sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/25/2011
19This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who keep his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 3:19–24
Letter written to a church in crisis. The chaos of division, relational strife, theological debate. They’d had a mission and a purpose, new life was springing up, the Spirit of God at work in heartwarming ways, new friendship bonds being formed, hope in a hopeless world. And then some kind of conflict. Some people believing one thing and others another. Harsh words said. Relationships breaking down. Trust leaking out ever widening and fraying seams. Accusations flying. Mission on hold because anxiety and anger and fear has gotten in the way. Some starting to question what the point of all of this had ever been, anyway, because the baby has started to drown in all the murky bathwater.
John’s purpose seems to be less about sorting out the crisis and weighing in on the debates (although he does make his position clear), and mostly about helping his brothers and sisters keep on keeping on. Reminding them of what has not changed, of what they have lost sight of that is of far greater importance than all of the sensational chaos that has been preoccupying them, so that they will be faithful to Jesus’ first call: “Follow me.”
Because that’s what’s most at risk in the face of crises of every kind, isn’t it? That we might quit trusting Jesus and the good news of his kingdom. That we might just stop putting one foot in front of the other on the way of Jesus, giving in to despair. Or, Lord have mercy, that we might start putting our feet on a different path, giving in to anger and hatred and bitterness.
We know what that’s like, even if we’ve never experienced the things the people in this particular church experienced. Each of us knows what it’s like to be a human being when, seemingly out of nowhere, the chaos of things going wrong appears. When, just when things seemed to be looking good going forward, the sky between here and the future is suddenly cloudy and dark, threatening lightning and thunder and torrential downpours. When circumstances seem to be conspiring against us, nothing coming together in our favor. When the things we’ve come to rely on are suddenly shaky and unreliable. When even some of the people we love seem to be against us.
How easy it is to despair. To want to throw in the towel. To want to crawl into a safe dry cave and hibernate until it’s all done.
How tempting it is to try to exert some measure of control over the uncontrollable by embracing anger, contempt, frustration. Even if we know it’s fruitless, it feels good to feel the sense of power that comes from those powerful emotions. [Sort of like getting off the highway in a traffic jam and taking winding and treacherous back roads, even though you know you’d probably get there faster and more reliably waiting for the jam to clear. At least you’re moving! Except this is like exiting the highway and taking back roads to nowhere, driving until you run out of gas.]
John writes deep deep encouragement to this church, and he writes it to us. Trust Jesus! Love one another! We’ve tasted a life that run deeper than the chaos, like a subterranean well beneath the desert. It comes from Jesus – he’s bigger than all of this that’s going on. And he hasn’t left you. You’re strong. You know God. The word of God lives in you. Your sins are forgiven. You’ve overcome the evil one. You’re anointed with God’s Spirit, just as Jesus is. Keep loving one another! Do that, and you will know the life God has for you. Don’t stop, and you will abide with God. And God will abide with you.
This paragraph at the end of chapter 3 brings all of this together, and adds an important wrinkle in light of what John knows about what happens inside of us as we resolve to stay on the way of Jesus, despite the chaos around us.
Remember last week we talked about how the key to the life of the ages – the aeon zoe, eternal life – is for the good news of God’s kingdom to move beyond our skulls and brains and thoughts and beliefs and into the deepest parts of us, into our guts. So that we don’t just “know” the gospel, but we know it.
Let’s remind ourselves briefly about this idea of “knowing” something, which shows up throughout this paragraph, and indeed throughout this letter. Ginosko is the Greek root translated know in this passage, and it’s the kind of knowing that’s way deeper than head knowledge. It’s experiential, participatory knowing. Like the way you know your mother’s voice, or how you know how to speak or ride a bike or swim. Or how you know you love someone. Or how you know if you drop something it will fall to the ground, unassisted.
19This is how we ginosko that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he ginoskos everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who keep his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we ginosko that he lives in us: We ginosko it by the Spirit he gave us.
John understands that when chaos is swirling, one of the first things that happens is that we lose confidence in who we are and what God is up to in us, through us, in our lives, in our world. The first areas that come under assault from the enemy are the parts of us that don’t yet know what we are just learning about the good news of God’s kingdom and its implications. And so John says, look, here’s how we come to know deep down all the things I’ve been reminding you about who you are and who Jesus is and what he’s doing in your life and in our world: keep trusting Jesus, and keep loving one another. Do that, and you will increasingly come to know in an experiential and participatory way everything that I’ve been telling you is true. You will know it know it. It takes time, and patience, and practice. But keep trusting Jesus, practice loving one another, and God’s spirit, which you are anointed with, will take the good news and plant it deep, deep within you.
Now here’s where we come to the interesting wrinkle. It has to do with our hearts. Kardia, in Greek, the word from which we get cardiac, as in cardiac arrest or cardiac care or cardiaology. Meaning the part of us where our feelings and will swirl together, out of which we decide and intend and resolve and experience strong emotional responses and even process anxieties and fear.
So we might say we decided in our hearts to do such and such. We talk about someone’s heart being pure. Or that our heart was gripped with fear. Or that so and so was heartless. Or that our hearts were torn. Or that our heart felt peace. Or that our hearts were broken. Or that something was heartwrenching. Or that we gave our hearts to someone. Or that we let someone into our hearts.
This is how we ginosko that we belong to the truth and “set our hearts at rest” in his presence. If our hearts “condemn” us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he ginoskos everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not “condemn” us, we have confidence before God…
We’ll talk about some of those “quote marks” in a moment, but first, consider how our hearts sit between our thoughts and our guts. Which of course they do literally (head / heart / bowels), but also in this process of God working deeply in us, so that we can have peace and confidence in the midst of chaos, so that the good news of God’s kingdom is completely integrated with our selves and actions.
Haven’t we all had the experience of “knowing” something in our heads, even feeling it in our guts, and yet our hearts get in the way of graceful action?
For example, maybe you know in your head God is going to provide for you, because you’ve read the scriptures and heard what Jesus has to say about it, and it makes sense to you. And you know it in your gut, too. Deep, deep down, if you had to bet money on it, you’d bank on the fact that God was going to provide for you. But your heart is doing cartwheels. It’s not peaceful at all. It’s churning with anxiety. It’s getting your brain going with worry in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, setting your brain to the task of finding new sources of money, tempting you to abandon the things you’ve felt God call you to, distracting you from the promises you’ve heard God say. It’s checking your gut when you’re moved with compassion to be generous towards someone hurting more than you, because it’s saying, “hey, wait a minute, I’m not feeling very restful about all God provision stuff. And are you so sure God’s going to provide? After all, you haven’t been tithing like you should. And you know you did this wrong and that wrong – he may have provided if you’d gotten everything right, but why would he reward your behavior.” This is the same heart that surrendered to Jesus. The same heart that decided to follow him, to trust him. It’s like your heart has gone crazy. What’s going on!?
What’s going on is that our hearts need to be set at rest in God’s presence, and although they are the first part of us to embrace his presence, they might also be the last part of us to become fully his. The Greek word that gets translated “set at rest” is more literally translated “persuaded.” Our hearts need to be persuaded in God’s presence before all this ginosko knowing business is completed, through and through.
And it takes a lot of experience before our hearts are persuaded of anything, doesn’t it? You can come to the conclusion in your brain that someone is trustworthy. You can feel it in your gut that you can trust someone. You can even make the decision in your heart to trust them. But your heart is going to keep on needing persuading, for quite some time, before it’s truly at rest in their presence. Especially in the midst of chaos or fear or confusing circumstances. [Taylor Dayne, “Tell It To My Heart” - “tell it to my heart, tell me I’m the only one. Is this love or just a game?”]
It’s the same with the good news of God’s kingdom. Which is why John says, trust Jesus. Love one another. In other words, keep on keeping on the way of Jesus, the way of love. Your hearts will come to be fully persuaded and at rest with enough experience and with enough opportunity for God’s spirit within you to do his work. Just don’t quit. And don’t take a fork in the road.
Now there’s another fold to this wrinkle. And that has to do with this word “condemn”. The Greek word is kataginosko. Kata – against, or opposed to and ginosko – knowing.
If our hearts kataginosko us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he ginoskos everything…
It’s translated “condemn” or sometimes “blame” because our hearts know something that goes against us. Our hearts know, ginosko – at an experiential, participatory level – all sorts of stuff that goes against us. Our hearts know how sinful we are. They know how weak and broken we are. They know how much hate and bitterness and fear and mistrust and lust and selfishness and all other kinds of ugliness we have inside of us.
And so no matter what we know in our heads or know in our guts, our hearts can short circuit graceful living by bringing that kataginosko into the mix. We might even think of kataginosko as our hearts being confused. Don’t our hearts feel that way sometimes? Like we know how God wants us to act, and how he wants us to experience trials, and we know how he feels about us, and who we are in him, and yet our hearts don’t ginosko it yet, and so we are perpetually right on the borders of despair or anger.
Take heart, John says to our hearts. Don’t be discouraged. God is greater (mega!) than our hearts, and he knows everything. Our hearts may know some things against us. But God knows all of those things against us, and he knows them better and more truly than our hearts, and he knows everything else. Everything about what Jesus has done on the cross, and about the resurrection, and about the good news, and about grace and about mercy and about what true justice and the setting right of all things actually looks like. God is in the process of persuading our hearts the truth that is deeper than the mostly true but not true enough things our hearts think they know.
After all, isn’t that the truth about the new and fully complete humanity we see present in Jesus of Nazareth? A man who knew the good news of God’s kingdom in his head. Who knew the good news in his guts. And who knew the good news in his heart. A man whose heart was never confused, but rested in God’s presence, no matter the chaos surrounding him. A man who had confidence to ask God whatever he desired – because his desires and God’s desires were in unity with one another – and who received anything he asked, because he kept God’s commands and did what pleased him.
This is also the truth that is becoming true about all of us anointed ones, in whom the Spirit of God is at work, as we take John’s encouragement to continue trusting Jesus and loving one another.
Final note before practical tips. Notice John’s simple instruction – to believe in the name of Jesus. Believe vs. know (believe about 100 times in gospel of John, but in 1st John the emphasis is knowing) – the journey to knowing starts with believing (trust, faith). But the destination is knowing. That’s where God is taking us. He’ll even let things get difficult enough that we are forced to flex our belief until it becomes knowing. Faith becomes actions which open the door to experiences of God’s kingdom which leads to experiential, participatory knowing of the things (and God himself) that before we only believed by faith.
Practical Tips… (for the not quite quitters)
1. Don’t quit. Don’t quit when your heart is confused and/or has knowledge against you persevering. Especially when what you know in your head and in your gut about the good news says that the story isn’t done being written yet. Don’t despair. And don’t embrace anger.
2. Tell it to your heart. You don’t know enough. God’s bigger than you, and he knows everything. Say it out loud sometime. To your heart.
3. Try a little TLC. Trust, Love, Continue. Trust Jesus, keep loving one another and continue doing that unitl you’ve made space for your heart to be persuaded. Do something loving for someone else. Almost anything will do. And then do something else. Keep doing that until your heart’s kataginoskoing gets quieter and God’s ginoskoing gets louder. It will be a sign that God lives in you as the Spirit he gave you quiets your heart.