Give ’til it Hurts–1 John 3:17

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? –1 John 3:17

My brother-in-law struggles with his sense of salvation. Regardless of how well he has learned the gospel of Grace, he cannot separate his mind from the sense that works must be important. I’m not talking about the James-style works as the outward manifestation of inner faith. I’m talking about the sense that somehow works are going help save him or that a lack of works will interfere with his salvation.

A couple of years back, I heard him indicate that he had not done enough if somebody in Kansas City was cold during the winter. (He is a furnace repairman.) Apparently, at least in that moment, he was taking the warmth of the entire metro on his own shoulders. Must he forgo sleep in order to fix busted heaters all over town? And why should his furnace-fixing responsibility stop at the city limits? Why not in the state of Missouri? Why not the United States?

Sometimes we have to be careful when considering Scripture and see exactly what it says. One way to read this verse is to believe that as long as I have something and someone else has less, then I should be giving things away. According to that logic, I should sell my house and my cars and everything I possess until I descend to the level of the poorest people or they’re brought up to my level. Is that what John says here? Not quite.

As long as I have material blessings, I should look on my brother’s needs with pity. That doesn’t say that if I have $100 and nine other people have nothing that I should get ten $10 bills and divvy up the loot equally. It says I should have pity on my brother’s need. I should care. Typically such caring will include giving.  However, John does not say that I must give until I’ve given down to the level of my needy brother.

How much should we give, then? Neither John nor Jesus answers that question. Our caring and the way it is manifested, is something between us and God. I’ve seen God perfectly capable of telling me I have not given sufficiently. The question then is how we respond to that message. If the love of God is in you, you will care and you will respond. The “how much” of that is not for me to determine.

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