1 John 3:11-15 (Being like Cain; Being hated by the world)


(1Jo 3:11-15 ESV) 11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 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. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.


We’ve considered “love one another” in an earlier post. The astonishing here is John’s equating the absence of love with murder. In effect, he says that if we don’t love, we are just as bad as Cain.

(Gen 4:2b-8 ESV)  2 Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.  3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,  4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,  5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Abel brought the “firstborn” of his flock, whereas Cain did not bring the firstfruits of his harvest. Abel gave the first to God. Cain did not.

Under the Law, offerings of grain, flour, wine, and oil were permitted. It’s conceivable that God’s law at the time of Cain and Abel only permitted animal sacrifice, but the New Testament writers take a different slant.

(Heb 11:4 ESV)  4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

The Hebrews writer says Abel’s gift was more acceptable “by faith.” Both Hebrews and 1 John declare Abel “righteous.” Of course, it’s obvious from what happened next that Cain had a serious problem of the heart — and we’ve already seen that God is all about having a “circumcised heart.” Faith, righteousness, putting God first, having a pure heart — these are the things that make a sacrifice meaningful to God.

Ultimately, the reason John refers to Cain is that he is the first man who failed to love his brother. The only reason he killed Abel — his physical brother — is that God approved Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s. It was sheer envy.

Is it fair for John to refer to those who don’t love as murderers? Well, he is in good company —

(Mat 5:21-26 ESV)  21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Jesus says that merely calling someone a derogatory name is the moral equivalent of murder. He then goes further to insist that we reconcile with those have something against us — as a higher priority than worship (not the Lord’s Supper particularly but anything we do unto God). Don’t let even the duty to give to God slow you down! Reconcile today! Reconciliation is a better gift to God than whatever you might give to the Temple. Finally, even if you have an enemy — an accuser — settle with him. Don’t let pride and greed get in the way of reconciliation.

The teachings are all connected. You see, when I call my brother a name, I dehumanize him. In times of war, we make up names for the enemy so they are less human and therefore easier to kill. It’s easier to shoot a “kraut” or “gook” or “raghead” than a “father of young children,” “husband of a wife,” or “fellow human made by God.”

The same is true of sex. Men who take advantage of women don’t think of them as daughters of Eve but by terms much less flattering and thereby make it much easier to abuse and take advantage of them. Our language reveals our heart, and our hearts are shaped by our language.

Just so, if someone resents me, it’s easy to put off reconciliation by dismissing him as unimportant or trivial. I can minimize the pain by thinking of them as inconsequential. But he isn’t. Not to me — really. And not to God. Letting the grudge linger is a way of dismissing their feelings and concerns as too unimportant to matter. In a sense, I kill him in my mind. I make him go away so I don’t have to meet with him and apologize.

The same is true of a dispute — legal or otherwise. We see our accuser as evil — to justify not resolving the dispute. Therefore, we make no effort to compromise, pretending it’s about principle and not money. Indeed, we put a price on our relationships. It’s too expensive to love him, and so we hate him. And that makes us no better than Cain.

Being hated by the world

13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.

This passage doesn’t really fit there, does it? I mean, the verses before and after deal with loving my brother and not being a murderer. They speak of how we are to act toward others. And for some reason, John tosses in a thought on how others will think of us.

I think his point is this: You have to love them even though they hate you. In fact, you should expect them to hate you, so get over it and love them anyway. Ouch.

(Mat 5:44-48 ESV)  44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This is a hard passage. “Love your enemies” is a very well known teaching — and very rarely obeyed.

God wants us to grow up to be like him, our Father. And God makes the rain fall on the crops of his enemies. We should do the same.

Indeed, one of the most timely teachings for the modern church is: “if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” We tend to turn our churches into social clubs for the nice. We eat with each other. We don’t hang out with the unwashed sinners who surround us. We won’t even play softball with them. We won’t even play softball against them!

Church thus becomes an escape from God’s mission rather than God’s mission headquarters. It’s a colossal mistake for Christian to escape the world through the church when they were called to be in the world, being faithful to the mission, as the church.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to 1 John 3:11-15 (Being like Cain; Being hated by the world)

  1. R.J. says:

    Raca was a term of vilification. From a root meaning to spit upon. Thus to show utter contempt for another in hateful words!

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