1 John 3:16-24 (EHV)
16 This is how we have come to know love: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we also should lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 Whoever has worldly wealth and sees his brother in need but closes his heart against him—how can God’s love remain in him? 18 Dear children, let us love not only with word or with our tongue, but also in action and truth.
19 This is how we know that we are of the truth and how we will set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God. 22 We also receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commands and do what is pleasing in his sight. 23 This then is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another just as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps his commands remains in God and God in him. This is how we know that he remains in us: We know it from the Spirit, whom he has given to us.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may believe in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us. Amen.
If you were to offer a child their favourite food such as chocolate or ice-cream, and they say they don’t want any, would you think something’s wrong with them?
Similarly, if you were to give them a chance to do their favourite thing, such as go on holidays, visit a theme park, or get some tickets to see their favourite musician in concert, and they don’t start bouncing around the room in excitement, would you be tempted to call the doctor?
Most parents know what excites their children, and when they don’t respond as expected, they may reckon something’s wrong with them. If something’s wrong, then a visit to the doctor may be in order. Then, if you visit the doctor, sooner or later the doctor might take out that cold stethoscope and listen to their heart.
In a similar way, if you know someone who professes to be ‘Christian’ but refuses to be generous to those in need, or doesn’t love their fellow Christians, or refuses to forgive those who hurt them, well, there must be something desperately wrong with them and they should be immediately rushed to spiritual intensive care! Not surprisingly, one of the first things we need to do for a Christian who doesn’t love, or forgive, or help those in need, is to check their heart.
In our text for today the author of our letter mentions the ‘heart’ four times when talking about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. But before we can check out what’s going on in our hearts it would help us to know how the Bible uses the word ‘heart’ and what it’s referring to.
In this case, if you were to check a Bible concordance (which lists every Bible text where certain words are used), you’ll soon discover it very rarely refers to the heart as that busy little muscle which pumps blood around our body. It also rarely talks about the heart as the place where we feel emotions.
What we discover is that most of the time when the Bible uses the word ‘heart’, it’s talking about the centre of our being as the place which motivates our words and actions. It’s the place where our will or determination resides.
This means, if our heart is set on doing something, then our mind, tongue, hands and feet will do everything necessary to achieve our heart’s desires. Everything follows the heart. Similarly, if our heart refuses to love or forgive or be generous, then our thoughts, words and actions will follow suit.
But it’s not just about what our heart is set on, but also what our heart is filled with.
For example, if our heart is filled with anger, then many of our actions will be in response to the anger which motivates or drives our heart. It’s our angry heart which make our mouths snap and yell at people. Our angry heart leads us to lash out. Our angry heart makes us stamp our feet and slam those doors. Our angry heart seeks revenge and payback.
Of course, it makes sense a heart filled with anger can’t, or won’t, love others. All the motivations to love are replaced by anger or hate and so an angry person finds it impossible to love. There’s no place for love when a heart is filled with anger. A heart filled with hate isn’t a healthy heart and therefore desperately needs to be cleansed and cured of its angry disease before it can love.
Similarly, a heart filled with hurt will be motivated by self-preservation. Some of that self-preservation might involve running away from a situation, but it may also seek to attack from a safer advantage point. In this case, those who are hurt might identify themselves as a victim of injustice and seek support from those around them through gossip or slander in order that their supporting group may fight and win the battle against their tormentor for them.
However, a heart filled with hurt can’t, or won’t, love or forgive because its focussing all its attention and energy on self-preservation. A heart seeking self-preservation is focussed on loving oneself which means it can’t, or won’t, love others rightly.
A heart focussed on its own hurt will most likely not love like Christ loves us because Christ’s love always considers the other person, including hurtful people, as worthy of laying down one’s life for him or her. A heart filled with unresolved hurt then is a heart needing a cure.
Understanding this, it’s when you honestly examine your own heart that you may be surprised to discover your heart isn’t filled with as much love and joy and peace as you might expect. Instead, your heart may condemn you because it’s filled with apathy, greed, lies, fear, distrust, pain and selfishness, which means your heart needs to be cleansed and cured before you can love like you’ve been loved by Jesus Christ.
Now, while you may think no-one can rightly judge your heart except God himself, the people around you can judge your actions. Unfortunately, your actions are mostly based on what’s going on in your heart and so in this way your actions will unconsciously reveal your heart to others.
All they need to do is ‘press your buttons to get a response’ and you’ll soon discover what’s really in your heart! In this way, your words and actions reveal your heart and so your heart condemns you because you don’t love each other the way Christ loves you. Your heart condemns you because you don’t love God, or love those whom he loves, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
So, what’s the answer? What’s the cure for hate-filled, fear-filled, hurt-filled, and selfish hearts? What’s the cure for unhealthy hearts which don’t love selflessly, generously, and mercifully? What’s the cure for unforgiving hearts? Where do you turn when your heart (and subsequent actions) condemns you? How might your heart learn to beat more closely with God’s own heart?
Well, for starters, you won’t find the answer in your own heart. Your own heart is already filled with the wrong motivations. The answer also isn’t in the other person’s heart who has hurt you because their heart and subsequent actions reveal they don’t deserve your love or forgiveness or generosity. The answer for unhealthy hearts isn’t found in anyone else except the One with a pure and perfect heart.
In this case, the cure is in Christ Jesus and his love for you. His willingness to lay down his life for his sheep reveals his loving heart. His love isn’t hate-filled or fear-filled. His love isn’t selfish, but selfless. His love is a love which is willing to sacrifice itself for me and you and even those who hurt us.
This means he loves us, and those we struggle with, even though none of us deserve it. He loves us even though we continue to hurt him and those he loves.
He loves you so much he laid down his life for you. He sacrificed himself on the cross for you. He paid for your sin – all of it. He even paid for the sin of those who hurt you – not because they deserve it but because he loves them too.
He loves you so much he chose to forgive you. He doesn’t forgive you because you’re good or loveable, since the bible teaches that you can’t earn or deserve his forgiveness. Jesus forgives you because his pure, perfect and compassionate heart compels him to forgive you.
We struggle to understand this compassionate, sacrificial and selfless love – but that’s the love which comes from God. That’s the love which moves God to sacrifice his Son for you and me. That’s the love by which Jesus willingly lay down his life for us. That’s the love which should fill our hearts. That’s the love which should motivate us to speak and act selflessly and mercifully with those around us, especially toward fellow Christians.
And the way we receive this perfect divine love into our hearts is through faith.
This means the way we learn to love as Christ loves us is by believing in Jesus’ name. Those who constantly look to, and trust, the love of Jesus, will love like he loves, forgive as he forgives, and willingly serve as he serves.
The opposite is also true in that, those who take their eyes off Jesus and trust in themselves and the world’s selfish ways, even for a short time, will of course struggle to love and forgive and be generous like Christ.
In this way, whenever your hearts condemn you because you said unloving words or performed unloving actions toward others, you look in faith toward Jesus Christ – your healer, your Shepherd, your friend, and your heart surgeon.
He knows your hearts better than you know them yourselves, and still loves you despite what’s in them. He doesn’t let what’s in your heart stop him from loving you. As you look to, and trust, his selfless love, his divine love will drive out your hate and fear and hurt and selfishness so that your heart is cleansed and renewed. By grace he forgives your sins and loosens its hold on your heart.
When you believe and trust in Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, whatever’s plaguing your heart will driven out by his love, which is more powerful than anything you’re afraid of or desiring.
As you trust in Jesus whole-heartedly, you’ll naturally love the way he loves you. As he cleanses and renews your heart through his forgiving Word, through the promises of Baptism, and through your faithful reception of Christ’s body and blood, your own heart will learn to syncronise itself with the heart of Christ himself.
When this happens, people will know you’re believers in Jesus Christ as you become givers instead of takers. People will know you’re believers in Jesus Christ when you have compassion for those in need who won’t be able to pay you back for your generosity.
People will know you’re faith-filled people when you’re ready and willing to forgive those who hurt you. People will know you’re believers in Jesus Christ when you no longer lock up your hearts from the anxieties and pains of others and instead express your love for them in deed and word.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, understand that both loving and unloving words and actions come from what’s in your hearts. If your hearts are filled with anything other than the love of Christ, then look to Christ and trust him.
As you look to him to clean and renew your diseased hearts, your faith in him will drive out any fear and hate and greed and selfishness and any other sin which has riddled your heart. As you look to Jesus in faith, your heart will be cured and filled with God’s love. By trusting the love of Jesus, you’ll not only love in theory, but love in practical ways of forgiveness and mercy.
Therefore, believe in the name of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for you, and love one another. Then people will see how much you believe in him by how much you love. Which is why…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.