“The Old New Commandment”
1 John 2.7-17
As human beings, we often benefit from repetition, hearing things from a different angle, and being comforted by divine truth in times when we forget God’s promises. Often we become immersed in temporal things that we neglect to see things from a different perspective. This appears to be John’s modus operandi. He revisits issues, says them in different ways, and continually reminds the true believers of their confidence in the Lord and their salvation.
We have stated from the beginning that John’s purpose is to bring clarity to what it means to be a Christian. The readers of John’s letters are being influenced by some who had left them and were being presented with false teachings. They may claim the title of “Christian,” but their actions would disqualify them from their claims. And John is out to answer the question, “what is a true Christian?”
John uses black and white language to communicate this. He speaks of light and darkness, truth and lies, and love and hate in the text before us this morning. We are in 1 John 2.7-17. Please turn there in your Bibles along with me. And we will read the text to get underway. READ.
The first point we will look at is Love Reveals the Light. For John, saying the right things is not sufficient to identify oneself in fellowship with God the Father. Time and again, he will look for the fruit in one’s life as evidence of their claim to fellowship with him. So again he will speak of evident contrasts that will demonstrate whether or not one is a Christian. Here he will speak of those characterized by their love or hate of fellow believers. And he begins with another reminder of his love and concern for his readers. In the first verse of the chapter, John had begun the address with “my little children” – calling to mind his pastoral concern for his readers. And here there is more confirmation as he addresses them as “beloved.”
And for a guy that likes to have clarity, John begins the section with a seemingly paradoxical thought. He says in verses 7 and 8 that he is not writing a new commandment but an old commandment. But at the same time, it really is a new commandment. Everyone has that figured out, right? What is John getting at here?
Whereas on the surface it may seem confusing, when you think about this for some time, it is really a powerful point that John makes here. The Christian reader would be well acquainted with the greatest commandment. The nation of Israel would no doubt recall the words from Deuteronomy 6:5 “5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
You would recall also that Jesus himself was asked about the greatest commandment. In Matthew 22:34–40 “34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Foundational to all Christian thinking and living is the understanding that we are to love the Lord our God with our entire being, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is evidence of our fellowship with the Father. It originates in the Old Testament. And, in the case of the readers of this letter, this would have been clear when they were first presented with the gospel and their conversion. This is what John refers to when he says that they had it from the beginning. They could not have had it at the beginning of creation, but when they first heard the good news of Jesus and believed on him.
The point that he is making by referring to the commandment that they had from the beginning is not that he is imposing some new obligation upon his readers, but recalling to them what they knew from the very beginning of their Christian walk. And we all need these reminders from time to time. Many times we overcomplicate things and neglect the basic and foundational components of our Christian faith. If we neglect to love God and neighbor, then we’ve missed it entirely.
And then John says, “at the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you.” And with that, we need to recall the words of Jesus in John 13:34 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Really, there is nothing “new” about the command itself. Christians are still to love. What is significant here is a standard is introduced. Jesus says that we are to love as he has loved us. So there really is no point in which the believer in Jesus can say, “That’s enough. I have loved this person enough.” There is no way that any of us can love to the same extent that Jesus loved us! And at the same time, we have a perfect example to emulate. We watch as Jesus is patient with his disciples. We read of how he sat and washed the disciples’ feet. We see Jesus love and compassion to the outcast and hurting, the oppressed and destitute. And finally, we see the ultimate expression of love where he laid down his life on the cross for his children. Jesus says, “love one another, just as I have loved you.” This is the new commandment.
John adds in verse 8 that this new commandment “is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” You may recall in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we looked at some Old Testament prophecies regarding the birth of the Lord Jesus. One of the passages was Isaiah 9 where we saw prophecies fulfilled with great specificity. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah wrote this: Isaiah 9:2 “2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
One of the passages that speaks of its fulfillment is found in John’s gospel. John 1:4–9 “4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” Jesus even identified himself in this way. John 8:12 “12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 12:46 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
And with the introduction of the true light to the world, the darkness is passing away. This present evil age is passing because the new age under the lordship of Jesus Christ had begun. In the next chapter, we will see that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. Now we know that presently the devil is still quite active in the world, and will continue to be until the day that Jesus returns in judgment of evil and salvation of the faithful. However, Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave assured the victory to come. It is a common theme throughout Scripture. In one sense, the kingdom of God has come in Jesus Christ. And yet, we still anticipate the final fulfillment and reign of this kingdom upon his return. It’s what is known as the already/not yet of the Kingdom. But with all certainty, the darkness is passing and the true light is shining!
But how is the new commandment true in the lives of the believers? Those who have trusted in Jesus Christ no longer walk in the darkness but in the light. Colossians 1:13 “13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” 1 Peter 2:9 “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” It is ONLY because believers have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred that this new commandment is a reality in their lives. This cannot be fabricated.
When Jesus said that the new commandment is to love as he loved, the next verse says this: 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And this is where John is going as well in the next few verses. Love or hate? This says a lot about you. John says in verse 9 that you cannot claim to be changed by Jesus and not love your brother. It is inconsistent. If you call on Jesus as your Lord and he has told you to love one another (even your enemies), your life MUST be characterized by your love. And, if not, John says that you are still in the domain of darkness. Jesus has not delivered you from the domain of darkness and into his marvelous light. Love reveals the light. No love, no light.
In verse 10, John expands a bit and says that the one who loves his brother (this refers to a fellow believer and not limited to men), abides in the light and in him is no cause for stumbling. The obvious implication of this is that when you can see clearly, you do not stumble. But I think this also includes the effect on those around the believer. For the one whose life is characterized by their love for others does not lead others to stumble either. When we encounter those who are difficult and characterized by their hate and negativity, we are more tempted to stumble, or sin. We are susceptible to engage in their behavior or respond unfavorably in defense, bitterness, or anger.
We all know what this looks like, right? I’ve heard too many who claim to know Jesus that bad mouth or gossip about other believers. The temptation is to engage such conversation and, heaven forbid, agree in these conversations. This is certainly NOT what we are called to. Satan sits and laughs as we shoot our own. He is happy to allow us to divide ourselves so that he can move on to others.
Those who claim to know Jesus are called to love one another… as Jesus loved…. And if we don’t, we show ourselves to be illegitimate children and having no relationship with him, the Father, or other believers. But as we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
And then we see the contrast in verse 11. The one who hates his brother is in the darkness (an unbeliever) and walks in the darkness (in the realm of the Enemy) and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. This truly is sad. If we consider the verses we looked at a couple of minutes ago, they agree that they have not been rescued… or transferred to the Kingdom of the Son. They are NOT a chosen race or royal priesthood, but belong to the kingdom of the Enemy. Is your life characterized by the love of Jesus to one another? Heed these words…
The second point is Love’s Source. We will see this in verses 12-14. Interestingly, John includes a poetic form of writing here. There is repetition and parallelism throughout. He also addresses his readers by referring to little children, to fathers, young men, and children. This has led to two different understandings of the address. Some suggest that he speaks to the different spiritual levels of maturity of his readers. Thus, the little children would be considered the immature or new believers. And the fathers would refer to those who are seasoned Christians. It is certainly an attractive approach. My primary hang-up with this understanding is because of a very near reference to “little children” in verse 1. Here, Doug Lye correctly informed us that John was referring to his readers without distinction. It was John’s way of showing his compassion and pastoral concern for these Christians. And I think that it is prudent of us to maintain consistency in this understanding and note that this reference would also include all of the readers.
This section serves to provide confidence to his readers. I mentioned at the outset that often we need reminders of divine truth in order to be victorious in our struggles in life. And John begins by saying “I am writing to you, little children.” And then the next word is “oJti” in the Greek. And with that word, we have a decision to make. Here is our weekly Greek lesson. “oJti” can be translated either as causal, as further explanation, or content. If you have an ESV, the translators have chosen “causal”. “Because your sins are forgiven, I am writing to you…” I take a different understanding. I think that because of John’s purpose to give assurance to his readers, this “oJti” should be understood as providing content. So, to translate it that way, it would be rendered “I am writing to you little children, ‘that’ your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” John is writing and reminding them. Perhaps it is only a subtle distinction.
So the first thing that he wants his readers to remember is that their sins are forgiven. This is important – especially if the false teachers were causing them to doubt or feel guilty over their sin. John reminds them that if they have trusted in Jesus, their sins are forgiven and no longer counted against them. In addition, John says that this is for his glory. Jesus died for their sins and forgave them – not so they look better – but that Jesus is looked upon as glorious.
To be honest, I am unsure as to understand much distinction between the references to young men, children and fathers in the next verses because the information that follows is relevant and applicable to all believers. (I am persuaded that this refers to physical age and not spiritual age. But the content is universal to believers.)
The next divine truth that John wants his readers to recall is found in verse 13. It is important for them to remember him who is from the beginning. This is a clear reference to Jesus Christ who was with the Father from eternity past. Their faith resides in the Eternal One who they anticipate to return and reign forever and ever.
Next, he indicates that believers have overcome the evil one. In the context of 1 John, the forces of evil are ever opposed against the faithful community. Their hope resides in remaining faithful to the message that they embraced from the beginning. Christians are in a battle and will overcome the evil one and the antichrists and false teachers. We saw this throughout our study in Revelation: the one who overcomes… We are assured that those who are genuine believers will persevere to the end. Our responsibility in community is to continue to exhort and encourage each other so that we stand together on that day… and not lose any.
John reminds them that they know the Father. They are in relationship with him. And then John repeats the idea that they know Jesus who is from the beginning. Often times when things are repeated, they are being emphasized.
And then he concludes these verses by referring back to strength in battle again. But he also adds some more information. He says that they are strong and the word of God abides in them and they have overcome the evil one. This is significant. There is a very close connection here. What is the source of strength? The Word of God. The Word of God abides in you! What is the result of the Word of God abiding in believers? You overcome the Evil One! Huh…
Do you remember the message that we began the New Year with? It was entitled “If my words abide in you”. In that message, we learned that it is vital for the Christian that God’s Word find a home within us. We were challenged to commit his Word to memory. Do you remember one of the key reasons why this is important? We are in a battle! Christians are in a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. How did Jesus combat the devil? The word of God! How do we combat the devil? And overcome him? The Word of God. John is even doing it here. He is calling to mind their salvation, their relationship to Jesus and the Father, their guaranteed victory over the adversary. John is reminding them of the promises of God to them.
Open your bulletin. Inside you will find this white piece of paper entitled “Spiritual Swordsmanship”. Why is it called that? Because we are in a spiritual battle… and we need to sharpen our skills. What is the prevalent theme on this paper? The Word of God. There is a daily reading plan so that we can better grasp God’s plan for all of history. We see the big picture and how all things revolve around Jesus. It provides the breadth. There are also Bible Study questions on the bottom so that we can become more grounded in the details. This provides depth. Now look at the top right. What do you see? Isaiah 53.7. What is the section heading? Fighter Verses. Why? Because we are in a battle. And if we are not armed with the Word of God, which is the Sword of the Spirit, we are defenseless against the Enemy. Who goes into battle unarmed? You can’t be victorious if you are unprepared. That’s foolishness. When many of us were growing up in children’s Bible programs, we would memorize Scripture and get points or stars and such. And this actually proved helpful as I could recall some of these verses throughout some of my teenage and younger adult years. Suddenly, they become more meaningful. And so now we have made it our community project to arm ourselves. This is why we open our worship service with Scripture memory. We want our church family armed against the Enemy. It is vital.
Ok. Third point: Love’s Object. We see this in verses 15-17. What we see here is yet another way to determine if you belong to the Father or the Enemy. In other words, John is saying look at the things that you love. They too will reveal if you have been rescued from darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of Jesus.
He begins by saying “do not love the world or the things of the world.” One may question this statement by stating “doesn’t God love the world? It says so in John 3:16… God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Right you are! However, in that context, John refers to the people in the world. He indicates that God shows no partiality between ethnicities, social classes, whatever. He loves people everywhere and sent his Son to die for them. In this context, the word “kosmos” refers to the world’s system – one that is opposed to God.
James 4:4 “4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” It is not the planet or people but a system that does not submit to God. And then John provides some specifics that help to understand what it looks like. In verse 16, he refers to the sinful desires of the flesh. These are often things that God has designed and man has distorted. To name a few, God created sex – but in the proper relationships – within marriage of the opposite sex. Man has distorted that in many, many ways. God provides with food and we turn it into gluttony. God gives us financial resources and we squander them. Ultimately, it is when created things are not directed primarily to God that they become sinful.
Next, John refers to the desires of the eyes. This is reference to covetousness. When we look around and long for the things we do not have, they become idols and communicate that we are dissatisfied with what God has provided for us.
And lastly, our pride in possessions. Our trust finds its objects in the things that we acquire. We place our faith in our retirement plans, our job security, homes, toys, whatever. We find our satisfaction elsewhere when it should find sole residence in God who is the source.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. I believe that this refers both to our love for him and a love that comes from him. When He is our source, our satisfaction, our lives… When we love fellow believers and walk in the light, we show that it is the love of the Father on our behalf and the love that comes only from him.
I love the way John closes this section. He passes on divine truth to serve as a reminder for our encouragement. We were created to glorify God in all that we do. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Many have turned from this and distorted God’s plan. Today there are too many people who live for the things of this world. John says that this is extremely short-sighted. The world is passing away. Consider the brevity of our lives in the light of eternity. This world has many enticements. And these do bring pleasure… for a time. With the end of our existence here, there will be no more desire for such things.
John says that the only thing that truly matters is doing the will of God. It has eternal ramifications. If it is true that the one who loves the world has not the love of the Father, this pursuit leads to eternal destruction. But the one who lives his life to serve his Master, will enjoy his presence for all eternity and live to carry out what he was created for.
Let me challenge you to consider your life’s pursuits. Do they reflect a life that has been changed by Jesus? Or do you pursue the pleasures of this world? It is not by good works that the relationship is formed with the Father, but the evidence of the relationship. Reconciliation with God happens in the heart… and then manifests itself in love for him and one another. Trust Jesus today. Let’s pray.