CONTEXT: Matthew Henry comments on the chapter as follows: The apostle admires the love of God in making believers his children. (1,2) The purifying influence of the hope of seeing Christ, and the danger of pretending to this, and living in sin. (3-10) Love to the brethren is the character of real Christians. (11-15) That love described by its actings. (16-21) The advantage of faith, love, and obedience. (22-24)
The context of our main text begins in v.11, For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another meaning this is not something new but a message from the birth of Christianity and an individual’s relationship with Christ. It continues through at least v.18 (although some commentaries include v.19-21), My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth, meaning Love in words or principle without action is not true Love.
In between those verses, John makes some interesting observations:
v.12: we are not to love like Cain, the wicked one
v.13: the world will hate you/us (true believers)
v.14: one assurance of salvation is love for the brethren
v.15: hate for the brethren is at heart murder and those folks will have no part of eternal life
v.16: SEE BELOW
v.17: seeing a brother in need and not acting (if you have the ability) shows you no love of God in you
After reviewing all those verses, our text for today seems simple enough;
Hereby perceive we the love of God, – we understand that true love is the length the breadth with which, God (Christ) had for us
because he laid down his life for us: and – not just any sinners but us in specifically, those chosen from before the foundations of the earth (Eph 1:4, Heb 9:26)
we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. – so we must lay down our lives for others? maybe, if necessary, if being a martyr for the faith is what God has called us to be, so be it. But so much more than just physical death is implied here. JFB Commentary says: giving our time, care, labors, prayers, substance: Non nobis, sed omnibus [Latin =”not for us, but for everyone”]. Our life ought not to be dearer to us than God’s own Son was to Him. The apostles and martyrs acted on this principle.
Conclusion: It is important to remember that 1 John is written to fellow believers. John is calling on them to Love the Brethern as Christ Loved them. This is not some universal love, some social Gospel message to help everyone in every circumstance. The Bible is very clear that Christians have an obligation to Family, (blood and church) first, then to the community at large.