Notes on 1 John 3:11-24 and 4:1-7

1 John 3:11‑24; 1 John 4:1‑7  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 5
WE again see in the first of these verses the proof of what “the beginning” is here. The great thing we have to look to, as regards life and what that life is, is Christ manifested in this world. “This is the message that ye have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” We get Christ very distinctly there as the One who alone could give us the true measure and character of all else: He is the truth. Divine light, such as this, was not till Christ came. He was the faithful witness. Then you find another thing: there is the evil life or old Adam, and the good life, which is Christ. Both principles are at work. In the one there is hatred and his works evil, just as in the other we find love and righteousness. These go together. It began in Cain and Abel and has gone on ever since. Those that are really God's people are hated. Therefore it is said that “he was of that wicked one and slew his brother.” “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.” It was the spirit and nature, the being departed from God, of which the devil was the spring and the strength. “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 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.” You must not be surprised, therefore, if the world hates you. It is natural to man. In the first place, Satan is the prince of this world, and besides that, it is the nature of man as he is. We were in death spiritually, and wherever that was the case, the spirit of Satan ruled and governed, and therefore there was hatred of God's children. But then there is this new life, and “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” If a man does not love the brethren, he abides in death. That is where we all are naturally. He is looking at the very principle of life. If I only find a sign that it is a wild apple tree, I know what the tree is. On the other hand, get the life of Christ, and the fruit answers to it. It is not a change of human nature as it is, because that abides in death. But the new life that comes is a life that bears its own fruit, just as that which is grafted into a tree. What sprouts up from the old stock is what came from the nature of the tree before.
“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” He has not this good graft. It is a clear case.
Then he rises up to the source of it. “Hereby perceive we love.” What is this love? How can I tell it In that He laid down His life for us. And if Christ is really my life, He will be the same thing in spirit in me, as He was Himself. Christ kept the law because He was born under it. But the law calls upon man to love God and his neighbor, and that Christ did. But, besides that, He was the manifestation of God's love to man, and specially to His disciples, when they did not love God. That is what we have got to be. Christ, who was the activity of His love, laid down His life. We perceive what this love of God is by this. But you ought to manifest this same thing. It is an immense privilege. Not only I am required to do certain things, but I am called upon to be a witness of God in a world that is without Him. And there is no limit to it. I ought to go as far as Christ went. And there have been some that have done this to death. Many martyrs have laid down their lives for Christ. “We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Besides the immense privilege, it is an essential truth. We have to manifest God in this world, because Christ is in us. That is, if we are children of God, there is communion with the source of it, and then there should be the display of it in our walk—the epistle of Christ known and read of all men.
“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?” We have another mark there in the dwelling of the love of God. It is not merely love to God, because it is the spirit in which a person walks himself towards his brethren. It is the power of this divine nature dwelling in us which will show itself in love to God and man. The love of God dwelling in us is the way of God Himself, who through the Spirit thereby brings His love into us. It is not God's love to us, but it is the power of that love working in us, and therefore it will soon show itself to others. “My little children, let us not love one another in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” Now he looks to the effect of walking with God, as giving, not the knowledge of forgiveness, but confidence. He wrote to them because they were all forgiven; but if I want to have my heart assured before God, I must walk in this way. If my intercourse with God is a constant reproach, you cannot call it confidence. If I am not walking according to God, I must either get away from Him, or if I find myself in His presence, His Spirit is constantly reproaching me, and that is not confidence.
“For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” He knows a great deal about me that I do not know myself. If a child has got a bad conscience, he sneaks about, if his father is coming; but if not, he runs to meet him and throws himself into his arms. But he cannot have that kind of confidence, if his heart reproaches him. That is what we have always to look for:—to be with God, and in entire confidence with Him—no thought behind that perhaps He has something against us, not as to condemnation, but as to present confidence. How far it goes, the entire, full counting upon God—counting upon His present activity for us! It is not only a question of the day of judgment, but it is the present dealing of the soul with God, and of God for the soul. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” In chap. 5 it is said, “This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” We are brought into a present, confident spirit with God, so that we expect everything good from Him. If a child is going on naughtily, he cannot go on in confidence. He may say, My father loves me, but he is going to give me a whipping. But when the heart is all right, the child expects everything that flows from his father's love. So here. “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” That has nothing to do with acceptance, but with the every-day out flowing of the Father's kindness, so that the child counts upon it. It is the terrible effect of looking at acceptance and forgiveness as the end of the Christian's course, that this confidence is almost unknown. The apostle began with forgiveness: “Your sins are forgiven you, for his name's sake;” and now he is speaking of the confidence of the heart towards God. You get this in John 14; 15 (ver. 23:) “If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him,” &c. That is not the grace that saves. In the latter it is, “We love him, because he first loved us.” There it says, (ver. 21,) “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” He is speaking of the present exercise of this love to Christ.
It is a great thing to say I have only to ask according to God's will, and I am sure to get it. He loves us in such a way that I can ask nothing without an answer. I want power, and I get it directly. I want some hindrance removed out of the way, and it is removed directly. I may ask my Father here for something, and he may tell me I cannot do it. I cannot attend to you. But that is never the case with God. You can ask nothing, according to His will, without getting it. In a right path I have the whole power of God at my disposal. I may see mountains before me—all Satan's power. But never mind. If you are walking right, “ask what you will, and it shall be done for you.” You have thorough present confidence in God. He is never too busy to hear us. All that we can come about is ours. Whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments,” &c. It is the direct government of God with our souls. This is where the question, between us and God, right and wrong, comes in. As regards our responsibility as men, we were ruined. Now we are saved, and God's dealings meet us on that ground, and then he delights to do everything for us. It is not what we will, but “whatsoever we ask.” It is the will of the new nature; i.e., obedience really. In that path of obedience God always heard Christ, for He was obedient, and God hears us; He puts us, in this life of Christ, into the same place as Christ.
“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. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in God, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” He comes now to another most important point. Not merely that there is life, but that God by His Spirit dwells in. us. There is power of communion as well as life. God dwells with him who is love. It is not merely that I am redeemed. But as it was said of Israel, “They shall know that I am the Lord their God that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them;” so it is said of us, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.” Christ was the obedient One, and God dwelt in Him; and he who is an obedient one now, God dwells in him. Christ said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In us it is only derivatively by His Spirit; but still He dwells in us. In the obedient man God dwells as in Christ Himself. “And hereby know we that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” That is, it is the presence of the Holy Ghost with us that gives us the consciousness that God dwells with us. He does not add in this latter part of the verse that we dwell in Him; but simply that the effect of the presence of the Holy Ghost was and is, that we know that God abides; in us.
Then he warns them against false spirits. (Chap. 4: 1-6.) Every spirit is not the Holy Ghost. Many false prophets are in the world. The saints must beware. The question is not, whether a man be converted; but whether he who speaks, speaks by God's Spirit or a demon. The touchstone is the confession of Jesus come in the flesh. He who is guided of God confesses Jesus Christ Himself so come (not merely that He is come.) To confess His coming is to recognize a truth: to confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh is to own the person and lordship of Jesus. Once a demon is discerned, it is important to treat it as a demon: otherwise your sword is broken in your hand. To yield to human considerations, to play the amiable under such circumstances, will find you powerless against Satan. It is not to have communion with God in His thoughts of Satan. How precious is the word before such dangers! Holding it fast, with uprightness and humility, nothing will stumble us. God is faithful, and will guard the feeblest of His own. But outside this submission to God and His word, no matter what may be the beauty of a man's sentiments, or his ability, he will sooner or later fall under the power of the enemy. But we come to a new point here. Besides the life of Christ, there is the dwelling of God in us and of us in God. This was fully manifested in Christ, and the more we think of that, the more we shall see that the new life we have is a dependent life. Our Lord Himself said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live.” Therefore we see He was a man praying always—leaning on His Father. For though He was God, He never used that to take a false position as man; but He took the place of dependence. That is where He puts us—in the place of dependence, and therefore the place of power from above. It is not a question of sincerity, but of that lowliness which is the sense of dependence and looks for help and power from Another.
What a privilege and motive for holiness, that God dwells in us! And when we want to glorify God, the presence of His Spirit is the power. How distinctly God has come into close communion with us, and brought us into intimacy with Himself by forgiving us and saving us and giving us a life in which we walk with Him! It is a life of constant trial here, but of having Himself by the Holy Ghost as our power dwelling in us as we walk through the world. And this is what we have to see to: that the life of the saint should be developed according to Christ. And it is there that daily experience comes in, and we find our weakness if we are not looking to Christ.