For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (NIV)
It would be good for us to get a few words defined and explained before we look at the message of the Apostle John. “Death” and “life” are full of meaning in Holy Scripture. Whereas we tend to use death and life as referring chiefly to the body, they are primarily relational terms in the Bible. So, then, death is a separation from God and others; and, life is connection with God and others. In addition, death and life are biblically understood as forces or realms of being within or without. When someone moves from death to life, they are leaving the realm of separation with its loneliness, lostness, lethargy, and lack of meaningful and helpful interaction with God and others to a place of connection in which there is love.
There is no love in the realm of death. Love is not a solitary affair – it requires another. Death is awful in the sense that it places one outside of love. Like death and life, love is also a relational term and a force or power which exists. In fact, love is such a huge realm of being and such a large domain that it almost defies definition. We are mostly left to describe love because all attempts to nail down love with a precise definition will never do it justice. Therefore, the Apostle Paul, in his great ode to love, did not even try to define it, but merely attempted to characterize love:
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, GW)
Consistent with the force and relational nature of death, life, and love, hate is not primarily a feeling toward another but exists as a stance toward another within the domain of darkness and death. To hate is to deliberately and volitionally separate from another person and/or from God. It is to consider someone as the “other” who is not like me, and so, I will neither associate nor interact with “those” people.
Love, however, thrives in the vast multi-dimensional realm of life. Love seeks connection with another and desires to act through discovering needs and meeting them. Although emotions of love are very real, those feelings are the result of calculated actions and words which benefit humanity and the common good of all persons.
With all the understanding of hate and death, love and life, now plug that into the Apostle John’s message. We need to make clear decisions to pursue life and love others. And Jesus is our model for this. Christ is the ultimate Connector, bringing vibrant life, even eternal life, through loving actions. Jesus intentionally entered the dark realm of death and absorbed all the hate of the world for you and me. In a great and loving reversal, Jesus Christ’s death – his separation from God and others – brought connection with God and others.
Likewise, followers of Jesus will learn to take on the world’s hatred, not fearing death’s ability to disconnect, and love others as they themselves have been loved by Christ. Christians are known by the way they act toward those in the realm of death who use the tool of hatred to stay there.
On the flip side of love, the biblical character Cain is Exhibit A of modeling the way of hatred and death. He separated himself from his brother, Abel, in every way possible – relationally, emotionally, mentally, and finally, physically through outright killing of the body.
The message from John is this: Do not be like Cain. Be like Jesus. Love others, and not hate them. Live for others, die to self.
Murder is also a relational term in Scripture. It is, of course, a tool forged from the flames of hell to be used by the hand of hatred to bring death’s realm of separation. Jesus clearly understood murder in this manner:
You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22, CEB)
Christians are people who put love where love is not – which means they brave death’s door to pull others from the flames. As the little New Testament book of Jude says:
But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 20-23, NLT)
May your soul be blessed with love’s kiss.
May the grace and kindness of love bring you life and continue to be life-giving for you.
May the hardness of hatred be far from you.
May death’s destructive power dwindle to nothing in the face of Christ’s love working in and through you to the glory of God.