Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Having reminded his readers of how Cain jealously hated Abel for his righteous deeds and favor with God, John ties in the idea that the world may view and hate true believers in the same fashion. But we will know that we are truly saved into eternal life with Christ when we cannot help but love our fellow believers who bear His image. The Greek literally says we have passed out of “the death” into “the life.”
Without mincing words John writes that anyone who does not abide in this love has the spirit of a murderer and is not a true believer – therefore abiding in death in an eternal sense as well as living in spiritual deadness in this life. Some have taken this passage to mean that murder is an unforgiveable sin, but that cannot be biblically backed up. But God and murderous intent cannot coexist. Eternal life springs from an indwelling God, and God cannot dwell in a heart filled with hatred and malice.
This passage may bring to your mind the Sermon on the Mount – a section of Jesus’ teaching that turned standard moral thought on its head and set a standard none could perfectly achieve in this life. It equated lust with adultery, hate with murder, etc. Jesus taught his listeners that salvation requires more than following a list of prescribed laws; it requires a change in hearts and minds.
Yesterday while making a wish my daughter said, “I wish I didn’t have a baby brother.” He wasn’t doing anything at the time; she was just in the sort of mood to want to say something of that nature. I am so thankful that she doesn’t truly hate her brother, and very thankful that he didn’t know what she was saying. But just hearing those words made my heart wrench within my chest. Hate is such a deep evil – perhaps less visible than murder but more pervasive, slowly decaying a person’s very soul. As God transforms our lives we more strongly see with his eyes and cannot help but love His children and feel compassion on those who are still lost (no matter how annoying the person may be). I pray that we will all grow in the fruit of the Spirit, being made keenly aware of any areas of our thoughts and actions that need pruning.