Since you believe in Christ, serve one another, for God’s love begets our love.
This Week’s Passage: 1 John 3:16-24
I. Establish the text
C. Other texts for Year B for 4thSunday in Easter
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
16a Definition of love: Self sacrifice
16b Our response to divine love is to demonstrate this love for others.
17 Story about two farmers talking about how they would support one-another until one suggests they would give the other a bull if the other needed one. “You know I have two bulls.”
18 Talk is cheap.
19 Our actions provide assurance that Christ is working in us and through us.
22 Perhaps we receive what we ask for, because we know for what to ask when we obey God.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Chapter 3 begins a new topic on how to live as children of God.
- Parsing the letter at verse 16, extends the discussion on rejecting sin through verse 15. And verses 16-24 begin an alternative action, to embrace sacrificial love.
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
- Unsigned although 2nd and 3rd John are signed “the presbyter.” Probably written by the author of the Gospel According to John as it builds on ideas and phrases in that text and uses similar style. Early Christians attributed these texts to John the Son of Zebedee, the beloved disciple. Although attribution to John of Zebedee may have followed a need to give these useful letters authority. The author hints at an affinity for the Qumran community.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- Rhetoric, but softer than Paul, demonstrating that John’s correspondents were receptive.
III. Question the text.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: Since you believe in Christ, serve one another.
- Emotional Center: God’s love begets our love.
- Music: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Stephen S. Smalley (Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 51: 1, 2, 3 John. Dallas: Word, 1984.) begins the pericope at verse 10 and titles this passage as the second of five conditions for living as God’s children, a topic begun at 3:1 and continuing through 5:13. He titles this condition (3:10-24) as: “Be Obedient.” He notes how Christ’s sacrificial love contrasts with the murderous haters who intend destruction of life. He allows interpreting laying one’s life down as a risking (citing Bultmann) or offering (citing Brown) rather than surrender. His argument leads to a conclusion that the reader must differentiate Christ’s atoning substitutionary sacrifice from our following Jesus in risking or offering our lives for our brethren. His focus on obedience diminishes the idea of love as a generous demonstration and response to the indwelling of Christ.
R. Alan Culpepper (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John. Atlanta: JKP, 1985.) titles the pericope beginning at verse 10 as: “Brotherly Love: The Command of the Covenant.” He notes that the phrase “to lay down” one’s life does not occur in the New Testament, except here and eight times in John’s Gospel. He points out that John used yuch rather than zwh, thus Christ laid down his physical life, but not his eternal spiritual life. He notes the ambiguity in verses 19-21 allow multiple and diverse interpretations.
C. Clifton Black (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The First, Second, and Third Letters of John.” Abingdon, 1998) considers this pericope as part of a unit stretching from 3:11 to 5:12. He parses it at verse 18 into sections titled “By This We Know Love” and “By This We Shall Know That We Are of the Truth.” Alas, Black becomes entangled with the violence in 3:11-15 and is still struggling with the world’s hatred by the end of 3:24.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
Since you believe in Christ, serve one another.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
God’s love begets our love.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Demonstrate that God loves you by loving others sacrificially.