Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 1 John 2:7–11
A New Command about Love and Hatred
This week's passage fits well into the theme that Apostle John focuses on in chapters 1 through 2: "God Is Light." Chapters 3 and 4 highlight "Love One Another in Brotherly Love" while chapter 5 brings our attention to "Victory over the World by Obeying God."
In previous weeks' studies of First John chapter 1, we realized many reminders that John wrote for the record: (1) He opened with a beautiful reminder that he'd personally witnessed, first hand, all that had been declared about Jesus, the Word of life; (2) he then reminds his readers that eternal life comes only through the Son, who was with the Father from the very beginning; (3) next he jogs our memory, telling us that true believers walk in the light and can't remain in darkness because the Son lives in us and purifies us from all sins; (4) the first chapter ends with a biblical view of sin and a reminder that God is faithful to cleanse us from sin and unrighteousness when we confess.
Early in chapter 2, we learned much about our sins and God's commands for us sinners, as highlighted in last week's summary, wherein he completed his concerns about sin, reminding us of how Jesus is our Advocate who's the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. Because of this, we'll see in today's and upcoming studies how true believers should respond by being obedient to God's words and loving one another. Soon John the Elder will remind us not to love things of the world since they'll pass away. This chapter ends with warnings against antichrists who've come to deny Jesus' being the Christ, the Messiah. Twice he'll remind us that we believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit who'll remind us of the truth, then teach, guide, and guard us in all things.
A New Command (1 John 2:7–8)
How do you think you'd do if you were to take a "love test" right now? . . . What grade would you get? . . . While no one is eager to be tested about anything, a taking of a "love test" would likely be avoided universally. But for Christians, self-administered tests, in light of the standard of God’s words, should be a daily part of life. John “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was perfectly equipped to convey to his readers that material by which their goodwill could be examined.
How would you answer question #1: Do you love others in the same way that Christ loves others? . . . According to John's text, if you are in Christ, you will love like Christ loves. The Lord's love effort involves these three distinct operations for our guidance: (1) committing to an ongoing, sacrificial relationship with them, (2) speaking sound doctrine to all, and (3) warning and advising people when they're disobedient to Father God.
After John tells his readers that one should "live as Jesus did" (2:6), he immediately reminds us that this wasn't a new commandment that had suddenly been forced upon them. While it was Jesus who gave the command to love, it was also he who lived it out to the fullest by dying on our behalf to pay our individual sin debt. This "love" command was part of what his house-church believers "have had since the beginning" (v. 7).
7Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining (2:7–8).
The command to love has always existed. It's old because the command to love is the one command in the Old Testament they know well. Jesus spoke about the 10 Commandments as expressions and actions of love for God and love for people (see Exodus 20 and Matthew 22:37–40). Recipients of John’s letter already knew about this old command to love God and each other; it was also integral to the gospel of Christ, which they'd known since they first believed in Jesus, hearing it from their teachers.
The old commandment is the same as the new one: “Obey the Word of God.” The difference in the new commandment is it that Jesus' light is now “in you.” When the Light is in you, darkness begins to pass away, often gradually, with the help of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and as a result of our obedience to him.
What specifically made new the command that John announced in v. 8? . . . First and foremost, Christ's command presents a new example of love, as documented by Jesus' life, and certainly his death on the cross. Secondly, with a returned focus on fellowship, Jesus' death creates a relationship with him that permits and enables our obedience to his command(s). By his death, all of God's people have become able to be united, not only with one another but with God. Especially during his last three years, Jesus gave and modeled his "love" command to all who saw and heard him. Here, John has written a new command to his fellow believers in Ephesus.
Let's make it even clearer regarding the "new" and "old" adjectives of "command." The "new command" that John announced in his letter wasn't new in the sense of time. He was directing their attention to something that was fresh in quality, kind, or form, to something that replaces that which has become worn out and nonviable. In his “new command / old command / new command” advisory, the Elder makes a noteworthy wordplay here. Though he doesn’t here state the exact command, we'll learn in Second John, vv. 5–6, that we're to "love one another," "walk in obedience to his commands," " and "walk in love." Both verses refer to the same "love" command.
This "love" command was “new” because Jesus personified love in a fresh, new way that was shared abroad in believers' hearts and also energized by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22–23; and 1 Thessalonians 4–5). Jesus raised love to a higher standard for the church, commanding his disciples to imitate his love when he said, “as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12).
The term "since the beginning" in v. 7, doesn't refer to the beginning of time but to the beginning of their lives as Christian, as indicated in v. 24; 3:11; and 2 John, v. 6. This was part of the righteous instruction they received on the day of their salvation; it wasn't an innovation invented by John, as the heretics possibly presupposed.
Verse 8's "new command" expresses how much easier it is for us to understand God's law, since the light of Jesus has illuminated it. This "new command" was to instruct John's fellow believers in Ephesus, and certainly us here, to let Jesus, the Light of the world, live in and through us in fellowship with one another. His perfect light continually shines on us, hopefully reminding us of his perfect Love. Because Jesus' light brightens our paths, it's no longer too dark for our daily walk.
Love One Another (vv. 9–11)
In the believers' community that John addressed, love had been commanded and modeled by Jesus; subsequently it was be lived out and practiced purposefully. This doesn't mean that the boundaries of a community can limit the extent that believers love their brothers and sisters. But if a community fails to live by Jesus' teaching and modeling, how can it expect people in surrounding communities to respond lovingly to the "love" command? Such a failure to promote the benefit of loving one another brings us to John's warning in vv. 9–11, which can be summed up as the incompatibility between love and hate.
9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister [Greek adelphos: refers to a believer] is still in the darkness. 10Anyone who loves their brother and sister [who is a believer] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them (2:9–11).
Some church-body members in Ephesus asserted that they had special knowledge of God; they felt that they knew God and were in his light. But they were proved wrong by how they lived. They didn't live as Jesus did. Neither did they love Jesus or fellow Christians, as they should have, which was why John wrote his commanding words to them. Clearly they didn't know God at all.
The text of v. 9 tells us that those who hate others aren't walking in Jesus' light. His perfect light provides his perfect love to believers. No hatred can be tolerated. Hate is proffered by Satan the devil; it's surrounded by darkness. Likely to John, "hates" simply means “fails to love.”
The phrase “is still in the darkness” refers to those who profess to be Christians but yield to Satan's temptation to hate people. The false teachers claimed to be enlightened about God and salvation, but their actions, especially their failure to love, proved their claims false (as shown in v. 11).
"Loves" and "Lives" Verse 10's "loves" is a product of Jesus' light while the verb "lives" suggests life in a continuum where there's no temptation or interest in stealing from one's brother if you love him; and there's no yearning for what your brother owns, if you love him. These are only two examples that demonstrate how, when you love your brother, you have no interest in harming or taking advantage of him. While it's the lust of the flesh that causes sin, it's the light of God that helps us see things more correctly and righteously, thereby preventing us from sinning and preventing others from stumbling.
Previously in this chapter, John examined believers according to the moral measure of their/our walk with God. Here he examines us according to our love for other Christians as a measure of our walk with God. Just as the relationship of our sin and obedience is a calculation of our fellowship with God, so also is our love for God’s people. That is, if we say, We're in the light yet we hate our brother or sister, then our claim to having a righteous fellowship with the God, who is light, is worthless. But those who genuinely love their brother and sister show beyond doubt that they "live in the light" and don't "make them stumble." Remember this: Our relationship with God is to be measured by our love for other Christians.
He who truly "loves" — not “claims” to be in the light (v. 9) — lives in Jesus' light, that is, God's presence. He doesn't trip or stumble; neither does he cause others to trip or stumble. Throughout this passage, John stresses action, not just words; walk, not just talk. In v. 11, "walks" suggests “lives." "Anyone who hates a brother or sister" is one who habitually spends his or her life in darkness or sin (see 2 Corinthians 4:4), suffering the blinding effects of sin. Hate is an intense dislike for people; it's easily brought about by Satan who dwells in darkness, wherein we're unable to see, which causes us to lose our spiritual footing. We believers are obliged to follow Jesus' command and "live in the light," his light.
As the Elder confirms in the above three verses, it's not only impossible to live simultaneously in light and darkness, there's no way one can live in a community of believers while hating a fellow community member. Love and hate are as incompatible as religion and science and water and oil. The hatred expressed herein refers to the feelings of Gnostics and/or Docetists who'd left the local house church and hated its Christian members. John reminds his readers of the Lord's long-standing command to love each other, asking whether those who'd departed and disrupted the fellowship were displaying obedience to the "love" command. Hatred hampers and compromises the individual unity and corporate harmony that Jesus commanded and expected of his believers. Those who'd intentionally left their fellow believers documented their living in darkness wherein no one can effectively see and know God who is "the true light [who] is always shining."
John the Elder makes this point plain: If we lose love, we lose everything; nothing is left. The three tests that John gave his believing friends and us — moral, doctrinal, and love — all stand together. (See our coverage of all three tests in week 2's summary.) It can be easy for believers to elevate “ministry” or “being right” above "loving" those in Christ's church body. We must minister to the world, and we must be right in what we do. However, we must also make every effort to minister with love and do rightly in love.
At this point in John's life, he's lived a life of love. But in his early days of discipleship, he was known as one of two “sons of thunder.” You don’t get a nickname like Sons of Thunder for no reason. But that is how Jesus’ disciples, James and John, were known. They were rough-and-ready guys, colorful characters, who wouldn't back away from a confrontation but could be quite aggressive. Luke tells us that, many years ago, young John wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy those who rejected Jesus (Luke 9:51–55).
Today's verses are about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must be careful to walk in the light of Jesus, not in the dark ways of the world that include hatred, idolatry, adultery, judgment, prejudice, profanity, and so on. If we continue to walk in those ways, we reveal that we're not in a righteous relationship with Christ; we're stumbling around, blinded by darkness. Thankfully, the light of Lord Jesus is the Light of love. But we cannot hate our brother or sister while professing to be "walking in the light."
Hopefully you'll obey the new command that's illuminated by heavenly light.
- Q. 1 Of the old and new commands that John iterates, which command will you obey?
- Q. 2 Do you love others in the same way that Christ loves others? . . . If so, how? . . . If not, why not?
- Q. 3 What test is given in this passage for determining whether one really knows God (v. 10)?
- Q. 4 In what level of light are you walking around today?
1 John 2:7–11