“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." -1 John 3:14–15
By all accounts, the opponents of Jesus were pious men — at least on the outside. The Pharisees, for example, were extremely concerned with the law of God and most tried to resist the pressure to conform to the sins of Greco-Roman culture.
However, though zeal for the law of God is certainly commendable, it is clear from any study of the Gospels that in many ways their enthusiasm was not properly placed. For though they were obedient externally, many of them did not understand that the Law was also concerned with the unseen attitudes of the heart (Matt. 23:23–26).
To focus solely on the external is a danger for us as well. It is possible for us to read 1 John 3:12 and think that we are obedient if we never kill anyone physically. But if we go away with only this understanding, we have missed John’s point entirely.
This is made clear in verse 15 of today’s passage where we see that if we hate our brothers we have already become like Cain. Though physical murder results in more severe consequences than hatred alone, the second we hate our brothers we are no better than a murderer (see also Matt. 5:21–26). In wishing ill upon another, we align ourselves with death and are thus opposed to life in Christ.
John’s teaching that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him does not preclude the possibility of forgiveness for hatred, or even murder. Again, he is speaking of those with a fixed attitude to do evil. We will sin and even hate our brothers, yet if the Spirit dwells in us, we will not hate them incessantly, but instead run to Jesus in repentance (1 John 1:7–10). Therefore, if we are comfortable hating other Christians, then perhaps our salvation ought to be questioned.
On the other hand, love for other believers proves that we passed into life (3:14). The Christian may lapse into hatred, but he will not stay there. Love for the brethren will dominate his life (Gal. 5:22). As John Calvin notes in his commentary on 1 John 3:14: “No one sincerely loves his brethren, except he is regenerated by the Spirit of God, he [John] hence rightly concludes that the Spirit of God, who is life, dwells in all who love the brethren.”
How comfortable are you in hating other professing Christians? Do you hold grudges? Do you purposefully avoid speaking to believers whom you dislike? Do you recount all the wrongs someone has done to you even after they have apologized? Ask the Lord to help you search your heart and to make you distressed when you hate another Christian. If you presently hate someone, perform an act of love for that person today as you ask God to change your heart.
Passages for Further Study
- Ex. 20:13
- Isa. 1:21–31
- Matt. 15:10–20
- 1 John 2:9–11
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