The little preschooler, the surly teenager, the middle-aged mom and the jolly grandpa all know it. If you ask someone to quote their favorite verse, our minds generally fly to this standby favorite which many of us learned in Sunday school as little children; John 3:16.
Sunday school classes and vacation Bible schools across the globe drill this verse into the heads of little children every year. People even hold John 3:16 posters at sporting events as a quick way to identify themselves as Christians and share the Gospel as the tv cameras pan across the crowd.
Why is it so important to us that children learn this verse? Why, of all of the verses, poems, mathematical facts and historical dates that have been drilled into our own heads as children, is this the one that stays clear, sharp and focused?
Perhaps it is because, in just 25 short little words, God’s message to humanity can be summed up.
For God so loved the word that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.John 3:16
This one verse tells us exactly what God is all about, what he was willing to do, what he expects us to do, and what we can expect to get in return. What a wonderful verse!
But what about the other John 3:16? The John 3:16 that very few people refer to as their favorite verse? What about the John 3:16 that few adults, let alone children, can quote? Why have we forgotten about this verse? Better yet, did you even know that there was another John 3:16?
Hidden in the Back
One of the reasons that the other John 3:16 is not often referred to is because it is not a front and center verse on the Gospel nor is it a great introduction to Christianity. The John 3:16 we all know and love is a go to verse for soul winners to introduce the lost to the love of God. It is also a great verse for new Christians.
The other John 3:16, though, is what you might call advanced Christianity and it is hidden almost at the back of the Bible in 1 John 3:16
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.1 John 3:16
Parallels of the Two Verses
At first glance there are actually a few similarities to the two verses. The first, obviously being that they are both John 3:16. Both verses are often credited to the same author, which would have been the Evangelist John, not to be confused with John the Baptist.
This would have been John the Disciple which was referred to as the disciple, “whom Jesus loved.” There is some debate of the authorship of the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John, but for the purposes of this article, authorship is irrelevant. This point is that the verse is here.
Another parallel in the two verses is the emphasis on the love of God. Both verses point out how much God loved us. Both verses point out that love is of the utmost importance to God, and that love was the foundation on which He built His entire plan for us.
The third parallel is the mention of death, the death of God’s son. John 3:16 says that God gave His only begotten Son, and we know that He gave him in order to die on the cross. 1 John 3:16 explicitly says, “he laid down his life for us.”
Both verses point out that God showed His love not through words alone. It would have been a great gift even if God had only provided a Bible for us, with His words of wisdom and the keys to living a good abundant life on earth. It would have been a great gift if God had only just told us that He loved us and showed it through the creation of this good earth and all of the blessings which He gives us daily. But God did not stop with these tokens of His love.
God went the ultimate step further and made a sacrifice to show his love for us. Both verses point out that not only does God love us, but He was willing to sacrifice to prove this love as well.
Where the two verses begin to part ways is in the second part of 1 John 3:16
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.
“…and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
There is a likely reason why we don’t use this verse while out soul winning to the lost. There’s a reason why we don’t introduce brand-new Christians to this John 3:16. Those are some pretty dark words. What exactly does God mean? Is this figurative? Is this literal? What are we talking about here? I can just imagine the hesitation that a lost person might have if they came across this John 3:16 first. “What kind of religion is this anyway?” they might ask.
Truth is even some mature, seasoned Christians have a little trouble swallowing a verse like this. This other John 3:16 sounds heavy. This sounds like some advanced Christianity.
What do we mean by advanced Christianity? Are there different levels of salvation? Are some people more saved than others? There are not levels to salvation. No one who is saved is more saved than someone else. Once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior you are saved for eternity. Completely, 100% saved. In the sense of salvation, everyone who has accepted Jesus as their Savior is exactly the same.
In the sense of Christian living, though, there can be vast differences between one Christian and another. In the sense of holiness, and connection to the Holy Spirit, there can be differences indeed.
The Next Level
1 John 3:16 takes Christianity to a new level because it moves beyond the basics. The basics of Christianity are found in John 3:16. The basics are the fact that God loves us, He gave His son because of that love, we accept His son, and we get eternal life. If you’ll notice, there is an awful lot of God giving and us taking.
The beginning of your Christian life can be compared to the beginning of your human life. A newborn baby is hardwired programed to take. Babies are just warm, precious, beautiful little takers. From the minute they are born they are demanding that their needs be met. And in an ideal situation, every adult within a 100 ft radius will start obliging. No one is expecting anything from that baby and good caregivers don’t even mind that they are solely on the giving end while the baby is solely on the taking end. It’s the one relationship in which we are usually very happy to be taken complete advantage of.
Things do not remain this way for long, though. Eventually, that baby will one day be asked to go fetch his own diaper from the bag. Or he’ll be asked to pick up his own toy off of the floor. As time goes on, he’ll be asked to do more and more. Brush your teeth, share your toys, feed yourself, clean yourself after the bathroom, dress yourself.
Every day, more and more will be added to him. Until one day, that parent will look at that child and realize that what was once a helpless little mushy taker, is now a giver too and someone who can be depended on.
This is how things unfold in our Christian life as well. We often refer to or salvation experience as “being born again.” This is so true in so many ways. A new Christian is like a baby. 2 Peter 2:2 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:” The Christian life is evolution. You start out as one thing, and ideally you then grow and evolve into more.
A new Christian is simply taking. They are taking in the love of God, taking in the new peace of knowing that their soul is safe and bound for heaven, and taking in their new relationship in Christ. This is right and normal. That is exactly what they are supposed to be doing. But what about later on? What about down the road? If you had a five-year-old that still wanted to wear diapers, lay in a baby bed and suck a bottle would you be worried that something wasn’t quite right? Of course. The same is true for a Christian who should be growing and evolving.
We can see plainly in 1 Corinthians 3 that the Apostle Paul acknowledges that there are differing levels of Christian maturity. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” Paul uses the analogy of babies here also as he explains that there are certain things that he is not able to teach the Corinthians because of their spiritual immaturity. This ascertains that there is definitely more to salvation than simply getting saved. There is more to learn than John 3:16.
If a sign of natural maturity is that a child begins to contribute, to give, then a sign of spiritual maturity is also when a Christian begins to contribute, to give. This is what 1 John 3:16 is all about.
1 John 3:16 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.
“…and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” If you take this verse in a literal sense, then it would mean a Christian making the ultimate sacrifice of dying for another person. Although, I think in the bigger sense of the verse it is not referring to this type of sacrifice, there could certainly be situations for certain Christians in which their path might lead them to such a sacrifice. There have been millions of people who have laid down their lives for others literally. But in the more practical, day to day sense, I believe this verse is talking about laying down our lives for our brethren in a different way.
Denial of Self is Giving of Self
Paul continues on in 1 Corinthians 3:4 explaining to the Corinthians exactly how they have been showing their immaturity. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” Often when we hear the word carnal, we think of sexual sins. Sexual sins are certainly the bottom of the barrel when it comes to self- indulgence, but Paul uses the word carnal here to talk about envying, strife and division. He claims that this form of carnality is the reason why the Corinthians cannot dig in deeper in the treasures of Christian living.
They were hung up on comparing themselves with each other. To make it worse, they were comparing who was more spiritual. In these comparisons they were, ironically, proving just how unspiritual they all were.
Spirituality is about self-denial. The number one hallmark of maturity for a human child, or for a Christian is the ability to deny one’s self for the sake of another. This does not mean sacrificing one’s life, but it means, rather, doing something that often feels far more painful. That is sacrificing what one wants, what one feels a right to. What types of things does God want us to deny our self for the sake of our brethren?
The Right to Be Right
Probably one of the biggest problems among Christians would be the debates and squabbles which pop up over non-essential things which we feel very strongly that we are right about. We get insistent that others see things our way. We get pushy in our effort to make sure things are ran our way. We leave no room for other opinions or ways to do things. There are so many non-essential things that we absolutely go to war over, just so that we can be right.
The most basic form of self-denial, and the simplest way that we can “…lay down our life for our brethren,” is in giving up our right to be right. Give it some thought. Honestly, what would happen if you just let someone else be right? Obviously, there are times when what is right must be defended, but we are not talking about justice here. We are not even talking about taking a stand on Biblical doctrine. We are talking about the millions of little details that divide people every day. Grandmas used to say, “The Devil is in the details.” That is never truer than when a bunch of Christians are trying to work together on something.
Denying yourself the right to be right literally takes practice. Look for an opportunity today, every day, to step back from some small detail which you feel strongly you are right over, and just let the other person be right. For some people it is even hard to read that sentence, let alone practice that during the day. If you automatically feel a surge of disagreement with that sentence, then you are exactly the person who needs to practice self-denial the most.
The Right to Defend Yourself
This is a tricky subject for some Christians, so it is important to understand that this topic comes with a ditch on both sides of the road. When you consider that our Bible has verses in it like Matthew 18:21-22 it makes the topic of self defense a little terrifying. Matthew 18:21-22 says, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Most people read this verse and immediately think, “Great, so people can just run over me and abuse me, and I can never do anything about it.” The answer to that is yes and no.
God does command us here in these verses to offer forgiveness unconditionally as often as it needed. But this verse can be balanced with Romans 16:17 which says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” There can come a time in toxic relationships in which you would need to disconnect from someone so that their destructive behavior is no longer affecting you. This type of situation would need to be handled with much prayer and leading of the Holy Spirit. We will consider that an exception to the rule.
The rule, which we want to deal with here, is the occasional spat, the misunderstandings, or sometimes even down right meanness that can pop up in relationships, even among Christians. Remember we are not talking about chronic, ongoing emotional abuse or mistreatment.
Even among Christians you will at times find yourself “getting done wrong.” The natural, human reaction is self-defense. You hurt me, I will hurt you back harder, or I will hold a grudge against you for eternity. The latter is actually more popular among some Christians.
When we experience the occasional wrong, even at the hand of another Christian, God has laid out specific steps with which to resolve the matter. None of which include self-defense. So, what do you do?
- Communicate – Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
- Forgive – Matthew 18:21-22 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
- Take the Wrong – 1 Peter 2:20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
Sometimes there will not be what we would consider a “resolution.” In these situations, we must “…lay down our life for the brethren,” by taking the wrong. There will be times when we are doing well, and we will suffer for it, and 1 Peter 2:20 says take it patiently. Take the wrong.
The Right to Be Selfish
It is often easy to forget, in our modern society and economy, that the New Testament church operated in a very communal system at least for a certain period of time.
“44 And all that believed were together and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”Acts 2: 44-46
Whether or not these verses endorse a national state of communism or socialism as an economic standard is up for debate, but what it does endorse is a principal. That principal is that within the church itself, there should always be a spirit of giving. There should always be a spirit of helping.
When one is struggling another, which is not struggling at the moment, helps them up. This can apply spiritually and financially. There may come a time when the giver needs a hand later down the road. I have personally seen some of the most cheerful giving spirits in those who had been given to in the past. The fact that they were doing better and could give to help another, thrilled their hearts.
Everyone hits a rough spot here and there. Money gets tight, the car breaks down, someone is sick. Even the most financially secure will need help eventually with something. This is where we need to “…lay down our life for the brethren,” by laying down our right to be selfish.
The temptation to close yourself up in your cozy, little house, take care of your crew and no more is a real temptation. Some people have more problems with this than others. Some people are just naturally more generous. If you are not one of these people, then you might struggle in this area.
It is important to remember though that we are commanded to be generous. Acts 20:35 “I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
If you do find it difficult, just remember a time may come when you are the one who might be on the receiving end of the giving one day.
Although John 3:16 is a wonderful introduction to the Christian life, and sums up God’s love and sacrifice for us, it is 1 John 3:16 which takes our Christian walk to the next level. 1 John 3:16 admonishes us to show our love for others by laying down our life for others. This will most likely never mean literally laying down your physical life, but it will always mean a willingness to sacrifice.
When we practice self-denial by giving up our right to be right, our right to defend ourselves unnecessarily, and our right to be selfish we are laying down our lives for others in a practical, everyday kind of way. It may not feel glamorous, but it is the only way to truly live like Christ.