John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

16 (1 John 3:16)

Verse 16

16Hereby perceive we, or, By this we know. He now shews what true love is; for it would not have been enough to commend it, unless its power is understood. As an instance of perfect love, he sets before us the example of Christ; for he, by not sparing his own life, testified how much he loved us. This then is the mark to which he bids them to advance. The sum of what is said is, that our love is approved, when we transfer the love of ourselves to our brethren, so that every one, in a manner forgetting himself, should seek the good of others. (79)

It is, indeed, certain, that we are far from being equal to Christ: but the Apostle recommends to us the imitation of him; for though we do not overtake him, it is yet meet, that we should follow his steps, though at a distance. Doubtless, since it was the Apostle’s object to beat down the vain boasting of hypocrites, who gloried that they had faith in Christ though without brotherly love, he intimated by these words, that except this feeling prevails in our hearts, we have no connection with Christ. Nor does he yet, as I have said, set before us the love of Christ, so as to require us to be equal to him; for what would this be but to drive us all to despair? But he means that our feelings should be so formed and regulated, that we may desire to devote our life and also our death, first to God, and then to our neighbors.

There is another difference between us and Christ, — the virtue or benefit of our death cannot be the same. For the wrath of God is not pacified by our blood, nor is life procured by our death, nor is punishment due to others suffered by us. But the Apostle, in this comparison, had not in view the end or the effect of Christ’s death; but he meant only that our life should be formed according to his example.

- John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible