3:17 But whoever has the world’s possessions 1 and sees his fellow Christian 2 in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God 3 reside 4 in such a person? 5
sn Note the vivid contrast with Jesus’ example in the preceding verse: He was willing to lay down his very life, but the person in view in 3:17 is not even willing to lay down part of his material possessions for the sake of his brother.
3 tn Here a subjective genitive, indicating God’s love for us – the love which comes from God – appears more likely because of the parallelism with “eternal life” (ζωὴν αἰώνιον, zwhn aiwnion) in 3:15, which also comes from God.
sn The love of God. The author is not saying that the person who does not love his brother cannot love God either (although this may be true enough), but rather that the person who does not love his brother shows by this failure to love that he does not have any of the love which comes from God ‘residing’ in him (the Greek verb used is μένω [menw]). Once again, conduct is the clue to paternity.
4 sn Once again the verb μένω (menw) is used of a spiritual reality (in this case the love of God) which does or does not reside in a person. Although the author uses the indefinite relative whoever (Grk ὃς δ᾿ ἄν, Jos d’ an), it is clear that he has the opponents in view here. This is the only specific moral fault he ever charges the opponents with in the entire letter. It is also clear that the author sees it as impossible that such a person, who refuses to offer help in his brother’s time of need (and thus ‘hates’ his brother rather than ‘loving’ him, cf. 3:15) can have any of the love which comes from God residing in him. This person, from the author’s dualistic ‘either/or’ perspective, cannot be a believer. The semantic force of the deliberative rhetorical question, “How can the love of God reside in such a person?”, is therefore a declarative statement about the spiritual condition of the opponents: “The love of God cannot possibly reside in such a person.”
5 sn How can the love of God reside in such a person? is a rhetorical question which clearly anticipates a negative answer: The love of God cannot reside in such a person.
6 sn The noun truth here has been interpreted in various ways: (1) There are a number of interpreters who understand the final noun in this series, truth (ἀληθείᾳ, alhqeia) in an adverbial sense (“truly” or “in sincerity”), describing the way in which believers are to love. If the two pairs of nouns are compared, however, it is hard to see how the second noun with tongue (γλώσσῃ, glwssh) in the first pair can have an adverbial sense. (2) It seems better to understand the first noun in each pair as produced by the second noun: Words are produced by the tongue, and the (righteous) deeds with which believers are to love one another are produced by the truth.