Bibliotheca Sacra 146 (1989) 301-319.

          Copyright © 1989 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



                                   An Expositional Study of 1 John

                                                 Part 6 (of 10 parts):


                 An Exposition of 1 John 3:13-24


                                                  D. Edmond Hiebert

                                     Professor Emeritus of New Testament

                          Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California


            The authenticity of the Christian gospel is established by the

nature of the enemies it encounters. John's readers are given assur-

ance through the varied aspects of the conflicts of faith being por-

trayed. The conflict between truth and falsehood, depicted in 1 John

2:18-28, was presented as a conflict between the children of God and

the children of the devil in 2:29-3:12. Then in 3:13-24 John made

clear that this moral conflict is experientially a conflict between

God-prompted love and Satan-inspired hatred.


                 Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we

            have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He

            who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a

            murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in

            him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we

            ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the

            world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart

            against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let

            us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall

            know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before

            Him, in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our

            heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us,

            we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from

            Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are

            pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment, that we believe in

            the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He

            commanded us. And the one who keeps His commandments abides

            in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by

            the Spirit which He has given us (1 John 3:13-24).




302                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July-September 1989


            John pointed out the revelation of moral identity through the

practice of love and hatred (vv. 13-15), portrayed the objective mani-

festation of love and hatred (vv. 16-18), and presented aspects of the

assurance which the practice of Christian love produces (vv. 19-24).


       The Revelation from the Practice of Love and Hatred


            The antagonism between good and evil, as reflected in the story

of Cain and Abel (3:12), has never ceased since that day. John re-

minded his readers that hatred is still the world's reaction toward

believers (v. 13), and he assured them that love of the brethren is

the sign of the new birth (v. 14a), and that the practice of hatred is

the sign of spiritual death (vv. 14b-15).



            In urging his readers, "Do not marvel, brethren, if the world

hates you," John reminded them that hatred by the world is to be

expected. The first-class condition assumes the reality of the ha-

tred. By stating the conclusion before the condition, John placed em-

phasis on the admonition being given.

            The prohibition, "Do not marvel" (mh> qauma<zete) does not con-

demn the initial feeling of amazement when they are the innocent

objects of unprovoked hatred. The negative (mh>) with the present

imperative, "stop being amazed," calls on them not to give way to a

feeling of amazement and self-pity. The prohibition is a direct echo

of John 15:18-21. Similar warnings are given in Matthew 5:11-12 and

I Peter 4:13. Of central importance for victory when a Christian is

subjected to the world's hatred is the recognition that hatred is the

natural response of the sinful world toward righteousness. That re-

sponse assures believers of the moral identity of those hating them.

            The added direct address, "brethren" (a]delfoi<), occurs only here

in 1 John,1 though it is a common form of address in other New Testa-

ment epistles. With its use here John consciously drew his readers

together as fellow-members of the Christian community in contrast

to the antagonistic world. As their brother, John too knew what it

meant to be hated by the world.

            The conditional statement, "if the world hates you" (ei] mesei?

u[ma?j o[ ko<smoj), presents this hatred, not as a future possibility, but

a s a present reality. Such hatred is natural, the characteristic atti-

tude of the Christ-rejecting world toward His followers. As Stott

remarks, It is not just hatred, but hatred of Christian people, which


1   The word "brethren" (a]delfoi<) in 2:7 lacks sufficient manuscript support.

               An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24              303


reveals the world in its true colours, for in their persecution of the

Church their antagonism to Christ is revealed."2 Like Cain of old,

the world in its alienation from and opposition to God cannot toler-

ate the presence of righteousness. In the words of Barker,

            Whenever the community of faith acts so as to expose the greed, the

            avarice, the hatred, and the wickedness of the world, it must expect re-

            jection; and if it should go so far as to interfere with its evil practices, as

            Jesus did in the temple, it may expect suffering and brutal death (cf.

            John 15:18-19, 25; 17:14).3



            The emphatic personal pronoun in "We know" (h[mei?j oi@damen)

marks the contrast between the world lost in sin and death and be-

lievers with their inner consciousness of their new life in Christ.

"We know what the world knows not."4 It is an appeal to the Chris-

tian consciousness of his readers, namely, "that we have passed out

of death into life" (o!ti metabebh<kamen e]k tou? qana<tou ei]j th>n

zwh<n). This common awareness is grounded in the assurance that the

promise of Christ in John 5:24 has been fulfilled in their own lives.

The perfect tense "have passed" denotes a permanent transfer from

one place to another; geographically it was used of migrating from one

country to another. Here it is used metaphorically to denote their

spiritual transfer out of the realm of death into the realm of life.

            The definite article with both nouns, "out of the death into the

life," makes prominent the two distinct realms into which earth's

inhabitants are divided. The designation "the death" denotes

mankind's state of spiritual alienation from God due to the Fall

(Rom. 5:12); it is the opposite, spiritually, of "the life." "As spiri-

tual life is 'conscious existence in communion with God,' so spiritual

death is 'conscious existence in separation from God.’”5 There is no

neutral ground between the two realms. This passing out of death

into life denotes the new birth and is the prerequisite for Christian

living. Marshall asserts, "John never suggests that some people are

by nature endowed with spiritual life; on the contrary, a process of


2   J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand

Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., l%4), p. 141.

3   Glenn W. Barker, "1 John," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, ed. Frank

E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), p. 335.

4   A. R. Fausset, "The First General Epistle of John," in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Faus-

set, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New

Testaments, 6 vols. (Hartford, CT: S. S. Scranton Co., n.d.), 2:532 (italics his).

5   W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 2 vols. (reprint,

Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966), 1:276.

304                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1989


spiritual birth is necessary."6 For the believer in Christ the posses-

sion of eternal life is already a present reality, not merely a state to

be reached after death.

            This assurance of possessing eternal life is grounded in Christian

experience, "because we love the brethren" (o!ti a]gapw?men tou>j a]del-

fou<j). The particle "because" (o!ti) connects with "we know" and is

causal in force; love for the brethren is the evidence of new life, not

the basis for acquiring it. What believers do reveals what they are.

As Lenski notes, "Both the physical life and the spiritual life are

not seen directly but are apparent only from their evidence, their ac-

tivity."7 The present tense "we love" points to characteristic prac-

tice, not merely an occasional act of love. The verb denotes not natural

affection stimulated by the loveliness of the one loved but a high

ethical love which consistently seeks the true welfare of those

loved. Fallen human nature is selfish and reads with enmity to-

ward those whose claims clash with one's own claims. Therefore to

practice a love that consistently places the welfare of others above

one's own interests is a sure mark that a spiritual change has taken

place. Imparted at regeneration, this love naturally manifests itself

toward "the brethren," those who are one with other believers as

members of God's family. Blaney asserts, "Love for the brethren (14)

is a better piece of evidence than love for the sinful world, because if

one cannot love the 'children of God,' how could he be expected to love

the 'children of the devil'?"8 While true Christian love will seek to

do good to all men as there is opportunity, it will do so "especially to

those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal. 6:10).



            The practice of love is the determinative test for all who claim to

be Christians, and John applied this test both negatively and posi-


            The absence of love reveals death (v. 14b). John tersely stated

the negative result of this test: "He who does not love abides in

death" (o[ mh> a]gapw?n me<nei e]n t&? qana<t&). The present articular

participle with the negative (mh>) pictures an individual from whose

life the practice of love is characteristically absent. This absence of

love reveals his true inner state, that he "abides in death." What-


6   I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on

the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p. 191.

7   R. C. H. Lenski, The interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude

(1945; reprint, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 469.

8   Harvey J. S. Blaney, "The .First Epistle of John," in Beacon Bible Commentary

(Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), 10:381 (italics his).

             An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24              305


ever his claims of spiritual enlightenment, the absence of love is the

sign that he still remains in the realm of "the death" as alienated

from God. John did not say that such a person will die but rather that

he still remains in his original state as spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1).

            After the word "love" some Greek manuscripts add "the

brother" or "his brother" (cf. KJV), but the better witnesses express no

object,9 leaving the statement absolute and general in its scope.

            The practice of hatred reveals a murderous personality (v, 15).

The comprehensive positive assertion, "Everyone who hates his

brother is a murderer" (pa?j o[ misw?n to>n a]delfo>n au]tou? a]nqrwpok-

to<noj e]sti<n), confirms the preceding negative assertion "does not

love," which is now equated with active hatred. The emptiness left

by the absence of love is always filled by murderous hatred. Love

and hatred are mutually exclusive realms and there is no neutral

ground between them. The fact that he "hates his brother" estab-

lishes his inner identity; he "is a murderer." Hatred and murder

both belong to the same moral category. All hatred is potentially

murderous and may in actual deed become so. Human law condemns a

man for the overt act; God judges the inner desire. In God's eyes the

hater and the murderer are both guilty. John here did with the

sixth commandment, "You shall not murder" (Exod. 20:13), what Jesus

did (Matt. 5:27-28) with the seventh commandment, "You shall not

commit adultery." The guilt of sin lies in the inner motive, not

merely the outward act.

            The rare word "murderer" (a]nqrwpokto<noj, literally, "man-

killer") occurs in the New Testament only here and in John 8:44

where Jesus described the devil as "a murderer from the beginning,"

because he brought death into the world by deceiving Adam and Eve.

Hatred and murder belong to the realm dominated by Satan. He who

has such a spirit cannot belong to the realm of light and love of

which God is the center and motivating power.

            John added a confirmatory note expressing the Christian convic-

tion of his readers: "and you know that no murderer has eternal life

abiding in him." The verb "you know" (oi@date) denotes "knowledge

that is generally accepted, axiomatic, or intuitive."10 It does not re-

quire scientific demonstration or searching inquiry to conclude "that

no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (o!ti pa?j a]nqrwpok-

to<noj ou]k e@xei zwh>n ai]w<nion e]n au]t&? me<nousan, literally, "that

every murderer not is having eternal life in him abiding"). The in-


9   For the textual evidence see Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th ed.

(Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1979).

10   Donald W. Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985),

p. 266.

306                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1989


elusive "every murderer" allows for no exceptions; it includes every

individual whose governing spirit is murderous. John did not mean

that a murderer cannot repent and find forgiveness. The statement

refers not to the future lot of the murderer but to his present state. No

one governed by destructive hatred has "eternal life abiding in

him." The adjective "eternal" is qualitative, denoting a life that is

neither gained nor lost by physical death; it is also quantitative as

denoting its unending duration. The present participle "abiding"

(me<nousan), emphatic by its position at the end of the sentence,

marks the fact that "eternal life" by its very nature is a divinely

communicated gift to the believer in this life. Imparted by God, it is

marked by the unchanging nature of God Himself.


                        The Manifestations of Love and Hatred


            Having shown what the presence or absence of love reveals, John

now pointed out how love and hatred are revealed (vv. 16-18). He set

forth the supreme manifestation of love in the self-sacrifice of Christ

(v. 16a), pointed out the obligation of believers to practice love (vv.

16b-17), and issued a call for the practice of true love (v. 18).



            The words, "We know love by this" (e]n tou<t& e]gnw<kamen th>n

a]ga<phn, literally, "In this we have come to know the love"), direct

attention to the needed test for the manifestation of genuine love.

"In this" looks forward to the cited event of Christ's crucifixion. The

perfect tense "we know" indicates a knowledge that has been gained

through intellectual recognition of the true significance of that his-

torical event. Through contemplation of the cross of Christ one comes

to understand the meaning of love. In Christ's self-sacrifice believ-

ers possess the supreme manifestation of "the love," the kind of love

of which John was speaking.11 Smalley notes that "John's reference

to love is deliberately couched in absolute terms. He is speaking in

the most exalted way of all love, love in its essence; and he is show-

ing how this may be identified."12

            Christ's love is known by what He did: "He laid down His life

for us." As in 2:6 and 3:7, "He" is the demonstrative pronoun (e]kei?-

noj, "that one"), marking the distinctive identity of the One whose

act of love is cited. He revealed His love by His voluntary and pur-


11   The KJV rendering "the love of God" is a correct interpretation, but the use of ital-

ics, of God, makes clear that "of God" lacks manuscript support.

12   Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 51 (Waco, TX:

Word Books, Publisher, 1984), p. 192 (italics his).

         An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24                          307


poseful death on the cross when He "laid down His life for us" (u[pe>r

h[mw?n th>n yuxh>n au]tou? e@qhken). This expression, only here in 1 John,

is characteristically Johannine (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18; 13:37, 38;

15:13). The aorist active verb "laid down" (e@qhken) denotes a

voluntary act, picturing a love that is willing to sacrifice itself on

behalf of others. He was not killed as a martyr; He voluntarily

gave Himself "for us" (u[pe>r h[mw?n), acting in the interest of others.

            John's purpose here was not to explain the nature of the atone-

ment; rather he was setting forth the exemplary aspect of Christ's

death. His love by its very nature was willing to sacrifice self to

promote the welfare of others. "'Self-preservation' is the first law of

physical life, but 'self-sacrifice' is the first law of spiritual life."13

Since life is one's most precious possession, Christ's willingness to lay

down His life on behalf of others constituted the greatest possible

expression of love (John 15:13; Rom. 5:6-10). Such love is the very

opposite of hatred, which is destructive of the welfare of others.



            With his use of "and" (kai>) John at once related the example of

Christ's self-sacrificing love to the lives of believers. Knowledge of

their Savior's love obligates them to love. John first stated the

supreme obligation of love (v. 16b) and then pictured the test of love

in everyday affairs (v. 17).

            The supreme obligation of love (v. 16b). "We ought to lay down

our lives for the brethren" states the supreme example of Christian

love. "We" (h[mei?j) is emphatic, stressing the believers' side of the

obligation to love. In 2:6 their obligation to follow the example of

Christ was already set forth; now John indicated how sweeping that

obligation is. Instead of saying "must" (dei?), which would have con-

veyed the thought of "logical necessity," John used "ought"

(o]fei<lomen) which denotes the inner sense of "moral obligation."14

The present tense points to the continuing obligation resting on be-

lievers, a willingness "to lay down our lives for the brethren." The

aorist tense "to lay down" (qei?nai)15 depicts the supreme self-sacri-

fice to which Christian love should be willing to go, if necessary.

Clearly John was not thinking of believers atoning for the sins of

others. There were occasions in the life of the early church, as t]hLere


13   Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Real (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1972), p. 127.

14   G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3d ed.

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937), p. 99.

15   The Textus Receptus has the present tense, tiqe<nai, but the present tense lacks ade-

quate manuscript support. For the evidence see Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum

Graece, 26th ed. The present tense would imply a figurative usage of "lay down."

308                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1989


are certain tragic occasions now, which may call for a literal obedi-

ence to this precept. Kistemaker remarks, "When the honor of God's

name, the advancement of his church, and the need of his people

demand that we love our brothers, we ought to show our love at all

cost--even to the point of risking and losing our lives."16  John was not

seeking to stimulate a spirit of martyrdom in his readers. He was

stressing the extent to which Christian self-sacrifice should be

willing to go, even to the point of death if necessary.

            The practical illustration of the lack of brother-love (v. 17).

The adversative "But" (d ]) marks a duty connected with but different

from the ideal just presented. John now pictured the obligation of

love with down-to-earth practicality: "whoever has the world's

goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against

him, how does the love of God abide in him?" The picture is hypo-

thetical ("whoever has" [o{j . . . a}n e@x^]), and John used three co-

ordinated subjunctive verbs to paint the picture. The "whoever" (the

relative pronoun o{j without an expressed antecedent) is general,

with no specific individual or group in view. This supposed

individual "has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need

and closes his heart against him." The first two verbs are in the

present tense, graphically unfolding the scene. He "has the world's

goods" (e@x^ to>n bi<on tou? ko<smou); he possesses the material means

that sustain life in this present world. In Luke 15:12 the term bi<oj is

translated "his wealth" (marg. "his living") in the NASB, and "his

property" in the NIV. The concept of luxury need not be entirely ex-

cluded from the meaning of the term (cf. 1 John 2:16), but clearly John

did not mean to apply this test only to those who have wealth. The

picture applies to anyone who has the means to meet another's need.

            John continued the picture: "and beholds his brother in need"

(kai> qewr^? to>n a]delfo>n au]tou? xrei<an e@xonta). The verb "beholds"

is common in the Gospels and Acts but occurs only here and in He-

brews 7:4 in the New Testament epistles. The present tense denotes

not a casual glance but a prolonged, contemplative observation of

"the brother" "as a spectacle on which he allows his eyes to rest."17

His observation gave ample opportunity to note the plight of the

other person. Both individuals have something: the latter has a

personal need, the former has the personal means to meet that need.

            The negative response of the brother with material means to the

observed need is tersely stated: "and closes his heart against him"


16   Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John,

New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), p. 310.

17   Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (1883; reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B.

Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), p. 115.

         An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24                          309


(kai> klei<s^ ta> spla<gxna au]tou? a]p ] au]tou?). The verb "closes" is in

the aorist tense, depicting the specific response to what he observed.

He has observed the other's need and is aware of the call for

sympathetic action to meet that need, but he restrains any initial

sympathy and "closes his heart against him." His interest in his

own concerns leads him to shut out consideration for the needs of the

brother. The verb "closes" means literally "to close or lock a door or

gate"; here it is used figuratively to depict the erection of a barrier

between himself and the brother so that his sympathetic action

cannot flow out to him. His action is the exact opposite of that of the

Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-34).

            The neuter plural noun here rendered "heart" (ta> spla<gxna)

was used by the Greeks of the heart, lungs, and liver, as the seat of

the emotions. The usage is figurative for what today is commonly

called "the heart" as the seat of human affection and emotions. In

closing his heart "against him" (a]p ] au]tou?, more literally, "from

him"), he deliberately and hardheartedly turns his back on the

needy brother. James 2:15-16 pictures a similar heartlessness in put-

ting off the destitute brother with empty words.

            John's dramatic conclusion, "how does the love of God abide in

him?" challenges his readers to express their own evaluation of the

heartless scene. The rhetorical question rejects the implied claim of

the individual that "the love of God" was abiding in him. The

genitive "of God" (tou? qeou?) has been variously understood: it may

be a subjective genitive to denote a love of which God is the source;18

or an objective genitive designating God as the object of love, love for

God;19 or possibly as a descriptive genitive describing the quality of

the love, a Godlike love.20 Westcott viewed the expression as inclu-

sive, "the love of which God is at once the object and the author and

the pattern."21 Whatever the intended meaning here, in the opera-

tion of true Christian love all three aspects of "the love of God" are

involved (cf. 4:19-21). Jesus Himself insisted that the command to

"love the Lord your God" cannot be separated from the command to


18   So Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 144; Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p.

270; Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John, p. 311, n.


19   So A. Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

(1883; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), p. 133; Lenski, The Jo-

terpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, pp. 473-74; Gordon H.

Clark, First John: A Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub-

lishing Co., n.d), p. 109.

20   So Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 197.

21 Westcott, The Epistles of John, p. 115.

310                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1989


"love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:35-40). A person who pro-

fesses to love God while refusing to express love for his unfortunate

brother through a compassionate sharing of his means discredits his

claim and subjects himself to the charge of hypocrisy.



            In again addressing his readers as "little children" (tekni<a; cf.

2:2.8; 3:7), John appealed to them to exercise true love in their family

relations. As a spiritual father he was intent on stimulating the love

that was implanted in their hearts at regeneration (v. 14). In saying

"let us love" (a]gapw?men) John again included himself in this standing

obligation. The exhortation is formulated in a typically Johannine

negative-positive contrast. The terms in the negative statement bal-

ance the two terms in the positive statement. Plummer thus expresses

this balance: "To love in word is to have that affection which is

genuine as far as it goes, but which is so weak that it never gets fur-

ther than affectionate words. . . . To love with the tongue is to pro-

fess an affection which one does not feel, which is sheer hypocrisy."22

            Negatively, John insisted, "Let us not love with word or with

tongue" (mh> a]gapw?men lo<g& mhde> t^? glw<ss^). Both nouns are in the

instrumental case, denoting agency. While Christian love must be a

vital inner reality, by its very nature love cannot be limited to mere

verbalization but must express itself in definite outward action.

Strauss well remarks, "Kind and comforting words are not condemned

in verse 18. We need to speak with soft and sympathetic words, but

such words should be accompanied by helpful and heart-warming

deeds."23 The tongue (t^? glw<ss^) is the only one of the four terms in

this verse with the definite article. It is the well-known agency for

the verbalization of love. But if limited to mere verbal expression it

is mere "mouth mercy."24

            Positively, John insisted that love must be expressed "in deed and

truth" (e]n e@rg& kai> a]lhqei<%). The use of the preposition "in" (e]n) in-

dicates the element in which love must express itself. Besides verbal

expressions, love must express itself in the realm of "deed," in love-

prompted, beneficent action. Further, the performance of deeds must

be combined with "truth." While "truth" here may mean "in real-

ity" as contrasted to mere appearance, more likely the term carries


22   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 134.

23   Lehman Strauss, The Epistles of John (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1962), p.


24   An expression used by John Trapp. Trapp's Commentary on the New Testament

(1865; reprint, Evansville, IN: Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1958), p. 730.

      An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24                          311


its usual fuller Johannine meaning as being in accord with the divine

truth revealed in Christ (John 4:24, "in spirit and truth").


                   The Assurances from the Practice of Love


            In verses 19-24 John set forth the assurances that will arise in

the heart of the believer from the practice of love; they are the fruit

of love. The practice of love will produce assurance of being in the

truth (vv. 19-20), give confidence that prayer will be answered (vv.

21-22), and assure the believer of union with Christ (vv. 23-24).



            Grammar and interpretation require that verses 19-20 be kept

together: "We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and

shall assure our heart before Him, in whatever our heart condemns

us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things."

            These verses present some textual problems and are unusually

difficult to interpret. The textual evidence is divided on the use of

"And" (kai>) at the beginning of verse 19. It is part of the Textus Re-

ceptus and is used in the KJV, but recent versions generally omit it

(e.g., NASB, NEB, NIV, RSV). The evidence for it is about evenly di-

vided; it seems preferable to accept it as authentic.25 Its presence in

some early manuscripts supports the view that "by this" (e]n tou<t&)

looks back to verse 18 rather than to what follows. Manuscript evi-

dence is also divided on the tense of the opening verb. The KJV fol-

lows the Textus Receptus in reading the present tense, "we know"

(ginw<skomen), but the weight of the evidence is for the future "we

shall know" (gnwso<meqa).26 A major difficulty in the interpreting

these verses is the meaning of the first of two occurrences of the

Greek term o!ti in verse 20; a second difficulty is the intended signif-

icance of the verb "shall assure" (pei<somen).

            The assurance as to one's spiritual origin (v. 19a). The assertion,

"We shall know by this that we are of the truth" (e]n tou<t& gnw-

so<meqa o!ti e]k th?j a]lhqei<aj e]sme<n), literally, "In this we shall

know that out of the truth we are"), presents the first aspect of the

assurance that the practice of love produces. "In this" refers back to


25   Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament according to the

Majority Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), print scat as an authentic

part of the text. Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 22d ed. (New York:

American Bible Society, 1956), omitted it from their text, with footnote textual data.

But Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th ed., have it in their text but

placed in square brackets to indicate that the evidence for the reading is about evenly

divided. So also United Bible Societies, The Greek New Testament, 3d ed., place kai> in

the text in square brackets.

26   For the evidence see Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th ed.

312                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1989


verse 18, which sets forth a recognizable practice as concrete evi-

dence of one's spiritual origin. The future tense, "we shall know," as

Westcott notes, "expresses the dependence of the knowledge upon the

fulfilment of the specified condition."27  The verb "know" (ginw<skw)

indicates the acquisition of knowledge based on experience. The re-

sultant assurance is "that28 out of the truth we are." The preposition

"out of" (e]k) clearly marks the source of spiritual origin, namely,

"the truth." Used with the definite article, "the truth" retains its

full theological significance as denoting the truth of God as revealed

in Christ and His gospel. The phrase "out of the truth" occurs in the

Johannine writings only in John 18:37; 1 John 2:21; and here. Stott re-

marks, "Truth can only characterize the behaviour of those whose

very character originates in the truth, so that it is by our loving oth-

ers 'in truth' that we know that we are 'of the truth."'29

            The quieting of one's conscience before God (vv. 19b-20). "And"

introduces a further aspect of the assurance from love in action: "and

shall assure our heart before Him, in whatever our heart condemns

us" (kai> e@mprosqen au]tou? pei<somen th>n kardi<an h[mw?n, o!ti e]a>n

kataginw<sk^ h[mw?n h[ kardi<a). The verb "shall assure" parallels the

preceding "we shall know" as a second aspect of assurance from a be-

liever's love. One difficulty presented by this statement is the in-

tended meaning of the verb rendered "shall assure" (pei<somen). Its

usual meaning is "persuade," followed by an indication of the content

of the persuasion. With this meaning, the content of the persuasion

may be the last part of verse 20, "that God is greater than our

heart." But it is not obvious how the practice of love persuades be-

lievers that God is superior to their heart. The verb can also mean

"conciliate, pacify, set at rest," hence "assure."30 This is its meaning

in Matthew 28:14 (cf. 2 Macc. 4:45), and offers a more natural

translation here. John was dealing with the matter of quieting or

assuring the believers' conscience before God. It is precisely in the

area of Christian love for others that the sensitive Christian heart

often feels its own inadequacy and needs assurance. With his use of

the first person plural, "we shall assure" (pei<somen), John included

himself among those who experience such a need for assurance.


27   Westcott, The Epistles of John, p. 116.

28   That the first of the three occurrences of  o!ti in verses 19-20 means "that" is clear

from the fact that it introduces a content clause. But the force of the other two occur-

rences is not so obvious.

29   Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 145.

30   William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New

Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago,

1957), p. 645.

       An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24                          313


            The use of the singular "our heart" (th>n kardi<an h[mw?n) points to

the oneness of God's people in the experience described.31 The use of

the singular "heart" with a plural possessive pronoun occurs 10 times

in John's writings.32 In Greek usage the "heart" was the "center and

source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling, and voli-

tion."33 Here the emphasis is not on the affections but on the con-

science (cf. Acts 2:37; 7:54) as the center of man's moral nature. Ben-

gel notes that "John nowhere uses sunei<dhsij, conscience; but here he

implies it, in the heart: for it is the conscience which is assured, and

which condemns."34 The Christian deals with his troubled con-

science "before Him" (e@mprosqen au]tou?). The phrase stands em-

phatically at the beginning of the clause and marks "that the assur-

ance is a justified assurance since it is experienced in the very pres-

ence of God."35

            Conscientious believers will seek assurance before God "in

whatever our heart condemns us" (o!ti36 e]a>n kataginw<sk^ h[mw?n h[

kardi<a). John did not elaborate on the nature of the things that cause

the believers' conscience to condemn them, and it was not his purpose

to catalog such matters. But he well knew how readily an accusing

conscience renders ineffective the testimony and service of such a be-

liever. As Barker points out,

            Doubt, guilt, and failure are never far from any of us. Sometimes our

            misgivings are the result of our own actions or inactions. Sometimes it

            is the "accuser" who seizes our weaknesses and shortcomings and so

            elevates them that we wonder whether we can really be in the truth.37


            Whatever may cause a believer's heart to pass judgment on

himself, he can take the matter before God for His judgment. The


31   The KJV follows the Textus Receptus in using the plural "our hearts" (ta>j kardi<aj

h[mw?n), but the plural has weak textual support and apparently represents a scribal

change to express agreement with the plural pronoun "our." For the evidence see Nes-

tle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th ed.

32   John 12:40 (twice); 14:1, 27; 16:6, 22; 1 John 3:19, 20 (twice), 21.

33   Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 404.

34   John Albert Bengel, New Testament Word Studies, 2 vols. (1864; reprint, Kregel

Publications, 1971), 2:799 (italics his).

35   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 272.

36   This second ore in verses 19-20 may be rendered "that" as indicating the object of

the verb "assure," or "because" as giving the ground for the assurance, but either ren-

dering makes the third o!ti redundant. Such redundancy is avoided if this second o!ti

with the following e]a>n is taken as the neuter of the relative pronoun o!stij with the

following edit to mean "whatever" as denoting the varied things that may cause "our

heart to condemn us."

37   Barker, "1 John," p. 337.

314                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1989


troubled conscience can be quieted on the basis of the tests John here

indicates. "First, there is the objective test of moral behaviour

whether our love expresses itself in action. Second, there is the

faith that God alone is the arbiter in this matter."38

            In taking one's conscience before God, a believer's faith assures

him: "for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things" (o!ti

mei<zwn e]sti>n o[ qeo>j th?j kardi<aj h[mw?n kai> ginw<skei pa<nta).

"For" (o!ti, "that," better, "because") points to the ground for assur-

ance. The conscience-smitten believer knows that his conscience, be-

ing imperfect and neither infallible nor final, may be either too se-

vere or too lenient in its verdict; God's verdict is neither.

            The added words, "and knows all things," explain why God is a

better Judge than one's own heart. "It is the difference between con-

science and Omniscience."39 None of the believers' failures and

shortcomings escape His notice, but He also understands their true

motives and desires, the innermost yearnings of their hearts. His

omniscience is also linked to His unchanging love and sympathy; He

remembers His intentions and purposes for His own. It is to that per-

fect knowledge that the conscience-stricken believer, like Peter, can

appeal, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you" (John

21:17). The reality that He has implanted that love in their hearts

assures believers that He will not reject or disown them.

            Some interpreters40 understand this reference to God's greatness

and knowledge not as a comfort but as a challenge to the believer.

Alford remarks, "Our conscience is but the faint echo of His voice

who knoweth all things; if it condemn us, how much more He?"41 But

such an interpretation is inappropriate to the present context. As

Smalley notes, "John's chief purpose at this point is to reassure his

readers that when believers are most aware of their shortcomings, in

respect of God's standards, the love and mercy of the Father are pre-

sent to heal their troubled consciences."42  John's aim is to help heal

the wounded conscience, not unnecessarily to widen the wound.


38   J. L. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, Harper's New Testament

Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 101.

39   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 136.

40   So John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. and ed. John Owen

(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), pp. 222-23; Henry Alford, The

New Testament for English Readers (reprint, Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.), pp. 1733-34;

Kenneth Grayston, The Johannine Epistles, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pp. 115-16.

41   Alford, The New Testament for English Readers, p. 1734.

42   Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 203.

        An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24                          315



            John's tender address, "Beloved" ( ]Agaphtoi<), expresses his per-

sonal love for his readers who have known the struggles of an ac-

cusing conscience. He reminded them that this struggle can be re-

solved and that assurance of acceptance before God can be realized.

He wrote of the blessing of personal confidence before God (v. 21) and

the experience of answered prayer (v. 22).

            The blessing of confidence before God (v. 21). Assurance of

acceptance before God is based on the inner experience of a noncon-

demning conscience: "if our heart does not condemn us, we have

confidence before God." The statement of the condition, "if our heart

does not condemn us" (e]a>n h[ kardi<a [h[mw?n] mh> kataginw<sh^)43 leaves

open the question of the present reality of that condition. While the

negative (mh>) with the present subjunctive might mean "does not con-

demn us from the first" because the heart has no misgivings about

one's moral state, John more probably means that it "ceases to con-

demn us" because the charge of conscience against the believer has

been resolved before God. While every believer does experience oc-

casions when his conscience condemns him, the present tense clearly

implies that such should not be the characteristic experience of the

believer. Concerning such a life free from an accusing conscience

Westcott remarks, "It does not imply a claim to sinlessness, nor yet an

insensibility to the heinousness of sin, but the action of a lively faith

which retains a real sense of fellowship with God, and this carries

with it confidence and peace."44

            The resultant blessing is that "we have confidence before God"

(parrhsi<an e@xomen pro>j to>n qeo>n). In 2:28 John spoke of "con-

fidence" in connection with Christ's return. Here the noun, placed

emphatically forward, speaks of the believer's free and uninhibited

communion with God in daily life. The phrase "before God" depicts

a confidence that is directed Godward, bringing the believer into an

intimate face-to-face relationship with Him (cf. Heb. 4:16).

            The blessing of answered prayer (v. 22). John's "and" unites fel-

lowship with God and prayer answered by God: "and whatever we ask

we receive from Him." The expression "whatever we ask" (o{ e]a>n ai-

tw?men, literally, "that which, if we may be asking") leaves unre-


43   The manuscripts vary as to the presence or absence of "our" with "heart." The

evidence is about evenly divided. There is also textual confusion between Four" (h[mw?n)

and "your" (u[mw?n), because the two words were pronounced alike in later Greek.

Manuscripts also differ as to whether a pronoun ("our" or "your") was repeated after

the verb. For the variants see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek

New Testament (London: United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 713-14.

44   Westcott, The Epistles of John, p. 118.

316                 Bibliotheca Sacra I July–September 1989


stricted both the content and occasion for one's asking. The present

tense denotes the repeated requests confidently being raised to God.

            Such praying is assured of an answer, "we receive from Him" (lam-

ba<nomen a]p ] au]tou?). The present tense denotes repeated answers, while

"from Him" makes clear the answers received are not merely fortu-

itous circumstances but are His specific response. The truth of God's

response to the believer's prayer is a teaching common in the Scrip-

tures. This promise of an answer "from Him" must be kept in balance

with the preceding picture of one's "confidence before God" (v. 21).

            In verse 22b John added that answered prayer is based on the

believer's obedience and willing service. Answered prayer, Burdick

well notes, "is not a benefit that must be merited; spiritual benefits

are gifts of grace. However, there are conditions that God's Spirit

enables believers to meet."45 The two verbs "we keep" (throu?men)

and "[we] do" (poiou?men) are both in the present tense, denoting the

characteristic conduct of those whose prayers are answered. Such

conduct does not earn God's answer but provides "an objective, moral

reason for the divine response; it does not simply depend upon the

subjective ground of a worshiper's clear conscience."46

            The statement "we keep His commandments" points to a con-

scious compliance with the explicit commands God has given, varied

in their nature and scope. The further statement, "and do the things

that are pleasing in His sight," is not mere repetition. The two are

not the same; the first calls for obedience to His commands, which

may be carried out in a slavish spirit (cf. the elder brother in Luke

15); the second implies spontaneous activities motivated by love,

freely undertaken because Christian love recognized them as "the

things that are pleasing in His sight" (ta> a]resta> e]nw<pion au]tou?).

The expression is reminiscent of the word of Jesus in John 8:29, "I al-

ways; do the things that are pleasing to Him." Westcott notes that

"the things that are pleasing" are "not simply 'things pleasing,' but

definitely those which correspond with our position and duty."47

The phrase "in His sight" (e]nw<pion au]tou?, "in His eyes") pictures

their performance as carried out under the consciousness of God's ob-

servation and approval.



            Basic to the believer's assurance is the truth of his spiritual

union with Christ. This assurance is grounded in the two-sided corn-


45   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 278.

46   Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 205.

47   Westcott, The Epistles of John, p. 119.

          An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13.24               317


mand to believers (v. 23), and results in a two-sided Christian fel-

lowship which is given experiential confirmation through the in-

dwelling Holy Spirit (v. 24).

            The two-sided commandment to believers (v. 23). John gathered

up the various commandments just referred to in one comprehensive

commandment, "And this is His commandment" (kai> au!th e]sti>n h[

e]ntolh> au]tou?). The singular "this" looks forward to the following

"that" (i!na) with two explanatory subjunctive verbs expressing the

content of the command, "that we believe in the name of His Son

Jesus Christ, and love one another." The two parallel verbs, "be-

lieve" (pisteu<swmen) and "love" (a]gapw?men) together form one whole.

As Lenski asserts, "You cannot believe without loving nor love with-

out believing"48 (cf. Gal. 5:6). The Christian message calls for a vital

union of faith and conduct. This insistence on a living union between

faith and love is God's command, not a later apostolic invention.

            The command "that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus

Christ" involves the first occurrence of the verb "believe" in the

epistle.49 The manuscript evidence is about evenly divided between

the aorist (pistue<swmen) and the present tense (pisteu<omen).50 It

seems more probable that the present arose from a scribal desire to

conform the tense of the two verbs or that the aorist was felt to be

unsuited to John's readers. The present tense would convey the com-

mand to "go on believing." The aorist tense may be understood as in-

gressive, "come to believe,"51 but more probable is the view of Lenski

that "the aorist is effective: definitely, effectively, once for all be-

lieve."52 As such it is John's appeal to his readers, confronted by the

challenge of the heretics, once for all to settle the reality of their

faith commitment. Smalley notes that for John "believing" signifies

more than "accepting as true"; it also involves the thought of ac-

knowledgment or confession.53 In Romans 10:9-10 Paul shows that

faith and confession are both part of a saving experience.

            The statement of the command stresses the content of this faith,

to believe "in the name of His Son Jesus Christ" (t&? o]no<mati tou? ui[ou?

au]tou?  ]Ihsou? Xristou?). The words have a creedal ring, being in fact


48   Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, p. 479.

49   The verb occurs nine more times in the remainder of the epistle (4:1, 16; 5:1, 5, 10

[three times], 13 [twice in T.R.]). The noun "faith" (pi<stij) occurs only in 5:4.

50   For the evidence see Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th ed.

51   So F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1970),

p. 100.

52   Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude, p. 480.

53   Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 207.

318                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1989


a miniature confession of faith. John used no word for "in" or "on" but

rather the dative of personal relationship, a personal committal to

"the Name" as denoting the Person of Christ and all that He is. His

identity is explicitly stated: "His Son Jesus Christ." "His Son" stresses

the true deity and unique Sonship of this Person. In His incarnation

He was identified as the historical Person "Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).

"Jesus" ( ]Ihsou?j) is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua,

meaning "the LORD is salvation." It is the name of His humanity,

given Him before His birth to declare His saving ministry (Matt.

1:21). "Christ" (Xristo<j) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew

term "Messiah" (HaywimA) (transliterated Messi<aj in John 1:41 and

4:25), and declares His messianic identity. The double designation

represents the earliest Christian confession of faith, "Jesus is the

Christ" (Acts 2:36; 3:20; 5:42; cf. John 20:30-31). Christian faith ac-

cepts the fact that He truly is all this Name declares.

            The other part of God's command is, "and love one another" (kai>

a]gapw?men a]llh<louj). The present tense calls for mutual love as the

characteristic expression of the Christian life. The reciprocal pro-

noun insists that this love be mutually expressed by members of the

Christian community. Christian love is not a one-way street; it must

flow in both directions. John had already mentioned the need for

mutual love (1 John 2:10-11; 3:11, 14), but now he specifically united

faith and love. Both are essential as a test of a true Christian.

The added words, "just as He commanded us," have been taken

a s relating to the command to love,54 but others like Lenski55 insist

that the expression relates to both parts of "His commandment."

            The reciprocal nature of Christian fellowship (v. 24). "And"

marks the connection with verse 23, "And the one who keeps His

commandments abides in Him, and He in him." Obedience to the one

command to believe and love resolves itself in subordinate commands

dealing with varied daily experiences. The one thus characteristi-

cally keeping God's commandments experiences a reciprocal spiritual

fellowship: he "abides in Him, and He in him" (e]n au]t&? me<nei kai>

au]to>j e]n au]t&?). Such mutual abiding is the heart of true

Christianity (John 15:1-5; Col. 1:27-28). This is the first mention of

this mutual abiding in this epistle; it is further developed in 1 John

4:12-16. John's use of pronouns does not clearly distinguish between

God the Father and the Son Jesus Christ; he always thought of the

Father as working through the Sam and the Son as revealing the Fa-


54   So Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 138; Burdick, The Letters of John the Apos-

tle, p. 280.

55   Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, pp. 481-

            An Expositional Study of 1 John 3:13-24              319


ther. The intended identity of "Him" and "He" has not received

uniform interpretation. This picture of mutual abiding—God in man

and man in God—expresses a union of the closest kind. It is portrayed

in Christ's picture of the Vine and the branches (John 15:1-10).

            The second part of this reciprocal relationship, ''and He in

him," elicits a further confirmatory statement: "And we know by

this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us." "By

this" (e]n tou<t&) stands first in the sentence and may look backward

to what precedes or forward to the concluding clause. Some like

Westcott56 and Burdick57 hold that the pronoun refers back to the

keeping of the commandments as the objective evidence of the inner

mystical experience. But most commentators agree with Smalley

that "the more natural interpretation, confirmed by the parallel at

4:13, is to connect e]n tou<t& with what follows."58 The verb "we

know" (ginw<skomen) denotes a certainty grounded in Christian expe-

rience. That certainty is "that He abides in us," which is the very

heart of Christian assurance. Obedience is essential for this assur-

ance, but this knowledge is wrought in believers "by the Spirit

which He has given us" (e]k tou? pneu<matoj ou$ h[mi?n e@dwken).

            John assumed that his readers were well aware of the reality of

the indwelling Holy Spirit who makes believers conscious of the di-

vine indwelling. He uses obedience to foster this assurance in their

hearts (Rom. 8:16). The indwelling Spirit is God's gift. As Houlden

remarks, "Whatever man has by way of relationship with God is

never the result of his own effort or initiative, but the gift of God.'"59

The verb "He has given" (e@dwken) records a definite and memorable

occasion when the Spirit was given. Dispensationally, the Spirit

was given to the church at Pentecost (Acts 2), but individually, the

Spirit is given to each believer at the time of his regeneration.

            This is the first explicit reference to the Holy Spirit in 1 John,

though indirect reference was made to Him in 2:20, 27.  John further

refers to the Spirit six times (4:2, 6, 13; 5:6 [twice], 8). The designa-

tion "the Holy Spirit" occurs four times in the Fourth Gospel (1:33;

7:39 [T.R.]; 14:26; 20:22), but the adjective "Holy" is not used of the

Spirit in the Johannine Epistles or Revelation.60 This, reference to

the Spirit forms a skillful transition to the discussion in 1 John 4:1-6.


56   Westcott, The Epistles of John, p. 121.

57   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 281.

58   Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 211.

59   Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, p. 104.

60   It does occur in 1 John 5:7 in the KJV in the famous interpolation in 5:7-8, but these

words are found in no Greek manuscript before the 14th century.

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