Hope Is Established by Love
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. (3:1)
John was overcome with wonder by the fact that sinners by divine grace became God’s children. The opening phrase of this verse, see how great a love, reflects the apostle’s amazement. The word translated see (idete) is both a command and an exclamation that exhorts readers to give close attention to the rest of the statement. How great (potapēn) is a seldom-used term that has no precise parallel in English. Concerning this word, D. Edmond Hiebert wrote,
The adjective rendered “what manner” [“how great”] (potapēn) occurs only seven times in the New Testament and implies a reaction of astonishment, and usually of admiration, upon viewing some person or thing. The expression conveys both a qualitative and quantitative force, “what glorious, measureless love!” (The Epistles of John [Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 1991], 133; cf. Matt. 8:27; 2 Peter 3:11)
God loves believers with a love that is impossible to articulate in any human language and that is utterly foreign to normal human understanding and experience. This is agapē love, God’s volitional love that He, of His own free and uninfluenced choice, has bestowed on all whom He has called to savingly believe in Jesus Christ. The Lord summarized it this way: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And later in this letter, John notes,
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (4:9–10; cf. vv. 16, 19; John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 8:39; Eph. 2:4; Titus 3:4)
Such love seeks, at a great cost to itself, but only to give freely and spontaneously for the benefit of another, even if that person is not worthy of such an expression (cf. Deut. 7:7–8).
Since all of God’s attributes work in perfect harmony, His love necessarily operates in conjunction with each of His other attributes. He is lovingly holy (Rev. 4:8; 15:4), just (Isa. 30:18; Rom. 3:26; 1 Peter 3:18), merciful (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; 2 Cor. 1:3), gracious (Ps. 103:8; 1 Peter 5:10), patient (2 Peter 3:9, 15), omniscient (Ps. 147:5; Rom. 11:33–34), omnipotent (Rom. 1:20; Rev. 19:6), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–10; Jer. 23:23–24), and even wrathful (Ps. 7:11; Rev. 19:15). With regard to mankind, God’s love has a twofold expression: it is general toward unsaved humanity (common grace; Ps. 145:9; Matt. 5:45; cf. Mark 10:21a) and specific toward believers (special grace; cf. John 13:1; Rom. 5:8; 8:38–39; 9:13–15; Eph. 5:25). It is this specific and unique love of God for His own that stands as one of the unshakeable foundations of eternal hope.
In other words, believers can live in hope because they have experienced God’s love in an eternal, saving way—having been adopted into His family (Rom. 8:16) and called children of God (John 1:12; cf. 2 Peter 1:4). They became His children solely because He lavishly bestowed on them a gracious, unmerited, sovereign love apart from any that has human merit. Such love is inexplicable in human terms. It is not surprising, then, that the world does not know the nature of the relationship between God and His children (cf. Heb. 11:38a), because it did not know Him. Those outside of Christ cannot fathom (1 Cor. 2:15–16; 1 Peter 4:3–4) the true essence and character of believers, which shines forth in their likeness to the heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, their Savior and Lord (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:15; 1 Peter 2:12; cf. 1 Cor. 14:24–25). Even for believers it is a challenge “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18–19a). Because Christians are so intrinsically different from the world around them, having been transformed by the Father who adopted them, the New Testament appropriately describes them as “strangers and exiles” (Heb. 11:13), “aliens” (1 Peter 1:1), and “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11). They are those who, in hope, “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). And having declared them righteous in justification, He is making them righteous in sanctification and will perfect that righteousness in glorification when hope is realized.
3:1 The first three verses of ch. 3 elaborate the status of the person who passes the test of love at 2:29. Childhood has both disadvantages and eschatological benefits. The disadvantages are explored at 3:1 in language that echoes several passages from the fourth gospel, most notably the prologue (Jn 1:1–18) and the farewell (Jn 13–17). Jesus came to his own, but the world did not “know him” (Jn 1:10; 1 Jn 3:1) and does not know his disciples either. Because of this ignorance the world hates God and Jesus and will also hate anyone born of God (Jn 15:18–16:4; 17:14–15). The difficulties this creates for believers are, however, far outweighed by the eschatological benefits of childhood, which John explores in vv. 2–3.
3:1 / The idea of being born of God is so inspiring to the Elder that he exclaims (lit.), “Behold! What great love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God!” He explores this theme for three verses before returning to the contrast between sin and righteousness begun in 2:29.
It is love which has motivated God to claim us as his children. While the two previous references to love (agapē; 2:5, 15) were to human love, this is the first reference to God’s love. (God’s love will be the author’s main focus in 4:7–10, 12, 16–18.) God’s love has been lavished on us. The perfect tense connotes love which has been and continues to be given to us, with the continuing consequence that we are called children of God. People are born into God’s family (2:29; John 1:13) and are given the right to become children of God because they have “received” the Word and have “believed in his name” (John 1:12–13). These are the people for whom Jesus died, including believers from “the Jewish nation,” as well as “the scattered children of God” (future Gentile believers), that he might make them one (John 11:52; 17:20–23; cf. John 10:16). Such people “do what is right” (1 John 2:29) and thereby show that they are in reality what God called them to be (and that is what we are!).
The Elder reinforces the divine origin of the believing community because its status as God’s children is unknown to the world; the surrounding culture does not see it and confirm it. The Johannine Christians must hold on to their true identity “against the stream.” But, in being unknown to the world and in having a secret identity, the community can take special pride, for prior to them Jesus (niv, him) was also “unknown” to his contemporaries John 1:10–11; 8:19; 14:7, 9; 15:18–21; 16:3; cf. 3:32; 4:10; 7:27–28; 14:17; 17:25).
Children of the heavenly Father
Safely in his bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.
—Carolina V. Sandell Berg
trans. Ernst William Olson
1. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Note the following:
In the Greek, John begins this sentence with a command: “See.” He wants the readers to observe the manifestations of the Father’s love. He introduces the subject of the love of God in the preceding chapter (2:5, 15), briefly discusses it in this chapter (3:1, 16, 17), and fully explains it in the next chapter (4:7–9, 10, 12, 16–18). The readers ought to fathom the kind of love the Father gives his children. That love is great. The Greek word translated “how great” or “what kind of” occurs only six times in the New Testament and “always implies astonishment and generally admiration.”
John does not say “the Father loves us.” Then he would describe a condition. Instead, he writes, “the Father has lavished [his love] on us” and thus portrays an action and the extent of God’s love. John has chosen the word Father purposely. That word implies the Father-child relationship. However, God did not become Father when he adopted us as children. God’s fatherhood is eternal. He is eternally the Father of Jesus Christ and through Jesus he is our Father. Through Jesus we receive the Father’s love and are called “children of God.”
What an honor! God calls us his children and gives us the assurance that as his children we are heirs and co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). God gives the right to become children of God (John 1:12) to all who in faith have received Christ as Lord and Savior. God extends his love to his Son Jesus Christ and through him to all his adopted children.
John underscores the reality of our status when he writes that already, at present, we are children of God. “And that is what we are!” In other words, God does not give us a promise which he will fulfill in the future. No, in fact we are already God’s children. We enjoy all the rights and privileges our adoption entails, because we have come to know God as our Father.
God’s children experience the love of God. They profess him as their Father, for they have an experiential knowledge of God. They put their trust and faith in him who loves them, provides for them, and protects them.
The hostile, unbelieving world, however, does not know the children of God. Unbelievers cannot understand us, says John, because they do not know God (compare John 16:2–3). “The world does not recognize us because it never recognized him.” The unbelieving world lives separated from God and will never know the significance of our spiritual relationship with God. If we were to become worldly, we would forfeit our status as children of God. By rejecting us, however, the world confirms our relationship with God the Father.
3:1 The thought of being born of God arrests John with wonder, and he calls on his readers to take a look at the wonderful love that brought us into the family of God. Love could have saved us without making us children of God. But the manner of God’s love is shown in that he brought us into His family as children. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
Now as we walk about from day to day, the world does not recognize us as children of God. The people of the world do not understand us nor the way we behave. Indeed, the world did not understand the Lord Jesus when He was here on earth. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Since we have the same characteristics as the Lord Jesus, we cannot expect the world to understand us, either.
3:1Behold what manner of love: John stands in amazement of God’s love. But the greater amazement and appreciation is for the fact that God’s love is expressed to human beings, that Christians are included in His family. God loves all believers, the weak as well as the strong. John describes Jesus on the night of His betrayal as “having loved His own who were in the world,” and writes that “He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). God’s love is in stark contrast to the love of the world. The world loves those who love them, while God loves even those who disobey Him.
3:1. This verse begins with the word idete (“behold, look at”), not translated in the NIV. The writer had just told the readers how to see the reality of new birth in righteous behavior; now he invited them to contemplate the greatness of the divine love which that reality displays. Behold how great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. (The words and that is what we are, rightly omitted by most mss., are probably a scribal addition.) In the Bible the word “called” indicates that this is what one actually is (cf. “called to be holy,” lit., “called saints” [1 Cor. 1:2]). Believers are “called children of God” because they are the born-ones (tekna) of “the Father.”
The perception to which John invited his readers is, however, lost on the world. Since the world … did not know Him (God or Christ), it can hardly be expected to recognize believers as His children. This kind of discernment about others is a distinctively Christian perception.
 MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 114–116). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 458). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (pp. 67–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 292–294). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2316). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1710). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Walvoord, J. F., & Zuck, R. B., Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 893). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.