The center of this passage is John’s appeal in verse 23: we should believe in Jesus and love one another. This appeal is flanked on both sides with a motivational basis. Verses 19–22 provide the first motivation: when our conscience condemns us, God is greater than our conscience, giving us assurance that we receive what we ask from him in prayer. Verse 24 constitutes the second motivation: we can be assured that God lives in us and we abide in him. The topic of this paragraph is confidence. Notice John’s use of words like “know,” “reassure,” and “confidence.” Confidence is based on the fact that we have believed in Jesus and are thus in the family of God, and that, as obedient children in the family, we love others in the family. Since we are in the family and since we love others in the family, we can come to our Father with our prayer requests with confident assurance that he will hear us.
1 John 3:19–20 functions as the reason for verses 21–22. There are two reasons that assure us we are truly believers. The first is our awareness of the love God has placed in us (3:19a). The second is our awareness of the grace of God that accepts our humanness because Christ knows our motives (3:20b). On this basis, God is greater than our conscience, and there is no need for fear and trepidation when we approach God.
In verse 22, John gives two reasons for why we have confidence in prayer and thus receive what we ask of God. First, we have confidence because we obey God’s commands. Second, we have this confidence in prayer because we “do what pleases him.”
The heart of Paul’s appeal is verse 23. We are given a two-fold command: believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love fellow believers. Here is the first use of “believe” in the letter.
This paragraph should be divided into two sections for preaching, with the prominent information being conveyed in vv. 19-22:
A. We have assurance for an unsure heart because we obey. – (vv. 19–22).
I. We must believe in Jesus and love one another. – (vv. 23–24).