Text: 1 John 3:10-24

The Bible opens with one of the most majestic statements in all of literature: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The rest of the creation account unfolds over two chapters, with one majestic act following another, culminating in the creation of mankind. But by chapter 3, sin has entered the world and mankind has fallen. And so the troubles began. By the end of Genesis 4, we’ve already got brother killing brother! One of my favorite authors puts it this way in the opening of one of his novels:

On the whole, we’re a murderous race.

According to Genesis, it took as few as four people to make the planet too crowded to stand, and the first murder was a fratricide. Genesis says that in in a fit of jealous rage, the very first child born to mortal parents, Cain, snapped and popped the first metaphorical cap in another human being. The attack was a bloody, brutal, violent, reprehensible killing. Cain’s brother Abel probably never saw it coming.[1]

Since the novel is in the style of a noir detective story, the speaker is the main character, and he goes on to describe his growing sympathy for Cain, ever since his own brother moved into his apartment! In the context of the book, it’s actually a pretty funny opening scene. But, of course, the story of Cain and Abel does illustrate how easy it is for hatred to taint the human heart, even to the point of murder. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve read Genesis 4, I find myself thinking that the situation escalated exceedingly quickly! Cain’s “jealous rage” seems far out of proportion to the situation!

St. John, in his first Epistle, tells us that there’s ultimately a spiritual problem when it comes to hatred. Indeed, the story of Cain and Abel provides a background for our Epistle text for the 2nd Sunday After Trinity. You may recall that Trinitytide is our long season when we focus on growing in our Christian walk. We focus on practical spirituality. And you may recall that the first few weeks build a foundation for that growth by focusing on the virtue of love. Today’s Epistle text does so by setting up a contrast between love and hatred. To frame this idea on a more cosmic scale, St. John contrasts being a child of the devil with being a child of God, and he does so with the the story of Cain and Abel as an illustration. But this happens a couple verses before our Epistle text itself. So please open your Bibles to 1 John 3:10:

In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. 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. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murder hath eternal life abiding in him.

St. John is here setting up a contrast. On the one side are the children of the devil, Cain and other murderers, and the World. These are characterized by evil works rather than righteous works, hatred rather than love for the brethren, and abiding in death rather than abiding in eternal life. On the other side we have children of God, including Abel. These are characterized by righteous works, having passed from death to life, and love of the brethren.

Now, the term “the world” is used in two senses in Scripture. There is a positive sense where it refers to God’s good creation (as we see from Genesis 1 and 2), and the promise of redemption and restoration of all of God’s creation. But that’s not what St. John means when he speaks of “the world” in our epistle. Rather, he speaks in a negative way of the corruption that has come upon humanity and all of creation because of sin. It is the world as has been corrupted by the fall and by the devil. Indeed, when the term is used in this sense, it one of our three great enemies as Christians: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. St. Augustine puts it this way: “the world in a bad sense, is, lovers of the world. They that love the world, cannot love their brother.”[2]

And here is where the bad side of the contrast comes into play. To love the world and the world’s system, the world’s values, the world’s power is to be incapable of true agape love. Why? Because the world loves wickedness rather than righteousness. St. John says that was the very problem with Cain. Envy of his brother had caused Cain to hate his brother’s righteous works. As St. Augustine says of Cain, “Therefore, where envy is, brotherly love cannot be. Mark, my beloved. He that envieth, loveth not. The sin of the devil is in that man.”[3]

Similarly, it should be no surprise when the world hates you as a Christian. The Christian life is one of repentance and striving after righteousness. This shows the world’s wickedness to be wicked indeed. It shows the world’s values to be heading for death. And thus, the world cannot abide it. Thus, the world must hate Christians and Christianity. Sometimes that is more obvious than at other times. We’re in the middle of “pride month” when the world wants to celebrate actions and affections that the Scriptures say are sinful and self-destructive. As Christians you will get pushback or even hatred for standing up for righteousness. But remember Jesus’ words from John 16: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Lord Jesus is for us; he is ultimately King. And he is coming back to set all things to rights.

So, we see in our epistle that love, love of righteousness, and righteous works are all tied together. Yet, I know my own heart, and you know yours. We don’t always love as we should. We don’t always act as we should. If we’re honest, we fall far short of what the Scriptures are telling us when it comes to love. Is there any hope? Abolutely. God is able to work in our hearts, even if love for our brethren is just a spark. St. Augustine compares this to trees that appear to die in winter, but are actually merely dormant:

“If the world hate us: we know” – What do we know? – “that we have passed from death unto life” – How do we know? “Because we love the brethren.” Let none ask man: let each return to his own heart: if he find there brotherly love, let him set his mind at rest, because he is “passed from death to life.” Already he is on the right hand: let him not regard that at present his glory is hidden: when the Lord shall come, then shall he appear in glory. For he has life in him, but as yet in winter; the root is alive, but the branches, so to say, are dry: within is the substance that has the life in it, within are the leaves of trees, within are the fruits: but they wait for the summer.[4]

In other words, trust the Lord to bring about the fruits of love. If the seed has been planted, water it, feed it, and let it grow. Trust the Lord for the fruit. Indeed, the fruit of love starts with God’s love for us. Continuing in our Epistle with Verse 16:

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But 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? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

God the Son laid down his life for us; we should be willing to do the same for our brethren. And if we should be willing to lay down our very lives, how much more should we be willing to give of our material blessings when our brother is in need? After all, you can’t take it with you when the Lord calls you into the next life. Indeed, we practice love by practicing generosity, generosity of time, of talents, and of treasures. Generosity is one of the most practical ways that we can fertilize and water the seed of love that God has planted in our hearts when we were untied to Christ by faith and baptism.

When our Reformers speak of justification by faith alone, they always point out that such justifying faith never stands alone. That is, it always brings with it the fruit of good works. The idea that our Christian faith can be merely an issue of intellectual assent, of good feelings, or of private belief finds no place in the Fathers or Reformers. It certainly finds no place in the Scriptures. Rather, as Christians we are called to act in line with what we profess. Love is indeed a verb; it’s not merely an issue of word or speech. Let us love in deed and in truth. That is, we love by our actions, and we do so in a way that is in line with the ethics, morals, and values of the Holy Scriptures. Last week we read the famous passage from the next chapter in which St. John says that God is love. As such, it is God who tells us what love looks like.

This focus on action does not, however, mean that our belief and trust in God is unimportant. The Christian faith is more than righteous living, though it is not less than that. Verse 19:

And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. 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 him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

A sense of assurance of our salvation is an important part of growing in our Christian walk. This is why our liturgy has things like the Prayer of Humble Access or the General Absolution. Indeed, our Post-Communion Prayer says assurance is one of the benefits of Communion itself. We do indeed fall short of perfect obedience; but we are nevertheless called to be obedient. And it’s important to remember that the commandments of God begin with the command to believe in the name of Jesus Christ. A so-called “good life” without belief in the Lord Jesus is not really a good life at all. Everything, including the love we have for our brethren, must stem from belief and faith (that is, trust) in Jesus. When we are brought to Jesus by faith as signified in our baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. God dwells in us, and we now dwell in him. This is the basis both for our confidence and assurance in him as well as the basis for our love. Beloved, cling to Jesus. Put all your trust in him. And then obey the command to love your brethren. Don’t let your sight be drawn away by envy like Cain’s was. Remember what the Lord said to Cain before his hatred had born the fruit of murder: “And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” Let us uproot envy, hatred, and other sin. Let us plow up the weeds, and then water the seed of love planted by the Lord. I leave you with the concluding words of St. Augustine’s sermon on this passage:

But open ye your heart for the good seed: root out the thorns, that that which we are sowing be not choked, but rather that the harvest may grow, and that the Husbandman may rejoice and make ready the barn for you as for grain, not the fire as for the chaff.[5]

Indeed, as Trinitytide is our season for growth, may it be a fruitful harvest of faith and love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Jim Butcher, Dead Beat, Chapter 1.

[2] NPNF1, Vol 7. The Epistle of St. John, Homily V.9.

[3] Ibid. Homily V.8.

[4] Ibid. Homily V.10.

[5] Ibid. Homily V.13.

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