Tuesday, August 25, 2009

1 John 3:17-24

V17-24 –17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him. 23And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. 24Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

This final passage of chapter three contains some hypothetical examples so that we can test ourselves regarding love for one another. Do you have material possessions and know someone, a brother, in need? If you don’t show pity – which is to say, if you don’t help them – then John wonders how God’s love can be in you. In v18, he teaches us to avoid proclaiming that we care without showing that we care. We need to do more than say the truth; we must do the truth (John 3:21). And in v19, John says that by doing the truth, we gain assurance that “we belong to the truth,” and “we set our hearts at rest in His presence” (see Ephesians 3:12).

There are times I don’t want to go to the nursing home. But I go. And every time I leave, I walk away refreshed and excited and humbled and reassured that it was a good thing. Sometimes, 25 people attend, and the message is well received; other times, 6 people show up and my voice crackles and 4 of the 6 fall asleep. But either way, it was a good thing. I belong to the truth. Can you say that? I belong to the truth. That’s an example of what John’s talking about here. He says in v20, “Whenever our hearts condemn us.” In other words, when you don’t want to go to the nursing home, go. You heart is condemning you, and if you go, you will be reassured that you belong to the truth. And then in v21-22, “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” Sometimes I really want to go to the nursing home. I want to see the people. I want to deliver the message. I want to fellowship with them. And I have confidence before God that I belong to the truth. Either way, God is greater, and His justice is right.

The footnote from my Reformation Study Bible says for this passage, “Our hearts condemn us when we measure our love for one another against God’s love for us in Christ. We’ll never measure up. But God, greater than our hearts, overcomes that condemnation to give us confidence and assurance by His word.” And Calvin says, “Let this, then, be the first proposition, that no one truly loves his brethren, except he really shows this whenever an occasion occurs; the second, that as far as any one has the means, he is bound so far to assist his brethren, for the Lord thus supplies us with the opportunity to exercise love; the third, that the necessity of every one ought to be seen to, for as any one needs food and drink or other things of which we have abundance, so he requires our aid; the fourth, that no act of kindness, except accompanied with sympathy, is pleasing to God.”

I hope from that nursing home example, you see that love is a commitment. Biblical love is not a feeling or emotion, and it doesn't change. Love is a commitment. If I love, I go; and I go, because I love. Whether I want to go (in confidence) or not (for the sake of reassurance and peace of mind, or heart), I go. And I belong to the truth. Maybe there are Christians you don't like; you still love them. Maybe they don't like you; they still love you. And when you love when you don't want to, you gain assurance and set your hearts at rest in His presence. When you love while wanting to, you have confidence, obeying His commands and doing what pleases Him. And John wraps up, saying in v23, "This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another." Obeying God's commands shows that we are alive in Him and that He lives in us. But how do we know that He lives in us? John tells us in v24 - "By the Spirit He gave us." We know that God lives in us by the Spirit He gave us. Calvin concludes, saying, "The sum of what is said is, that it hence appears that we are God's children, that is, when His Spirit rules and governs our life. John at the same time teaches us, that whatever good works are done by us, proceed from the grace of the Spirit, and that the Spirit is not obtained by our righteousness, but is freely given to us." And John will elaborate on that truth in chapter four as he moves into a reminder of the doctrinal test for genuine Christianity.

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