The Gnostic influencers John was opposing in 1 John were not known for their love. They were spiritual elitists. Anyone who was “in the know” as they were was okay, but everyone else was looked down upon in contempt. They were like some of the religious officials of Jesus’ day “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else,” (Luke 18:9).
The message to love each other was one disciples had heard from the beginning (1 John 3:11. It was embedded in God’s love for mankind and embodied in the sacrificial death of Jesus. John goes back to another beginning to urge them not to be like Cain, who murdered his brother (v. 12). Initially this seems like a curious choice and a low bar (You’re to love each other, so don’t be like Cain and murder your brother)—but then John goes on to tell us that murder isn’t confined to a physical act—the person who hates their brother or sister is a murderer (v. 15). He has their attention now!
He then goes on to remind them of what the essence of love is—it is Jesus laying down His life for us (v. 16). Gerald Paden told of a time he was teaching this text to a group of ministry students, one of whom had been a soldier. This student told the class of a battle he was where he and his fellow soldiers were pinned down by enemy gunfire. They quickly dug a trench for protection. Just when it looked like they might survive the situation, a grenade landed close to them. One of the soldiers threw himself on it and covered it with his body. The resulting explosion was fatal to him but it saved the lives of the other soldiers. When the soldier turned student was asked how he felt about that, he said, “How should I feel? There I was, alive, covered with his blood.”
That’s out story too, isn’t it? At Calvary, Christ covered our sins with His body. It was fatal for Him but life for us. We are alive and covered with His blood.
Most people understand, sooner or later, that that the meaning of life is somehow and, in some way, connected to love. And they look for ultimate love through their spouse, or family, of maybe in the love of a friend. These are all glorious, wonderful things, but none of them can bear the weight of being ultimate love. There must be something bigger—something that reaches all people. And there is. Ultimate love is found outside Jerusalem on a little hill known as Golgotha where the most loving person in human history laid down His life for the redemption of not just the best people in the world, but all people in the world.
I suppose it’s just a coincidence that this verse is found in the center of John’s letter. And it’s another coincidence that it’s 3:16 as in another well-known 3:16 that John wrote. But it’s no coincidence that the same John tells us in Revelation 5:6 that at the heart of the throne that rules the universe there is a lamb, “looking as if it had been slain.” At the center of everything is the sacrificial love of Jesus!
You can be like Ali Hafed who Russell Conwell tells us about in Acres of Diamonds. Seduced by dreams of wealth and riches, Hafed sold his large farming estate and traveled around the world in search of treasure. But he never found it. He died a broken and bereft man. Meanwhile, one of the largest clusters of diamonds ever found was discovered on the estate Hafed had sold to fund his search. He was sitting on top of acres of diamonds but never thought to look on his own land. It was too familiar. Like Hafed, we’re free to look anywhere and everywhere. But not only will we find nothing that eclipses the cross—we won’t find anything close!
The cross tells us that the God who knows us intimately loves us ultimately.