Have you ever wondered if your faith is genuine? You may be able to recite all the creeds and your behavior is consistent with what you read in the Bible and the Christian subculture you associate with. But, you are looking for something deeper. Something that reassures your heart as well as your mind. I ran across a passage in 1 John 3 that is both convicting and comforting all at the same time.
17 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 18 little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. 19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
In this passage, we see one of the tell-tale signs of genuine faith is alms giving (or said another way- giving to the poor and needy). There is a reason that giving to the poor and needy is a part of every major faith movement including Christianity. Alms giving is a tangible expression of love for others. John says this directly in vs 17 when he exposes the person who sees his brother in need and then closes his heart towards him. How can someone see a need and not meet it and have the love of God pulsing through his/her veins.
I came face to face with this truth several years ago in India. I was leading a team of college ministers and as we landed in south India we encountered poverty unlike any of us had seen. We had been given advice not to give anything to the people as this could cause a real issue with the long-term outreach to the poor. Yet, our hearts were conflicted especially with the children. So, after prayer and a little Bible study, we reached a compromise. We wouldn’t give any money but we did allow the team to give the kids food. Being Westerners, we were easy to spot for the street children who begged for a livelihood. So, if a child came to ask us for something we would march them over to the fruit stands (that were everywhere) and buy them a mango or a banana. Their faces lit up and our hearts were lightened. We couldn’t fix all the issues but we could provide a meal.
This is the kind of thing I think John is talking about. Our love needs to be in deeds and truth not in word only (vs 18). But verse 19 was the verse that arrested my attention today. John writes, “We will know by this (loving with deeds) that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him”. We will know by a deeds oriented love that our faith is genuine. And our confidence will grow as our hearts are assured before Him. I like this idea on a lot of level: 1) it is simple and measurable 2) it asks a question that only I can answer- namely do I really love people.
I heard one time that the true test of maturity is not wisdom but love. Wisdom has to do with what you know and are putting into practice, love has to do with our true motivation towards those around us. Alms giving is one way to put both of those into real, tangible action. I don’t know about you, but I know my heart pretty well and if I use love as a measure of my maturity I know exactly where I really stand. And this passage seems to indicate that those who love well have more confidence than those who do not.
You know what’s funny? If I will do simple acts of kindness toward people in need around me, my love grows and so does my confidence before God.
Want a mango?
Tim Howington is Executive Vice President for Freedom 5:one and is one of our Financial Life Coaches. He lives with his wife Terri and son Josh in Rogers Arkansas.