Have you ever done this? You’re exiting through the doors of a building and you see someone approaching to enter, instantly in this moment, right, you do some sort of physics project in your head, you try to figure out whether their arrival at the door would only delay you 7/10ths of a second. In which case, yeah, you’ll hold the door for them and be thought of as so thoughtful, so kind, but if it’s longer than that…say standing there delays you by 2 whole seconds – well, I’m not a doorman for goodness sakes. So, you let the door out of your grasp and make that backwards hand waiving motion at the door as if you wanted to hold it open for the next person, but you were thwarted by the unfortunate realities of time and space.
What about this? Have you ever said something like this to a friend or a neighbor, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” If you have, maybe it was said with good intentions; you really wanted to help. Yet, at the same time, isn’t there often a hope that you won’t be asked to help, or when asked you’ll conveniently be busy – “Shucks, that won’t work for me.”
You maybe see what I am doing here. I’m saying the quiet part out loud. The intent of our hearts and what motivates us to do “nice” things or “polite” things, well, we’re maybe not as giving and loving as we pretend to be. We often say things and do things that look like love for others, but there tends to be that love for self mixed in there. And, it’s true, for some of us that selfish love for self might be higher or lower when compared to others, but the point is, that selfishness is there. You know it; you know your heart. The Apostle John thinks he might know your heart too. He writes this in verse 18 of our lesson, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
John apparently understands that, hey, as humans, as Christians even, we say a lot of great things. We love to talk virtuously. We love to offer up the thoughts and prayers – “I’m here for you!” – but there is a disconnect. That love with words doesn’t always translate into love with actions and truth. And, when you look at your heart, when you evaluate your thoughts about others and the things going on around you, you might find that John’s words hit a little closer to home than you might like.
Friends, we cannot stop craving, lusting, competing, or pretending. We can’t give up despising the people we think we don’t need or disappointing those we do. We are not able to walk away from our self-centeredness, or greed, or our pride, and we know it. and here is how you know it: your heart tells you. Our heart (maybe our conscience would be better), it accuses us. And the accusations of our heart hurt us in ways that no one else can.
And illustration might help here. Last week, I went shopping at Sam’s Club; I got my shopping cart, and it happened: I picked a bad cart. Some carts have the wheel that doesn’t spin. Some have the squeaky wheel. Some have the wheel that does this (wiggle hand). I got a combination. A squeaky wheel with the wiggle, that sometimes wouldn’t spin. Now, you know how that is then. You’re pushing this thing around and it bothers you. It bothers those around you; you get those funny looks from people. Your kids cover their ears, but there is nothing you can do. This is your cart, and you bear the burden of pushing, at times dragging, it through the store. It’s a constant reminder that you messed up and this is your broken cart. That’s your heart.
Your heart often is this broken thing that can at a moment’s notice flood you with guilt and shame about a sin. It can rob you of confidence as you must admit your own failure to live up to the standards God expects of you. And, even when we confess those sins, it’s our heart that likes to reminds us that this is now the tenth, or a hundredth, or a thousandth time we’ve asked God to forgive this same sin. Are you really sorry for it? Your heart knows it all. And it reminds you. And, every once and awhile, just for good measure it brings up your past. Your biggest moral failures, those sins that make you want to run away, to hide. Daily this is what you and I hear. Daily this is what you and I see.
And it’s sad in a way. Today, we live in such a society that relies on the heart, that relies on one’s feelings, and you see what often the result of that is, hurt, hardship, hate, despair, doubt…our heart is this fickle thing, yet we can’t seem to stop listening to it. But, John, today, is teaching us something about ourselves, about our hearts. Your heart, he says, is wrong.
Look at verse 19 with me. “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.” See! John knows our hearts. Our hearts condemn us. Your heart attempts to bury you in your sins or, perhaps more often tells you those sins aren’t so bad. Either way the heart is wrong; your heart is wrong. It doesn’t leave you with any hope or rest in God’s presence, but John does. Verse 20, “For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
You know, I get it. It can be scary when people know things about you. It’s terrifying to think of someone, especially today, who could recall every thought, and word, and deed of your past. You talk about cancel culture – I deserve it! But the idea of someone knowing you and everything about you is frightening only because your heart says it is. God knows everything, sure, but what he knows about you is something your heart often forgets.
God knows you please him, because in his book, you have obeyed his commands – every last one of them – because, by the power of the Spirit, you have obeyed his greatest command – it’s there in verse 23 – the command to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ. You believe that! God knows that Jesus was your substitute. He died for you. He saved you taking away the sins you committed today and those sins that you committed long ago.
Here is the point John beautifully makes to weak, inconsistent, sinful but repentant believers: when your heart condemns you; when your heart says that God couldn’t possibly love you because of what you’ve done; when your heart says you don’t belong in the presence of an all-knowing God; God says, “Your heart may tell you that you deserve condemnation, but I don’t condemn you, instead I condemned my Son. Your heart may tell you that you don’t deserve my love, but I love you, I let Jesus die for you. Your heart may tell you that you don’t deserve to be in my presence, but I say, as my dearly loved sons and daughters, I love having you around. And I’m greater than your heart. I know everything, and if I, who know everything say you are not condemned, and you are loved, and you belong, than I am right and your heart is wrong.”
It’s nice that God says this to us, but how do you know he is right? See, we look at ourselves in the mirror and hope to find something to prove that God loves us, that Christ is living in us. But there are no tongues of fire on our heads, there are no halos hovering above. So, how do we know? John tell us, “We know by the Spirit he gave us.” We believe. This primary command of God, to believe in Jesus, to have faith in Christ, isn’t something we could conjure up on our own. By nature, we reject God. But the Spirit comes to us through the Word and changes all that. The Spirit comes and sets up shop right in our hearts, causing us to believe. All Christians have the Spirit because all Christians have faith. And faith alone saves.
But your faith is never alone. The Spirit will not allow it to be alone. So, faith brings to us also the desire to not only believe in Jesus as our Savior, but, as John says, “to also love one another as he commanded us.” We’ve come full circle. Remember? “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” So, I guess the question is, Do you love one another? Do you love others?
Yes, we love. We are not love’s definition. You don’t look at the likes of us to know what love is, but we do, indeed, love because God, in Christ loved us first. We love because Jesus did not fail in his quest, not only to rescue us in every way a person can be rescued, but also to teach us what true love looks like.
It’s all uniquely and intricately tied together. To live the love of Jesus confirms that Jesus is truly in you. Yet, we don’t strive to love one another just to prove that Christ is in us. We live to love because Christ is already there. So, live with this confidence. If your heart wishes to condemn you – God is greater! – Christ is within you to declare you not guilty. When your actions are lacking in love, Christ is within you to bring forth more.
So go ahead and find joy in your good works, in those times you love not only with words but also with actions and in truth. Find joy in those moments primarily because they give glory to Jesus—but also because they are evidence that you are one of God’s children—someone who cannot be touched by the false accusations of a heart that is often so wrong. For your God who is greater than your heart, and your God who knows everything has assured you that your sins are forgiven, and he is pleased with you! Amen.