1 John 3:10, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”
11-13, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.”
The Great Beloved Apostle continues on with this thought of yet another manifestation in the difference between those who belong to God as His children and those who show themselves to be children of the evil one. John makes a clear yet bold statement and there is NO gray area; “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, . . .”
This is one of the reasons I love John’s writing so much; he doesn’t mince words and he doesn’t leave you wondering as to what he means. If you don’t practice at being righteous, then you are not of God! I want you to look at a key word here, and it might not be the one you think; it’s PRACTICE! And you thought it would be righteous! I have said it so many times before when considering John’s instructions in his writing; “Practice makes perfect!” Again, not that we are already perfect as the Apostle Paul points out so many times, but we STRIVE to attain perfection, in other words, we work at it. John says it clearly, we practice!
It’s no accident that the writers of the differing Epistles are in harmony on this point, for it is the hand of the Holy Spirit that is evident in the inspiration that was penned. Our walk towards the Kingdom of God is a spiritual journey, as I have often said, it is a lifestyle, a daily PRACTICE of doing AND applying what the Bible teaches us will transform us into usable vessels for the Lord and as we walk this path, we become more and more like Christ every day.
Now I want to clarify something about that other word that IS a keyword; righteousness or to be righteous. Most Bible translations use the word righteousness in this instance but a few replace it with “those who do not obey God’s commands.” Now I want to make it clear that as far as modern English and understanding John’s point, I am not against these more modern versions in the sense that if your are reading the Scriptures, it still makes the basic point; the difference between God’s children and the children belonging to the enemy is in what we do. The difference I DO have a problem with is the clarity with which the Apostle writes these statements; we still PRACTICE or strive, or work to accomplish what is right. If the modern English would have put practice, strive, or work to accomplish, in the sentence, I believe it would be a bit more true to the writer’s intent.
Again, we have not attained true and pure righteousness, but we ARE striving or working towards attaining it and that is the key. As the Apostle Paul writes often, “we press on!” I know I said a lot to get to a simple point John is making; the children of God are working to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, whereas, the children of the enemy make no attempt whatsoever. I hope also you realize something else in this verse John wrote, and that is that it is not the work towards righteousness, keyword WORK, but rather the faith in believing that as we attempt to attain righteousness, it is counted in the eyes of the Lord as having already been attained.
As the Apostle James is so fond of saying, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:17-18.
It’s all in the heart motive. We don’t attain our righteousness by our WORK to attain righteousness, but our working to attain it DOES demonstrate our FAITH and thus it is counted for that which we are hoping to attain!!
A final thought on the difference between the children of God and the children of the devil; there is NO middle ground! There is no straddling a fence, one foot on the side of righteousness and the other on the side of self-centeredness or selfishness. You are either “practicing or striving” to be righteous, in faith believing, or you are simply doing what YOU want and not what God wants. This leads us into what John is reiterating again; what he is trying to drive home into the hearts and minds of the reader and using as an anchor or a test to show the real difference between the child of God and the child of the devil; “nor is he who does not love his brother.”
This is a reiteration of what John was teaching in 1 John 2:7-17. The test of being a part of the FAMILY of God, is love! If you have any doubts as to whether someone is of God or someone is of the enemy (the world OR the devil), either they love others or they do not, they practice righteousness or they practice self-centeredness. This is why for years I have taught that the opposite of Godly, agape, unconditional love, is NOT hate, but is self-centeredness or selfishness!
Another point, again, the kind of love that the Apostle is referring too is not the familial or friendship type of love either, love based on human affection, but the love John is referring to is the DIVINE love. The love that Christ Jesus demonstrated for all mankind by becoming the Sacrificial Lamb! Understand this also, this type of love is not entirely possible in our own ability or strength. Because as unregenerate we are incapable of that Divine love, but through the spiritual rebirth and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we CAN attain that unselfish, unconditional, God-like love that is a manifestation of being a child of God’s.
John continues on then by giving us a prime example; first he states this is the message we have heard or been taught from the beginning, the message of love for others. It is not a NEW message, but one that HAS been taught, and he is giving an example of the difference and most probably because over time, just as with so many things, the message and the MEANING of love had changed. John is making it clear what type of love he is referring to in his example; “NOT as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.” John is clearly pointing out, even though Cain was Abel’s brother, Cain’s actions, his heart, was NOT a heart of love towards his brother and it manifested the wickedness that WAS in his heart by murdering, killing his brother! Cain and Abel were blood relation! You can’t get any closer to one another than a brother or a sister, yet that didn’t stop Cain from acting upon the wickedness that was apparent in his heart. His heart was NOT one of love. His heart was NOT one of righteousness; he neither practiced it, nor walked in it.
I have considered my self to be a “student” of human nature ever since I was a very young man. I have always questioned why, about things, about why people act AND react the way they do. When I was just out of High School back in 1970, I enrolled in a program at our community college, Associate Degree Nursing. It promised an R.N. degree in a two-year period instead of the usual four due to a lack of nurses at the time, but make no mistake, this was an intense, time-consuming course. Because it was a two-year course, it had to pack four-years into the time frame.
I was the only guy in a class of 50. Talk about forcing me out of my introverted shell! But I excelled as I had always wanted to help others. I was told I had a lot of empathy as compared to just sympathy for others. A double-edged sword in some instances though. My administrator acknowledged me more than once as being in the top five of the class and the area that I excelled even more so, was in psychology. Now, I have to clarify something for those who might not know the difference, psychology and psychiatry are totally different. Psychology deals with human nature, action and reaction. For the most part, it is pure science. Psychiatry, in my opinion, is theoretical science, theories, NOT facts, used to try and “treat or diagnose” aberrant behavior. My psychology assignments I did very well in, but when my instructors started in on the psychiatry aspect, it delved into many controversial areas that most often as not included religious beliefs and I became known as a bit of a “trouble-maker.” Never-the-less, I passed with good grades, but even to this day I reject whole-heartedly, psychiatry, though it is an accepted practice today.
To sum it up, I had all by my final three months to finish. The final semester was in Pediatrics, and much to the disappoint of a LOT of family and friends, I dropped out! I can look back on it now and have for many years with absolutely no regrets. My heart was right in wanting to serve others, but my direction was wrong. I was new in the Lord and was more or less following in family footsteps.
But I laid out all of this for one main point; the things I learned then became a foundation for things I learned all through my life in spiritual ministry! I learned to understand, to EMPATHIZE and use as a ministry tool, the lessons I learned on HUMAN NATURE. I look at these things as gifts from the Holy Spirit and it has even helped me to understand so much that is written in the Scriptures.
Which brings me back to the point that John was making concerning the ways of those who PRACTICE wickedness or self-centeredness. Since the very beginning, human nature, the PRIDEFUL nature has not changed. Lucifer fell from grace because of his pride and he carried a multitude of angels with him into that fallen state of wickedness. I could write a whole other sermon on why God allowed that to happen but for now, just understand the truth of it and how he, the devil, the deliverer of evil, has turned and skewed the truth and continues to tempt mankind to follow in his footsteps. Cain is the first prime, human example. Cain wasn’t deceived, but rather when reading the early Scriptures, he was rebellious and prideful, just like Lucifer, himself.
Here’s where human nature manifests itself and the Apostle poses it as a question; “And why did he murder him?” John wants the reader to question, to ponder, to consider the question. We can read the Scriptures and have such a tendency to just go from one sentence to another without meditating or wonder on what we just read, yet the Bible is so full of treasure and some is buried, some has to be dug out and not just skimmed over. “And why did he murder him?”
The Apostle IS faithful to give us an answer though; “Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” Yep, Cain was evil, Abel was righteous. Yet the Apostle is still making a point. There is some deep truth under the simplistic statement that Cain is bad, Abel is good. Think of it this way, Abel showed/manifested light, Cain showed/manifested darkness. Do you see it, or get it yet? Human nature, it’s like a beacon! John is giving a hint before continuing into the next verse.
Matthew 10:22, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Basic human nature; those doing wrong, whether trying to hide it or working out in the open, will always HATE those who do what is right, because the LIGHT of their works, shows or manifests (brings to light, to acknowledgement) those things that are wrong, evil and in the dark! Remember, the enemy, whether it be the world organization corrupt with power, or the enemy of your soul, will try to manipulate, skew, corrupt or lie to achieve their goal deceptively. When that action, whatever it is, is brought into the light, their evil schemes are seen for what they are, wickedness, and wickedness HATES to be found out! Wickedness hates to be seen for the maliciousness that it truly is and will do all to destroy, the character or the person of the one who is shining light upon their dark deeds! Sadly, in the world today, we are seeing this aspect of the Bible being played out in front of our very eyes, all around us and it is becoming more blatant, NOT trying to hide in the shadows!
John’s next sentence provides clarity and understanding; “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.” Brothers and Sisters; DO NOT be surprised, do NOT be in awe, if and because, the world hates you! When you practice, or work to achieve righteousness, your very lifestyle will shine light on those around you who are living a lifestyle of immorality or selfishness. Jealousy or bitterness lead to anger and anger leads to evil if not taken care of. Actions and reactions; human nature. It hasn’t changed since the very beginning and yet John’s theme throughout his writings has always been, put human nature under subjection to DIVINE love. Love that expects nothing in return EXCEPT the best for the recipient! That is what Agape is; Godly, Christ-like love.
In closing, notice again, (yes I say it over and over) that every attribute that defines us as God’s children, followers of Christ Jesus are ACTIONS. Lifestyle is an action of walking forward towards becoming the image of Christ. Practicing righteousness demands striving and working to ACT in the right way according to the Holy Spirit’s leading. His Spirit within us causes us to act as HE directs and true love, agape demonstrates our acting love for Him by practicing to do what He leads and directs us to do!
Do we make mistakes, stumble and fall? Yes! Emphatically, yes! But as the Apostle Paul tells us, and I repeat it again: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 3:12-14. In other words, Paul is confirming John’s writing, PRACTICE!