Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in the July 2020 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)
Application: “Melting Polar Ice,” by David Faust
Lesson Aim: Love not with mere words but with actions and in truth.
By Mark Scott
Our identity is discerned from several things—e.g., heritage, upbringing, experiences, relationships, and actions, to name only a few. For the apostle John, identity is tied to the “tests of life” that consist of belief, righteousness, and love. These three themes rotate throughout John’s first Epistle. What one believes, how one lives, and whom one loves all help frame up whether a person is a child of God or a child of the devil.
Children of God
At the beginning of chapter 3, John remarked how wonderful it was to be a child of God (1 John 3:1). That glorious identity is marked out in several ways in our text. Children of God do what is right (v. 10). They habitually practice righteousness; they would never think of killing (v. 12). But it is not just what they do not do; it is also what they do. They love their brothers and sisters perfectly (vv. 11, 14, 23). They constantly give evidence of truly being Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35). They recognize that this radical lifestyle of doing right and loving others will bring them into conflict with the world. In fact, the world will hate them (1 John 3:13).
This commitment to live righteously and love extravagantly shows up in proactive compassion and action (vv. 17, 18). Children of God who have material possessions (i.e., the basic biological necessities of life) and see a fellow Christian in need would never think of being heartless toward that believer. They pity (feel empathy and sympathy at a visceral level) such a person, and they get busy to put their compassion into action. Believers do not just talk a good talk (words or speech, content and tongue), they also walk a good walk (actions and truth, work and genuineness).
Children of God also have a clean conscience. They walk in confidence (boldness) knowing that Christ has liberated them from condemnation (Romans 8:1). This does not mean they have no consciousness of sin (1 John 1:8). But it does mean they trust their liberator more than allowing their hearts to be overwhelmed by guilt feelings (1 John 3:19-21). The apostle Paul also celebrated this victorious lifestyle (Romans 7:15-25). This confidence also shows up in a bold prayer life (1 John 3:22). Believers ask God for anything because they know that they are doing everything possible to keep his commands and do what pleases him. They do not keep God’s commands to score points. They do it because they believe in Jesus Christ and they love others (v. 23).
As John wrote to the elect and dear lady (church?) in 2 John, this identity is also rooted in walking in the truth, walking in obedience, and loving others. Truth and obedience keep love from being mushy and undiscerning. Love keeps truth and obedience from being rigid and cold.
Children of the Devil
The contrast between the church and the world could not be clearer. These children belong to (literally, “come out of”) the evil one (1 John 3:12). The phrase reminds one of what this same apostle said about Judas (John 6:70; 13:27, 30). Judas led the Jewish authorities to Jesus, and they, in turn, handed Jesus over to the Romans who murdered him. John used an example from the earliest pages of the Old Testament of someone who actually committed murder himself, namely Cain. In fact, the New Testament told believers to avoid the way of Cain (Jude 11). The hatred he had toward his brother was prompted by his guilt and showed that his own actions were evil.
Some people contend that Cain offered the wrong sacrifice (fruit from the ground as opposed to an animal sacrifice). This is partly understood from Hebrews 11:4 about Abel offering “a more acceptable sacrifice.” But the context of Hebrews 11 is faith. Was the issue the content of the boys’ offerings or the faith with which the offerings were made? We know that God “had regard” (gazed with respect) for Abel’s offering but not for Cain’s. We cannot psychoanalyze Cain. At the very least his anger got the best of him. Children of the devil, like Cain, hate their brothers (1 John 3:15) and their love for others is as temporary as the morning dew (Hosea 6:4) and then only in words, not actions.
Standing tall in the middle of this text is verse 16. It is about Jesus. If we want to know what real love looks like, we had better look to Calvary. He laid down his life for us. Perfect love is brotherly love, which sacrifices everything but truth.
Lesson study ©2019, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2019 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.