We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16 NASB)
John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”) is undoubtedly one of the most famous, most loved and most memorized of all verses of scripture. However 1 John 3:16 has really been on my heart recently. Just this morning, as I was in the shower it came to mind, and now I sit writing this and studying this verse. It’s a really powerful verse of scripture.
I was thinking the other day about how this verse shows that every step that Jesus took up Calvary hill showed his love for us. I want to dig just a little deeper into this verse today.
I put the NASB translation above, which is my favored study translation -- but I want to point out something that I think is pretty important (and why it’s important to study different translations, and go back to the original languages if you can -- even if you are a mere infant in your knowledge of those languages, as I am).
A few translations (HCSB, NIV) do not translate the conjunction hoti (“that”; NASB, ESV), which points to the laying down of Jesus’ life as the supreme example of this love. Also throughout 1 John, the pronoun ekeinos (“that one”) refers to Jesus Christ (cf. 2:6; 3:3,5:7). The expression “He laid down His life for us” occurs only here in 1 John but it is a common Johannine phrase (Jn 10:11, 15,17,18; 13:37,38; 15:13). “Laid down” shows a willful, deliberate act that really demonstrated his love for us. This wasn’t simply martyrdom, but atonement (2:2) -- a self-sacrifice on behalf of others...US! Think about it. Life is probably your single most prized possession -- Christ was willing to lay that down for US -- that is the biggest possible expression of love!
In the second half of the verse “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (brothers in other translations; ESV, HCSB, NIV) doesn’t mean that Christians can atone for the sins of their brothers, but the point is that Christians have an obligation to follow the example of their Lord. There are missionaries out on the mission fields that risk their lives every single day for the advancement of the Kingdom -- they are living this verse every single day!