See, What Kind of Love: How 1 John 3 Speaks to Child Abuse Survivors

This morning a pastor friend of mine, Reverend J. Michael Dixon of The Orchard Church in Chicago, sought to encourage me by tweeting me 1 John 3:1. I frequently speak on social media about a feeling of being orphaned, and this was such a perfect verse to address that feeling. After reading the entire chapter and realizing what riches it holds for survivors of child abuse, I decided to write this short devotional.

While my biological parents are still alive, from an emotional standpoint they abandoned me. From a spiritual standpoint, my dad is quintessentially deadbeat. You see, my dad raped me when I was 3 years old, and for about 20 years he sexually, psychologically, and violently abused me. My mom witnessed a great deal of this abuse, but in the interest of protecting whatever semblance of security her husband provided, she said nothing and encouraged me to keep his secrets as well. Because of this, and because of ongoing mind-games, manipulation, and dysfunctional behavior that continue to this day, I have had to cut both my mom and my dad out of my life.

But this is not a depressing article! In fact, you’re already past the worst of it by far. I have found that profound hope and joy can be derived from distinguishing good from evil; love from abuse; Godliness from worldliness. Let’s dig into this beautiful chapter. It is incredibly rich, so I will take it one small chunk at a time.

1. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

We are called children of God. Why? Because God bestowed his love upon us. The NIV translation says he “lavished” his love upon us. To “bestow” means to gift, give, or donate. To “lavish” means to give in generous and excessive amount. We have been bestowed with a lavish abundance of God’s love.

But don’t miss that last sentence, because it’s extremely important. Why doesn’t the world know us? Why didn’t our parents love us? Because the world does not know God. Because they did not love God. Their lack of love is not our fault. Their lack of love – their sin – is their own fault, because they have neglected and rejected the love of God.

2. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

We are no longer children of the world. We are children of God. If our earthly parents are of this world, we can take great comfort knowing that their damaged, withheld, or nonexistent love is by no means comparable to the immeasurable love of our true Father. In fact, his love is so great, so pure, and so powerful, that it purifies us, drawing us closer to him both in love and in likeness. While we cannot currently imagine what our perfected state in Heaven will be like, but we know that when we are united with Christ in person we will be made perfect, just as he is perfect. There will be no more sorrow and no more fear, for the former things (that is, our sin and mortal nature) will have passed away. Death itself will have died. (Revelation 21:4)

4. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

Abuse can be perfectly described as “a practice of sinning.” It is the repeated, intentional, and stubborn determination to hurt, frighten, confuse, and control. A person who is saved may lose their temper, but then they will feel sincere guilt, be appalled by their sin, and repent. A person who is saved may find themselves in a pattern of sin, but upon realizing this, will do their utmost to break that pattern and protect those they love from their wickedness.

7. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

“The devil has been sinning from the beginning.” While in Matthew 18:22 Jesus tells us to forgive our brothers “seventy times seven times,” it is important to recognize that this ideal applies to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus does not command us to be fools, to fail to discern the lies of hypocrites, or to make ourselves prey to predatorial manipulators. In wisdom, we must differentiate regenerate sinners who genuinely repent, from unregenerate sinners who only apologize in order to elicit undeserved trust, prolonging their ability to inflict their wickedness through false pretenses of love or remorse.

9. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Again, we see the phrase, “a practice of sinning.” Any time you see a word or phrase repeated in the Bible, that’s a tip-off from the writer that you need to pay special attention to it. Yes, as Christians we may slip back into the same sins over and over. However, we do not practice sin. We do not relish our sin. We do not rehearse our sin for the purpose of getting better at it, the way someone might practice religion, practice soccer, or practice playing the flute. We do not hone our sin, carefully develop it, or wallow in it like a pig wallows in the mud. Rather, by the grace of God who works sanctification in our hearts, we struggle tooth and nail out of our sin, warring against it in our souls.

11. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

Again, we are absolved of any responsibility for our abuser’s sin; for the hatred of the world; for the lovelessness of the lost. Why did our abuser abuse us? Was it because we weren’t a sterling example of God’s love? Was it because we couldn’t bring ourselves to forgive seventy times seven times when they were not truly repentant? Was it because we weren’t submissive enough, obedient enough, or understanding enough? By no means! Our abusers abused us because we are the children of God, and they are not.

13. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

This is not to say that no one who has committed murder can be saved. We know that David committed murder, and that Paul violently persecuted the church. However, no one who practices a habit of hatred, a lifestyle of cruelty, or a religion of selfishness is saved. While Cain sacrificed the life of his brother to satisfy his own jealousy, Christ sacrificed his own life to satisfy his own love. Cain was the antithesis of Christ. Abuse is the antithesis of grace.

16. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18. Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

How do we know that Jesus loves us? His actions! He laid down his life for us. Just so, we may know the love of others by their actions. If a person says that they love us, but constantly abuses us, they lie. If a sinner quotes Scripture and demands forgiveness while maintaining their lifestyle of depravity, they lie. If an abuser claims to love you and love God, yet practices sin, hate, and rage, they lie.

19. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20. for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22. and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

An absence of God’s love betrays our abusers, revealing them to be hypocrites lost in their sin. By contrast, the presence of God’s love reforming our hearts is proof that we are loved by God. Any time our hearts condemn us – when we doubt our salvation or question our worth – we must remember that while God knows everything there is to know about us, his love is greater than our sin, his grace is more powerful than our fears, and his mercy is far vaster than our guilt. Moreover, if our hearts do not condemn us, and we walk in love and obedience to God, we should find great comfort knowing that God has enabled us to rest wholly in him, and that is a great gift indeed.

23. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

If God did not love us, we could not show his sacrificial love to others. If God did not love us, we would not take joy in keeping his commandments. If God did not love us, we would not strive to please him with our thoughts, words, and actions. If God did not love us, we would not care whether he did or didn’t. The fact that we desire to love and humbly serve others, rather than abuse or mistreat them, is evidence that God is at work purifying our hearts. Thus, we can have confidence going before him, knowing that we are loved by him.

As a parent, I love my children more than I ever thought I could love anyone. However, my fallen love in my finite heart is a drop in the ocean compared with the lavish, eternal, unfaltering, and purifying love of God. Not only is his love a free and unmerited gift, but it sanctifies us, drawing us closer to him both in love and in likeness. Because of this, we need not be befuddled by the faux faith of wicked men. We need not be twisted in consternation over hypocrites who use Scripture to manipulate, or liars who use fake apologies to elicit trust. We are not the children of abusers. We are the children of God. As such, we love one another. By God’s grace, we do not love merely in words or talk, but in our deeds and in truth. What a great comfort and profound blessing it is to love as God loves because God loves us.

Featured photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

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