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1 John 3:1-7

The Odd Pericope

While context is an issue for any passage, this particular lectionary text is oddly truncated on both ends from the surrounding context. Most commentators regard 3:1-3 as a continuation of the thoughts of 2:28-29. Even more jarring is ending the text at v 7 rather than at v 6 or continuing through v 10. While stopping short of vv 8-10 may save the preacher additional exegetical challenges, as well as the discomfort of telling sinners they are “children of the devil” (v. 10; see also, v. 8), it also may avoid a needed reality-check regarding the seriousness of sin. Nonetheless, 3:1-7 is the text before us, so on this text we shall focus.

God’s Lavish Gift

The text opens with a majestic fanfare: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (2011 NIV throughout unless otherwise noted). “See” is the same word used in John 1:29 when John the Baptist points to Jesus and exclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Often in Johannine writings, this strong exhortation highlights a “revelatory declaration with prophet insight.”[1] God has done something extraordinary, and we are invited to pay attention and respond accordingly!

While the Johannine writer rarely uses the word “grace,” and not at all in 1 John, this is a declaration of pure grace. The NIV’s translation of the verb (“has lavished”) expresses the magnitude of God’s gift; the NRSV and CEB (“has given”) emphasize the sheer grace – given, not earned – of God’s gift.

The enormity of God’s lavish love is accentuated by the adjective “great.” Mark 13:1 uses this adjective (patopas) in reference to both the stones and the buildings of the Temple complex: “What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” God’s love is “massive,” “magnificent,” “enormous”; in fact, superlatives inadequately capture the height and depth and breadth of God’s love which makes us children of God.

This opening verse actualizes the promise of John 1:12, “. . . to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” For we are not simply “called” children of God; we are children of God!

However, our intimacy with God can (should) lead to a lack of recognition by those who do not know God: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (v 1c). The implication throughout this passage, indeed throughout the epistle, is that “children of God” must take on the character and nature of their “Father” and of the Son, Jesus Christ. If the world did not recognize God in Jesus (see John 1:10), then God’s children should not be surprised that the world does not recognize God in us. In fact, we ought to be surprised – and discomforted – if the world sees and knows us as some of their own!

Eschatological Hope