7 January 2014

1 John 3:11-21

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God.” (vv. 18-21)


Christmas does not end at midnight on Christmas Day! The Christmas season runs from Christmas Eve all the way to Epiphany on 6 January and then the season of Epiphany lasts until Candlemas on 2 February, when we celebrate the presentation of Christ at the temple.

During these seasons the themes of light in darkness and love made flesh are prominent, so it is fitting that we have moved from the Christmas narrative into the first epistle of John, which shares these themes.

The letter is organised into four sections by theme, in the structure ABBA. The A-sections concern witness and the B-sections are about love. The first A-section (1:1 - 2:14) concerns the witness to God who is the light, and a call to live in the light. The first B-section (2:15 - 3:10) follows on from this, calling believers not to love the world. Our passage today opens the second B-section (3:11 - 4:13), which offer a balance to the last section. Instead of loving the world, believers are to love one another (verse 11). The second A-section (4:14 - 5:20) returns to the idea of witness, but this time the witness is to God who is love, with a promise of eternal life for those who live in the love of God.

In contrasting love for one another with love of the world, which leads to hatred of one another, the writer refers to Cain (verse 12), who killed his brother Abel in (Genesis 4:1-16), out of jealousy of Abel's righteousness. This offers both an explanation of why believers might find themselves hated by the world and also as an exhortation not to be like Cain.

This passage is concerned with the question of how believers can be sure that they have "passed from death to life" (verse 14). John Wesley, too, was concerned with how believers could be sure that they were saved. The answer was simple: if they cared about whether or not they were saved, then they were! In the same way, for the writer of this letter, the believer's own heart is the confirmation that they live in God's eternal love.

To Ponder

  • Does your heart sometimes condemn you?
  • How do you return to loving in truth and action?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.