1 John 3:17-18
But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his
brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of
God abide in him?
My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in
deed and truth. (1 John 3:17-18).
John has been spending much time in his letter encouraging fellow Christians.
He has encouraged them to walk in the light, since God is the light, abiding
in His commandments (1 John 1:1-2:6). John has spoken of the "new old
commandment," to love one another, to not love the world, and to not be
troubled by the "antichrists," those denying that Jesus is the Christ
(1 John 2:7-29).
In 1 John 3, John has been contrasting the righteous with the wicked. The
righteous set their hope on God, are pure, do not sin, and love one another;
the wicked engage in sin, lawlessness, and hatred (1 John 3:1-16). 1 John
3:16 is quite parallel to John 3:16: Jesus' death is the demonstration of
love, and we should be willing to "lay down our lives" for the brethren.
While John is famous for his abstractions and general discussions, he turns
and becomes much more specific in 1 John 3:17-18: how does the love of God
abide in someone who has the "world's goods," who sees his brother in need,
and closes off compassion for him?
John does not want Christians to walk away from his letter thinking of love in
only generic, abstract ways. Love is not just some feeling, emotion, or
impulse-- love must be translated into action! As Jesus indicates in Matthew
7:16-20, people are known by their fruit.
John's very specific application involves the relationship between Christians
of unequal class or wealth. One such brother has the "world's goods," and with
those goods comes responsibility, as Paul shows in 1 Timothy 6:17-19: they are
not to trust in the uncertain riches of the world, but be full of good works,
using their physical wealth to store up treasures in Heaven. One easy way to
do that would be to assist his fellow Christian in need. After all, this is
one of the standards of the judgment as portrayed in Matthew 25:31-46!
Yet, for whatever reason, some Christians with the "world's goods" have closed
off their compassion for their fellow man. John's word choice here is
deliberate, for the primary motivation we have to help others in need ought to
be compassion. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan is moved by
compassion on the man, and that is why he provides the necessary assistance
(cf. Luke 10:25-37). We ought to follow the "Golden Rule:" since we would want
to be helped if we were the poor brother, we ought to provide that assistance
(cf. Luke 6:31)!
The answer to John's rhetorical question is evident: if a brother has the
world's goods, but closes off compassion to his brother in need, the love of
God does not abide in him, no matter his protestations. It is not enough to
just say or believe that we love one another-- we must communicate that love
in deed and truth!
And thus we have the message of 1 John 3:18: John wants his "little children"
to love not in word or "tongue" but in deed and truth. John also uses the
designation "little children" in 1 John 2:18 and 1 John 5:23. He perhaps uses
this very tender designation to gently remind his audience of his authority
and his love for them and their need to heed what he is about to say.
The message is quite important. It is akin to James 1:22-25, the exhortation
to be doers of the word and not hearers only. A lot of people are willing to
profess Jesus Christ and to say that they believe in His truth, but few are
the ones who are willing to really act upon it (cf. Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23).
It is easier to profess to love God and to love one another than it is to
demonstrate that love through deed and sincerity. As John has just indicated,
God has already demonstrated His love for us by accomplishing the means of our
salvation through the blood of Christ (1 John 3:16): if God was willing to
make such a great demonstration of His love for us, we ought to be willing to
help one another in need and to demonstrate the love we say we have for one
another. Let us do so, and fulfill God's purpose for our lives!
By Ethan R. Longhenry
From Expository Files 17.9; August 2010