In our last post on 1 John we discussed 3:11-18 in which the apostle wrote that to love someone in word and talk is not necessarily wrong but to stop short there is. Words do have meaning in with words we inform, encourage and love one another. But words cannot replace actions. Through our behavior people will see that we love them!
Today we will continue with 1 John and see what John has to say to us via 3:19-24. As is my intention I would like to clarify what these verses meant and then proceed as to what it means. At our church I am offering right now a course (together with a brilliant student from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) on How to Read/Interpret the Bible. In this endevour (and for my own sake) I am reading Stanley E. Porter and Beth Stovell, eds. Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012) which I have to admit is a good read. It is not a good read in a sense of “it is an easy read” but it is a good read in regards to being challenging and questioning our approach to the Holy Word of God. I mention this here as in the five essays it is often stressed that a pure “historical investigation” into a text is not enough. I utterly agree with that and hence would like to give some of the implications (application) or to put it differently how this text speaks to us today.
We read in 3:19 “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” which then is further explained by v. 20 “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (ESV). These two verses are quite complicated but there is hope. First, we need to see what John means with “reassure our hearts.” Kruse (PNTC, 140) states that this word (i.e., “reassure”) “is found 52 times in the NT, including this one time in 1 John. In every other place peithō [here translated with “reassure”] bears the meaning ‘to persuade, convince’ (42x), or the related meanings ‘to trust’ (6x) or ‘to obey’ (3x), but it never bears the meaning ‘to reassure’ or ‘to set at rest’” (Kruse, 140). Verse 19 can be either taken as a word of assurance or as a word of motivation. The latter would then mean something like: Since God knows our hearts, we better help our brothers. As we turn to v. 20 we see that “God is greater than our hearts.” Leon Morris (NBC; in loc.) writes: “If our hearts condemn us this is not the significant thing. It is God’s condemnation or approval that matters and he knows everything. He knows our motives and those deeds of love for which we may not dare to take any credit (cf. Mt. 25:37–40).” Kruse further maintains that this statement “in this context seems to mean that God does not share in the meanness that is so often found in human hearts. His generosity is far greater, his compassion towards the needy much greater, than theirs” (PNTC, 141). And we have hope as Christian since the Holy Spirit is working within us to change us, transform us, and make us true worshippers of God and servants of His. What a privilege it is for us to live under the new covenant!
In 3:21 we read: “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God”. The term for “confidence” is a gain explained by Kruse (PNTC, 142 n. 156). He writes that the word parrēsia “is found 4 times in 1 John (2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14), and in each case it denotes the confidence believers enjoy before God. They have this confidence because they ‘continue in him’ (2:28), because their ‘hearts do not condemn’ them (3:21), and because ‘love is made complete’ among them (4:17), and this leads to confidence in prayer (3:21; 5:14).” As we are belonging to God we can come with boldness before His throne of grace. There is no need to shrink back in shame as He is for us and has paid the price in His Son’s blood.
“Whatever we ask” we will receive. Why is that so? “Because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (v. 22). If we are generous and our hearts do not condemn us in our meanness we will receive from God whatever we ask, since we are in step with His will. What this command—John talks about here—actually is will be made clear in the following verse; i.e., “the command we obey when we respond to fellow believers in need is the dominical command to love one another” (Kruse, PNTC, 142). In v. 23he states: “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.” We find in the Gospel of John 6:29Jesus saying: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” This command to believe in Jesus is linked with the love for one another (that faith in the name of Jesus [which means in his person] is lined to obedience is also seen in John 8:31; Matt 7:21/Luke 6:46). Kruse summarizes: “There can be no obedience of God’s commands if there is no love for one another, there can be no love for one another if people close their hearts to those in need, and there can be no confidence when approaching God in prayer when people close their hearts to fellow believers in need” (PNTC, 143). Alfred Plummer states “We may possess many kinds of enlightenment, intellectual, and spiritual; but there is no union with God and indeed no true knowledge of Him without obedience” (Epistles of St. John, 201; quoted in Witherington, 517).
What it means to remain in God (v. 24) is the theme found elsewhere in the letter (2:5, 6, 27, 28; 3:6, 24; 4:13, 15, 16; 5:20). But that God remains in us “is the new and very real spiritual existence that believers enjoy, and this is effected through the agency of the Spirit” (Kruse, PNTC, 143). Here we have the Holy Spirit for the first time. He will also be mentioned 4:2, 6, 13; 5:6, 8. “In 1 John the Spirit’s primary role is to bear witness to the truth about Jesus” (Kruse, PNTC, 144). Having introduced the Spirit, John will elaborate on this topic in the following verses (see the upcoming post).
To love one another and to believe that Jesus—the Jewish Messiah—is Lord of all is what makes us Christians. As we confess that Jesus, God’s very own Son, is Lord we will receive the Holy Spirit who will transform us from the inside out!