The Other John 3:16
Joe stands erect and perfectly mute outside the front door of the post office. He is a slim, short man, usually wearing a knit cap and a sweater. I found that peculiar the first time I saw him. It was summer. The winter clothing in the summer heat makes sense if you grew up with the sweltering humidity of an island in the Indian Ocean. One has to look past his white hair to realize his Sri Lankan skin tones. It was a hot day, when I remembered I had an unopened bottle of water in the car. I approached Joe and was surprised by his spirit. He was very articulate and very animated. Joe is not your typical beggar. He just stands, quietly, as if waiting for ravens to bring him food. He is very friendly for those who acknowledge his presence, which most people neglect, even avoiding eye contact.
I love giving to beggar Joe, even if I am not 100% sure of his story for why he is in need. The catalyst is that he claims to be a Christian, and he passed my scrutiny tests. He is my poor brother.
Shortly after I became a Christian, I was amazed by a passage, I refer to as, “the other John 3:16.” Most people can quote the Gospel of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Most Christians would confess they have never memorized 1 John 3:16, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” I find the two John 3:16s intimately connected. They both speak of Christ. They both speak of love. They both speak of sacrificial giving.
1 John 3:16 opens with some amazingly provocative words, “We know love by this…” Inside the human heart is the desire for love. Of course, we are most familiar with Hollywood’s version of love, which is also represented in the romance novel section of one’s local bookstore and on Madison Avenue in New York City. Christian love is defined with a different nuance. Love, according the Bible, originates with God. It is seen in the life of Jesus Christ, and it is practically worked out on the Cross of Calvary. This is why God’s love is so foreign to the world. Christians know a different love, and by this we know it, “He laid down His life for us.”
It is a strange thing for any man to die in the place of another, but even more so because of the disparity between Christ and the people He died for. Christ died for the ungodly. Being the very righteousness of God, Jesus laid down His life for the unrighteous. Remember, we are talking about love here.
Many people speak of God, as love, today. Few people speak of Christ’s bloody substitutionary sacrifice. For one to speak of God’s love, we must have them define that love; and it is impossible to explain God’s love without the Gospel message. This includes the bad news about us, and the good news about Jesus Christ’s atoning offer of Himself to God, in crucifixion.
Christ died for us. He bore our sins in His body on the tree. Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Paul drew an analogy from marriage, “Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph 5:25).” Who is represented in these pronouns, “us”, “our”, “her”, but His elect people (Eph 1:4–6). Paul’s analogy for the Ephesians identifies the church, the sheep of His pasture, the living stones in His Temple. The Christian can say in very intimate reflection, “Christ died for me.” Now that is love.
In love, God sent His only begotten Son. In love, Christ laid down His life for His church. There is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13). When Christ endured the Cross, His heart motive was love. He was saving His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). He was paying their penalty. He was setting His captive people free. He was bringing many sons to glory. His mission was loving reconnaissance.
Francis Schaeffer’s question never stops being asked in my heart, “How shall we then live?” John answered this question, “…we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16b).” Christians offer up their lives as living and holy sacrifices, acceptable to God, in a spiritual service of worship (Rom 12:1). We worship God in service to others.
Remember, we are talking about love. This is not religion. It is love, defined by God, and exemplified by Christ. It is to be mimicked by us, not superficially, but by the Spirit of Christ living in us. God sent His Son to die for us. God sent His Spirit to live in us, and so we could die, too. His life-giving Spirit is helping us to mortify sin in our flesh. He is liberating us to die to sin and self. He is empowering us with a new life, the life of God in Christ. This is a life of love, of sacrifice. What does that practically look like for us?
1 John 3:17 follows this verse that informs us about Christ and love and giving. For us to gain this new life, in practice, we must lose our old life, which is marked by selfishness. We must lay down our lives for the brethren…like Joe the beggar. “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him (1 John 3:17)?” It is a church changing verse. It is the medicine for the spiritually impoverished American church. It is a pristine picture of the genuine Christian life. Read it again.
John was writing to Christians. We are the “whoever” in 1 John 3:17, in the same way we are the “whosoever” in John 3:16. We are believers in Jesus. Some of us have the world’s goods. Most of us do. God loves hilarious givers because people who find joy in giving recognize the infinite origin of material resources. God is our source for every good gift and every perfect gift, passed along to us…and from us to others in need.
We do have brethren in need. All of us must learn, as Paul did, to be content in whatever state we find ourselves, whether abounding or being abased (Phil 4:10–13). It is Christ who strengthens us when we are in need. How does He do it? He uses people with the world’s goods, and who open their hearts to give.
We must first look at men like Joe. We must look into their eyes. We must listen to the stories they tell from their hearts. God put Joe in need. Joe’s elderly parents both had medical conditions that wiped the family out, financially. They have both since died, and now Joe is living in the garage of a friend trying to get back on his feet. Joe is being humbled in a magnanimous way. He is not drinking away the gifts of his benefactors at the post office, nor is he a drug user. He is a man under providence, and providence has issued this course for Joe. It should make all of us fear and tremble, at the mighty hand of God directing our steps. Joe has been made a spectacle for the people at the post office. He is a peculiar person.
Do you have the love of God in you (1 John 3:17d)? This verse is actually a question for us to examine ourselves as Christians. Test and see if you really are a Christian. Examine your heart to see if you have the Spirit of Christ, who is God, who is love, in you. Do you see your brother in need? Is your heart opened to him or her? Do you give to everyone who asks of you?
The devil and the world have stifled the generosity of so many Christians. We talk in percentages. The preacher argues for you to give 10%. George Barna tells us we actually give 3%. Jesus and Paul did not give us a percentage; but they did give us examples, to follow in their steps. They gave 100%. They gave their lives for the kingdom of God. Paul wrote Timothy, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, and with it, eternal glory (2 Tim 2:10).” Paul suffered greatly in sacrificing his life for others (1 Corinthians 4; 2 Corinthians 11). Christians can even rejoice at the seizure of their property (Heb 10:34).
Christian giving is Christian life. We are givers because our God gives and gives and gives again. The writer of Hebrews expressed our confidence in God and warned us, “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you, so that we confidently say, the Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me (Heb 13:5–6)?’”
Men fear men. We are afraid of being robbed, so we buy expensive security systems. We are afraid the government will confiscate our wealth, so we invent investment options to protect our money from taxes. We are afraid of banks collapsing, so we hide money in our houses. Because we hide money in our houses, we must have guns to protect our houses with money in them. We are slaves to mammon. What is the root of all kinds of evil? The very thing we are hoarding…money. Too many American Christians are rich fools (Lk 12) with bigger barns and summer houses (see Amos).
Christians are practical atheists when it comes to giving. If we give at all, it is not sacrificial. Too often it is careful giving. We ignore the Word, “Be careful for nothing.” We resort to Bible verses that support what we really want. Really…you are committed to the way of the ant? Have you ever watched how the ant works? Have you considered that the ant shares all things he has worked for? Ants own all things in common and live for one another (so did the early church…see Acts 4:32). Is that what you mean? How is your 401k plan sharing all things in common? Is your life insurance premium paid for the common good of the community of believers? Do you have two coats?
Material goods are a problem because they expose us. We have them, and we are not working hard enough to get rid of them. Material idolatry is Satan’s ploy against American Christianity. We are wildly distracted by the management of our stuff. Intangible investments need management. Tangible possessions, usually occupying rented storage units, also cost us. If only we followed Jesus’ example in 1 John 3:16, we could live out the thrill of 1 John 3:17 in becoming givers like the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8–9. They gave beyond their ability.
We must add this to our prayers as we meditate on these Bible verses. Remember, we are talking about love. God gave. Christ gave. The apostles gave. We are missing out on the joy of giving, if our giving is not sacrificial, and sacrificial is not calculated to be 11%. Our whole lives can be offered as a sacrifice because we came into the world with nothing, and we will leave the world with nothing.
Father, I end this short article with a prayer for me and for my reader. Cause us to give like Jesus gave. Give us the Spirit to see how this is done. Make our lives a joyful sacrifice. Overcome our flesh and fear. Bless us to live next to a river of resources, not a lake of hoarded possibilities. Be glorified in making this biblical example and command a reality for us, so that we might live authentic Christian lives, of freely offered sacrifice, of everything we are and have. In Jesus name. Amen.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 8, 2020