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The Closed Heart



1 John 3:17, “…if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

This verse follows directly on the heels of John’s first real definition of love in this epistle, namely:

 “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us…” (1 John 3:16).

The cross is the supreme manifestation of love in all of reality….but that does not mean we go to the cross and import our understanding of love onto what we see happening there. Rather, it means we go to the cross with open eyes and minds and hearts and hands and learn from our crucified Lord and God what love is…..and what does He teach us? What does the “love of God…made manifest among us” in Jesus Christ teach us about what love is?

While John has much to say about how love is defined at the cross, the first thing he points out is that love lays down its life (1 Jn 3:16). Love pours itself out. Love gives itself up, Love dies for the good (ie, to give God to) the beloved. And if this is what our God is like, and this is how we have been loved, then, if we do not follow suit, if we harden our hearts, if we refuse to pour ourselves out, if we keep ourselves safe and untouched behind cultural norms……John asks us—“how does the love of God abide [in us]?”

My goodness, so many implications flow out of John’s razor sharp rhetorical question here in verse 17, but this is not the place to get into them all. Just a few of these might be: what does this mean for people like us who live one mouse click away from nearly every major need on the planet? Or for those of us who walk by the homeless each day—sometimes the same person over and over again? Or for those of us who have members in our churches who are struggling with health bills? Or with addiction? Or with homosexual desires? Or the loneliness of divorce? These and many more are questions that must be considered and responded to in good conscience in the light of cruciform love…..but I think one thing is crystal clear: the blood-bought Christ-follower who has seen in the God who dies and rises again the beauty for which their souls—and the universe—exists….that person ought to default to self-giving love in the face of need rather than self-preserving indifference.

May God grant us to see and savor more deeply all that He is for us in the love of Christ, and seeing this glory, may we be increasingly transformed into the same image, from one degree to the next.