Text: 1 John 3:18-24
"If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts."
I've always had a hunch that this verse didn't exactly mean what it meant to me. But I'm also convinced that God speaks to us most of the time this way through Scripture whether we really understand it or not.
As someone who grew up going to camp meetings two or three times a year, whose regular preachers were basically camp meeting style preachers, I spent a lot of my youth in endless introspection. I didn't have a lot of peace in those years.
This verse stood out to me--my "heart" seemed to repeatedly condemn me. But the verse held out hope to me. Even though I didn't feel peace, God was greater than my heart.
Point 1: God is greater than our heads.
It's difficult for us not to be in control. In America, many Americans feel completely out of control of what is happening in the country.
It is always an illusion when we think we are in control. The young often have great zeal, because they have the energy to fight every foe. I used Zwingli as an example of someone who thought everyone else was wrong but him, and he finally died in battle against the Roman Catholics. Paul himself was zealous like that before Jesus gently tapped him on the shoulder and redirected him.
Older people try to control by rules. They might even use the Bible to try to control things and make things certain. We often worry about people getting around the rules. We want to make sure there's no room in the rules for them to wiggle out.
But no one is fooling God. God knows all things. God knows what's really going on.
1 Samuel 16 - People look on what's happening on the outside. God looks on the inside.
Faith is the key. Faith is what truly defines sin (Rom. 14) and faith is what truly defines righteousness (Rom. 4). Not knowledge.
Point 2: God is greater than our hands.
Certainly God is greater than our sins (e.g., Prodigal Son). This is really what 1 John 3 meant here originally. If our hearts condemn us because we have not loved our brothers and sisters in the past, God is greater than our hearts. God has made a way for us to find atonement and forgiveness. God is greater than our sins.
But God is also greater than our weaknesses and imperfections. We in the holiness movement sometimes act like entire sanctification brings an Adamic perfection, as if we will make no mistakes or God condemns us for our mistakes.
But God is not looking for absolute perfection from us. God wants us to get an A in his class. He is not looking to fail us.
Mark 7 - God is not so much interested in what we touch on the outside. He's interested in what's going on in our motives and intentions.
Point 3: God is greater than our "hearts."
What I really heard in this verse was that God was greater than what I was feeling. Of course this is not what "heart" means in the Bible. The heart in the Bible is the seat of our true intentions and motives.
But it is certainly true that God is greater than our feelings. You might remember the old train from Campus Crusade: fact - faith - feeling. The idea was that even when we don't have feelings, the facts of the Bible stand.
In reality these all get mixed up. We don't actually have access to the facts without faith, and faith is a confidence in God, not merely a set of beliefs. Confidence is ultimately a choice, but it sure helps to have feelings behind it.
But when you are experiencing doubts:
- It's true, read the Scriptures. Read the prayers of the psalms. Trust in the facts of God's love for you.
- Prepare for times when you are not feeling the facts by creating a milestone journal. Write down your memories of those times when you experienced God the most. If your feelings ever begin to cloud the facts, read your milestone journal.
- If your feelings ever so cloud the facts and your past victories, remember that God often uses the body of Christ to have faith for us.
I was surprised once to hear a story about a church leader I had considered a super-spiritual-hero as a child. I heard that at one point when he was very old, he lost his feeling of faith for a time. Another believer told the spiritual giant that he would have faith for him. This is a mystery. There are even times when God calls us to have faith for others.
There may be times in your spiritual life when your heart "condemns" you. In those times, remember that God is greater than your heart. He is greater than your head, your understanding. He is greater than your weaknesses. He is greater than your doubt.
He can even have faith for you.