1 John 3:19-24
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives 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.”
Live, laugh, love has become a popular saying and a sign people hang in their homes or stencils on their walls, because its what we all wish for in life. Yet the reality is that life can be hard even harsh, tragedy can stride in and strikes us down and turmoil can toss us around like drowning men in a ship wrecked sea. When life leaves us struggling to survive, with our head barley above water, when it takes all our energy just to take the next breath. When getting out of bed becomes our greatest achievement and putting one foot in front of the other seems futile. When instead of the steady streams of laughter and love we experience what seems like the endless lashing of pain. When we long for love but just like the laughter it seems lost in the crushing weight of our circumstances. When those who pass by ask how are you doing, to which we quietly lie, “I’m fine how are you, while our soul lies shipwrecked on the rocks of our reality. No matter the heartache we have a God who knew well in advance of our pain that this passage in 1 John was what we needed to hear. This section of Scripture is comprised of some loosely connected statements, a lot like how disconnected grief and sorrow comes in waves, as it crescendos with difficult to answer questions, that rock and reverberate in our hearts and minds. Today you may find yourself angry or just simply stunned and in shock over your situation. May be your dismayed and discouraged, teetering on the edge of doubt, struggling to believe in a God who would allow this suffering. While Satan the enemy of your soul has launched or is lying in wait, longing to attacks and accuses, Revelation 12:10: “For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night.” Some of us are our own worst enemy, we do a pretty good job of accusing ourselves, living guilt-ridden and shame-centered lives. No longer living life, but resigned to just surviving, a shallow empty shell stuck in the pain of the past, and shrouded in shame. Yet no matter what we are facing their are only two choices, go through it with God or without. It is with Him that verse 19 gives us two great assurances, first how we can know that we belong to the truth. John again repeats this when he says in verse 24 “we know” because this is not about feeling but knowing. The second assurance deals with how our hearts can be at rest. The word “rest” here means to calm, to pacify, to soothe, it can be traced back to the idea of, “to tranquilize”. While the word “presence” literally means, to be in front of. It is an amazing thought that we can come into God’s presence, a retch in the presence of the Redeemer. That we can stand in the presence of holiness and our hearts can be at rest in His presence. For the one who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, Romans 8:1 says that there is “no condemnation.” Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to: “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Yet what do we do tend to do when doubt creeps in? How do we handle the condemning thoughts that seep through the cracks in our faith and threaten to conquer and condemn? Some of us were raised in a church tradition built on a foundation of guilt and shame instead of forgiveness, where our hearts were continually hammered into trying to measure up. Well the first part of verse 20 says: “Whenever our hearts condemn us…” Notice that it says, “Whenever,” not “if” or “might.” This condemning is something that we all will and must deal with in this life. The idea here behind a condemning heart is to find fault with or to know and have something against someone. It not only means to be looked down upon but to be put down. So what do we do when all we’re hearing is the continual soundtrack of self, society and Satan, with their condemning comments and monotonous never ending loop of lies? John reminds us to rest in God’s character not our choices. John’s strategy for facing moments of profound insecurity is to anchor our assurance in God, and God alone. He urges us to allow God to be the final arbiter of our personal spiritual well-being. Even when the grief is so deep that all you feel is the paralyzing numbness, when the only emotions you gravitate between are anger and sadness. When you feel condemned by Satan, self, and your sins, focus on God’s character. Only God can bring us peace when we are falling to pieces. John shares with us three attributes of the Almighty that we need to focus on especially when our faith fluctuates and falters.
● First God is Great.
In verse 20 John reminds us that “God is greater than our hearts” He is omnipotent, all-powerful. Healing starts when we can see that God is greater than our hurting and heavy hearts. Psalm 89:8 says, “O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” This is the truth that trumps our turmoil, God is greater, He has the strength and power to do all that He wills to do. Our Redeemer holds all the resources necessary to rescue and revive my hurting heart. We serve an Almighty God that has the ability to work His will in every circumstance in the all the universe. As A.W. Tozer said: “Our God possesses what no creature can: an incomprehensible plenitude of power, a potency that is absolute.” Holding on to the greatness of God means remembering who holds the future. In the turmoil our tendency is to forget who is on the throne. Our hurt does not trump the throne, yes it may derail me but it doesn’t dethrone my God. My life my be in the out of control free fall of chaos but God is still in control. The truth is that our hurt does not have to hold us in bondage and blame, far from the healing hand of the Father. Whether its my sin, society or the snares of Satan my God is not taken by surprise. The real issue is not my power and how strong I am, but how great is my God. Your faith does not have to be huge when you’re hurting, a mere mustard see put into the hands of a great God will suffice.
● Second God is Glorious.
The last part of verse 20 says: “and He knows everything.” God’s omniscience means that He knows all things, past, present and future, real and potential, and all at the same time. This means that He not only knows what was, and what is, He also knows what will be. Psalm 147:5 brings God’s greatness and His knowledge together in one verse: “Great is our Lord…His understanding has no limit.” Proverbs 15:3 tells us that “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere…” And Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that it makes no sense to try and hide from Him: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” His knowledge is absolute, complete, full and free. Our God is not caught unaware, He is never surprised, even when things may make no sense to us. John 2:24-25 tells us that Jesus knows “all men” and knows what is in all people; for me the most surprising aspect of this is that God knows everything about me and yet He loves me anyway!
● Third God is a Giver.
The last half of verse 24 reminds us that God is a giver: “this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.” Often in our pain we forget how good a giver our God is, especially when those we love have been taken from us. We tend to turn on God during these times of pain instead of praise Him in the midst of the mess. Job lived out an extreme example of this for us in Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” No matter what may be taken from us we always have the gift of God’s Spirit. Unfortunately in fundamental circles we have developed a culture that is not comfortable talking about the Holy Spirit, rarely do we take the time to contemplate the impact of the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is one of God’s greatest gifts, able to transform every aspect of our broken sin saturated and shattered lives. This is the One who is able to translate our pain as we cry out to God in prayer, Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” I love what Jerry Bridges says: “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” The great news here is that for those who are born again believers, God will never take your salvation or remove His Holy Spirit from your life. Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Verse 21 reveals the results of choosing to focus on God’s character over our circumstances: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” We have confidence regardless of the circumstances. This word “confidence” literally means a freedom, boldness and assurance. We need to come back to the truth, what we term doctrine, even if we feel like doctrine is a dirty word, because it will help us in our times of darkness and doubt. Today do you need to focus on God’s character because He is great, He is glorious and He is giving? Today take time no matter what your circumstances and center your life on the character of God.