Believing and Receiving
1 John 3:19-24
Rev. Brian Bill
Early Monday morning, a mother from PBC received a phone that every parent dreads. Mitchell Robinson, age 16, was in an accident and had gone to be with Jesus. As a church family we extend our love and support to the immediate family. To his loving mother Becky, and to his siblings: Ike, Lyda, Given and Grant. We also hurt with Mitch’s aunt, Lynette Duncan and her husband Colin, along with their daughters. To Uncle Billy, who has been a rock for Becky and the children. And to his grandparents, Don and Sandy Siegel, who were very close to Mitchell. Our sympathy and love go out to other family members and friends of the family who are here today.
Over 1,000 people attended the visitation Thursday night and approximately 550 were at the funeral service on Friday where Pastor Jeff did a great job communicating God’s heart to the hurting. Incidentally, he’s leading a retreat for high school students this weekend.
I love how God knew well in advance that our passage in 1 John was what we needed to hear today. I put together the preaching calendar about six months ago and I initially thought about finding another text to help us make sense out of what happened this week. But the more I meditated on this passage, the more I realized that this is exactly what God wants to say to us today.
This section of Scripture is comprised of some loosely connected statements…much like how disconnected grief and sorrow comes as it crescendos with difficult-to-answer questions that reverberate in our minds.
• Some of us are angry and stunned. Others are dismayed and discouraged. In times like this it’s easy to doubt.
• The enemy of our souls attacks and accuses according to Revelation 12:10: “For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night.”
• Some of us do a pretty good job of accusing ourselves as well, resulting in guilt-ridden and shame-centered lives. We don’t move forward because we’re stuck in the pain of the past.
Here’s my challenge to you today. No matter what you’re facing there are always only two choices. You can go through it without God or you can go through it with Him.
Last week we learned once again the importance of living a life of love. One way we can know that we are born again is when we’re moved to love with actions, not just in our attitudes; when we see the need and do the deed. This confirms that we are His and pours confidence into our faith. The love of God should cause us to live a life of love. We ended in verse 18 so let’s pick it up in verse 19: “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.” The word “rest” means “to calm, to pacify, and to soothe.” The word can be traced back to the idea of “to tranquilize.”
It is really an amazing thought that we can come into God’s presence. He is so holy and we’re not. And yet, our hearts can be at rest in His presence. The word “presence” literally means, “to be in front of.” For the believer in Jesus Christ, Romans 8:1 says that there is “no condemnation.” I love the picture in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
But what do we do when doubt creeps in? How do we handle the condemning thoughts? Some of us were raised in a church tradition that continually hammered on guilt and shame. Let’s look at the first part of verse 20: “Whenever our hearts condemn us…” Notice that it says, “Whenever,” not “if” or “might.” This is something that we all must deal with at one time or another.
The idea behind a condemning heart is “to find fault with” or “to know something against someone.” It also has the idea of “to be put down.” One commentator captures the intensity behind this word when he explains it this way: “To rend in pieces…to crack.” What do we do when all we’re hearing is a soundtrack of condemning thoughts and feelings that just loops over and over again?
Focus on God’s Character
Friends, even when the grief is so deep in our gut that we feel paralyzed as we gravitate between anger and numbness, or when we feel condemned by Satan, self, or our own sins, we must focus on God’s character. I see three attributes of the Almighty that we must hold to when we’re hurting and when our faith fluctuates. The truth of who God is will bring us peace when we feel like we’re going to pieces.
1. God is Great. Notice this in verse 20: “For God is greater than our hearts…” God is omnipotent, meaning that He is all-powerful. He is greater than our hurting and heavy hearts. Hold on to the truth that God is great. It’s not easy to do…but it’s what we must do. Psalm 89:8 says, “O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.”
God can do with power anything that power can do because He has the strength to do all He wills to do. He has all the resources and the ability to work His will in every circumstance in the universe. I love how A.W. Tozer puts it: “God possesses what no creature can: an incomprehensible plenitude of power, a potency that is absolute.”
Hold on to the greatness of God and remember that He’s on the throne. Nothing takes Him by surprise. The ultimate issue is not how strong you are, but how great God is. Your faith does not have to be huge when you’re hurting. All you need is a little bit, the size of a mustard seed, placed in a large God
2. God is Glorious. God is great and the last part of verse 20 says that He is also glorious: “…And He knows everything.” In classical theology the doctrine of God’s omniscience means that God knows all things, past, present and future, real and potential, and He knows them all at the same time. He not only knows what was, and what is, He also knows what will be.
Psalm 147:5 puts God’s greatness and His knowledge in one verse: “Great is our Lord…His understanding has no limit.” Proverbs 15:3 tells us that “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere…” And Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that it makes no sense to try and hide from Him: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
His knowledge is absolute, innate, full, complete, and free. He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything, he is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything, nor does He seek information or ask questions. And He knows how everything fits together…even when it makes no sense to us.
Check this out. God knows everything about us…and loves us anyway! In John 2:24-25 we read that Jesus knows “all men” and knows what is in all people. Someone has aptly said, “Only God could love a human being.”
3. God is a Giver. God is great and He is glorious. Drop down to the last half of verse 24 where we’ll see that He is also a giver: “…And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.”
It’s so hard to think of God as a giver when someone you love has been taken from you. But it’s possible to praise Him even in the midst of the mess you are in. For an example of this, listen to Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Listen to this quote from Jerry Bridges: “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
I love the fact that if you are a born again believer, God will never take your salvation from you nor will He ever remove His Holy Spirit from your life. Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to translate our pain and cries from our gut to the Lord when we can’t even pray. Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” We experienced this at Becky’s house on Monday.
Verse 21 gives us the result of focusing on God’s character: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” The word “confidence” means to have freedom in speaking, boldness and assurance. When your heart condemns you, focus on God’s character because He is great, He is glorious and He is giving. We need to come back to doctrine – to what is true. That will help us not doubt in the darkness what God has revealed in the light. But we must also focus on doing. There are three ways that we can follow God’s commands.
Follow God’s Commands
1. Lean on Him. Check out verse 23: “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ…” To believe means “to trust in and lean on.”
Mitch Robinson leaned on the Lord. His faith was genuine. How many 16-year-olds do you know who actually tithe (give 10%)? He loved Operation Christmas Child and participated each year, using his own money to fill shoeboxes. He was also saving money to help support Colin and Lynette (his uncle and aunt) as they adopt a child from India. I was very moved to learn that he would go to the Odell Library and check out Bible story books and then gather his younger siblings around him on the floor and teach the Bible to them.
Becky responded to someone on Facebook who applauded her for leaning on the Lord during this time of loss. Here’s how she replied: “You have to have faith. There is no way...NO WAY...to survive this world without knowing and learning why we are here, and what it’s all about. My God sent his Son for me, his mother Mary GRIEVED like I am right now...I will see my son again. This life here is nothing compared to eternity…I know His words are THE truth and I know my Jesus loved my baby more than I even do. My sweet baby is with Him in perfect peace and love. I can't wait to see for myself.”
In one conversation I had with her I had just complimented her for trusting God. I’ll never forget what she said: “I have to.” That reminded me of this quote I heard some time ago: “You will never know Jesus is all you need until He is all you have.”
2. Love others. Let’s pick up the last part of verse 23: “…And to love one another as He commanded us.”
It’s been unbelievable to see how this church has reached out with love to Becky and her children, to Lynette and her family, and to Don and Sandy. It’s absolutely incredible to see the church at work. I’m humbled by the sacrificial serving and continuous displays of love. For all the behind the scenes work done by Randall and Carol Schwartz and Angie Stewart, and for the pastoral care given by Pastors Jeff and Andy. For the Connection Groups who are being the heart and hands of Jesus. For the leadership of Lisa Zimmermann and Amanda Pfaff for organizing the biggest funeral luncheon we’ve ever served, and for all the people who served with them and brought food. To Dawn Dewald who made arrangements for the family to have food during the visitation. Actually, I probably need to stop because I’ll run out of time…and will end up missing others who have stepped up in love.
Check out what Becky wrote this week on Facebook before the visitation and funeral: “Thank you my big, loving, serving church...thank you. You are showing us love and lifting me and my family. Hundreds of people are in awe of what my church is doing and will do…my Mitch loved our church, our pastors, everything...and he will be honored in the place he loved. Thank you all. Thank you.”
To underline how the love you are showing is making a difference for Christ and His kingdom, check out this note I received on Friday from someone who lives in Pontiac but does not yet attend our church. This is what he said: “I never really realized how lucky we are here in Pontiac to have a church as active in the community as PBC is. That’s all everyone from out of town kept talking about today.”
Before moving on, I don’t know how Becky did this, but in the midst of her grief and pain, she called on Thursday and wanted to see how her pastors were holding up! Talk about love!
Let’s lean on Him, let’s love like He does and then let’s live in Him.
3. Live in Him. This is found in verse 24: “Those who obey His commands live in Him and He in them.” The word translated as “live” is the word “abide” that we’ve seen many times in 1 John. One definition of this is very descriptive. It literally means “to stay put.” Friend, when problems paralyze you, stay put with Jesus. When questions cascade like a waterfall, stay put. Don’t bail on God.
When we obey His commands we are essentially living in Him; and the only way to live in Him is to obey His commands. Here’s a biblical principle from 1 Samuel 2:30: The Lord honors those who honor Him.
Don’t miss the fact that God dwells in born again believers as well! If we fully comprehended this it would totally change the way we live. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
The result of following God’s commands is found in verse 22: “And receive from him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him.” The word “obey” means “to attend carefully, to take care of, and to observe.” A simple way to understand this verse is that when our will lines up with His will, we are doing things His way. And because that pleases Him we will then receive what He wants to give us…and we’re good with that because we want our lives to line up with His will anyway. To say it another way: Our will and God’s will coincide when we obey and do it God’s way.
I came across a verse in my Bible reading yesterday that highlights the importance of obedience. Listen to John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” Listen carefully. When we choose to do, God will reveal His truth to you! Don’t wait to obey until you understand everything. Obey first. Understanding will follow. If we get this order wrong, we end up holding God hostage by demanding that He bless us before we’ll obey Him. This reminds me of the line from that great hymn: “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
I’ve been very impressed with the administrators and teachers at Odell and at PTHS, along with the caliber of Mitch’s classmates during this difficult week. It’s painful to watch how crushed young kids and teenagers are over the death of Mitch.
During the funeral, Mitch Miller gave a tender and tearful tribute to his best friend. Mitch attends PBC along with his parents Greg and Kathy Klehm. He shared how Faith, Family and Agriculture summarized his friend’s life.
On Wednesday morning, Matthew English, a 14-year-old freshman at PTHS, and the son of James and Angie Stewart, organized and led a time of sharing and praying around the flagpole in front of the school. I was very moved by what he said. I have his permission to share part of it with you…
“It really hurts when someone so young, brave and loving dies. It is especially painful to the ones who were very close to Mitch. We all knew him as smart, funny and a hard-working dude….When we lose someone that we love, it hurts. It tears us down emotionally. Many of us today are struggling to heal. But, our loss is his gain! He is up in a better place, dancing with the Lord…To us, Mitch is dead. But, he isn’t at all! He is more alive than he ever was! Right now!
“Some of us today may not want anything to do with God. You may be mad at him for taking him away. But remember this. Everything happens because God is in control. [Note: He was really telling his classmates to Focus on God’s Character]. We may not like what He does, but we must trust Him and He will heal us. [Here Matt was urging them to Follow God’s Commands]. His lesson for us…is that we all have an expiration date. And we don’t know when that is. Only God Himself knows. The only thing we can do is prepare for that day that will come.”
The Bible continuously challenges us to live out our love for the Lord…
• Our Belief must translate into Behavior
• Our Doctrine must be demonstrated in Duty
• Our Position should lead to Practice
Friends and family, the only way to move from a condemning heart to a confident heart is to focus on God’s character – He is great, He is glorious and He is a giver. And then we must determine to follow God’s commands – to lean on Him, to love others, and to live in Him.
It strikes me that this is harvest time in our community. Mitch loved this time of year. But in another sense, Mitch understood all about the spiritual harvest that is most important to God. Don’t let this opportunity pass. I’d like you to close your eyes as I walk us through harvest time. Mitch did not die in vain. Most of all He would want you to know that Christ did not die in vain. Are you ready to…?
• Focus on God’s character?
• Follow God’s commands?
• Repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
• Ask for forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged?
• Grant forgiveness to someone you’ve been holding hostage?
• Recommit to your family like you’ve never done before?
• Give 10% of your income to the Lord, just like Mitch did?
• Participate in Operation Christmas Child and the Caring Closet?
• Serve like you’ve never served?
One song came to mind this week that brings it all together. It’s called “Blessed Assurance.” As we sing, remember that this was written by a blind woman named Fanny Crosby. The tragedy that she went through did not keep her from praising her Savior. Unbelievably, she wrote over 8,000 hymns in her lifetime!
Let’s stand and sing this as our closing song.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
Taking it Home
1. In what ways is God prompting you to apply what you are learning through the sermon series? Share with the group and ask them to pray for you as you seek to obey the Lord in a specific way.
2. Is there a prayer request that you’ve been praying for a long time? Do you ever get discouraged? What motivates you to persevere in your prayers?
3. Does your heart ever condemn you? What does this feel like? Discuss the correlation between conviction of sin and the condemnation that the evil one throws our way (1 John 1:9; Romans 8:1 and Revelation 12:10).
4. How can you move from condemnation to confidence before God (consider Hebrews 10:19-25).
5. Doesn’t it seem a bit presumptuous to hear that we will “receive from Him anything we ask” in verse 22? Jesus said something very similar in the following verses: Mark 11:24; John 11:22; 14:13; 15:16; and 16:23. Spend some time wrestling with this and ask God to help you pray more boldly.
6. There are two commands listed in 3:23. Why do you think these are so near to God’s heart? Do you find these commands to be burdensome or freeing? Explain. See 1 John 5:3.
7. What does it mean in 3:24 that “He lives in us”? How does our obedience draw us closer to Him?
8. Consider what the Holy Spirit does for believers by reading the following verses: John 14:16-17, 26; Romans 5:5; 8:26-27; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; 5:18. Now put all of this into your own words.
9. This passage lists all three members of the Trinity. Find these references. How would you answer someone who doesn’t believe in the Trinity? See Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14 and 2 Timothy 1:14.
10. What “audacious” prayer will you and your family begin praying? Ask each family member what they would like to see God do this fall.