1 John 3:11-24; 4:20-21 A Tale of Two Hearts (Rev. Erik Veerman)

Feb 5, 2023    Erik Veerman

1 John 3:11-24; 4:20-21

Rev. Erik Veerman


A Tale of Two Hearts

Please turn to 1 John 3:11-24. That is found on page 1211 In the pew Bibles. We will also be looking at chapter 4 verses 20-21.

You’ll notice that the apostle John is returning to the topic of love. In fact, this won’t be the last time that we’ll come back to this importance subject. Each time, he emphasizes something a little different.

And this morning, John’s focus is on the contrast between brotherly love for one another and hate for one another. Last week’s verses contrasted the children of God and children of the devil. This week describes the heart of each – either a heart of love or a heart of hate.

And as I read, I want you to notice the word “heart.” These are the only verses in 1 John where that word is used. It’s not heart in the sense that people use it today – feelings or emotions. Rather it’s heart in the Biblical sense: our deepest beliefs, the center of who we are, what drives us, what we base our life decisions on.

Do you have a heart of love or of hate? Let me also say, the use of the word “love” here is not referring to a romantic love, rather it’s referring to a deep care and concern for your brothers and sisters in Christ. One where you exercise patience and kindness and gentleness and compassion and self-sacrifice.

Let’s now come to God’s holy Word.

Stand, as you are able. Hear now God’s Word. Inspired, authoritative, given to us.

Reading of 1 John 3:11-24; 4:20-21


The sharpest knives in the world are made out of the material obsidian. You may not have heard of obsidian before. But is essentially volcanic glass.

An obsidian blade is only three nanometers thin at its edge. That is 10 times sharper than a razer blade. And when you look through a microscope at one, you will see tiny ridges. Kind of like a saw. That increases the blades surface area for cutting.

In fact, when you are cutting something with an obsidian blade, it slices right through the cells of the object you are cutting. A normal blade will push the cells out of the way or crush them. But this kind of blade will literally cut a cell right in half.

In these verses, the apostle John is slicing down to the heart of the matter. He’s cutting in to two, many things like love and hate; life and death; righteous deeds and evil deeds; self-sacrifice and murder; He contrasts Cain and Abel, and God and the evil one.

In fact, wouldn’t you agree that the whole book of 1 John has been like an obsidian blade. It’s distinguished good from evil, light from darkness, truth from error. John has not been dealing with secondary or tertiary things. No, the apostle has been writing about core matters of faith and belief. 

Yet, even though John has pulled out his obsidian blade, he has used it with the utmost care and skill. He has displayed a love towards his readers whom he knows and cherishes. He’s demonstrated that love while at the same time being firm about what is true faith and what is not. And that clarity has not only been about correcting doctrine concerning Jesus and faith, but also about how our lives should reflect true faith.

To say it another way, John is like an expert surgeon with good bedside manners! He’s cut with such precision and care, not to injure us, but to heal us.

I think, out of all that we’ve studied so far in 1 John, this text is meant to bring healing and unity.

Let’s take a moment to enter in to the situation. John’s church, to whom he is writing, had gone through a lot. We’ve talked about it. Division, false teachers, wolves in sheep clothing, the world had crept in, lives were not reflecting true faith and righteousness. It doesn’t say this, but how can all of that not lead to disunity and mistrust. Even with the wolves gone, the community had been shattered. They were jittery, had trust issues, were unsure, and they acted out of those feelings and fears. 

John would not be writing about hate unless there was hate present in the community. 

And think about this, if the devil (whom we talked about last week) wanted to attack Tucker Pres, one of the ways he would do it is from within. Discord, anger, jealousy, mistrust. That’s what was happening in John’s church!

And, as usual, John does not beat around the bush. He doesn’t avoid eye contact with his audience. No, he gets down to business! John gives them the core differences between love and hate.

He gives them examples, he describes what heart motivations drive each, and gives them the path to which each lead, life or death.

I have two points this morning. I think I’ve had more two-point sermons in this 1 John series than any other series. With all the contrasts.

1.A heart of hate is on the path of death 

2.A heart of love is on the path of life 

In other words, our hearts display either love or hate, which reveals the path that we are on. And remember, we’re talking about the Biblical definition of heart and love, which I gave you earlier.

1. A heart of hate is on the path of death

So, first: A heart of hate is on the path of death.

And just like the verses from last week, John takes us back to the beginning… to Genesis, to the events right after creation. Last week was about the deception of the devil. Genesis chapter 3. This week is Genesis 4. We read it earlier.

Eve bore to Adam two sons, Cain and Abel. We’re told Cain and Abel each brought an offering to God. Now, at this point, Adam and his family had been banished from the garden. But God in his mercy allowed Adam and Eve to live and to continue on with the mandate that they had been given. That responsibility was to subdue the earth, to rule over the animals, and be fruitful and multiply. 

The Lord also given them instructions about sacrifices. We are not given those instructions. But they had been passed down to Cain and Abel.

And Cain comes with his sacrifice of fruit from the ground. And Abel comes with his first-born sacrifice from his flock. The Lord received the offering from Abel, but not from Cain.

We’re not told the reason up front. We don’t know, at first, why God did not receive Cain’s sacrifice. But in Cain’s response, his heart is revealed. In Genesis 4, we’re told that Cain is very angry. And God warns Cain. He says, “sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is contrary to you.” Here in 1 John 3 verse 12, it expands that. Cain’s heart was “evil” and it includes the phrase, “his brother’s righteousness.” In other words, Cain was jealous of Abel, of his righteousness. And that seed of sin in his heart, developed into a hatred of Abel. That hatred led him down the path to cold-blooded murder. It began with jealousy. The progression of sin went from jealousy to hatred to murder. It began in Cain’s heart. That’s where all sin begins.

In the book of James, he writes, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” For Cain, the temptation led to the sinful desire of jealousy, which grew into hatred, which led him to murder.

Once and a while, our family will watch the show “Shark Tank.” It’s about entrepreneurs who present their ideas and work to shark investors. The hope is that one of the investors will see the amazing potential of their invention and invest millions. Well, this one investor has a favorite phrase. When he makes an offer, he’ll say something like, “you’re not going to get this good of an offer again, if you don’t take it,” and here’s the saying, “you’re dead to me.” In other words, I will cut you off from any interaction and relationship, I do not care about you. “You are dead to me.” Even though anger and hate doesn’t often lead to actually killing someone, the heart sentiment is the same.

We read part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount earlier. Specifically, that anger violates the sixth commandment. The sixth commandment is “Thou shall not murder.” And Jesus explained it this way: “you have heard that it was said, do not murder, but I tell you, anyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” 

What Jesus was explaining is that the commands of God are broken from the inside out. You may have heard me say that before. One more time - the commands of God are broken from the inside out. Sometimes they are only broken on the inside. Coveting, lust, anger, but those internal sins break God’s law just like their external counterparts – stealing, adultery, murder. 

You see, it’s out of a heart of hate that murder happens.

And what John is talking about in these verses is the state of your heart. It’s either opposed to God in Christ, with no concept of repentance and no display of love. OR your heart is redeemed by Christ, and desires to forgive and love.  

To be sure, John is not saying that a Christian never struggles with anger against a brother or sister in Christ. He’s also not saying that a murderer cannot be forgiven by Christ. I want to be clear about those things.

If someone’s heart is closed (verse 17) with zero love, it indicates a heart that does not abide in Christ. Verse 20 uses the phrase “our heart condemns us.” You can see that phrase at the beginning of verse 20. Translators have had a difficult time translating that verse. I think the overall sense is that God knows everything, which, of course, includes our hearts. Our hearts are either filled with love or hate, and God knows that, so our hearts condemn us. And just to say it again, John is not referring to our cultural use of the word heart. Rather, the essential and fundamental nature of who you are and what you believe. 

Let me say this first point, again. A heart of hate is on the path of death. When your heart is a heart of hate – meaning, devoid of love, forgiveness, or grace, then the eternal benefits of God’s grace in Christ are not yours. That’s what verse 15 is saying, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” A heart of murder for a brother, like the heart of Cain, is a heart that does not abide in Christ. The path is not eternal life, but rather leads to death.

Let me summarize where we’re at so far. 

1. There are two kinds of hearts – a heart of love and a heart of hate.

2. A heart of hate is like the heart of Cain. It’s filled with jealousy and anger on the inside, and often displays that hate on the outside. 

3. A heart of hate does not have or recognize the love of God in Christ. It therefore does not have life in him.

As we’ve travelled through 1 John, I’ve been finding myself wanting to constantly give you reminders. 1 John is very stark, but he needs to be. We’re talking about matters of life and death. But be reminded of the love that God offers in Christ. Be reminded that struggling with sin does not indicate a lack of faith. And be reminded of the forgiveness and love of God in Christ. So, yes, be warned about a heart of hate, but be reminded of those things.

2. A heart of love is on the path of life 

Let’s move on to point #2. Point #1 - A heart of hate is on the path of death. Point #2 is the contrast. A heart of love is on the path of life.

The father of a dear friend of mine is an airplane pilot. He’s retired now, but still flies. In fact, he and his wife decided to build their own airplane. There’s a company out west that provides all the parts and instructions, but you build it yourself. And so, he and his wife would take trips out there to work on their plane. It took a couple of years, but just over a year ago, they finished. And, of course, they wanted to fly it home. All the work they had done would now be put to the test. Would it fly? And of course, it was a matter of life and death! You don’t want to be up in the air and have something catastrophic happen.

At the beginning of 1 John chapter 2, we talked about the love test. It was John’s introduction to the importance of love. It was like taking the test, it was like putting all the parts of the airplane together. But the verification is when you actually fly it. These verses in 1 John 3 are like that. They validate that you passed the love test. 

Well, it was time to get in the cockpit, to pull out onto the runway, and to take off. And, good news, this couple did just that! It took a few days to fly home, but they made it without any problems. All the preparation and work were proven.

I want you to notice something about these verses. They are very practical. You can’t just say you love, you have to show it. Look at verse 16. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,” that’s talking about Jesus, we’re going to get back to that. Then it says, “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Do you hear how love needs to be demonstrated? Verse 18 verifies that, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” A true heart of love yields a life of love. We need to fly our plane of love. It can’t just sit in the hanger.

I mentioned earlier that the commands of God’s are broken from the inside out. Well, this is the other side. The commands of God are kept from the inside out. When we have a heart that has been transformed by Christ, through the Holy Spirit (verse 24), that heart will desire to love and display that love.

In the first few verses Cain was the ultimate example of a heart of hate. That hate led down the path to murder. Here in these verses, we are given the ultimate example of love. Not hating and killing someone but loving and dying for them. Now, these verses are more than just the example of Jesus’ sacrificial death, he died for us – we’ll come back to that, but these verses use Jesus’ death as a model for us to emulate. Back to verse 16 – “he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for others.”

The ultimate display of a heart of love for someone else is giving your life so that they may live. That is what Christ has done, and that is what we are called to do. It displays the utmost love.

Now, in 99.999 percent of cases, laying down your life is not physically dying for someone else (although there are examples of that). No, in the vast majority of cases it’s giving up something for a brother or sister in Christ. John gives us an example of that in verse 17. “If anyone has world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him,” meaning he doesn’t help him, “how does God's love abide in him?”

Laying down your life in daily terms means giving up something for someone else. Maybe it’s something you cherish but you give it up for the blessing and benefit of someone else. Maybe it’s setting aside your dreams and desires for a family member. Maybe it’s helping someone with a tangible need (food or a place to live). Maybe it’s giving your time to be with a brother or sister in Christ who needs encouragement, presence, and prayer. All those are displays of love, which come from a heart of love.

Let me try to make this tangible with two concrete examples.

First, children. Kids, many of you have brothers or sisters. If you don’t, imagine that you do. Ok, let’s say you really want to be on the chess club at school. It meets every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. However, your sibling wants to play on the soccer team. Unfortunately, it also meets every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons across town. There’s no possibility to get a ride, so it’s either chess for you or soccer for him or her. What could it mean to lay down your life for your brother or sister? Well, I think you know where I’m going with this. To display your love for him or her, it would mean letting go of being on the chess club. That would be really hard to do, but it would be an example of dying to self and demonstrating your love.

Next, married couples. Let’s say there are some difficult family situations happening in your spouses’ extended family. Maybe disfunction, maybe infighting, and you often find yourself caught in the middle. Because of the stressful and complicated dynamics, you don’t enjoy being with them. Well, there’s a week-long family reunion coming up. You would rather be at the beach. But even though your spouse understands that it’s no fun, yet it is his or her family. Laying down your life for your spouse, would mean going to the family reunion. And not in a begrudging way but being supportive and present while there. I’m sure you could come up with many more examples with roommates, fellow church members, or elderly parents.

Laying down your life for a brother or sister in Christ means surrendering something; giving up something; submitting to the other person’s needs or desires over your own needs and desires; and with a heart of love.

Jesus said, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus’ death is the ultimate example for us. We’re to love others as he loved us.

But Jesus death is more than just an example. If you are a believer in him by faith, you are the recipient of his self-sacrificial love. Listen to these words from the apostle Paul in Romans 5. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

His death is the very thing that will give you new life. He will take the burden of your sin and give you a new heart in him. And he can do that because he laid down his life for you. And when you believe, you will have that new life in him.

That is amazing love. Jesus’ self-sacrificial death for us is the greatest example of love; it is the source of our hearts of love; in it we find the strength to love one another; and when we demonstrate that love in our lives, we demonstrate, as verse 15 says, that “we have passed from death to life.”

A heart of love is on the path of life. Not a love that comes from ourselves or is defined by our culture, but a love that comes from Christ – a self-sacrificial love.


May God give you or renew in you a heart of love. May your heart display the self-sacrificial love of Christ, as you love your brothers or sisters in him.