May 14 – 1 John 2:7-11
Main focus: Walking with Jesus means living in the light and acting out of love toward one another.
A month into our series we find out John doesn’t have anything new to say. At least, according to 1 John 2:7, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment.” As we’ve already seen, John is connecting true belief in Jesus with lived obedience to Jesus, and in our section for this week he links this to something incredibly important that Jesus said to him and the other disciples the night before his death. In short, if true belief in Jesus leads to lived obedience to Jesus, one of the first places this will show up is in love for others.
John says, “I am writing you no new commandment but an old commandment you had from the beginning.” This is likely a reference to the Jewish scriptures, particularly the Mosaic Law, and don’t miss John’s nod to the coherence between the Old Testament and New Testament. In our era we’re inclined to treat the Old Testament like the confusing, weird, incomplete part of the Bible, but for the earliest Christian churches it was the whole Bible, at least before the rest of the New Testament canon was filled out. Further still, Jesus used the Old Testament to reveal his full gospel (Luke 24:27) and Paul confirmed to Timothy that the Old Testament writings are able to make someone “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 3:15).
So John points out that what he’s about to talk about, love of neighbor, is native to the entirety of the Bible. This is in essence what Jesus told the questioning scribe, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37-40) All along, God has been teaching his people that his highest aim for them is to love him and their neighbor; this is what it means for the love of God to be perfected in us (1 John 2:5). John further describes this in terms of light and darkness, that our obedience to God, made highly visible by our outward love for others, is one way in which God’s truth and light breaks into the world.
As a brief aside, when John uses this language about light and dark and love and hate, he uses polar opposites to sharply illustrate his point. But when we read “hate” we might be prone to letting ourselves off the hook. “I don’t hate so-and-so, I’m not like a monster or anything.” But if we call to mind the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had some choice thoughts about what constitutes condemnable behavior towards another person. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt 5:21-22). In short, any behavior towards another person that is not born out of love and goodwill is subject to this sort of scrutiny, which shows us the incredibly high calling Jesus gives us here.
So John revisits an old commandment, and yet confusingly he also calls it a “new commandment.” That language is meant to hyperlink us back to a scene on the consequential night before Jesus’s death. There in the upper room, moments after Judas left to betray him, Jesus told John and the ten other disciples, “a new commandment I give you.” In discussion we’ll head to that scene and touch on Jesus’s desire for his disciples to be typified by his love. This is both the old commandment, love God and love neighbor, and the new commandment, to love as we have been loved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
According to Jesus, love is the identifying mark of a Christian. And not just any old love but Jesus’s love, love as he defines it and has demonstrated it. Jesus gives no high calling that he himself did not perfectly fulfill in our place. This is a sacrificial, death-defying, category-shifting love, and we can only rightly judge how countercultural such a love is if we rightly recognize the scandal of the gospel, that a holy, just, righteous God would love and give his life for sinners such as you and I. Only by dwelling on the depths of Christ’s love for us will we realize what a high aim it is to be imitators of such love (Eph 5:1-2).
Among other things that characterize this love, “costly” should come to mind. As we consider what it means for us to love like Jesus loves, we should realize that we’re not free to choose who we do and do not have to love this way. And according to Jesus, this costly love is how the watching world will know we whether or not we belong to him! The church must be a place where people who otherwise have no business loving each other do so incredibly well. So, in discussion we’ll sit for a moment with that thought and ask ourselves who it’s most costly for us to love, how God might use our growth in love for that person in our lives, and what exactly it might look like to take one step of growth in loving them.
• Could someone read 1 John 2:7-11 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• How does John connect love with the “light” of God?
• When John uses the word “hate” here, what all do you think qualifies?
• Could someone read John 13:31-35?
• When Jesus says “as I have loved you,” what all does he mean?
• Who is it most costly for you to love, and how might God be using that person or those people in your life?
• With that person or those people in mind, what would it mean for you to take one step of growth in your love for them?