For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. (1 John 3:11-12)
Time and again in his first epistle John pointed his readers back to what they heard from “the beginning”. With false teachers trying to bring in destructive heresies and, most likely claiming new revelation, John repeatedly pointed back to the apostolic message his readers heard from the beginning.
In 1 John 2:7 he told the church, “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.”
In John 2:24 he exhorted them saying, “let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
And here again he says, “this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 Jn 3:11).
Now, we know throughout the course of our lives we can, and have, learned from both good examples and bad examples. Good examples model for us things we ought to do; while bad examples model for us things not to do. Here, John is going to teach the church about love using a bad example: Cain.
He says “love one another, not as Cain…”
Cain was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.
Remember the story? Both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the LORD. And while there are notable distinctions between the two, perhaps the most overt Scriptural distinction is that Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent because he offered it in faith (Heb 11:4). It is also possible, as some suggest, that Abel brought the type of offering God prescribed whereas Cain did not. Whatever the exact reason was, God rejected Cain’s offering and delighted in Abel’s; and when that happened Cain became wroth and his countenance fell; yet, God engaged him. In an act of mercy God interacted with Cain, asked him why his countenance had fallen, and then He both encouraged him and warned him. The encouragement was that if he did well he’d be accepted. Most likely, that would have looked like Cain immediately repenting and bringing an offering to God in the way and manner God prescribed. The warning was that sin was crouching at the door and its desire was for him.
Cain, however, dismissed the words of the LORD.
It came to pass that as he and his brother, Abel, were speaking together in the field, Cain rose up and slaughtered his brother.
The first human being born with a sin nature committed the first murder in human history… It’s a testimony to the destructive nature of sin and the depravity of fallen man.
The LORD then said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” and Cain responded, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).
Adam and Eve shifted blame after their transgressions. Adam told the LORD that it was the woman’s fault and Eve blamed the serpent. Here, we don’t see Cain shift blame; rather, he flat out lies and, in essence, denies any wrongdoing. And if the response “I do not know” wasn’t telling enough, the next phrase completes it: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
He was supposed to be… instead he was his brother’s murderer.
And John is saying, “Love one another, not as Cain…” In other words, our actions should look completely antithetical to Cain’s.
He hated his brother in his heart before he murdered him. May we confess any hatred we might have for our brethren, repent of it, and ask God to increase our love for others, especially the household of faith.
Cain’s action took his brother’s life in cold blood. May our actions, whether in prayer, words, or any other deeds, be done for the sake of building up brethren.
Cain dismissed the idea that he had any responsibility for his brother. May we embrace the responsibility we have to look after our brethren in the body of Christ.
We know, ultimately, it is the perfect older brother, the firstborn among many brethren, Jesus Christ, who keeps all who are His. He does it and He does it perfectly. He is the keeper of all His brethren! In light of that precious reality, may we seek to be conformed to His image and be extensions of His love to His brethren whom He keeps.