1 John 3:16-24 – Know
There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve felt absolutely overwhelmed. My first full-time job out of college working as a school administrator, teacher, and coach and having no real experience in any area other than coaching. Getting married. Moving to a foreign country. The birth of our first child. My first job in a church. I can distinctly remember feeling an overbearing weight of inadequacy in each one of those moments. And the root of that inadequacy was found in my lack of knowledge in that given situation. There was no real foundation that I could stand on in order to feel secure in any of those experiences. I had nothing to fall back on, and I learned very quickly that my ability to gather information about a subject was not the same as knowing about it firsthand. No matter how many classes you take or books you read on teaching, there is nothing that can prepare you for standing in front of a group of students every week and being responsible for their education. There is no true amount of preparation that can assist you in coping with flying 19 hours on an airplane, landing on foreign soil, arriving at your new apartment, and realizing your not going “home” for a while. And you can forget about how ready you think you are for marriage or kids until you’re waking up to that person everyday and that little life is now waking you in the middle of the night. Some things you just don’t know until you’ve actually walked up to them and been introduced – until you’ve stared it in the face and lived it. That is what John is trying to get across to us in this passage.
John is in no way covering new ground in chapter 3 of his letter. He is simply trying to get across that we can’t simply have a cognitive knowledge of love, truth, abiding or the Spirit, we must have experienced them and been changed by them. No one who has had a true encounter with the love of Christ will ever be able to remain in a constant state of anger or prejudice. No one who has acknowledged the source of all truth will be able to continue believing the lies of his own heart for long. And no one can deny the need for abiding after they have been filled with the presence of God. John is inviting us to participate in the beauties of our faith, not just talk about them or discuss them. He is calling us to engage.
The sad part is that John knows way to many who will refuse the invitation. They don’t want to go deeper, they don’t want to feel heat of the refiners fire. They simply want to talk about it, analyze it and speak critically about it. They want to play spiritual dodgeball – they can’t deny the realities of love, truth, and abiding that infiltrate life, but they don’t want to touch them, handle them, or get smacked in the face by them. They are content to bob-and-weave through life hoping they don’t “catch” what some of us have. You find as many of these in church as you do out of it – people who simply want to live their lives unaffected by the Gospel.
“By this we know love,” in that we have been loved by Christ. But we cannot fully know the love of Christ until we have acknowledged how unworthy we are of such a love. We prefer to think of the love of Christ as Him seeing our potential and loving us so that we could meet that potential. That is why so many will miss knowing His love. The point of the agape love of Christ is that we are so undeserving of it. There is nothing good within us that causes Christ to love. Instead it is out of the depth of His love that we – the undeserving – are loved. This is why many will not understand the love that John talks about. They believe that they have something in them that forces Christ to love them. They want to make Christ’s love a phileo love – a love based on affection or feeling – and so want to treat others with a phileo love.
“By this we know that we are of the truth,” when our hearts begin to recognize and line up with His heart. We miss this so often because we first refuse to love as Christ has loved, and second because we want to trust our own ability to define what is right and good. We don’t want someone above us, watching us, calling us to account. We want to make these actions bad and these actions good. We don’t want to address our hearts or the hearts of others. We simply want to engage in what we can control. Christ’s love cuts to the heart of who we are, and so will His truth.
“By this we know that He abides in us,” when the Spirit bears fruit in our lives. The love, truth and abiding nature of Christ will change us. We will not be the same. The Spirit will testify to the saving work of Christ in our lives by bearing His fruit in the way we live. Christ’s love will flow forth based on the truth He has revealed as we begin to be patient in times that we were impatient before knowing Him. Joy will be born in times of sorrow. Kindness will be born when there was only hostility. Self-control will be born when there was addiction or over-indulgence. The Spirit will confirm in our lives the work done as we submit to the love and truth of Christ.
There is no one on earth who can know these things on your behalf. You can listen to as many preachers, read as many books, and attend as many Bible studies as you want, but they will never replace you knowing them for yourself. Engage with Christ. Come play. Touch, see, and hear the beautiful reality of who Christ is. Come allow the Spirit to bear fruit in your life. Be a student of His Word by being more than just another intellect. Live the Word. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,