Sunday School Lesson on Love


A. Will We Be Tested on This?

A high-school teacher has spent hours preparing a special lesson. As she launches into her enthusiastic presentation, a hand goes up in the back row. The laziest student in the class raises the predictable question: “Will we be tested on this?” The implication is clear. If the material is not going to be on a test, then the student is not going to bother to learn it.

The apostle John wants his readers to know something for certain: they are going to be tested

OD the subject of love. God has already shown them His love; now He expects them to show this same kind of undeserved, unearned love to one another.

“The royal law according to the Scripture” is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (James2:8). Love is the defining mark of Jesus’ followers. It is the first fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians5:22); it is the crowning virtue to be added to a Christian’s life (see 2 Peter 1:7). Love holds all the other virtues together; it is “the bond of perfectness” (see Colossians 3:14). Even when measured against faith and hope, the greatest of the three is love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13). The King James Version often uses the word charity for love.

B. Lesson Background

John wrote this epistle against a background of false teachers who came to be known as gnostics. Among other things, Gnostics taught that it did not really matter if a person had morality or love—as long as he or she had “secret knowledge.” To combat this false teaching, John emphasized the interconnection of right belief, right actions, and right love. To put it another way, it is the right involvement of head, hands, and heart. The child of God must believe the truth, obey the commands, and love the brethren. Of these three areas, John’s clear favorite is the emphasis on love (although they cannot really be separated). In last week’s lesson John equated the life of love with walking in the light. Today he will examine God’s love, the world’s lack of love, and the saints’ IMO that meets every test.

I. Majesty of Love (1 John 3:1, 2)

Pure, unselfish love is a beautiful thing. The ultimate example of love is the love of God him-self, which He showed when He invited unworthy people back into fellowship. John calls his readers to contemplate what kind of love this is and to imagine what the outcome of this love will be.

A. Our Present (v. 1)

1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

Look! What a wonder! Consider what manner of love God has offered! With these thoughts John calls his readers to ponder the degree of love it took for God to adopt us as His children. How can God love us when we have been sinful and unworthy? It is through Christ that God has forgiven us and welcomed us into His family. If we will only think about it, we will realize that it is not the having of merit or knowing secrets that will take us to Heaven. Rather, it is the love and grace of God.

The family of God must take note, however, that the world does not understand or approve of us. The fallen, unregenerate world refuses to know God, so it is only to be expected that the world will not look favorably on God’s people. In spite of this, it is an eternal privilege for believers to be called sons of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

B. Our Future (v. 2)

2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall him; for we shall see him as he is.

As the sons of God, Christians we are heirs of a Father who owns the whole universe. We as God’s children will be changed (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-54), with bodies transformed into something far more glorious(see Philippians 3:21).

What we eventually shall be has not yet been disclosed fully. Even so, we do know this: when Jesus shall appear at His second coming, we shall see him as he is. At that time we shall be like him, with glorious bodies made eternal and incorruptible. Just as God made our bodies in the beginning and pronounced everything “very good,” by His same power our bodies will be made even better.

God’s immense love was poured out on people who deserved just the opposite. He invites us to come out of our rebellion to live in a heavenly home. The cost to God to issue this invitation was the life of His Son. When we consider the degree of love it took to do that, is God’s command that we love one another so burdensome? The other person has not earned our love. But neither have we earned God’s love.

George and Janet had been married for several years but were unable to start the family they so badly wanted. At last they were able to adopt a baby. But this baby had suffered from parental neglect. The little girl was a tragic sight to be-hold. Her skin was covered with lesions; her frail body bore the signs of abuse.

George and Janet came to visit their minister and his wife to show them the baby. The new parents proudly unwrapped the blankets and thrust the baby into the arms of the minister’s wife with the words, “Isn’t she beautiful?” The truth was that she wasn’t beautiful physically; she showed the evidence of the former abuse. It was all the minister and his wife could do to feign an appreciation for a beauty they did not see. They could only state their joy that the three were now a family.

A few months later the family returned for an-other visit. This time there was no doubt: the baby was indeed beautiful! Tender care had transformed the infant from an object of neglect and abuse into a symbol of what happens when love does its wonderful work. God has brought us into His family, even though the spiritual abuse we suffer is self-inflicted. We cannot imagine how great the difference can be when we let His transforming love work its power on us!

II. Message of Love (1 John 3:11-15)

God shows us the triumph of love at its best, but the fallen world shows us the failure to love at its worst. From a negative example we can learn what it is to reject the message of love.

A. Don’t Be Like Cain (vv. 11, 12)

11.For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. It was God’s intention from the beginning that we should love one another. But what beginning is John talking about? Even before the church was established, Jesus proclaimed that “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). But John may intend the phrase from the beginning to go back even further, as the next verse shows.

12.Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, slew his brother. And wherefore slew? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.

Satan, the wicked one, tempted Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. More sin followed, bringing hatred and murder into the lives of their sons. When Cain’s offering was rejected and Abel’s was accepted, sin was at the door (Genesis4:7). Refusing to listen to God’s counsel, Cain al-lowed jealousy to overrule love. So he slew his brother out in the fields.

Cain was furious because his own offering from his garden did not win the approval of God while Abel’s offerings from his flock did. Abel had made his offering “by faith” (see Hebrews11:4). The same is not said of Cain’s offering. Cain’s own works were evil, but the works of his brother were righteous (compare Matthew 23:35).”The way of Cain” (Jude 11) is detestable. [See question #2, page 240.)


Graham Greene wrote the novel The Quiet American in 1956. The novel is set in about1952, when France was fighting a war to hold onto its colonial power in Southeast Asia. In the novel, Thomas Fowler is a British journalist living with his mistress in Saigon. Alden Pyle, “the quiet American,” disrupts Fowler’s degenerate, opium-smoking, life at ease when he develops a romantic interest in Fowler’s mistress. Using political ideology as his rationalization, Fowler conspires to have Pyle murdered.

The book and the movies that followed in 1958and 2002 were subject to speculation about the author’s political motivations. Regardless of the political spin, the story echoes the problem of al-lowing passion and self-interest to cause a person to hate and even murder.

It’s a story as old as the one John reminds us of: Cain’s attitude toward his brother and the murder that resulted. It is a topic that has time-less relevance. The ugliness of a lack of love in our hearts can cause us to gossip, condemn, back-bite, or even do things much worse!

B. Don’t Be Surprised (v. 13)

13.Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

Hatred is nothing new; it has existed in every generation. Therefore, John’s readers should not marvel that this hatred is now directed against three. This is particularly true in light of what Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me be-fore it hated you” (John 15:18).

C. Don’t Fail This Test (vv. 14, 15)

14.We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

The hatred of Cain is an old story, and the hatred of the world is probably not surprising. But what about hatred within the family of God? It is inconceivable! If a believer doesn’t love his brother it signifies that such a person either has never come all the way into life or has gone back and now abides in death.

15.Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

To put it more bluntly, anyone who claims to be within the community of God yet hates a fellow believer is a murderer. Jesus said something similar in the Sermon on the Mount. The Law of Moses said “Thou shalt not kill,” but Jesus added that “whosoever is angry with his brother with-out a cause” is in danger of the same judgment (see Matthew 5:21, 22). John shows the chilling twofold reality of this. First, the person who hates his brother is a murderer. Second, no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. Hatred and murder are in the same moral category.

III. Measures of Love(1 John 3:16-24)

Cain and the fallen world failed the test of love. But God’s children can pass this test. In the following verses John outlines measures or tests of love. John presents this in a positive way, as if he expects his readers to live up to them. The theme is one of obedience.

A. Practical Test (vv. 16-18)

16.Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. The first measure of love is a practical test. The love of God is a love that we can perceive inaction. When God loved the world, He sent Heaven’s greatest gift. Jesus came and laid down His life for us—unrepentant enemies of God (see John 3:16; Romans 5:8, 10; Colossians 1:21, 22).Love like God’s love could give nothing less. God’s children should resemble their Father in this kind of love. We should be willing to do just about anything for our brethren (see John15:12, 13).

17. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

Sometimes a person claims to be a loving member of the church, but that person’s actions (or lack of actions) show otherwise. He or she may have plenty of this world’s good, the material assets with which to help. But when a fellow Christian is in need, the person who is well off does not care.

In the vivid language of the King James Version, such a person shutteth up his bowels of compassion. In ancient times the stomach and intestines are thought to be the seat of emotion. To close these off means to have no pity or tender feeling toward a person in need. How dwelleth the love of God in such a person? (See question #3, page 248.1

18.My little children, let on not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. Therefore, love must be put into action. Ad-dressing his readers endearingly as little children, the aged apostle speaks as a loving father (com-pare 2 John 1). He urges his readers not to love merely in word or in tongue, paying mere lip ser-vice to the Lord’s command (compare Matthew7:21; James 1:22-25; 2:14-17). God wants His children to put their love to work in deed and in truth.

The earliest church in Jerusalem was a good example of this. In that community of love, no one said that any of “the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32).

B. Inward Conviction (vv. 19, 20)

19.And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. The words and hereby link this verse to what has just been said. It is by our actions that we/glow that we are of the truth. If the Christian’s loving actions are genuine and substantive, that is positive evidence of a right relationship to God. Knowing truly that we love produces confidence within our hearts, even to the extent that it will assure our hearts that we can stand before God at judgment. This is blessed assurance at its best!

20.For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. But what if our heart should happen to condemn us? What if a tender conscience, manipulated by the devil, fills us with misgivings and doubts? The good news is that God himself is the final court of appeal; the devil cannot go over His head! We can rest assured that God, who knows all things, is well aware that we love Him and we are sincerely trying to love His children the best we can. (See question #4. page 248.1

C. End Result (vv. 21-24)

21.Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

Now John leads his beloved readers beyond the possible self-doubt of verse 20. If our heart condemn us not—and there is no reason that it should do so—then we can enjoy confidence to-ward God. Having this kind of confidence in the presence of our creator is not unreachable, especially when we remember that it is Jesus himself who makes it possible (Hebrews 4:14-16).

22.And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. John’s focus on hands, head, and heart—in whatever sequence—is repeated frequently throughout his epistle. Moving from verses 20,21 to verse 22 takes us from heart back to hands. When we keep God’s commandments, that is, do those things that are pleasing in His sight, we are promised that we will receive whatever we ask. Our loving Father will not withhold His blessings from His children. This presupposes, of course, that we ask in a spirit of love and that we ask for things that are according to His will.”And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14). Asking for blessings also presupposes that we ask with right motives. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).

23.And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

Now John moves us from hands to head in declaring what we must believe. Jesus was asked on one occasion, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” He answered in these words: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28, 29). Similarly, John says that God’s commandment is simply this: that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.

Added to this is the further commandment to love one another (compare Matthew 22:36-40).The right belief plus the right love fulfills God’s demands.

24. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he bath given us.

When God’s child is obeying, believing, and loving as John has directed, then he or she is keeping God’s commandments and dwelling in God. More than this, God is also dwelling in him or her. This closely parallels a promise of Jesus: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him and we will come unto him, and make our abode with bins”(John 14:23).

This divine presence in the life of the believer is identified in this verse as the Spirit which He hath given us. The abiding Spirit confirms to us that God is with us and in us (see Acts 2:33, 38;Romans 5:5; 8:14-16).


A. Love: The Final Exam

Love is a verb, not just a noun. It is an action, not just an emotion. We know that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). We could also say that love without works is dead. When John writes about love, he writes about doing more than feeling. The command to love one another is a call to action.

God’s “final exam” for His people on Judgment Day will not count how many church services were attended or how many verses were memorized. What He is interested in most of all is how our belief expresses itself in love. It we tail the test of love, we can never make up for it with any “extra credit” we may think we can gain from a flurry of religious activities.

B. Love: The Commencement

The context of 1 John suggests many ways that love can be put to work. We can show our love for God by committing ourselves to His Son and clinging to the truth of His Word. If we truly love God, we will not dishonor His Son by lazy discipleship (Hebrews 6:12). If we truly love God, we will not allow false teachings against His Word to stand (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Love and light most walk hand in hand.

We also show our love for God by loving His children. God wants us to combine our love for Him with our love for one another. This kind of shared love is what characterizes living in God’s community—the church. Our love for one another is to be genuine and practical. Mere lip ser-vice cannot feed the hungry or clothe the naked. Real love is always ready to reach out.

Finally, we can show our love for God and His church by “talking up” our eagerness to go to Heavers. It is not a cop-out on this world to be eager to go to the next. When Jesus returns and we are suddenly, gloriously changed, we will live forever in fellowship with God, Jesus, and all our fellow saints. If we really treasure the reward of Heaven, we will want to bring the lost into the community of the saved. Inviting someone to join us on the road to Heavers is the ultimate expression of loving one another.

C. Prayer

Our Father, we cannot thank You enough for the love that has allowed us to be called Your children! Your people have rejected You time and time again over the course of many centuries. Yet You were working through it all to bring Your plan to fruition: the redemption of humans from the quagmire of self-inflicted sirs. Forgive us for sometimes treating Your great love so casually. Help us to honor Your love by reflecting it toward one another. In the name of Jesus, amen.

D. Thought to Remember

Love must act.