The love of God for His people is a major theme in Scripture. God’s very nature is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Our being predestined to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, is based in the love of God (Ephesians 1:4-5). Because He died for us, the love of Christ controls – how we live and how we interact with others (2 Corinthians 5:14). Indeed, nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). To know and understand God’s love for His people in Christ is a wonderful thing, that brings assurance and comfort to believers!
But have you have stopped to consider how God’s love in Christ for His people actually causes hate? That may sound surprising and a bit strange, but that is indeed the main thrust of this passage: how God’s love in Christ causes hate! John takes up this idea by first giving us a concrete example of hate from history. In fact, it’s the first recorded event in history where one person hated another (1 John 3:11-12):
11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;
12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
By way of introduction to this topic, John encourages believers to love one another (1 John 3:11), but then he gives a negative illustration – an illustration, not of love, but of love’s opposite – an illustration of hate (1 John 3:12). As a child of the devil, Cain hated his brother and therefore he murdered him. Cain is “of the evil one” – a child of the devil.
But, notice the explanation. For what reason did Cain slay Abel? It wasn’t just because he was a child of the evil one. It wasn’t just because he wanted to do the works of his father, the devil. If it were only because he had evil intent in his heart, his hatred could have been expressed in any number of ways. But, according to God’s Word, his hatred was expressed in the murder of his brother for two reasons: Cain’s deeds were evil, and his brother Abel’s deeds were righteous.
Augustine wrote about this stark contrast between Cain and Abel in his book The City of God: “Now Cain was the first born to those two parents of mankind, and he belonged to the city of man; the later son, Abel, belonged to the city of God.” [City of God (Book XV, chapter 1)]
The Scriptures tell us that “the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Genesis 4:4-5). Abel had experienced and responded to the love of God, but Cain had not. Cain hated and murdered his brother not just because he was of the evil one, but because he saw something in his brother that he hated. He saw the love of God in his brother, and thus Cain slew Abel.
That those who have not experienced the love of God in Christ hate those who have might be a surprising concept to some – and, that’s why John says what he does in the next few verses (1 John 3:13-15):
13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.
14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who 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.
Here’s the point: the love of God causes hatred. Don’t ask me to explain the psychological or even the spiritual reasons that the world hates those who have passed out of death and into life. But clearly, the Bible teaches that this is indeed true.
Yet, it’s still hard to comprehend at times. Perhaps this is because we – those of us who have experienced the love of God in Christ – we, who have passed out of death and into life – have forgotten what it was like before we came to Christ. I don’t know. But this I do know: we were once enemies of God; the love of God in Christ reconciles us to Him. But then, once we have been reconciled to God, we come to find that we have a whole other set of enemies.
Jesus puts it this way (Matthew 10:21-22):
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.
22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
Yet, even though Jesus warned us, too often, we believe that being reconciled with God, will bring peace with everyone and everything. I know I oftentimes think like that, “When people see that we love them, want only the best for them, want to share the love of Christ and the promise of eternal life with them, how could they not love us? Or, at least be peaceable and maybe like us?” But, according to God’s Word, in reality, being reconciled with God means that we are now at war with the world, our own sinful natures, and the devil.
As Jesus also said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a hard teaching. When you receive and know the love of God in Christ Jesus and are born again, you might assume that your life will be made easier and all the world will love you. The truth is, however, that when you receive and know the love of God in Christ Jesus and are born again you are reconciled to God, but you are now at enmity with the world.
But let us take courage. Even as the world hates us, let us love one another. Let us remember these words of our Savior (John 15:17-20):
17 “This I command you, that you love one another.
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.