4 January – First Reading

Commentary on 1 John 3:7-10 

Today’s reading is a continuation of yesterday’s, which reminded us that we must ‘break with sin’ if we are ‘to live as God’s children’.

The passage today enunciates a very important principle: “The one who acts in holiness is holy indeed.” Jesus had said something very similar when he said that a tree can be known by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. But it is important for us to realise that it is not the acts which make us holy, on the contrary, our good acts are rather a sign that God is working effectively through us.

Similarly, our reading today says that “the one who sins belongs to the devil” (bad fruit = bad tree).

Earlier, the writer speaking positively, had used expressions like: ‘of God’, ‘from Truth’, ‘child of God’, as an indication how someone was living under the influence of God. Now, speaking negatively, he speaks of those who are: ‘of the devil’, ‘of the evil one’, to indicate those whose lives do not reflect the Spirit of Jesus.

“No one begotten of God acts sinfully, because he remains of God’s stock [or seed].” God’s ‘seed’ here refers either to Jesus or to the Spirit. The image is of human reproduction. The ‘seed’ (in Greek sperma) of God’s life has been planted in the believing Christian and, because of that, the child grows in the likeness of the Father.

Once we become closely united to God and allow him to work in us, sin is excluded. God and sin are mutually exclusive. That is why Jesus could say of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee that there was no sin in her, because she was so full of love (Luke 7:36-50). And, we might add, in the Gnostic anti-body context in which this letter is written, love expressed sexually is also included, because it is a ‘holy’ thing, and God is there.

Of course, we know that in practice our union with God is never perfect, and we constantly fail in our love for him and for those around us. And what we often call ‘love’ is often self-centred, hurtful, or degrading. But, by and large, once we are fundamentally linked with God and with the Gospel of Jesus, that will show itself in all our relationships and our behaviour. Once we have the right vision, our behaviour naturally follows. What we see, we do.

On the other hand, “no one whose actions are unholy belongs to God”. And the same goes for “anyone who fails to love his brother or sister”. To be close to God and to love one’s brothers and sisters are two sides of one coin; we cannot have one without the other.

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