The Christian Walk
1 John 2:7-14
Last week we learned that sin is not normal in the Christian. The Christian’s sin does not affect just that person, but the entire body of Christ. We saw from the plural "we have an advocate" that there has to at least be a sense in which the whole body intercedes for the individual who sinned. The word here was the same used by Jesus to describe the operation of the Holy Spirit, paraclete. In Christ alone and in His atoning sacrifice do we find forgiveness of our sin.
We were also reminded that this epistle has a high theology of the church or body of Christ. We all together are Christ’s body. We cannot have fellowship with the Father or the Son if we are not in fellowship with His body. the church. The ones who had left thought they could do Christianity on their own as though it was a "survival of the fittest" race for salvation. Instead, we must see this race as a group effort in which the church is not crowned until the weakest of the brethren cross the finish line. The “we” sections accent this as contrasted to the approach of the ones who thought themselves above the fellowship of the church are introduced by the singular.
If we see that we cannot achieve the crown until the "least of these my brethren" finish the race, how much the more should we intercede, encourage, and assist them!
Exposition of the Text
v. 7. Beloved, This is not a new commandment I am writing you BUT an old one which you have been holding from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard.
John is about to give the church a new commandment which is not really new at all. We all know how sometimes our walk in Christ gets stale and suddenly something new pops up that refreshes us. But when we think about it, we remember that we have heard it before but had forgotten it. The Greek word καινὴ, keh-knee, which is translated "new" does not mean "new" in the sense of "novel" or something entirely new and different. It instead has the idea of a commandment which is of the same substance as the old, but new in application or deeper in meaning. In fact, καινὴ is used in the Greek for "New" in the title "New Testament". The New Testament is not something entirely new or novel as it is founded upon the Old Testament and the promises of the Old. The New Testament stands out in relation to the Old in the sense that while it has its foundation in the Old Testament, it also goes richer and deeper. The commandment they are about to receive is the same one which they heard from the very beginning of their faith journey. But there is growth in the understanding and application of this commandment.
We know in John 15:12 and John 15:17 and in other places in Jesus’ final sermon to His disciples before the crucifixion talked about the vital importance of loving one another. It was the proof to the world that they were disciples of Jesus (John 13:35). John earlier in this epistle talked about the twofold manner of our witness. The one was the proclamation of the good news in human speech. The other was the witness of character or who one is. If we belong to Jesus, our lives will reflect this testimony by the love we have for each other. What we say, what we do, and who we are must all agree. The perfect testimony is the complete integration of sound doctrine, sound living, and a sound heart.
Jesus told the disciples many times that the world would be hostile to the message of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it was all the more important that the church be united in love. the church would also need to respond to persecution from outside with the same forgiving love that Jesus had shown the world on the cross. We can take the church of Antioch mentioned in the book of Acts for an example. That church was a church made up of people of various economic and social statuses. Not only this, it was interracial. In the world, these people would certainly not have mixed. In fact, the only way you could have gotten them together was by spear point. This does not mean the task of uniting the church in love was an easy one. But what a testimony it must have made to the world who saw them worshipping together! "Surely God is in this place" must have been the reaction of many who saw them. Who knows how many were won to Christ because of this love.
v. 8. Again, a new commandment I am writing you, which is true in Him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light already shines.
I have provided a more or less literal translation of the verse to show that it is a difficult verse to interpret. He had just called it an old commandment. But now he calls it a new one. And although it becomes clearer later, he does not even say what that commandment is. All we know is that it is the same word or commandment they had received from the beginning.
It seems what is new here is the making the practical application of what the commandment to love means. It is the putting of the doctrine of love into practice. It is vitally important to have a solid grounding in the Word of God. You cannot live what you do not know and understand. It is important to know how the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures define "love." But on the other hand, it is just as vital to put faith into practice.
The middle part of this verse "which is true in Him and You" has given commentators fits. There seems to be something missing to complete the idea here, and commentators do not agree on what to add to make sense of this. Some want to change the adjective "true" to the adverb "truly" making it read, "which is truly both in Him as well as you." This is grammatically possible in Greek although unusual. Others would translate it "which is the truth that is both in Him and you." The trouble with the pronoun translated "which" is that it is in the neuter gender in Greek, whereas "commandment" in Greek is feminine. This means that "which" refers to something other than the commandment. Because it is the same neuter pronoun which starts off the Epistle of John, I tend to think that it refers to the totality of the Christian experience ("that which we have heard, that which we have seen")
Another thing to note is that in Hebrew, truth is a relational concept as we have noted. The Hebrews saw this in a sense as being true to God (being faithful). If we look at it this way, this part of the verse describes the Christian experience as a true relationship which exists between Jesus and His church. Jesus is always faithful, to the Father, and to His bride, the church. We should reflect this first love and faithfulness by being true in love to each other and being true to the Father and the Son.
John goes on to compare this change from old to new by comparing darkness to light. When the sun starts to rise in the east, darkness has to fade away. This is a gradual process as we know in the morning. It does not get bright right away, but everything has been provided for it to do so. So even if the early dawn appears murky, we know that as the sun rises, the darkness will pass.
The same can be said spiritually. Because of the work of Christ, the light of God is dawning on the world. Sin and evil have been abolished by the cross. We just need to wait a little longer. The Lord is even more dependable than the sun which He made anyway. What would happen on the day the sun refuses to shine? What gloom and doom would pervade the news media! Yet, the prophet Joel says that on the Day of the Lord, the sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood.
Jesus commands that our light shine before the world. We are not the source of this light, but the gracious recipients of the light which comes from God. This light is characterized by the love of God which shines to the world through us. The proof that we have God’s light and love in us is our love for each other.
As far as evil is concerned, it is compared to darkness. No Christian can walk in the darkness. The power of darkness is broken in the Christian. It might not be perceptible for a while. The Christian may and will sin. But as God’s light and love fill the Christian, sanctification will have its perfect work. The old sinner is like a tree that has been cut down. The leaves might still be green for a while, but they shall wither up and die.
v. 9. The one who says that he is in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness.
Note that John goes back to the singular which indicates that this was the claim of those who had left. They had claimed to be the enlightened ones. They may have felt so enlightened that they left the fellowship of the church because they considered those believers to be in the dark about the real "truths" they had discovered. They probably despised these brothers. The Greek verb here for "hate" is "μισέω", miss-eh-oh. The Greek meaning of the verb means "hate" or "despise". the Hebrew idea would be of "un-chosen" or "of lesser value", or "less loved." In other words, these who had left probably held to some idea that they were "elected" or superior to the rest.
But John sets this straight immediately. John equates light and love in this epistle. We already saw earlier that God is described as being the pure light in which there is no darkness at all. Later on we will hear that God is love. Anybody who is truly in the light would have to be both in the light and loving as well. The one who is truly enlightened loves his Christian brothers and sisters, even if loving them can be quite difficult at times. The ones who had left had abandoned their responsibilities to the flock for their own selfish gain. They were almost in a sense acting as Cain did to Abel. And what more dark a deed could one commit than to murder one’s own younger brother which he had responsibility over.
v. 10. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no stumbling in him.
Again, John is addressing the issue of those who had left the fellowship as though he were telling them what they ought to have done. One is in the light only when they are in fellowship with the other brothers. As soon as one leaves the fellowship, that person goes out into the dark just as Judas had gone out from the fellowship on the night he betrayed Jesus. And what did John say about this? -- John 13:30 says that he left after taking the morsel, and it was night. Here was a man who had despised both the Lord and his fellow disciples. And what darkness overtook him!
The word in the Greek translated "stumbling" is σκάνδαλον, scan-dal-on, from which we get the word "scandal’. Technically, the word was used to describe the stick which held up the trap. When the animal went for the food, it dislodged the stick and the trap closed. Those who had left had fallen into the trap of Satan. Satan claims to be an angel of light, but those who follow his light will find themselves in the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And there are so many Christians who think they can be sophisticated in this world and still be a good Christian. One can see a perfect example of this in the Pathway Bookstore coffee kiosk next to which I am writing up this lesson. It mixes quotes from the Bible with quotes from both Heathen and Christian authors as though the truth of the Bible and that of science, secular literature, and philosophy are on the same level.
v. 11. But the one who hates his brother is in the dark, and in the darkness he walks and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
John uses the word for "darkness" (Greek σκοτία, skoh-tee-ah) three times in a single verse for emphasis. The one who hates his brother is utterly blind and in darkness. How could he/she but stumble? The concept John is trying to get across is really a very simple one. However, even children have to be reminded again and again of the same thing until it sinks in. In a way, I feel John is still trying to reach out to this group that left to compel them to get out of the dark and back into the light. Jesus had mentioned that if the "light" in a person be really darkness, how great that darkness really was.
v. 12-14. I write to you little children because your sins have been forgiven for His name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him from the beginning. I write unto you young men because you have conquered the evil one.
I write unto you little children because you have known the Father. I write unto you, fathers, because you have known Him from the beginning. I write unto you, young men because you are strong, the Word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one.
These three verses appear very confusing to most people when they read them. However, if one understands the Hebrew way of thinking, one would see a pattern of rhymed thought called "parallelism". We in the Western world make rhymes of syllables in our poetry. But the Hebrews used parallel thoughts. This is partly because the Hebrew vocabulary is limited and each word in Hebrew can have a wide range of meaning. So they will try to express a though more precisely by restating the first clause using a word which is either similar or opposite in meaning to clarify what is meant.
The first parallelism I have translated "i write unto you little children in both cases. However, there are two different words in Greek. The first, τεκνία, tek-knee-ah, has the meaning of beloved children. The second is παιδία (peh-dee-ah), which also refers to young children, but with the sense of the proper raising or discipline. By putting the two together, one gets the idea that John is addressing them as beloved children whom he expects to learn discipline. I feel that John is addressing the entire church here and not just the literal "little ones". Notice that the first time John tells them that their "sins have been forgiven on account of His name." The second time he tells them "you have known the Father." What is the proper relationship between these two phrases? Are they two different things that John wants them to know, that both their sins have been forgiven and that they have known the Father. Or is John trying to say that forgiveness of sins and knowing the Father are the same thing? If this is so, it clearly says that one cannot know the Father unless they also know that Jesus has forgiven their sins. Some of those who left may have denied that there was such a thing as sin, unless sin was considered to be ignorance which they weren’t any longer. If that is what they thought, they were mistaken. Knowing the Father also implies knowing why you can call Him Father which is because Jesus had made it possible.
The words, "forgiven" (Greek ἀφέωνται, a-fe-own-teh) and "know" (Greek ἐγνώκατε , egg-know-kah-te) are both in the Perfect tense which emphasizes the effect or results of the action. John reminds them that their sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus and that this has caused a change in them. That is they now know the Father which has eternal consequences. And if we thing like a Hebrew that knowledge is more than an idea but a relationship, the puzzle pieces fit together nicely. The forgiveness of their sin because of Jesus puts them in a right relationship with the Father.
The second parallelism really isn’t. It is exactly the same in both sets of verses other than the word for "I write" is in the present tense in the first set and the past in the second.. The fathers in the church have known him (Greek ἐγνώκατε, egg-know-kah-te) which is in the perfect tense. This probably refers to the elders of the churches who had been Christians for a long time and were now responsible for teaching others. Why did John not change this middle clause? Perhaps it was clear enough, or perhaps he wanted to express the idea of unchangeableness. The same that they had received from the beginning is still the same they had now. They did not need to find some new "truth". They had known Him from the beginning of their walk. They had come into this relationship with the Father because of what Jesus had done. Nothing needs to be added to this. This cannot be changed; there is no other way to come into relationship than what you have known all along. There is no new "truth" out there which can supersede it.
The third parallelism has one phrase in common: "You have conquered the evil one." The second adds "because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you.’ In this case, I feel the added phrases in the second group of verses explain more fully what it means to have conquered the evil one. If one took the "You have conquered the evil one" by itself, one might make the mistake in thinking that they did this on their own without help. Perhaps this too was the claim of those who left. They may have seen themselves as "overcomers" or "conquerors" because they had this secret knowledge. The emphasis was that they had done this through their own ability. Obviously John could not let that go unchallenged.
How then are we conquerors? First of all, John describes these younger believers with the term νεανίσκοι, knee-ann-is-koi, which describes young men who are fit for military service. He also describes them in the second group that they are strong (ἰσχυροί, is-kee-roy). We are soldiers of the cross, and the young Christian is often a very powerful soul-winner. John does want to impress upon them that they are to be Christian soldiers. But at the same time, he clarifies it by saying "because the Word of God abides in you". It is Jesus who strengthens them and us. We cannot fight this battle alone. There is always the remembrance that our sins have been forgiven by Jesus. This puts us in a right relationship with the Father. Although not directly stated in these verses, I feel there is an understanding that this battle is to be fought by the church, the body of Christ, and not just by individuals. We are soldiers in God’s army. Christ is the general who gives the orders. And when the battle is won, it is our victory. Apart from being in Christ’s army, there is no victory, but certain defeat
Finally, the word for "conquered" (νενικήκατε,ne-knee-kee-kah-te) is in the perfect tense. Conquerors have always faced the possibility that someone else could in turn conquer them. But the idea of the perfect is that the victory won is final and permanent. Paul’s equivalent in Romans is "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). For those who are "in Christ", victory is for certain and is permanent. Being more than a conqueror means that one cannot be conquered.
We can see again how important it is that we see ourselves as being a part of the body of Christ and not the "Lone Ranger". We cannot win this victory by ourselves. To thing that we can do this by ourselves is to be totally in the dark and clueless to what being a Christian is all about. And it is more than Jesus and me as well. Jesus will certainly come to the aid of those who are His, including the leaving of the ninety and nine to recover a lost sheep. But the emphasis is always of returning the lost sheep to the fold where they are protected and nourished. And as no army can win a war in which each individual decides which orders to follow or how these orders are to be carried out is no army at all. Christ is the head. In him alone is our victory.