Chapter 3: The Children of God
The third chapter and center of John’s epistle brings us to the source of our gospel: the love of God.
This epistle unfolds the word of life and illuminates the fellowship that believers have with their heavenly Father through the body of Christ in the promised Holy Spirit with the express aim that believers would be able to abide in the love of Christ, overcome deception, and inherit the promise of God.
Verse 1a: What Great Love
See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him.
“See” (ἴδετε): this is the one and only time that this expression is used in John’s epistle, which is used to call the reader’s attention to “pay attention to” and “consider” this one point and signaling to us that this verse is one of the founding principles of John’s epistle.
“What great love the Father has given us”: this directly reflects the great words of our Savior:
John 3:16 (CSB) For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Luke 11:13 (CSB) If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Christ’s beloved disciple is calling his spiritual children to pay attention to the great love of God that has been displayed by his grace and to carefully consider what this love means. Indeed, to see the love of God in truth and meditate on what God’s love means is one of the great acts of Christian devotion by which we draw out living water to refresh our souls.
Everything John writes in this epistle is anchored in this proposition.
Bede the Venerable (c. 673-735) commented on this amazing grace:
The grace of our Creator is so great that he has allowed us both to know him and to love him, and moreover, to love him as children love a wonderful father. It would be no small thing if we were able to love God in the way that a servant loves his master or a worker his employer. But loving God as father is much greater still.
John’s appeal to stand in awe of God’s love and marvel at this most spectacular act of divine grace calls on Christians to fixate on this love with holy reverence so that our love does not grow cold in this wicked world (Mt. 24:12). This informs us that one of the means of rekindling our dull spirits is by fixing our gaze upon Christ and beholding the amazing love of God that has been demonstrated in him.
I suspect the Ephesians had taken their eyes off this marvelous love when Jesus rebuked the Ephesian Church:
Revelation 2:4 (CSB) — But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.
To behold the greatness of God’s love and fixate ourselves therein is the flame that keeps our faith burning bright and strong to the end.