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Volume 13, Issue 5: Exegetica

A New Commandment / 1 John 2:7-11

Jim Nance

To love God is to obey him. Those who love the Lord submit to His authority, an authority revealed to His people throughout the Scriptures in the form of commandments. These are summarized in the Ten Commandments, which themselves are summarized in two: Love the Lord your God with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. Thus love for God and obedience to Him are intertwined, as seen throughout John's first epistle (cf. 3:10; 5:3). Let us consider the first of these.

"Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning" (1 Jn. 2:7). It is not evident from this verse alone that the "old commandment" which John has in mind is the commandment of brotherly love. To be sure, from the beginning of history God has required every man to love his brother. The breaking of this command by Cain was in fact the first recorded sin after the fall (cf. 3:12). Rather, we associate the old commandment with brotherly love from the context, both from the passage immediately following (verses 8-11, which we will consider in a moment), and even more clearly from 1 John 3:11: "For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another."
The command to love your brother is thus no new command. God commanded brotherly love explicitly through Moses: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart . . . Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:17-18). God has always desired His covenant people to be characterized by love toward one another. John's readers needed to be reminded that this teaching is nothing new, because the false prophets he speaks of later were bringing a "new" teaching and were not remaining in the fellowship of the brethren (cf. 1 Jn. 2:18-19; 5:1-2). John exhorts His readers to recall what they have learned since the beginning, to not allow themselves to be carried away by falsehoods represented as the next higher level of spiritual truth. Remember what was said of old, stay the course, and love your brother.
Yet in another sense this command is new: "Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth" (1 Jn. 2:8). The coming of Christ has made all things new, and has shed new light on old truths. Brotherly love now has its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ —this love is "true in Him." Perfect love has been perfectly revealed in the death of God's Son for sinful men, and it is this expression of sacrificial love which is laid out as an example for us to follow: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (4:11). Thus the old commandment is a new commandment, newly expressed, and given with new power to obey it. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit. This new commandment is now true in us because "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:5). The relative darkness of the old covenant is past, and the true light of God's love shines out to all generations from the cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Himself, in the upper room just prior to His crucifixion, called this commandment new: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (Jn. 13:34). Jesus loved His brothers to the end (v. 1) in the washing of their feet. He did this as an example, that we should wash one another's feet (v. 14), that this love would be true in us. Thus we see that brotherly love is service, giving of ourselves to meet the needs of others. Brotherly love is hospitality, having one another into our homes. Brotherly love is humble kindness, considering others better than ourselves, looking not to our own interests, but to those of others. Such love is to characterize Christ's brethren: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (Jn. 13:35). Such love demonstrates that you are walking in the light.
"He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes" (1 Jn. 2:9-11). The false brethren who had been in their midst claimed to be in the light. This claim was effectively self-refuted when they left the fellowship and love of the brothers. These separators were self-deceived, believing themselves to possess the truth without sin, but in reality abiding in wickedness and lies. But sightless men cannot tell that they are in the dark. Only those who have gone from darkness to light know what the darkness is truly like, and they gladly forsake it. But those who show hatred for the brethren by leaving the Church to pursue error betray only their own blindness. They don't know where they are going, they just want out. But those who love the fellowship of God's people abide in the light, and God removes all stumbling blocks from their paths. The pursuit of sin leads to darkness, but obedience is the great opener of eyes.

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