1 John 3:18-22 – what loving in deed and truth means

“My little children, let us not love in word, or in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before/toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”

Have you ever been asked to do something, and after praying about it, you feel deep in your heart that you cannot do it? It may be that someone asked a favor of you, asked to borrow money, asked you to serve in some capacity, etc. So many of us as Christians, feel guilty if the answer ends up being “no.” Our enemy in his craftiness, can so confuse an issue in our minds and condemn us rather easily. I regret to say that our decisions are often based on relieving the guilt, rather than allowing our “yes” to be a full and cheerful “yes” because we know the Lord has given us the “go ahead” to do this or that. We’d rather get rid of the guilt and so we say yes to things that God has not asked us to do. (I’m not talking about helping someone who just had an accident and needs help, or some real and immediate need someone has).

John is talking about believers loving not only in word only, but with action. If we see a brother in need and we have the very thing to meet the need, John is encouraging us to take the initiative and meet the need with what you already have. But notice this word truth in vs 18. So often this word gets lost in decision making. Say for instance: say someone asks you for a certain amount of money and you prayerfully consider if you should say yes to the request. After looking at all your current bills, and other things you are responsible for, you see that you do not have the money with which to lend the person who asked you. The truth is, you don’t have the money, so you cannot possible meet the need. Now, the enemy is right there whispering, “You are a Christian, of course you should give over your money. You should even go into debt to give the person what they want. Didn’t Jesus say that if someone asks us for our shirt we should also give him our coat? If you don’t give it to them, think of how it’ll look to those around you? They’ll say believers are stingy and not generous.” Satan goes after our reputation to motivate us, and the guilt can pile up rather high (like you know what) and you may give in to those demands Satan places upon your heart and mind in the matter. But again, the truth is, you don’t have the very thing with which to meet that person’s needs. (This happened to a friend of mine recently). So, “no” is a viable option and born out of truth. And then someone else gains the opportunity to meet the request that’s been made of you, but you can’t meet in the moment. Of course, if you do have the means with which to meet a real need, then go ahead and meet it. Having the truth in any given situation present and clear, is the only way to love with word and with deed.

Verse 19 talks about us being assured in our hearts because we are of the truth. Isn’t that interesting? If you are in touch with the truth in any situation, it is a clear and direct path to knowing what to do. This is called wisdom. And when you know that you are indeed following the Lord’s leading, it brings you assurance and peace. John brings out the reality of human nature in vs 20. He makes allowance for most of us in saying, “For if our heart condemns us…” He is saying something to the effect that, yes indeed, most of us when we say no, or sometimes yes, to something that is motivated by wanting to relieve guilt, or even meet the person’s needs even though we don’t have the thing with which to meet it, our hearts do condemn us. The Holy Spirit is in conflict with guilt of condemnation and we feel scratchy in spirit. I liken it to how it feels when you begin to sweat – that uncomfortable feeling that you are going to smell real soon and you can’t go back and undo it. The word condemn means “to know against.” It’s as if, in any inner conflict, your soul/heart goes against your spirit. One part of you is against the other part. I believe this is right where the enemy sneaks in and pours a load of guilt over us and, depending on your belief system, you either agree with the enemy or you see the “truth” of what’s going on and stand your ground. You may still feel temporarily guilty no matter what the situation, but when the truth is present, real peace will come in quickly to confirm your decision and erase all the guilt you may have felt. I think this is what John means when he says, “God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” God knows how hard it is to discern what to do sometimes, maybe most times for many of us. He is not a God who stands over us to point a finger when we get confused or have doubts. No matter how your heart is right now, He is greater than all that dwells there and He alone knows the reasons your heart may be in conflict. John is telling us that God wants us to rest in His ability to teach and lead us. Don’t rest on your ability to figure things out – that is quite a losing proposition!

When we have an inner struggle – “know against ourselves” – it does affect our confidence in asking the Lord something. That’s because so many of us feel we have to first clean ourselves up before we come to the Lord with our own request, especially if just said “no” to someone else, even if our “no” was in line with the truth and in obedience to how the Spirit was leading us. The enemy wants us to feel far from God in these types of situations. This is what John is talking about when he says that if our own hearts don’t condemn us – if are not in conflict within – then we have confidence to come to Him with our own needs and requests. The confidence in vs 21 means “frankness, bluntness, outspoken, assurance.” Listen my friend, God is not looking for polite children who cover up how they really feel about things. He says, “…draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). So be confident that you can ask God anything without fear!

So what’s all this to do with receiving? Verse 22 says, “And whatever we ask we receive of Him.” Let go of condemnation, guilt or whatever is bothering you. If you made a wrong choice somewhere along the line, He knows all about it and it’s forgiven. He’s the only one who can redeem any situation and He invites you to keep on asking Him “whatever”…and that means “whatever!” Keep the truth right in your heart so that in time, you will not “know against” yourself in any situation. I believe this how we “keep His commandments.” Jesus’ commandment was that we love as we have been loved. (See John 13:34). Seek out how you have been loved by God in the perfect redemption of Christ, and loving others will come easily. In placing the truth into your real life situations and decisions, you are “pleasing” to God. You may not be pleasing to those around you, but in the end that doesn’t matter. Only what Jesus thinks matters. But when you are in line with what the Spirit is telling you to do, in the end it will be good for everyone around you. The word pleasing means, “to be content with, to be dear, pleasant.” When it’s used here in 1 Jn 3:22 it means those things that we do out of our love for God, not out of a requirement being met. So if what you are doing now doesn’t seem to be rooted in love, go back and re-discover how much God loves you and then the root will grow in a new and fresh way and your love for others will become easy and true.

It doesn’t please God when we do things out of guilt. That is wasted energy, and in fact Paul calls it “dead works.” So if your heart is making you feel guilty (and don’t feel guilty about feeling guilty), just bring your condemnation and everything else stored in your heart, to Him who “knows all things” and ask Him to pour more of His love into your heart. Ask Him to do what you cannot do and change your heart. He will do just that and without fear or any finger pointing, but with love and grace. God wants you to receive from Him all the time, no matter what the needs are around you. Think of it this way: if you are not receiving from Him, what can you possibly have to give to others? It is of utmost importance that you receive all that you can from Him who is the perfect giver. God loves to give and we please Him when we receive. So go ahead and allow yourself permission to receive “whatever” from Him who is longing to give to you! Then and only then will you have something to give to another.

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