[1 John 3: 17-19] “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him”
This is the 32nd session of the Lectures on 1 John. In the last session, I talked about chapter 3 verse 16, which is about perfect love. The love that Jesus gave to us is perfect love. It is the love of giving His only life for us. I explained that since we have received and realized this love, with this love we also ought to give our lives for our brethren. To give our life for others does not only mean physically giving our lives. But it rather means we have to die in all things. We have to give up our pride and selfish motives and instead sacrifice and devote ourselves for other souls. To have such love, we first have to cast away sins and evil in our hearts. Right now, two people may confess their love for one another, but as time passes they may change their minds and seek their own advantages. They say they love each other, but they get angry at each other, one may look down on the other, become jealous, or even betray the other. After all, if we do not cast away evil from our hearts, we cannot have true love. In order to cultivate perfect love to give our lives, we diligently have to cast away evil from our hearts remembering the love that we have received from Jesus. Then we have to cultivate truthfulness that never changes, and then a broad and generous heart, a heart with which we can give everything for others. Up to this verse is the explanation on the fact that we have to cultivate perfect love. The next verse, 1 John 3:17 explains how we are supposed to show this love in actual deeds. “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” In order to cultivate spiritual love, we must not just cast off evil from our heart but we also have to show the substantial deeds of love. James 2:15-17 also talks about something similar. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” This is an explanation about faith, but not just faith. It is also about love having no value without the deeds that follow. Just as faith is perfected by the deeds, love can also be recognized only by the accompanying deeds. A famous missionary in China in 19th century went to visit a sick mother and her infant child. Seeing her wretched situation, the missionary was filled with sympathy, but he did not have much with him. He just had little money, about 10 dollars, which was for his own living expenses. So, he couldn’t really give her anything but thought, “If I had just 20 dollars, I could give her 10.” He just consoled her with words saying, “Do not be discouraged. Believe in and rely on God the Father who is full of mercy and love.” But he didn’t feel comfortable. He heard the voice of his conscience telling him, “How hypocritical I am to deliver the love of God while I am not helping this poor woman and still holding tightly to my money!” Eventually, he gave all he had to that woman and went back with peace of mind. He didn’t have anything to eat at the moment, but he was still happy. The next morning something unexpected happen to this missionary who had nothing to eat. A missionary offering of 40 dollars was delivered to him, which was totally unpredicted. He was thankful to God for giving him daily bread, and he was even happier for he experienced his good deeds were rewarded by God. If we do not help our brethren even though the Holy Spirit is urging our heart, then we cannot say we have love in our heart. Some of you might think that you do not have anything and you don’t have any strength to help any brethren. But if you have just enough food for one meal, and you take a portion of it and share it with a person who is hungry, then it means you are a blessed person. No matter how difficult your situation is, if your children are starving and suffering, you will give food to them by saving from your own food and necessities. In this way, he who understands other people’s situations and gives what is necessary to them, is the one who has God’s love in him. If you think like, “I have so many things I need to buy, and I will help others when I am better off,” then, even if you earn more, you will still need to buy more things and you still won’t see any chance to help others. Even though you are not so well-off, if you obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help your brethren, then God will surely fulfill your needs. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:9-10 says, “As it is written, ‘He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever. Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness'” If you show your love as action, God will fill you up more abundantly, and you will be able to help others more. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the highest law that we have to keep is ‘love’. Among the deeds of love, the Bible often mentions charitable works. Of course, if you ask which one is more important, the most important and the greatest act of love is to preach the gospel and plant faith in the souls for their salvation. But because we are living with physical bodies on this earth, we definitely need to meet the physical needs of the people, too. Also, as the believers with weak faith experience the love of God by receiving charitable works, they can be more faithful in their lives as Christians. When the sons of Israel were going into the Canaan Land, God advised them repeatedly to care for the poor in that land. Deuteronomy 15:10-11 says, “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land’.” God told them to remember the poor and give generously to them when they had a feast after harvest or at other times of joy and sharing. When they were fasting to receive an answer from God, they still had to have mercy on the poor. When the prophets were prophesying the forthcoming calamities on Israel for their corruption, God sternly rebuked them for forsaking the poor along with their other evil deeds. The same goes for the New Testament times. In the Early Church, the believers sold their possessions and shared with everybody so that there would be no one who was poor or hungry in the church. Apostles like Peter and Paul kept on saying they were thinking of the poor all the time, and they encouraged the believers to help the needy. I tell you brothers and sisters once again, it is a duty for the believers to help those who are in need. That is why the all-time prayer point of our church includes charitable work along with national and world evangelism. When I was a new believer, I was praying that I would become a wealthy elder of the church and help everyone so that nobody would be in need in the church. I have become a pastor, now, but still my hope is that no one in our church should be hungry or cold, and none of our students should stop studying because they cannot afford the tuition fees. That is why I have been doing my best in helping the needy, tightening up my belt. God then blessed me abundantly, and let me do missionary and charitable work more greatly. It was the case with our church, too. We have been helping other churches that asked for our help, since right after the opening of our church. We never thought that we can’t help others since we don’t have enough for our own church and it is hard to help the needy in our church alone. Instead, we just tried our best to help other churches. Then God blessed us more and more so we could do more missionary and charitable works. Today, we are supporting many churches and missionaries around the world with all our strength. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when you help those who are in need, you should remember a couple of things. God can give you back blessings only when you help others in the truth. First, you should not help those who are suffering a hardship as a punishment for their sins before God. We can learn this from those sailors who helped Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but he didn’t want to obey it. So he took a ship that was going to Tarshish, which is in the opposite direction. This ship encountered a storm in the middle of the sea, and they had to throw out all their luggage. The sailors came to know that the storm was caused by Jonah and it would calm down only by throwing Jonah out to the sea, but they could not do that immediately because of human sympathy. So they had to struggle against the storm for quite a while, and only when their own lives were threatened did they throw Jonah out. As in the above case, if somebody is in trouble due to his commission of sin, we should first help him turn from his sins. If we keep on helping financially even though he keeps on committing sins, the helpers can also suffer together with the sinner. Also, being lazy is not a sin before God, but it is not right to unconditionally help those who are too lazy to work. This is in essence making that person lazier and even more incapable. So, we should have discernment to as to whether it is right before God to help the needy in each case. One more thing we have to remember is that we cannot receive any reward from God if we help the poor to make our names known and to boast of it. Matthew 6:2 says, “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” This kind charitable work is not true charity. When the children of God help others, they must not do it to brag about it but to deliver the love of God and save the souls.