Scripture Reading: John 5:24; 1 John 3:14
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. (1 John 3:14)
The Gospel of John was the last Gospel written, and the Epistles of John were the last Epistles written. Before the Gospel of John there are three Gospels, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which cover many acts and teachings of the Lord Jesus. The Gospel of John shows us the highest and most spiritual things concerning the coming of the Son of God to earth. It tells us clearly what kind of people can receive eternal life. It repeatedly says that those who believe have eternal life. The Gospel of John is full of the matter of believing. A person receives eternal life when he believes. This is the subject and emphasis of the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John pays special attention to things that the other Gospels do not cover. John 5:24 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” In other words, those who hear and believe have passed out of death into life. Here the door of the gospel is very wide.
When we come to the Epistles, Paul, Peter, and the other apostles also explain faith in a very clear way. They show us that every believer can receive grace. Yet when we come to the final Epistles, the Epistles written by John, we find the emphasis shifting to other things. While the other Epistles pay much attention to a man’s faith in God, John emphasizes one aspect of practical conduct before God. His Epistles speak of love. The other Epistles say that those who believe are justified, forgiven, and cleansed. But John’s Epistles say that a person’s faith must be evidenced by his love.
If we ask someone, “How do you know that you have eternal life?” he may answer, “God’s Word says so.” But this is not quite enough. He may have spoken it out of his mental knowledge; he may not have truly believed in God’s Word. Therefore, John shows us in his Epistles that if a man says that he has eternal life, he must prove it. If a man says that he is of God, others must witness some kind of manifestation or testimony in him.
A person may say, “I have believed; therefore, I have eternal life.” He may say this based on his knowledge. He can make the process of believing and having eternal life a formula: First, one hears the gospel; second, he understands; third, he believes; and fourth, he knows that he has eternal life. But this kind of formulaic “salvation” is not trustworthy. The Bible tells us that at the time of Paul there were false brothers (“In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;”(2 Corinthians 11:26); “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:” (Galatians 2:4)). False brothers are those who call themselves brothers but are not actually brothers. Some claim to be of God but are actually void of life. They make their way into the church through doctrines, knowledge, and certain regulations. How can we know whether or not a person’s faith is genuine? How do we know whether a person’s faith before God is living or merely a formula? What way is there to prove who is of God and who is not? The Epistles of John settle this problem. John gave us a way to differentiate between true brothers and false brothers, between those who are born of God and those who are not born of God. Let us look at John’s way of discernment.
I. THE LIFE OF LOVE
There are only two passages in the Bible which contain the phrase out of death into life. One is in John 5:24, and the other is in 1 John 3:14. Let us make a comparison between these two portions.
John 5:24 says, ” Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Here it says that he who believes has passed out of death into life.
First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” This verse speaks of the proof of one’s having passed out of death into life. The proof is love for the brothers.
Suppose you have many friends and you like them very much, or you admire many people and respect them very much. There is still a difference between your feelings toward them and your feelings toward the brothers and sisters in your own family. Somehow, there is a difference. If a person is born of your mother, if he is your brother, there is spontaneously a special and inexplicable feeling toward him. It is a feeling of instinctive love. This feeling proves that you and he belong to the same family.
The same holds true for our spiritual family. Suppose there is a person whose appearance, family background, education, disposition, and interest are totally different from yours. Yet he has believed in the Lord Jesus. Spontaneously, you will have an inexplicable feeling toward him. You will feel that he is your brother. He will be dearer to you than your brother in the flesh. This feeling proves that you have passed out of death into life.
First John 5:1 says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” This is a very precious word. If you love God who has begotten you, it is only natural that you will love those who are begotten of God. It is impossible to say that you love God and yet have no feeling toward your brothers.
This love is proof that the faith we have acquired is a genuine faith. Such unspeakable love can only issue from genuine faith. This love for the brothers is something very special. A person loves for no other reason than the fact that the other person is a brother. He does not love because there is a common bond of interest. He loves simply because the other person is his brother. It is possible for two persons with different educational backgrounds, temperaments, family backgrounds, opinions, and views to love each other simply because both are believers. Both are brothers, and spontaneously they have fellowship one with another. There is an unspeakable feeling and taste toward each other. This feeling and taste is the proof that they have passed out of death into life. We know that we have passed out of death into life if we love the brothers.
It is true that faith brings us to God. Through faith we pass out of death into life, and through faith we are made members of the household of God and are regenerated. But faith brings us not only to the Father but also to the brothers. Once we have this life, we will have a feeling for the many people throughout the world who also have this life. Spontaneously, this life will draw us toward those who have the same life. This life takes pleasure in their presence; it delights in communicating with them and has a spontaneous love for them.
The Gospel of John and the Epistles of John show us God’s ordained order: First, faith brings us out of death into life, and then those who have passed out of death into life have this love. By loving the brothers, we know that we have passed out of death into life. This is a very reliable way to ascertain the number of God’s children on earth. Only those who love one another are brothers; those who do not love one another are not brothers.
Brothers and sisters! We must realize that in the eyes of God our love for the brothers is a test of the genuineness of our faith. We have no better way to tell whether a person’s faith is true or false. In the absence of this discernment, the more perfectly the gospel is preached, the greater will be the danger of counterfeits. The more thoroughly the gospel is preached, the easier it will be for false ones to come in. The more the gospel is preached with grace, the more careless ones will creep in. There must be a way to discern and recognize genuine faith from counterfeit faith. The Epistles of John show us clearly that the way to differentiate true faith from false faith is not through faith itself but through love. There is no need to ask how great one’s faith is. It is necessary only to ask how great his love is. Where there is genuine faith, there will be love. The lack of love proves the absence of faith. The presence of love proves the presence of faith. When we approach faith through the gateway of love, everything will become clear to us.
Whether or not a person is a genuine Christian depends on whether he has a special taste for and attraction toward other children of God. The life which God has given us is not an independent life. It is a life which spontaneously draws us toward those with the same life. It loves and desires mutual intimacy. Those who have such feelings have passed out of death into life.
II. THE COMMANDMENT OF LOVE
First John 3:11 says, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another..”
Verse 23 says, “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.”
Loving one another is a commandment from God. God commands us to do two things: to believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and to love one another. We have already believed. Now we also should love. God gave us this love, and He also gave us the commandment to love. God first gave us this love and then He gave us the commandment to love one another. Today we must love one another according to God’s commandment. We must also love one another with the love which God has given us. We must exercise the love which God has put into us. We must apply it according to its nature. We should never quench it or hurt it.
First John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
We must love one another, because love is of God. Those who have love are begotten of God. Those who do not love have not known God because God Himself is love. When God begot us, He also begot love in us. We were without love, but today we have love. Today the love we possess is from God. God has begotten love in everyone who is born of God. God has given love to both you and others. This is why we can love one another.
Those who are begotten of God have received a life—a life which is God Himself. God is love; therefore, those who are begotten of God have such a love begotten within them. The life which we have received from God is a life of love. Everyone who is begotten of God has love in him, and everyone who has love in him spontaneously loves the brothers. It would be strange if we could not love one another. God gave every Christian a life of love. He also gave him the commandment of love based upon this life of love: “Let us love one another.” God first gives us the love, and then He tells us to love. He first gives us a life of love, and then the commandment of love. We should bow our heads and say, “Thank You! God’s children can now love one another.”
III. IF ONE DOES NOT LOVE THE BROTHERS
Now let us consider all the verses under this category in 1 John.
First John 2:9-11 says, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” Are you clear? Whether or not a man is a brother and whether or not he walks in the light and turns away from darkness are determined by whether or not he loves his brother.
If a person knows that you are a brother and yet he hates you in his heart, it proves that he is not a Christian. If he has seen five brothers and says, “I love four of them, but I hate one in my heart,” it proves that he is not a brother. We must realize that we do not love a brother because he is lovable but because he is a brother. We love him because he is a brother. This is the only reason for us to love. If a person knows that you are a brother and are of the Lord yet still hates you, it proves that he has no life in him. Here it says, “But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” He is in the darkness and he walks in the darkness. In other words, the Bible denies the possibility that anyone can hate his brothers; it does not accept this as a possibility at all. If you know that a person is a brother and yet hate him, you must say, “Lord, I am not walking in the light. I am in the darkness and am walking in the darkness.”
First John 3:10 says, “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.” He who does not practice righteousness outwardly is not of God. In the same way, he who does not have an inward love for his brother is not of God. He who does not love his brother is not of God, because this love and this feeling are not in him. In this the children of God are manifest.
Verse 14 says, “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” This love does not refer to ordinary love but to the love with which one loves his brothers. If a person does not have such a love for the brothers within him, the Bible says that he “abides in death.” We can understand why a person has no feeling or attraction for other believers before he believes. But it would be very strange if, after believing, he still has no feeling or attraction toward other believers. His faith may not be that genuine. “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” Formerly, such a person was dead. I am afraid that he is still dead because faith is based on love. Whether or not a person’s faith is genuine depends on whether there is love. Those who believe in God have a love for the brothers. If love is absent, it proves that the person still abides in death.
Verse 15 says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” We cannot imagine that any person would still murder after becoming a believer. The Bible tells us that to hate one’s brother is to murder. A person who has eternal life should never hate his brother. Hating the brothers proves that there is no love in him. It means that eternal life is not in him.
God’s children can be in many different conditions, but they can never hate. If there is a brother who is offensive in certain ways, we may not like him in our heart. If there is a brother who has committed a sin worthy of excommunication, we may deal with the matter with indignation. If there is a brother who has done something extremely evil, we may ask him to come to us and rebuke him severely before the Lord. But we can never hate our brothers. If a brother hates another brother, eternal life is not in him.
Every child of God has a life rich enough to love all the brothers and sisters. As long as a person belongs to the Lord, he deserves a believer’s love. Our love for any one brother should be the same as our love for all the brothers. The brotherly love that is applied toward one brother should be equally applicable to all the brothers. This kind of love for the brothers makes no distinction. As long as one is a brother, he deserves this love. If anyone hates a brother, it proves that he does not have eternal life in him. He does not have to hate all the brothers. As long as he hates one brother, it is enough to prove that he does not have brotherly love in him. The brotherly love that we are speaking about is a love that loves all the brothers.
This is a very sobering thought. If a believer does not love his brother but hates him instead, or if he threatens or attacks his brother, we can say only, “May God be merciful to him! Here is a person who thinks that he is a believer and yet he is not saved at all!” As long as he hates a brother, it proves that he is not of the Lord. This is a serious matter!
Under normal circumstances, if a brother has done things which irritate you, you can exhort him and rebuke him, but you cannot hate him. If he has done something which provokes you, you may be angry with him and rebuke him severely. But there cannot be any hatred in you. Even if you “tell it to the church,” according to Matthew 18, your intention should still be to gain him and restore him. If you have no intention of restoring him and if your goal is only to attack him and tear him down, it proves that you are less than a brother. The brother spoken of in Matthew 18 told the church because he wanted to gain his brother. The whole issue is whether your goal is to tear down your brother or to gain him. This is quite a serious matter. We must not take it lightly!
Concerning the fornicator in 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul said, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” At the beginning Paul delivered such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh in the name of the Lord Jesus and with the power of the Lord Jesus because the Corinthians did not do anything to cast him out. Is this kind of dealing too severe? It was indeed extremely severe. But Paul did this so that the man’s spirit would be saved in the day of the Lord (v. 5). The purpose for his flesh being destroyed in the present time was so that he would not suffer eternal loss. The purpose of telling it “to the church” in Matthew 18 is for restoration; the removing in 1 Corinthians 5 is also for restoration.
When Joshua judged Achan, he said, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” (Josh. 7:19). Though Achan had committed a great sin, he spoke to Achan with such a spirit and such brotherly love.
David took hold of his clothes and tore them when a young messenger brought the news of Saul’s death to him. He mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening (2 Sam. 1:11-12). When someone told David about Absalom’s death, David was much moved. He wept, saying, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33). Saul was a king who hated David, and Absalom was David’s rebellious son. Yet David wept when they died. He had to fight the battles, and he had to judge, but he could not restrain his tears. He had to judge, and he had to condemn, but he could not hold back his tears.
Brothers and sisters, if a person can only judge and condemn but has no tears or sadness, it proves that he does not know anything about brotherly love. If anyone rebukes a brother only for the purpose of tearing him down, such a one has no love in him, only hatred. To hate the brothers is to murder them! This is a very serious matter!
A brother once wrote to J. N. Darby about the matter of excommunication. Darby’s first words were, “I think it is the most dreadful thing for a sinner whose sins have been forgiven to excommunicate another sinner.” There is nothing more dreadful than for a sinner whose sins are forgiven to excommunicate another sinner. Mr. Darby’s reaction was something that issued from a life of love. No doubt, there are many things which need to be addressed. We can excommunicate a sinful brother or sister from the church if it becomes necessary to do so. But we must never harbor any hatred in dealing with them.
First John 4:20-21 says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” Here John shows us that to love one’s brothers is equal to loving God. He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. We should love our brothers if we want to love God. This is the commandment which we have received from God.
We must be careful not to do anything that will offend love. We should not offend our brothers lightly. We must love one another and must honor the brotherly love that has been placed in our hearts. We should not put aside such a heart. God has placed this heart in us so that we can use it to serve and help the brothers. We should allow this brotherly love to grow, to be strengthened, and to be empowered.
First John 3:17 says, “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?” John did not say, “How does the love of the brothers abide in him?” He said, “…how dwelleth the love of God in him?” because the love of God is the love of the brothers, and the love of the brothers is the love of God. The love of God does not abide in a person who shuts up his love for his brother. He cannot deceive himself by saying, “Although I do not love my brother, I love God.” Our relationship with the brothers comes from our relationship with God. If we are not related to the brothers, it means that we are not related to God. If we reject our brothers, the love of God is not in us.
IV. HOW TO LOVE THE BROTHERS
First John 3:16 says, “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.” What does it mean to love the brothers? John goes on to explain it. We do not know what love is until we see how the Lord laid down His life for us. John continues by saying, “And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” A love for the brothers is a willingness to lay ourselves aside to serve them. It is a willingness to deny oneself for the perfection of others, and a heart that will even lay down one’s very own life for his brothers.
Verse 18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. ” Brotherly love is not just empty words; it is manifested in deed and truthfulness.
First John 4:10-12 says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us…..” This shows us that our love toward God and our love toward one another cannot be separated. The love of God is perfected in us if we love one another. Today God has put many brothers before us for us to practice our love for God. The love of God is perfected in us if we love one another. We should not say in a vain way that we love God. We must learn to love the brothers in a real way. It is vanity to merely talk about love. Our love for God must be expressed in our love for the brothers.
First John 5:2-3 says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” If we love God, we must keep His commandments. Likewise, if we love God’s children, we must keep His commandments. For example, God’s commandment says that we should be baptized by immersion. But many of God’s children hold different opinions. They say, “I do not agree with baptism by immersion. If you love me, you should not be baptized by immersion. This will hurt me.” What should we do? God commands us to leave the denominations and not remain in any sects; however, many of God’s children promote the denominations. They say, “You should not leave the denominations. You will hurt us if you leave the denominations.” What should we do? We must leave the denominations if we want to love God, and we should stay in the denominations if we want to love our brothers. This puts us in a dilemma. But verse 2 says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.” In other words, we cannot say that we love God’s children if we do not keep God’s commandments. Suppose a brother is touched by God to be baptized by immersion. He should be baptized if he loves God’s children. If he is not baptized, he will affect other children of God; they also may choose not to be baptized. This will hinder them from obeying God. This is not the way to love them. If we keep all the commandments of God, we will know that we have loved His children. We will have taken the way of obedience. Now other children can take the same way. If we choose not to obey just because we are afraid that we may hurt them by our obedience, we will have no way to go on, and they will have no way to go on as well. We must learn to love God, and we must keep all His commandments. It is by loving Him and keeping His commandments that we know we love His children. We must keep all the commandments of God. This is the only way to lead God’s children to the way of obedience. Consider another illustration: Suppose your parents do not allow you to believe in the Lord. What should you do? Would you deny the Lord for the sake of loving them? If you listen to them and deny the Lord, you are not practicing love at all! If you do not listen to them and instead believe in the Lord, they may be angry with you for a time, but you have opened a way for them to believe in the Lord. This is love!
However, we must not offend our parents in attitude or in words. It is right for us to obey and follow God’s commandments, but we must not offend our parents in our attitude and our words. We need to hold fast to God’s truth, and at the same time, we need to maintain love. We must learn to be righteous from the very beginning of our Christian life. At the same time, we must not give up love. Do not emphasize the holiness of the life of God at the expense of the love found in His life. These two aspects should balance one another. We want to obey God, but we must obey in an attitude of meekness. Do not offend love in any way. If something needs to be done, do it. But never do anything which offends love. We must be gentle in our attitude. Even when there are differences of opinion among the brothers, we must still remain gentle. We must be full of love when we tell our brother, “Brother, how I wish to see what you have seen. But God has shown me otherwise, and I have no choice but to obey Him.” Do not lower the standard of God’s Word; neither offend love. On the one hand, be obedient to God. On the other hand, love. We must show our brother that we are not doing something for ourselves; we are doing it because God has said so. Our attitude must be right, and we must be full of meekness. This will gain many brothers and sisters.
V. THE RESULT OF LOVE
First John 4:16 says, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” This is the second occurrence in this Epistle of the phrase God is love. Because God is love, He wants us to love the brothers and abide in love. As long as we abide in love, we abide in God.
Verses 17 and 18 say, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” First John 4 is the only place in the entire Bible that tells us how to stand boldly before the judgment seat. It tells us the secret: Abide in love. To abide in love is to abide in God. We will have boldness in the day of judgment when this love is perfected in us.
We must have only one thought toward our brothers and sisters—love. We must gain them and seek their highest benefit. There must be no hatred, only love. This practice is an exercise for us. One day our whole being will abide in love, and love will also abide in us. Then our lives on earth will be free from all fear. There is no fear when we love. When we stand before the judgment seat, we will not be afraid of anything. This life of love will operate among us until fear is gone. The fruit of the Spirit—love—will give us the boldness to stand before the judgment seat.
We have already seen that to love the brothers is to love God. Our love for the brothers will cause the love of God to be perfected in us. We can love the brothers to such an extent that there is no more fear in us toward the brothers. Loving God and loving the brothers always go together. We must love the brothers on earth if we want to love God. If we do, love is perfected in us, and we will have the boldness on the day of judgment. This is a wonderful thing.
May we all give ourselves to learn to love the brothers from the very beginning of our Christian life. May the life of love find an outlet in us.
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(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years. David Williams – site Admin.)