1 John 3:19-24 - We have confidence before God
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Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him (1 John 3:21-22).
Anyone who has been a student will know the difficulty of trying to make ends meet on a tight budget. At one of our theological colleges, students came “by faith”, without any visible means of support. Relatives, church members and fellow students would make contributions to their upkeep and sometimes local churches would donate sacks of grain or beans. Despite that, there were always students who fell through the cracks. To meet this need, we kept a small supply of dry foods in our pantry. One year, however, the number of needy students was greater than normal, and our emergency supplies were soon exhausted. Students were going hungry. No matter how much we gave out, we could never satisfy all their needs. The guilt of putting food on our family table while others were going hungry was unbearable. How could we call ourselves Christians when we were unable to help everyone?
This is a conundrum that many of us have no doubt experienced when faced with the needs of others. No matter how much we give, we can never meet everyone’s needs, and this can lead to self-condemnation (v.19).
In the previous section (1 John 3:16-18) John explained that those who live in love and truth follow the Lord Jesus in the giving of their lives and material goods to meet the needs of others. The problem in the church was that the false teachers had unsettled the young Christians, causing them to question whether they were really living in the truth. Although they might have been living selfless lives and giving to the needy, their hearts were still telling them they had not done enough (v. 20).
John urges them to reassure their hearts before God (v.19). The illegitimate voice of conscience might have told them that they were deficient but “God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.” He knows the needs of the world and the attitude of their hearts and their desire to help. Even Paul explains in 1 Cor 4:3-5 that he cannot always trust his own conscience because, “It is the Lord who judges me.” They were therefore to entrust all things to God and not falsely seek perfectionism in their own works.
Sin and guilt, even false guilt, close the door to fellowship with God. John has already reminded the church that if we confess our sins, we have access into the Father’s presence (1 John 1:9). We can then pray about the needs of others and be sure that “whatever we ask we receive from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (v. 23).
The essence of the commandments is to believe the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and to love one another. We can silence false guilt that causes doubt by reminding ourselves of this objective truth.
In v. 24, John explains how the church can be sure that they abide in the fellowship of the Father and Son. It is because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Calvin writes, “When his Spirit rules and governs our life…, whatever good works are done by us proceed from the grace of the Spirit.”
Therefore, there is no need for self-condemnation to close off the pathway of prayer in the Spirit and make us doubt our status before God. It is the Holy Spirit within who provides the proof that we abide in the fellowship of the Triune God.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 1 Cor 4:3.
Heavenly Father, thank you that you are greater than our hearts and know all things. Forgive us for the times when we have forgotten this and thought that we are not yours because we have taken the needs of others onto ourselves without coming to you in prayer. Thank you for giving us your Holy Spirit as proof that we are yours. We bring our prayers and requests for the needs of others before you today in full confidence that you will hear and answer us.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
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