3:15 “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that every manslayer does not have eternal life abiding in him.”
The scope of haters is progressively widened from Cain (v.12) to the world (v.13) to “everyone” here. We must all watch out, because the progression from hating to being a murderer is inevitable (Candlish 307). John’s teaching that everyone who hates his brother is a murderer picks back up on the story of Cain from two verses ago, but is also essentially a restatement of something Jesus taught in Matthew 5:21-22 (Sublett 85).
Jesus said that hate is a commission of the same sin as murder. The word for murderer here is or “man-slayer” (Thayers). John uses the same word for “knowing” that manslayers don’t have eternal life as he used in the previous verse for knowing that those who love have been saved. This factual knowledge of salvation has a flip side assuring us of the damnation of those who don’t have the life! John uses a different word for “know” in the next verse concerning Jesus’ death; that word indicates more of a relationship than a cold, hard fact like that of damnation.
What a frightening fate to not have eternal life!
The participle “abiding” is not the main verb (the main verb here is “have”); it is actually a time factor, meaning something like “as long as he is being a murderer, he doesn’t have indwelling eternal life.” If he stops being a murder, that might be another case entirely. It also “brings out the thought that eternal life must… be a continuous power…” (Westcott 113). If that life were to stop abiding in us at any moment, we might become murderers too!
3:16 “In this we have known love, because He, on our behalf, laid down His own life, and we ourselves, on behalf of the brothers, are obliged to lay down [our] lives.”
There is a vast difference between love and hate, between the archetypes of Cain and of Christ. For one thing, the murderer takes the life of others, whereas the righteous lays down his own life! Love goes far beyond simply not hating or simply doing nice things, and calls for something downright catastrophic to us! This is how we have known love to be.
We came to know that love when we first heard the Gospel–how Christ died for us, and we who have believed this Gospel continue to know that love. (Why the English translations don’t convey the Perfect tense of “have known” is beyond me.) I also tried to follow the word order and emphasis in my translation because the emphasis in the Greek text is on the “in behalf of” rather than the “laid down” as the NAS, NIV, and KJV might lead one to think. In fact, I think that the phrase “for us” which those translations use, is a little weak, too. The Greek prepositional phrase is normally translated “in behalf of us” (Westcott 114).
The Greek text also puts emphasis on the “He” (literally “that One”) and the “we” (“we ourselves”). Just as HE was consumed with love for us and laid down His life, WE ourselves, like Him, should be consumed with love for others and laying down our lives. This is taught throughout the Scriptures:
“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend” (John 1),
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it” (Eph. 5),
“Consider others as more important than yourself” (Phil. 2).
This is the essence of love. If we claim to be Christians, we must walk like Jesus walked. Jesus walked to the cross, so it is our “debt/obligation” (Pershbacher) to lay down our lives out of love for the brethren. Westcott (114) brings up the point that this “obligation/duty” is included in the knowledge of love itself. “Known” and “ought” are the two main verbs in this sentence. “That which constrains us is not only His example, but the truth which that example reveals.”
“‘God demonstrates His own love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8.
Christ’s love brings a new intensity to the word love. The next time you tell one of your brethren that you love them think about what you are saying… would you die for [him]?! It is not good enough to control our negative reaction toward our brethren – HATE; we must apply our positive action to them – LOVE” (Sublett 85).
Our brother, when we love him, is “precious, not as the congenial companion of a passing hour, but as one whom you would fain grasp as a brother for eternity” (Candlish297).
By Nate Wilson.