Not everyone has the capacity to provide material things for others, but the Apostle John provides this simple reminder for those who can help:
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 1 John 3:17
One of John’s reoccurring themes is love. I hope and pray you will invest time to get to know John, the Apostle, the human, pastor, and brother in Christ. After writing 78 blog posts on the gospel of John and his letters, I feel like I know him personally. When he asks, how can the love of God be in someone, he is speaking from an in-depth, personal knowledge from serving Jesus in person for something like 1,000 days. His words come from a heart that is intimately aware of God.
Here’s some context to consider. John’s first letter was to warn the church about those who are trying to divide it into factions that propose false doctrine. He used the term “liar” to identify those who would suggest that Jesus was not fully man and fully God. There were those in the church that were woefully misguided and were leading many astray. John’s words are strong and significant yet loving and kind. He is trying to instill what Father Gregory Boyle calls, radical kinship.
Back to the text at hand.
There are times when some English translations are not so helpful. In this case, the NIV translates the original phrase to include, “has no pity,” but most of the other translations follow the Greek a bit closer (I looked at 59 other translations):
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, 1 John 3:17
The idea of “closes his heart against him” carries a lot more weight in my mind. While we might pity someone else, we are not called to pity one another. We are commanded to love everyone in actions and deeds. A closed heart is one that is cold, not willing to be vulnerable, rigid, uncaring. The opposite is a tender heart. One who is moved by seeing a brother or sister in need.
One Who Sees
We have to be able to see the person in need. If we are inwardly focused, it’s unlikely we’ll even see the one in need. This brings us back to the idea of seeing invisible people. As Christ-followers, we can’t stick our heads in the sand and proclaim we never saw someone who needed help. If we do, we’ll be the ones asking:
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? Matthew 25:38-39
They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love
An old song that probably needs a new arrangement declares that we should be known as a people who love one another without reservation. Where we work, the words we use, the care we show for one another, in all ways, our demonstrated should draw people to Christ. Sometimes this looks like giving material possessions, but love doesn’t cost anything and is only amplified when it’s given away.
Give goods when you can, please, but in all things, love your neighbor as yourself.