Question: "What does it mean that he who hates his brother walks in darkness (1 John 2:11)?"
Answer: Those who trust in God are described as walking in the light. God wants us to live in the light as He is in the light (John 3:21; 1 John 1:7). Walking in the light means living in obedience to Him and not living in sin. The unbeliever, however, lives in darkness. In 1 John 2:11 we are warned that he who hates his brother walks in darkness, blinded by sin.
John explains, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them” (1 John 2:9–11).
Those who walk in the light are to be marked by love. This love is shown in obedience to God (John 15:10; 1 John 2:3) and in loving others (John 15:12, 17; 1 John 4:7–8). Love for others is a sign of God’s presence in the life of a believer (John 13:34–35; 1 John 4:7–12). Since God is love, anyone who does not love others shows that God is not in him. First John 4:20 says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” Loving others is not a suggestion for believers; it is a command (Mark 12:30–31). Jesus told His followers, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Love for others manifests our love for God, who is Light, so he who hates his brother walks in darkness, showing that God’s love is not in him.
Our love for others is another way the world can see God. Because of God’s love for us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9), He sent His Son into the world that we might live through Him both in this life and for eternity. Those who trust God live in love because this truth has changed their lives and destinies. Yet it is possible for people to claim they love God without truly knowing Him. That’s why John warns that he who hates his brother actually walks in darkness. Loving others distinguishes those walking in light from those walking in darkness. In John 13:35, after Jesus commands His disciples to love one another, He says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Believers love others because “[God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
We are to love others in all we do (1 Corinthians 16:14). We show love by our attitudes as well as our actions. Philippians 2:3–4 gives us a practical way to show love: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” James 2:14–17 tells us to live out our faith by providing what others need instead of simply mouthing words of blessing. As we love others as Jesus loved us (Ephesians 5:2), we can walk in light, but he who hates his brother walks in darkness.
God’s love for us changes our lives and affects the way we see others who are also made in His image. The person who loves God will love others. He who hates his brother walks in darkness and shows that the love of God is not in him. Those who walk in the light have been given the reasons to love others and have God’s Spirit living in them to help them truly love.
Loving others can be difficult; even those who genuinely love God and walk in His light still struggle against sinful tendencies (1 John 1:8–10; Romans 7—8). But God is faithful to give us His heart for others if we seek Him. The more we understand His great love, the more we’ll desire to share it with the world through our words and deeds. Love speaks truth and genuinely seeks the benefit of the other (John 15:13; Romans 5:8; 12:9–21; 1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 4:15). God can give us the desire, wisdom, and anything else necessary to love others with His love. As we continue to walk in His light, we will continue to live out His love.