1 John 3:17
But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
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3:16-21 Here is the condescension, the miracle, the mystery of Divine love, that God would redeem the church with his own blood. Surely we should love those whom God has loved, and so loved. The Holy Spirit, grieved at selfishness, will leave the selfish heart without comfort, and full of darkness and terror. By what can it be known that a man has a true sense of the love of Christ for perishing sinners, or that the love of God has been planted in his heart by the Holy Spirit, if the love of the world and its good overcomes the feelings of compassion to a perishing brother? Every instance of this selfishness must weaken the evidences of a man's conversion; when habitual and allowed, it must decide against him. If conscience condemn us in known sin, or the neglect of known duty, God does so too. Let conscience therefore be well-informed, be heard, and diligently attended to.But whoso hath this world's good - Has property - called "this world's good," or a good pertaining to this world, because it is of value to us only as it meets our wants this side of the grave; and perhaps also because it is sought supremely by the people of the world. The general meaning of this verse, in connection with the previous verse, is, that if we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for others, we ought to be willing to make those comparatively smaller sacrifices which are necessary to relieve them in their distresses; and that if we are unwilling to do this, we can have no evidence that the love of God dwells in us.

And seeth his brother have need - Need of food, of raiment, of shelter; or sick, and poor, and unable to provide for his own wants and those of his family.

And shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him - The bowels, or "upper viscera," embracing the heart, and the region of the chest generally, are in the Scriptures represented as the seat of mercy, piety, and compassion, because when the mind feels compassion it is that part which is affected. Compare the notes at Isaiah 16:11.

How dwelleth the love of God in him? - How can a man love God who does not love those who bear his image? See the notes at 1 John 4:20. On the general sentiment here, see the notes at James 2:14-16. The meaning is plain, that we cannot have evidence of piety unless we are ready to do good to others, especially to our Christian brethren. See the Matthew 25:45 note; Galatians 6:10 note.

17. this world's good—literally, "livelihood" or substance. If we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1Jo 3:16), how much more ought we not to withhold our substance?

seeth—not merely casually, but deliberately contemplates as a spectator; Greek, "beholds."

shutteth up his bowels of compassion—which had been momentarily opened by the spectacle of his brother's need. The "bowels" mean the heart, the seat of compassion.

how—How is it possible that "the love of (that is, 'to') God dwelleth (Greek, 'abideth') in him?" Our superfluities should yield to the necessities; our comforts, and even our necessaries in some measure, should yield to the extreme wants of our brethren. "Faith gives Christ to me; love flowing from faith gives me to my neighbor."

i.e. If the love of God in us should make us lay down our lives for the brethren, and we be not willing, in their necessity and our own ability, to relieve them, how plain is the case, that it is not in us!

But whoso hath this world's good,.... The possessions of this world, worldly substance, the temporal good things of it; for there are some things in it, which are honestly, pleasantly, and profitably good, when used lawfully, and not abused, otherwise they are to the owner's hurt: or "the living of this world"; that which the men of the world give up themselves to, are bent upon, and pursue after; or on which men live, and by which life is maintained, and preserved, and made comfortable in the present state of things; such as meat, drink, apparel, money, houses, lands, &c. The Ethiopic version renders it, "he that hath the government of this world"; as if it pointed at a person that is in some high office of worldly honour and profit, and is both great and rich; but the words are not to be restrained to such an one only, but refer to any man that has any share of the outward enjoyments of life; that has not only a competency for himself and family, but something to spare, and especially that has an affluence of worldly substance; but of him that has not, it is not required; for what a man distributes ought to be his own, and not another's, and in proportion to what he has, or according to his ability:

and seeth his brother have need; meaning, not merely a brother in that strict and natural relation, or bond of consanguinity; though such an one in distress ought to be, in the first place, regarded, for no man should hide himself from, overlook and neglect his own flesh and blood; but any, and every man, "his neighbour", as the Ethiopic version reads, whom he ought to love as himself; and especially a brother in a spiritual relation, or one that is of the household of faith: if he has need; that is, is naked and destitute of daily food, has not the common supplies of life, and what nature requires; and also, whose circumstances are low and mean, though not reduced to the utmost extremity; and if he sees him in this distress with his own eyes, or if he knows it, hears of it, and is made acquainted with it, otherwise he cannot be blameworthy for not relieving him.

And shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him; hardens his heart, turns away his eyes, and shuts his hand; has no tenderness in him for, nor sympathy with his distressed brother, nor gives him any succour: and this shows, that when relief is given, it should be not in a morose and churlish manner, with reflection and reproach, but with affection and pity; and where there is neither one nor the other,

how dwelleth the love of God in him? neither the love with which God loves men; for if this was shed abroad in him, and had a place, and dwelt in him, and he was properly affected with it, it would warm his heart, and loosen his affections, and cause his bowels to move to his poor brother: nor the love with which God is loved; for if he does not love his brother whom he sees in distress, how should he love the invisible God? 1 John 4:20; nor that love which God requires of him, which is to love his neighbour as himself.

{17} But whoso hath this {p} world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and {q} shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

(17) He reasons by comparisons: for if we are bound even to give our life for our neighbours, how much more are we bound to help our brothers' needs with our goods and substance?

(p) Wherewith this life is sustained.

(q) Opens not his heart to him, nor helps him willingly and cheerfully.

1 John 3:17. As the apostle wants to bring out that love must show itself by action, he turns his attention to the most direct evidence of it, namely, compassion towards the needy brother. “By the adversative connection (δέ) with 1 John 3:16, John marks the progress from the greater, which is justly demanded, to the less, the non-performance of which seems, therefore, a grosser transgression of the rule just stated” (Düsterdieck). According to Ebrard, the δέ is meant to express the opposition to the delusion “that love can only show itself in great actions and sacrifices;” but there is no suggestion in the context of anything like this.

τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου: “the life of the world,” i.e. that which serves to support the earthly, worldly life; comp. Luke 8:43; Luke 15:12; Luke 21:4.[229] The expression forms here a significant contrast to ζωὴ αἰώνιος (1 John 3:15).

θεωρεῖν, stronger than ὁρᾶν, strictly “to be a spectator,” hence = to look at; “it expresses the active beholding” (Ebrard, similarly Myrberg: oculis immotis).

With χρεῖαν ἔχειν, comp. Mark 2:25; Ephesians 4:28.

The expression: κλείειν τὰ σπλάγχνα, is only found here; τὰ σπγάγχνα as a translation of רַחֲמַיִם appears both in the LXX. as well as often in the N. T. = καρδία; “to close the heart,” is as much as: “to forbid to compassion towards the needy brother entrance into one’s heart;” the additional ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ is used in pregnant sense = “turning away from him” (Lücke, de Wette, Düsterdieck). The first two clauses might have had (not, as Baumgarten-Crusius says, “must have had”) the form of subordinate clauses; but by the fact that the form of principal clauses is given to them, the statement gains in vividness. The conclusion, which according to the sense is negative, appears as a question with πῶς (comp. chap. 1 John 4:20), whereby the negation is emphatically brought out. ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ Θεοῦ is love to God, not the love of God to us (Calov).[230] Here also ΜΈΝΕΙΝ has the meaning noticed on 1 John 3:15 (Myrberg); incorrectly Lücke: “as John is speaking of the probable absence of the previously-existing Christian life, it is put ΜΈΝΕΙ and not ἘΣΤΊ.” The apostle does not want to say that the pitiless person loses again his love to God, but that it never is really in him at all. Pitilessness cannot be combined with love to God; the reason of this John states in chap. 1 John 4:20.

[229] Comp. the Greek proverb: βίος βίου δεόμενος οὐκ ἔστι βίος.

[230] Ebrard explains ἡ ἀγάπη τ. Θεοῦ: “the love which in its essential being took substantial form after Christ and in Christ’s loving deed” (!).

1 John 3:17. Love must be practical. It is easy to “lay down one’s life”: martyrdom is heroic and exhilarating; the difficulty lies in doing the little things, facing day by day the petty sacrifices and self-denials which no one notices and no one applauds. τόν βίον τοῦ κόσμου, “the livelihood of the world”; see note on 1 John 2:16. θεωρῇ, of a moving spectacle; cf. Matthew 27:55. κλείσῃ, schliesst: the metaphor is locking the chamber of the heart instead of flinging it wide open and lavishing its treasures. σπλάγχνα, רַתְֽמִים, viscera, “the inward parts,” viewed by the ancients as the seat of the affections. Cf. Colossians 3:12 : σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ. ἡ ἀγ. τ. Θ., “love for God” (objective genitive), inspired by and answering to the love which God feels (subjective genitive). Cf. note on 1 John 2:5.

17. But whoso hath this world’s good] Better, as R. V., But whoso hath the world’s goods. The ‘But’ is full of meaning. ‘But not many of us are ever called upon to die for another: smaller sacrifices, however, may be demanded of us; and what if we fail to make them?’ The word for ‘good’ or ‘goods’ (βίος) is the same as that rendered ‘life’ in 1 John 2:16, where see note. It signifies there and here ‘means of life, subsistence’. ‘The world’s life’, therefore, means that which supports the life of mankind, or life in this world (see on 1 John 2:15) in marked contrast to eternal life (1 John 3:15).

and seeth his brother have need] Better, and beholdeth his brother having need. The verb implies that he not only sees him (ἰδεῖν), but looks at him and considers him (θεωρεῖν). It is a word of which the contemplative Apostle is very fond; and outside the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts it occurs nowhere but in S. John’s writings and Hebrews 7:4. It is a pity to spoil the irony of the original by weakening ‘having need’ into ‘in need’ (R. V.). The one has as his possession the world’s wealth, the other has as his possession need.

shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him] There is no ‘of compassion’ in the Greek and we hardly need both substantives. The ancients believed the bowels to be the seat of the affections (Genesis 43:30; 1 Kings 3:26; Jeremiah 31:20; Php 1:8; Php 2:1; Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:20) as well as the heart, whereas we take the latter only. Coverdale (here, as often, following Luther) alters Tyndale’s ‘shutteth up his compassion’ into ‘shutteth up his heart.’ And in fact, ‘shutteth up his bowels from him’ is the same as ‘closeth his heart against him.’ The phrase occurs nowhere else in N. T., but comp. 2 Corinthians 6:12. The ‘from him’ is picturesque, as in 1 John 2:28 : it expresses the moving away and turning his back on his brother. In LXX. ‘Thou shalt not harden thine heart’ (Deuteronomy 15:7) is ‘Thou shalt not turn away thine heart’.

how dwelleth the love of God in him?] Better, as R. V., how doth the love of God abide in him? this preserves the order of the Greek better and marks the recurrence of S. John’s favourite verb ‘abide’ (see on 1 John 2:24). ‘The love of God’, as usual in this Epistle (see on 1 John 2:5), means man’s love to God. The question here is equivalent to the statement in 1 John 4:20, that to love God and hate one’s brother is impossible.

1 John 3:17. Τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου, the substance of the world) An instance of the figure Litotes: in antithesis to lives, 1 John 3:16.—κλείσῃ, shall shut) whether asked for aid, or not asked. The sight of the wretched at once knocks at the hearts of the spectators, or even opens them: then a man freely either closes his bowels of compassion, or opens them more fully. Comp. Deuteronomy 15:7.—τὰ σπλάγχνα, his bowels) Together with his bowels a man’s substance is also closed or opened.—ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ Θεοῦ) that is, love towards God: ch. 1 John 4:20.—μένει, abides) He said that he loved God: but he does not now love: 1 John 3:18.

Verse 17. - "But δέ if a man not only fails to do this, but even steadily contemplates θεωρῇ another's distress, and forthwith (aorist, κλείσῃ closes his heart against him, although he has the means of relieving him, how can he have any love for God?" The meaning is not, "How can God love him?" as is plain from 1 John 4:20. But possibly "love such as God has shown towards us" may be meant (1 John 4:10). "The world's goods" τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου is literally "the world's means of life" (see on 1 John 2:16, and Trench on 'New Testament Synonyms,' for the difference between βίος and ζώη. (For τὰ σπλάγχνα as the seat of the affections, comp. Luke 1:78; 2 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Philemon 1:7, 12.) The ἀπ αὐτοῦ is graphic; closes his heart and turns away from him (1 John 2:28). 1 John 3:17This world's good (τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου)

Rev., the worlds goods. Βίος means that by which life is sustained, resources, wealth.

Seeth (θεωρῇ)

Deliberately contemplates. See on John 1:18. Rev., beholdeth. The only occurrence of the verb in John's Epistles.

Have need (χρείαν ἔχοντα)

Lit., having need. Rev., in need.

Bowels of compassion (τὰ σπλάγχνα)

See on pitiful, 1 Peter 3:8. Rev., much better, his compassion. The word only here in John.

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