Last week’s passage for our memorization covered some hard ground. John contrasted the love which comes from God and is shared among believers—proving that we have passed out of death into life— against the murderous hatred of the world for believers, which shows that they abide in death.
In this week’s passage we find an appeal to live out our love for one another in tangible, life-sustaining ways, loving in deed and in truth. We also encounter the deeply reassuring truth that this kind of love is another proof that we are in Christ, or, as John writes, “of the truth.” And this proof reassures our hearts whenever our hearts condemn us. When doubt creeps in and the enemy whispers in our heart that we don’t really belong to Christ, “God is greater than our heart.” When we reassure our hearts by the truth to which our one-another love testifies, we have confidence before God and may approach him in prayer, in full assurance that we are his children because the love that we have for one another and our obedience to his commandments.
The verses this week are each brief, and to the point: 4 sentences, with the second two divided by semi-colons. The main themes throughout are love, truth, and our heart, and heart is always singular, though preceded by the collective pronoun “our” four out of the five times “heart” is mentioned.
17 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?
This first verse is a thought divided into three parts:
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, (anyone has and sees)
yet closes his heart against him, (this anyone closes his heart against his brother in need)
how does God’s love abide in him? (John’s logic teaches: God’s love cannot abide in the closed heart)
18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk
but in deed and in truth.
Winsomely appealing to God’s children to sacrificially love one another:
Little children (who have been loved sacrificially), let us (including himself) not love in (empty/meaningless) word or talk but in deed and in truth.
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth
and reassure our heart before him;
Here is the love test: by loving one another sacrificially, we shall know and reassure our own hearts that we are of the truth.
By this (points back to loving in deed and in truth as to how) we shall know that we are of the truth (connect the truths) and reassure our heart before him;
20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is
greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
And here is the result of the love test: even when our heart condemns us, we look at our in-deed-love for one another, we know that we are of the truth, and therefore we know that God, who is greater than our heart, sees our acts of love.
For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we
have confidence before God;
John reminds us that we are beloved by God, to remind us that we rightly have confidence before God.
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
22 and whatever we ask we receive from him,
because we keep his commandments and do what
We-we-we. The result of our confidence is prayer. The condition of answered prayer is here given as obedience.
And whatever we ask (obediently and pleasingly) we receive from him (the answerer of prayer) because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him (because we are his beloved children).
Verse 22 raises So Many Questions about prayer. My purpose in this P2R post is not to dig deeply into the theology of the passages we are memorizing. I did, cover the questions about prayer raised by this verse in the final lesson of our study of 1 John, which you can read here. I do recommend that you continue to meditate on these passages in the context of the epistle as a whole. John is writing this assurance of answered prayer to believers to whom he has already given solid proof that they are God’s beloved children because of Christ’s propitiation, and they are therefore indwelt by and dwelling in him. The proof is in their belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; their obedience to God’s commandments, and their love for God and one another. If you still have questions, ask our Father, in prayer, to give you wisdom, for this is a prayer he delights to answer.