Love the Brothers
1 John 3:10-18 (ESV) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
As an apostle (a term that means “one who is sent as a representative”) of Jesus, St. John’s Epistles are simply a communication of what Jesus had taught him and the Holy Spirit had inspired him to write. He applies the teachings of Jesus to life in the Church, in which the children of God the Father are gathered by the Spirit together with their big brother, Jesus, to learn how to live.
In St. John’s Gospel, chapters 13-17 are situated at and after the Last Supper, with the sacrificial death of Jesus in view, since “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” would soon offer His body and pour out His blood on the cross. In those final somber hours spent with the Apostles, Jesus taught about the hatred of the world toward His disciples and the necessity of His followers loving one another:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18-21).
“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).
“See,” ‘say the pagans,’ “how the Christians love one another,” wrote the church father Tertullian (c. 155-240 AD). It seems that these early Christians were simply following the words of Jesus and St. John.
The secular narrative today is that we all need to be “changing the world,” “saving the world,” “reshaping society,” etc. This will be a tall order to fill, since “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and hates the Kingdom of God. However, this is not an order we are even supposed to fulfill, since Jesus has not called us to “change the world” but to “love the brothers,” that is, fellow Christians, especially the “little ones who believe in” Him (Matthew 18:6).
This does not exclude charity and good works toward unbelievers, of course: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). But Paul, John, and Jesus specifically require us to love and do good to brothers and sisters in Christ, starting in our own families and working outward from there. If we take this advice, we will “change the world” and “reshape society” in ways that are perhaps imperceptible to the culture around us, but they will not escape notice of the One who said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
Prayer (LSB 692):
1. Praise to You and adoration,
Blessèd Jesus, Son of God,
Who, to serve Your own creation,
Came to share our flesh and blood.
Guide me that I never may
From Your fold or pastures stray,
But with zeal and joy exceeding
Follow where Your steps are leading.
2. Hold me ever in Your keeping;
Comfort me in pain and strife.
In my laughter and my weeping
Be with me throughout my life.
Give me greater love for You,
And my faith and hope renew
In Your birth, Your life, and passion,
In Your death and resurrection. Amen.