7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.
8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.
9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.
10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:7-11
We are the beloved! We are really only going to understand this stuff if we remember that he is writing to us as greatly loved.
Old and New
So, we have an old commandment, and a new commandment. It seems to be more important to John to figure out whether it is old or new than to specify what the commandment actually is! The old commandment is “the word which you have heard.” The new commandment isn’t really specified! We just know that it is true.
I don’t really see that he spells out what the commandment or commandments are. However, we know from John’s gospel that the new commandment is that we should love one another (John 13:34). Perhaps the sense of this is that the old commandment from the Old Testament amounted to love for one another (love God – first 3, love neighbors, last 7, Exodus 20). It isn’t as if love had never been commanded (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18). The question we are looking for the answer to here is this: why does this matter? How is this same commandment old and new, and why should we care?
There is power in oldness. It is important that the wisdom of antiquity not be discarded or easily superseded. Often there is only self-serving fleshly harmful nonsense in the quest to be new, to only break with the past. Where there is disdain for the wisdom handed down there is likely disdain for truth, because truth cannot be the sole domain of this current generation.
On the other hand, there is power in the new. Where there is no endeavor to question, to discover, to see things in a fresh way, there is often also no truth. Slavish devotion to ancient wisdom deifies antiquity, and offends the spirit in which the men of antiquity received their revelation. In fact this is possibly the chief sin of the pharisees.
Jesus seizes on love as the hinge between the old and the new. He comes, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). Love fulfills the ultimate purpose of the old covenant law, and becomes the center point of the new convenant. Love is the demand of the law, and the unction of the spirit. Later (1 John 4:10) John will turn this completely on its head and say that love is really about God loving us first, and not about us loving God.
Love is pivotal, and works in perfect concert with grace. Grace apart from love really is just license to be selfish and sinful. Love is the energy to true virtue, because it chooses kindness, it looks to the welfare of the other and serves. When we begin to see that God chooses kindness towards us, and is concerned not with our just condemnation but with our welfare and forgiveness, we also begin to wish to express the same kindness likewise to others.
The word which you have heard
This phrase pops up here as well as in Hebrews 2:1. It is a funny turn of phrase, because it turns us to thinking and remembering instead of spelling it out. It says, this isn’t some revelation you lack, or even some interpretation you can’t grasp. It is something you have heard, it is a word you have understood. It isn’t alien to you. In fact, it is an old commandment, and you are familiar with it. This isn’t some strange new teaching, and it isn’t rocket science.
True in Him and in us
The new commandment is true in Him, and also in us, the beloved. This is amazing, that there is something in Him that is also in me! Of course it would be true in Him, but it is also true in me? Yes it is!
This innocuous little phrase is most profound. It says, this old/new commandment, love, is the experiential connection between God and myself. It says, in this is love, my love for others, that God first loves me. Love is something I know, and this something I know is how God is. It is not fake in me. It is true in Him and in me. According to this scripture, love is a present reality in me and a similar present reality in God.
So, when we end up preaching and teaching in a way where people are saying, “this might be good, but it is hard to understand.” I think the answer is, we are talking around something which you already know. It is true in Him and true in you. We can be assured that there is not some secret knowledge we are missing, it IS true in us, and this present truth is the same present reality in Him.
Darkness passing away, true light shining
I was very impressed when a blog pointed out this quote from the Lord of the Rings, where after discovering that Gandalf is alive, Samwise exclaims,
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”
This is the state of things! There is surely darkness, there is much sadness. But the true light is already shining. The defeat of Jesus’ death has become untrue, life is more powerful than death. We believe that death is easily more powerful than life, but the true light of life is already shining.
On reflection, it seems to me that many times we are very timid to say that darkness is passing away and that the true light is winning. We are afraid because there is still darkness, and people are terribly impacted by the evil in the world. So we are afraid to say that the gospel does have its true effect. The scripture says the darkness is passing away. The scripture is clear that the true light of our joy and freedom and redemption in Christ is true light, it is eternal and enduring and of genuine substance.
What he is addressing here, I think, is a comfort that remains needful in this day and age. We doubt that we have authentic Christianity, authentic faith. We think that it is possible that there is some deep fundamental difference between the faith of the apostles and our faith. We fear that our knowledge of Him is theoretical
Love = vision and purpose vs. Hate = blindness and futility
It would seem that if someone doesn’t love his brother, he has a vision problem. There is something there, some beauty, some awesomeness, that he is unable or perhaps unwilling to see. Further, love involves vision, vision for the future. The one who loves his brother abides in the light, and has no cause for stumbling. If he has no cause for stumbling, this means that he is headed somewhere, and is able to avoid obstacles. Love engenders vision.
I believe this is probably true even in a business sense. If someone’s business is born out of an understanding of his customer, he has a much greater vision for making his products or services better for them. He can see the other person’s pleasure. If he only wants to make money, he sees the customer as an obstacle to the customer’s money, and has no vision for their welfare.
So my takeaway is that love puts eyes in your head, and gives you purpose and wisdom. Hatred blinds you and makes you stumble. Note that the hater does not know where he is going. So John does mean that we can think of vision not only in the sense of sight but of purpose. On reflection love makes you intelligent, hate makes you stupid. Love gives you purpose, hate makes you futile.
We ought not be flippant about assuming that we are not a hater. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Love is the big commandment, the new commandment. I’ve seen my boys act in the most obvious hateful ways towards one another and then swear they don’t hate each other. We have an enormous capacity for self-deception on this point. God, I confess my terrible lovelessness, and I pray for new and deeper and truer vision to love those in my family, my church, my work, and in my circle of friends and extended family. Help me to see them with new eyes and with a new heart! Amen.