“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” 1 John 3:11 ESV
The First Epistle of John is filled with imperatives for Christians to love one another. The Apostle John, by the Spirit’s inspiration, is carrying through and expounding upon Christ’s own words as recorded in John’s gospel as, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus spoke these words directly to his disciples, one of whom, John, expands that command to all believers. Just as Jesus’ original twelve would be known “by their love for one another” (John 13:35), so all those who profess to be followers of Christ throughout all the ages would also be known by their love for one another.
This commandment of love is the first proof of salvation we will consider in this epistle, as it is the most prominent of the proofs. 1 John is written so Christians would have assurance of salvation. The means by which God provides this assurance fall into objective and subjective categories. We have noted those objective truths that give us confidence; now we turn to the subjective evidences – things we look for in our own lives that assure us that we indeed are in Christ. The very first thing on this list is love. Love permeates John’s epistle. Last week, our exposition focused on love as an attribute of God. Now we receive the first practical application of that love – love one another.
“Love one another” is not a suggestion. It is not an option for a Christian. It cannot be placed on a list of “gray areas.” Good Christians do not hold varying interpretations on this matter that are debated in public forums or book series. There are no good Christians who do not love one another; there are no Christians who do not love the brethren.
Few things can be more black-and-white than this. Just as belief in Christ is the necessary article of faith, loving the brethren is the first and necessary fruit of salvation. John’s terms cannot be more crystal clear: whoever loves his brother abides in the light (2:10), the one who does not love his brother is not of God (3:10), whoever does not love abides in death (3:14), whoever loves has been born of God and knows God (4:7) but the one who does not love does not know God (4:8), and, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (4:20).
Loving the brethren is a non-negotiable matter for the Christian. May Christ’s command to us expose sins which must be repented of, yet reveal to us the fruit that brings assurance.