Uniform 04.12.2015: Let My Life Be the Proof

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1 John 3:11-24

Brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone are the headliners of a band called for KING & COUNTRY. Born in Sydney, Australia, they moved with their family to Nashville in 1991 and sang backup vocals for their sister, Christian artist Rebecca St. James. Then, barely into their twenties, they started their own band and began writing songs together. Today, they are award-winning artists whose latest album, RUN WILD. LIVE FREE. LOVE STRONG., contains the wildly popular songs “Fix My Eyes” and “Shoulders.”

A song on Crave, their first album, has formed the basis of their philosophy. Taking cues from 1 Corinthians 13, they wrote “The Proof of Your Love,” asking God to help them as they strive to live up to the ideal that Paul set for the Corinthians. In the verses of the song, they explain what the Christian life is like without love: “If I sing but don’t have love / I waste my breath with every song / I bring, an empty voice / A hollow noise…. If I give to a needy soul / But don’t have love then who is poor / It seems all the poverty / Is found in me.”

Then, in the chorus, the brothers make this plea to God:

Let my life be the proof
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You
And what You’re made of
How you lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
So let my life be the proof
The proof of Your love

Paul said that of all the qualities reflecting who Jesus is, love is the greatest. And John affirms Paul in our lesson text. Do you want others to know who God is? Do you want people to recognize Jesus Christ in your life? Do you want to shine the Light of life over the people you encounter? Then you must love.

John wrote, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 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…” (1 John 3:16-19, italics added).

What is the proof of God’s love? What kind of love looks like God? It’s the love that lives within us and radiates out to the world. How that happens will vary among us. This person may volunteer at a nonprofit that serves the homeless. That person may spend every Sunday on her hands and knees, crawling around after toddlers in the church preschool area. Another person may pick up extra cans of food every time he goes grocery shopping, saving them to donate to a local food bank. And yet another may go several afternoons each week to sit with an elderly person who is lonely and needs a friend. There are countless other ways to show the love of Christ. A new opportunity may arise each day—several times a day!

Do we know God’s love? If so, may our lives be the proof of it as we minister to the people of this world, for all of them are desperately in need of the love of God—just as we are.

Sources: “The Proof of Your Love,” Crave, for KING & COUNTRY, words and music by Joel and Luke Smallbone et al., song available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcCNeL-Y-NM; for KING & COUNTRY, “Bio,” http://www.forkingandcountry.com/bio (both accessed 30 March 2015).

Discussion

1. If possible, click the YouTube link and listen to “The Proof of Your Love.” How does this song speak to you about your Christian journey? Which lyrics strike you the most?
2. What other descriptions of love—whether in songs, poetry, or another type of media—have you heard? Which ones express God’s kind of love?
3. Consider reading 1 Corinthians 13 from a modern translation like Eugene Peterson’s The Message (available online at sites like biblegateway.com). The band for KING & COUNTRY uses this translation as part of their song, “The Proof of Your Love.” What do Paul’s definitions of love mean for your life as a believer?
4. Now reread the lesson text from 1 John 3:11-24, especially verses 16-19. How does John affirm what Paul wrote to the Corinthians?
5. Why do you think love is the greatest quality of a Christ follower? How can your life be the proof of God’s never-ending, ever-faithful, constant, unconditional love?

Reference Shelf

Quite understandably, some students of 1 John take 3:11 as the introduction of the second main division of the Epistle. The case can certainly be made with no real difficulty that some parallels in expression and construction exist with 1:5, the introductory verse to the first movement by most accounts. “This is the message which we/you have heard . . . that . . . .” The argument has even been advanced that this potential twofold division of the Epistle represents an intentional parallel to the Gospel of John (chapters 1–12, 13–20). This structural analysis advocated by the distinguished Raymond Brown yields the attractive outcome of the two movements of light (1 John 1:5–3:10) and love (3:11–5:12).

This thesis stumbles on the stubborn fact that 3:11-18 is far too connected to the immediately preceding passage (2:29–3:10) to represent a major new beginning. The dualistic categories of the children of God and the children of the devil (3:10) find their analogues in Cain and Abel, one with evil works and the other righteous (3:12). Cain becomes the poster boy, as it were, for not loving one’s own brother (3:10c). Furthermore, the first word of 3:11 in the Greek text, hoti, is scarcely a signal of a new sequence but suggests an explanation (epexegetical function) of “the one not loving his brother” (3:10c). This causal conjunction could be rendered “for” or “because” or “since.” What appears to be represented at 3:11ff is a continuation of the preceding argument rather than the initiation of a new one, for there are no transitional signals.

One does better in this writer’s opinion to conceive of 3:11-18 as a progression upon 2:29–3:10, the theme of a righteous God and righteous believers. What can be said further, drawing from Robert Law’s famous image of the spiral in which the writer of 1 John returns to a theme and enhances it, serves well for the recurring theme of love in the Epistle, though it is an imperfect model. Indeed, a significant passage on love appears as early as 2:7-11, the second then at 3:11-18, and the classic third at 4:7-11. The theme of love (and hate) is probably the primary underlying concern of the Epistle with the confession of Jesus alongside. Presumably the bad feeling in the church and the hostility toward brothers and sisters from the side of the secessionists (2:19) called forth this emphasis on the old/new commandment of reciprocal love (2:7-8). This former passage laid foundation and authority to the grand command.

The writer does return to his baseline of John 13:34-35: to love one another or each other. This represents the second use of the reciprocal pronoun (cf. 1:7). Here it is not only his critique of opponents but a key to his ecclesiology, an essential definition of what it means to be Christian-in-community. He espouses a relational ethic, a disciple in community. The dimension of reciprocity, furthermore, should not be skimmed over too hurriedly. It is not merely that a believer ought to love another Christian. It is also implied that a Christian should be open to receiving the love of a fellow believer. This reciprocal love constitutes the genius of the Johannine vision of church. Those disgruntled because the focus on love is limited to other Christians in the Epistle should factor in the potentiality of the Johannine vision for relationships and ecclesiology.

The message that you have heard (v. 11a) belongs to a familiar motif in 1 John (1:1, 3, 5; 2:7, 24). The letter regularly appeals to the authority of what has been heard, reflecting on both the oral situation and the implicit respect for the Johannine tradition. In this context, no real question exists concerning what is meant by the ubiquitous “from beginning.” It seems to point rather unmistakably to John 13:34-35. The second person “you,” however, is used rather than the “we” of 1:1-3 or 1:5. Since the readers presumably did not hear it directly from Jesus, it likely refers to their initial hearing of Christian preaching. If this is so, then loving one another belonged integrally to the Johannine understanding of gospel. Grammatically, the clause “that we love one another” unveils the content of the message heard from the beginning. God’s love and the corresponding love for one another must have enjoyed a particularly prominent place in typical Johannine preaching. Their hearing of gospel may have been through the narrative of the Gospel of John, whether finalized in writing or not. Because of the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel, Smalley wonders if the reference went back not only to apostolic kerygma, but even to the ordinance of creation itself.

The negative example of Cain comes forward immediately, a clue that vv. 11-18 are not merely about mutual love from a pastoral or didactic side. The characteristic “just as” (kathōs) comparison is preceded significantly by the negative “not” (cf. John 6:59; 14:27), suggesting its introduction because of the internal conflict. Even in an instance like that involving Cain, the author seems to prefer this style of argument, in this case an example not to emulate. The author moved to this antithetical example of Cain not merely because Cain was a murderer but because (1) he belonged to the other realm (from the Evil One), and because (2) he killed his brother. While the example may seem extreme, it fits the Elder’s purpose well. He also appears to introduce the example of Cain without the necessity of explanation, presuming that auditors would be familiar with the reference (cf. John 8:39-44).

While our writer utilizes his rubrics of righteous and unrighteous, love and hate, Cain and Abel had been juxtaposed long before in Jewish exegesis. Philo, for example, in extensive and wandering treatises, wrote about Cain and Abel as types. He saw the two brothers as opposing principles of love of self and love of God (“The Sacrifice of Abel and Cain” 1-4, 52). The lovers of virtue and lovers of self, drawn from the Abel/Cain typology, are characterized in his “The Worse Attacks the Better” (32), with Cain portrayed as killing himself by his hateful fratricide (48). John Painter is able to show the parallel between 1 John 3:12 and the characterization of Abel as righteous and Cain as evil to Josephus (Ant. 1, 52-62) and the influence of the Adversary on Cain (Apoc. Ab., 24:5). Perhaps some of the recipients would be familiar already with the example the writer develops.

Rhetorically the church leader asks for the motive of the murder (v. 12c). He answers crisply with the causal cause (“because,” v. 12d). The evil deeds averred do not stand in the abstract or merely as recall of Genesis 4, but emerge from Cain’s spiritual parentage from the Evil One (v. 12a). Cain belonged to the other realm, the sphere of darkness and the demonic, the familiar dualism of the Epistle.

In Genesis 4 the brothers are juxtaposed as a farmer and a shepherd (v. 2). Cain brought an offering to God from the ground, and Abel from the “firstlings” of his flock. God had no regard for Cain’s offering but approved Abel’s (vv. 2-5). The divine reason is not certain but may be related to a greater generosity arising from the heart. The Genesis text assigns anger as the reaction that led to the malicious murder of Cain’s own brother, which, in turn, suits well the argument of the Epistle with its antithesis of love and hate. The epistolary argument, in keeping with its theme of righteousness (“everyone who does right has been born of him,” 2:29b), explains that Abel’s deeds were righteous, as does Hebrews 11:4, which also uses the word “righteous.”

Reference

Peter Rhea Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009) 135-38.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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