I watched a video teaching recently where the teacher portrayed Jesus as taking the few loaves and fishes from the clutches of an unwilling boy’s hands, and made a whole message out of this, that God sometimes takes things from us that we want to hold on to for some greater good that we don’t see. Maybe He does that, but I seriously doubt that event went down the ugly way he portrayed! We all have a proclivity to make God harsh and mean, and we read this unnecessarily into all scripture. Let’s look at a sample passage both ways:
18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
19 We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him,
20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
21 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 the things that are pleasing in His sight.
This is because, and John says, our heart tends to condemn us. It is very strange, but very true. In the midst of this beautiful passage on genuine love, and on God being greater than our fears, we can easily become fixated on the negatives. Let’s have a go:
- There is the danger that we only have fake lip-service love
- If we only have fake lip-service love, we are all a sham and a lie
- If we are all a sham and a lie, we have no assurance before God
- Under such a likely circumstance, our heart condemns us
- (skip this confusing part about God being greater than our hearts, whatever it means it can’t apply to lying sham people)
- Since our heart condemns us, like we said, we have no assurance or confidence before God
- No request or prayer is going to get answered, unless we are obedient and keep His commandments and DO THINGS pleasing in His sight.
See, this isn’t a passage about love, or about assurance or confidence before God! It is an anti-assurance passage. You better go feed some orphans and visit some prisoners you shammy swill! You want God to answer your stinking prayers, you better get busy and earn it! Stop talking and start spooning out soup to homeless people or you are OUT. Maybe if you are a pastor developing a sermon, you might want to clean that up into a more genteel and nice condemnation.
Well, MAYBE that little part in the middle that we skipped was kind of important. Maybe if we went fishing for grace instead of fishing for condemnation, we might land a big catch here. I want you to ask yourself, what would you fish for if you were reading this passage? Let’s go through it again:
- We are His children!
- As children, loved by Him, our love can be genuine, not just lip service. This is genuine love!
- As children, we have assurance and confidence before Him!
- When I am unsure, I can be sure that God still loves me, that God is greater than my self-condemnation. This is how my love stays real!
- Because God is greater than my own conscience and fear, and overcomes my self-condemnation, I have all the more confidence. Confidence, weirdly enough, means I don’t lack confidence about God choosing me and forgiving me and leading me again into genuine love. I can always openly repent and return.
- Because He has opened the door to a genuine love, that isn’t just talk and posing, I can always be confident that He hears and answers my prayers.
Here is the real rub. The thing the harsh condemning view of this passage seeks, cannot happen that way. It grants no assurance of God’s listening ear, no confidence of love from God. So love becomes a pose, a sham, a lie, a thing to earn points for prayer answering. Under grace, we are assured that we are first loved, and can easily move into obedience because we really actually LOVE Him who loves us!