the children we will eventually be. He knows “everything” about us, including how frail and helpless we are and the reasons for our failings. (Compare Psalm 103:1-14.)

    Note: A few manuscripts include “not” before the verb for “condemn.”


  • 1 John 3:21.
  • Beloved ones, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.

    Manuscripts vary in addressing believers as “beloved ones” or “brothers.” Both expressions, however, call attention to the close relationship all enjoy.

    The Greek word for “confidence” (parresía) can convey the sense of “boldness,” “fearlessness,” or “outspokenness” (the kind of expression that holds nothing back). Whenever the heart or deep inner self does not render an unfavorable verdict respecting us, we, like trusting children, can readily approach our heavenly Father with any care and concern. Nothing would then restrain our words, and our expressions would reflect confidence that we will be heard.

    Notes:

    A number of manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, read “heart” without a personal pronoun. Other manuscripts say either “our heart” or “your heart.”

    In connection with the verb “condemn,” there are variations. These are: “not condemn” (without a personal pronoun), “not condemn you,” and “not condemn us.”


  • 1 John 3:22.
  • And whatever we request we receive from him, because we heed his commands and do the things pleasing to him.

    Confidence in God’s answering our prayers rests on our obeying his commands and maintaining conduct that he approves. All petitions to the Father include the reverential thought, “your will be done.” As obedient children, we can always expect our heavenly Father’s response to be in keeping with our standing before him.


  • 1 John 3:23.
  • And this is his command, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as he gave us command.

    It is the Father’s will that we accept his Son as our Lord and Savior. God’s will has the force of a command. To believe in or have faith in the “name of his Son” means to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God’s unique Son and one’s Lord as evident by a life that conforms to his example and teaching. (Compare Matthew 7:21-23; 10:32, 33; Luke 6:46; John 5:22, 23; Acts 2:36-40; 4:12; 13:37, 38; Philippians 2:9-11.) As God’s children, believers are under command to love one another. It is the Father’s command that his Son’s command to manifest self-sacrificing love be heeded. (Compare John 13:34; 15:17.)

    Notes:

    In the last phrase, the third person verb édoken (he gave) apparently is to be understood as linked to the nearest antecedent (Jesus Christ, the giver of the command to love one another).

    Although the oldest manuscripts and many others include hemín (us), the pronoun is missing in numerous later manuscripts.


  • 1 John 3:24.
  • And the one who heeds his commands abides in him and he in him, and by this we know that he abides in us, by reason of the spirit he has given us.

    In view of the main focus on the Father’s command in the previous verse, evidently he is also referred to here. The believer who obeys God’s command to put his faith in Jesus Christ and manifests love for his brothers is at one with the Father, abiding in him. The Father, in turn, abides in or is at one with the believer. For believers, this means the full enjoyment of God’s continuing presence because of always having his spirit as the guiding and sustaining power during their earthly sojourn. The possession of the spirit proves that the Father abides in or is at one with believers. Within themselves, believers have the full awareness of being God’s children, prompting them to speak of him as their Father and in the intimate manner reflected in the expression “Abba” (papa), just as sons and daughters do naturally when speaking to and about their fathers whom they love. (Compare Romans 8:15, 16.)