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What are the “material possessions” referred to in 1 John 3:17?

material possessions

First John 3:17 says, “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?”

This rhetorical question reveals God’s will for Christians who have “the world’s goods” (ESV) or “enough money to live well” (NLT). They are to help others in need. A similar command is found in 1 Timothy 6:17–19, where Paul instructs Timothy to “command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” The apostle James, to practically illustrate that faith leads to action, puts forward this scenario: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15–16). The same principle of generosity with material possessions is found in the Old Testament instructions to the Israelites (see Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 19:9–10, 25:10; Proverbs 19:10).

To have material possessions is to own a certain amount of wealth, property, and resources. In this context, the Christian with material possession is not lacking but has enough to give to another in need. Interestingly, the rhetorical question in 1 John 3:17 comes after John says that “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to give, using the unselfishness of Christ as an analogy (2 Corinthians 8:9), and John likens Christian love to Christ’s sacrifice, emphasizing generosity. A stingy Christian is not living out the gospel. Material possessions are to be a means of honoring God and serving others.

Further, Scripture provides examples of Christians who gave out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1–5), showing that the command for generosity isn’t limited to rich Christians alone. As John the Baptist told his listeners, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11). The picture here is not of resentful giving, but giving that comes from genuine love for others in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 9:7).

Having the right beliefs and doctrines is vital, as well as a proper understanding of the gospel. However, beliefs must transition into right living, and that includes how we use material possessions.

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What are the “material possessions” referred to in 1 John 3:17?
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This page last updated: January 23, 2024