We are continuing our study of 1 John this morning. As I have said over and over, I see this book as being about fellowship. John is telling believers how to live in a state of fellowship with Yahweh, how to abide in Christ, and how to be controlled by the Spirit. But as I have also said many times, most people see this as a test that John gives to tell who is really saved.
One commentator says this: "So, throughout First John, the apostle gives these tests of authentic faith: (1) the moral test of obedience; (2) the relational test of love; and, (3) the doctrinal test of faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ."
The only test that I agree with is the doctrinal test. Both the moral test and the relational test, I believe, can easily cause us to become judgmental toward our fellow believers. In other words, if other believers do not seem to be living in obedience to God or if they do not appear to be demonstrating love in the way in which we think they should, we can write them off as unbelievers. As a result, if we view them as unbelievers, then we are not under obligation to love them.
This section under consideration runs from 3:10b thru 3:24. The similarity between 3:11 and 3:23, both of which mention the command to love one another, form an inclusion, suggesting that 3:11-24 should be regarded as a single unit about love.
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 1 John 3:10 ESV
With this last half of verse 10, John begins a new discussion of love. The phrase "is not of God" does not mean "not born of God." John is using "not of God" here to refer to fellowship. The one who does not do what is right, especially he who does not love his brother or sister in Christ, is not "abiding in Christ." The absence of "love" for one's "brother" Christian shows that the individual "who does not love" is not in fellowship with God.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers 1 John 3:16 ESV
Christ laid down His life for us. This is the opposite of taking another person's life, as Cain did. The cross is the supreme demonstration of what real love God’s love is.
"We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" Yeshua "laid down His life" once, but we ought to "lay down our lives" repeatedly, in self-sacrificing love, as the tenses of the Greek verbs suggest.
Those of us who live in America may never have the chance to lay down our lives for another Christian, so John goes on to say:
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:17 ESV
Do you remember what the Greek word for "Goods" is here? It is bios, which according to Strong’s means "life, that is, (literally) the present state of existence; by implication the means of livelihood." So, this word here refers to "resources needed to maintain life, means of subsistence" material goods or property.
If a believer shuts off his compassion from a brother in need, the love of God does not abide in him. We could say he is not abiding in Christ. The believer that won’t show compassion to a brother in need is not in fellowship with Yahweh; he is not walking in the light.
Believer, if you never see opportunities to show God’s love to others, it is probably not because there are no opportunities but because you are too self-focused. Many people come to church with the mindset, "I need to get my needs met." In fact, they live each day with that selfish focus. They get frustrated or depressed because others are not meeting their needs. The proper way to come to church or to live each day is with this mindset: "Lord, use me to meet someone’s needs." When you live that way, you find that the Lord does meet your needs.
We finished our last study with 3:18. This morning we will pick up with verse 19 and hopefully go to 3:24. Many of those who hold to the view that 1 John is giving us a test of a true Christian view 3:19-22 as a brief departure from the theme of loving one another that runs through 3:11–18 and is picked up again in 3:23–24. They see these verses as speaking about the believer’s assurance before God in a way that is unrelated to the main topic of loving one another (3:11–24).
John MacArthur writes this about 1 John 3:19-22: "What John is talking about here is the matter of assurance. He says we shall know that we are of the truth and shall assure our heart before Him. This is about assurance, the assurance of salvation."
I don’t see verses 19–22 as a change in theme or as the beginning of a new section, but rather as an integral part of the exhortation to love one another found in 3:11–24. So, our text for this morning is continuing the subject of love.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 1 John 3:19 ESV
Hall Harris writes: "This verse and the following two verses are extremely difficult from a structural standpoint. Dodd called the entire section (3:19-24) 'a series of loosely connected statements, set forth briefly and baldly, almost as if the author had made notes which he found no time to work up.’" [Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, 87]
Another commentator writes: "There is much confusion about how to translate the Greek text of these two verses (3:19-20). One possible interpretation emphasizes God's judgment, while the other emphasizes God's compassion."
Scholars and commentators alike take two very different approaches to these verses. Some interpret them in a positive way by contending that if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. In other words, they assert that no matter how we live, God knows that we love Him. And others take these verses as a warning to those who do not conscientiously apply John’s admonition about love. They say that if anyone is condemned by his heart, how much more will he be condemned by God who knows all things? Both of these approaches to verses 19–22 run into difficulties.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 1 John 3:19 ESV
"By this" this prepositional phrase is referring back to 3:17-18, where John talks about love expressing itself in practical good deeds. "By this" is equivalent to "And by doing this," (i.e. loving in deed and truth).
"We shall know that we are of the truth" when we act in love with deeds that reflect the truth about love as revealed in Christ, we can know that we are of the truth.
"Of the truth" is an obvious echo of the exhortation of verse 18:
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 ESV
What does John mean by "of the truth"? We have already seen in verses 3:8 and 10b that "of the devil" and "of God" are common Greek idioms. The phrase "is not of God" does not mean "not born of God." John is using "not of God" here to refer to fellowship. And he uses "of the truth" here in the same way. By acting in love as verse 18 tells us to, we can know that by acting in love we are participating in the truth. Or as John puts it, we are "of the truth."
"And reassure our heart before him" "reassure" is from the Greek verb peithō, which in the active voice means "convince" or "persuade. It does not mean to "set at rest" as the NIV translates it or "reassure" as the ESV renders it. The word peitho is found 52 times in the New Testament, including this one time in 1 John. In every other place, peitho bears the meaning "to persuade, convince." John is saying, "By demonstrating love (vv. 17-18), we convince our heart that we are walking in the truth.
The word "heart" here is kardia. Most commentators treat the word "heart" as a synonym for conscience (syneidēsis), but there is no precedent for doing this anywhere in the New Testament. The word kardia is found 156 times in the New Testament, including four times in 1 John (all in 3:19–21). In no place outside 1 John does kardia function as a synonym for syneidēsis [conscience], and therefore there is no good reason to interpret it that way here.
From this Greek word, kardia, we get the word "cardiac." The Bible always refers to the heart as the internal part of man. In other words, it is the seat of a man's personality. Predominantly, it refers to the thinking processes and not to the emotions. When the Bible talks about emotion, it refers to the bowels of compassion the feelings we get in the stomach or midsection. The Bible even talks about the liver as an organ of emotion (Lam. 2:11). That's because the Jewish writers expressed emotions such as love and hate by the effect those emotions produce in the abdominal area. According to the Bible, the heart is what we think with.
This phrase "before Him" could refer to standing in the presence of God on the day of judgment (4:17), but the context here is one of prayer. If you are feeling guilty about your life, how confident are you to come to God in prayer?
for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:20 ESV
Most translators believe John is teaching that if our heart condemns us, it’s okay. God knows that we are his, and he’ll be gracious. But let’s break it down.
"For whenever our heart condemns us" we have already talked about kardia meaning our thinking. We could, therefore, translate this verse as "whenever our thinking condemns us. Condemns here is the Greek word kataginōskō which means "find fault with or blame." This word is only used three time in the New Testament here, in verse 21 and in Galatians 2:11.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. Galatians 2:11 ESV
Peter was condemned because he was at fault and was to be blamed. He was guilty.
Our heart’s blaming us refers to a situation when believers blame themselves over not living up to the standard that they know is God's will for their lives. Here John refers to the specific sin of failing to show love for fellow Christians. We know that we should love others, but in our hearts, we struggle with anger or bitterness or hatred toward those who have wronged us. The context here is love.
"God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything" Many interpreters have taken this to mean that even if believers stand condemned by their own thinking because of their failure to love fellow Christians, God, because he knows everything, will be merciful to forgive everything as far as the believer is concerned. They would say that the clause, "He knows everything," conveys the idea that God knows our true motives, so he forgives us.
James Boice writes: "… whatever our hearts may say, God knows us better than even we ourselves do and, nevertheless, has acquitted us. Therefore, we should reassure ourselves by His judgment, which alone is trustworthy, and refuse to trust our own."
These interpreters use the illustration of Peter when Yeshua questioned him for the third time:
He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Yeshua said to him, "Feed my sheep. John 21:17 ESV
According to this view, Peter is appealing to Yeshua’s omniscience and is, in effect, saying, "Yes, Lord, I messed up by denying you, but you know that I love you." Sadly, these commentators see the same kind of thing happening in our verse in 1 John.
Stephen Cole writes: "If you know that you are God’s child through faith in Jesus Christ, then even when your heart condemns you for falling short, God is greater than your heart. He knows that He has justified you." Yes, God does know who are his, but this is not about assurance of Salvation. It is about confidence in coming before God.
When the believer has the means to help a brother in need and yet turns away from him, John provides him with a compelling reason to help "God is greater than our heart."
This statement, "God is greater than our heart," in this context, seems to mean that God does not share in the selfishness that is so often found in human hearts. His generosity is far greater, and his compassion towards the needy is much greater than theirs. This fact should function as a reason for them to overcome the selfishness of their own hearts and to seek to be like their God. When John says, "and he knows everything," he is reminding his readers that any selfishness of heart on their part will not go unnoticed by an omniscient God.
As you might recall, last week I said that Deuteronomy 15:7–9 may provide the background to the idea of closing one’s heart towards others in need.
"If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, 'The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. Deuteronomy 15:7-9 ESV
As was the case in Deuteronomy, the same is true in our text. God knows what his people do, he and judges them accordingly.
So, it is my opinion that verses 19–20 function as a warning against the selfishness of our heart which so often keeps us from expending material resources to meet the needs of fellow believers.
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 1 John 3:21 ESV
"If our heart does not condemn us" This is a third-class conditional sentence. Maybe our heart will condemn us and maybe it won’t. If the hearts of John’s readers, and of all believers, do not object to their responding to calls upon their generosity so that they actually provide the material assistance needed by their fellow believers, then they will experience confidence in their relationship with God.
"We have confidence before God" The word "confidence" here is from the Greek word, parrhēsia, which means "all out spokenness, confidence, assurance or boldness." "The word was used in ancient Greece for the most valued right of a citizen of a free state the right to "speak his mind" unhampered by fear or shame. This speaks of open and free access to God's presence.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Yeshua, Hebrews 10:19 ESV
"Confidence" here is our word parrhēsia. This idea of having assurance or confidence arises directly out of what has just been said by the writer of Hebrews. It is why he starts this verse with "therefore." Because they were "sanctified, perfected forever," boldness is appropriate and right.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14 ESV
It is referring to an objective right that gives us a subjective attitude of boldness. They have boldness to enter the "holy places" This is a reference to God's presence. And this boldness by which we enter is "by the blood of Yeshua." It is not by our own merit.
How do you feel when you go somewhere that you don't have a right to be? Timid, uncomfortable, scared? Do you feel as if you are someplace that is for members only and you are not a member? But if you are a member, you walk in with boldness and confidence.
"We have confidence before God" Parrhēsia means freedom of speech. The idea would be to go into the presence of God and say exactly what’s on your mind. Confidence in this context refers to the Christian’s confidence in the presence of God either in prayer, as the next verse makes clear, or at His coming.
This word, parrhēsia, has been used already by John. It will occur two more times in our epistle. The second and fourth usages refer to confidence before God in prayer. The first and the third instances of it refer to confidence before God when the Lord comes again at the Second Coming.
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 1 John 2:28 ESV
In this text, the believers are told to abide for a reason ("so that" hina purpose clause). The reason they are to abide is "so that" at the second coming of Christ "we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame." This indicates that there are two possibilities at the return of Christ. You will either have confidence, or you will shrink from Him in shame. In other words, the one who abides in Christ will come confidently into God's presence; the one who does not abide in Christ will come in shame.
Who is the "we"? It is all believers. He is saying that believers would not be ashamed if they continued to abide in Christ. But if they failed to abide, they would experience shame. So, if they abide in him, they would have confidence at the second coming; but if they don’t abide in him, they would have shame at the second coming.
When Yeshua "appears," those who have been faithful (have "abided") may approach God openly and with great confidence. This is saying the same thing as our text, but the context in our text in not his appearing but is rather our coming before God in prayer.
and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 1 John 3:22 ESV
As in so much of 1 John, the apostle is reflecting the words of Yeshua in the Upper Room, where He told the disciples:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7 ESV
By loving their fellow Christian, they would be abiding in Christ.
"And whatever we ask we receive from him" Do you find this to be true in your life? Do you receive from God whatever you ask? This promise is very different from the believer's experience in prayer. This verse seems to promise unlimited answered prayer. This is where a comparison of other relevant texts helps bring a theological balance. Notice what John says next.
"Because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him" Here we see two requirements for answered prayer. (1) We keep his commandments.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV
"If you keep my commandments" This is a third-class conditional sentence which means "potential action. Maybe you will, and maybe you won't." The word "keep" here is from the Greek word tereo which means "to guard or to observe." It conveys the idea that you take the commands of Christ seriously; you hold them to be precious; you give attention to closely following what our Lord commands.
Yeshua has stressed this over and over in the Fourth Gospel (14:15). "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me" (14:21). Yeshua inseparably joins love and commandment keeping. Yeshua summed up the whole law by two commandments, both of which were commands to love (Matthew 22:34-40).
To abide in his love is to abide in Him. So the two requirements given here for answered prayer are (1) We keep his commandments and (2) We do what pleases him. Doing what pleases Him is abiding in Him.
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV
So, we abide in Him as we live to please the Father.
And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him." John 8:29 ESV
How many of you can say, "I always do the things that are pleasing to God?" It is sobering to look at our lives and see how much we do to please ourselves and how much we do to please the Lord. Maybe that is why are prayers aren’t being answered.
Later in the letter John says:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15 ESV
There is nothing mechanical or magical about prayer. For it to be effective, the will of the intercessor needs to be in line with the will of God. Such conformity of wills is brought about only as the believer abides in Christ.
The key to answered prayer is being in such close fellowship with God that we ask for the things that are on His heart. In other words, we take up His agenda with our requests and intercession. The spirit of true prayer is Thy will be done.
Let me give you a definition of prayer that really helps me to pray. Sometimes we get so caught up in our circumstance that we question the point of prayer. Why ask if God never answers anyway? Here’s why you should pray. Prayer is a declaration of our dependence. Every time I pray, I am saying, "God, I need you" or "Thank you God for helping me!" We ask God's forgiveness because we know we are dependent upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer because we know that whatever we are, or have, has come from Him. We petition Him because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble and that prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "God, I can't do this, so, I come to you acknowledging my need." There is nothing in our Christian experience in which we manifest our dependence on God, thus glorifying Him, more than in prayer.
We glorify God by prayer. We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can't do for ourselves. Prayer is the open admission that without God we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy. So, prayer is a declaration of our dependence. And if this is true then we must admit that prayerlessness is a declaration of self-sufficiency. To not pray is to say to Yahweh, "I don’t need you!"
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Yeshua the Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:23 ESV
Notice the term "commandment" is singular with two aspects.
"And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Yeshua the Christ" The concept of believing in "the name" or praying "in the name" reflects the Near Eastern and Hebraic understanding that the name represents the person. The name includes his character and his nature, and thus it is a much more significant term than the term "name" as used in our particular culture. So, to believe in the name of his Son, Yeshua the Christ, is to believe in more than just the name (the moniker that we might attach to someone). It has to do with all that Christ is in his person as well as in his work.
"Believe" in this verse probably refers to believing for eternal salvation rather than to believing after we are Christians. The tense of the Greek verb is aorist (believe once for all) points to this as does the object of belief, namely, "the name of His Son Yeshua the Christ." "To believe in the name of Yeshua Christ is to accept Yeshua Christ for what He really is."
The readers are commanded to believe in Yeshua as Christ (2:22; 5:1), as Son (2:23), as Son of God (4:15; 5:5), and as Christ incarnate ("come in the flesh," 4:2; 2 John 7). The fact that the author regards belief as something "commanded" here is also in line with the description of faith as a "work" in John 6:29:
Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." John 6:28-29 ESV
He uses the singular, "This is the work of God." The singular "work" here is trusting in Christ. The significance of the modifying phrase "of God" indicates that the "work" of faith is not our effort but is the gracious gift of God enabling us to trust in Christ. That faith is to be "in" the one whom God sent.
The first commandment and the greatest work we can do is to believe on Yeshua. Some of the false teachers tried to separate Yeshua from the Christ. They did not agree that Yeshua the man was the Son of God.
"And love one another, just as he has commanded us" The verb tense of "believe" points to the act of faith at salvation, whereas the tense of "love" indicates ongoing love for one another.
"As he has commanded us" John repeatedly attributes the commandments given to believers as given by God the Father, even though in John 13:34-35 it was Yeshua who gave his disciples the commandment to love one another. 2 John 4-5 also attributes the commandment to love one another directly to the Father. Thus, here in 3:23, it seems clear that God the Father is the subject of the verb "he has."
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. 1 John 3:24 ESV
"Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him" Here we see again that obedience is linked to abiding. Using different terms, John has spoken much about abiding in Christ, but, this is the first time he has mentioned God’s abiding in us, as Yeshua taught in John 15:4.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4 ESV
Our text and John 15:10 agree that obedience is the condition of the abiding relationship.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV
As we walk in obedience to the Lord Yeshua, we enjoy close fellowship with Him and He with us. His life flows through us, producing fruit that pleases Him.
Contrary to what John 15:10 clearly says, the IVP Commentary says, "When John writes that those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them, he does not mean that obedience to the commands is a prerequisite to God's dwelling with us."
S.L. Johnson agrees: "Obedience being the proof, not the cause of God’s people dwelling in him. In other words, obedience is not the reason God dwells in us, it is the evidence that he does; the obedience that we cannot naturally do."
Despite what these men say, Yeshua is very clear on this matter. We abide in His love when we keep His commandments. Obedience results in mutual abiding: God in man and man in God. While God "indwells" every believer (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13) He "abides" (with His presence, fellowship, power, and blessing) in the obedient believer only. The evidence that God "abides" in us is the manifestation of His Spirit in and through us.
"And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us" This is the first explicit reference to the Holy Spirit in 1 John. An almost identical phrase occurs in 1 John 4:13.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 1 John 4:13 ESV
How does the Spirit verify that we are abiding in Him? As will become clear in the following chapter, we know that we have the Spirit because only God's spirit inspires true confession of Christ (4:1-6) and empowers us to love one another (4:7-21). Because the Spirit is present with us, we keep the command of verse 23 which is to believe in the name of his Son, Yeshua the Christ, and to love one another.
We should probably see 3:24 as transitional, its meaning being that we know God abides in us because we have believed the testimony of the Spirit (whom God gave us) concerning his Son Yeshua the Christ. And we keep the command to love one another.