The New Old Command – 1 John 2:3-17

The idea of a new old command might be a bit confusing. But this letter is meant to be an encouragement to Christians. There were people going around saying things that weren’t true.

John wants to remind you of the truth, to encourage you and give you confidence that you are actually a Christian. That also helps you spot people who aren’t the real thing, despite what they may say.

And over and over we keep thinking about what God is like, how we’re united to him in fellowship with him, and what that means we’re to be like. And, because it’s John, the writing is beautiful and poetic – which also can mean it takes a little digging to bring out the wonders!

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Love other Christians (3-8)

Last time we read John’s simple but powerful, “God is light.” And as Christians in fellowship with God, we’re to walk in the light – not in darkness. In these verses, we now see a link between “light” and “love”.

We begin with obedience: Read 1 John 2:3-4.

  • God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.
  • So there are no lies, obviously.
  • And Jesus the Son of God lived in perfect obedience to the Father.

So someone who doesn’t obey God’s commands isn’t like Jesus, and isn’t walking in the light. But if we are people who desire to keep God’s commands, it’s a sign that we’re walking in the light. Read 1 John 2:5.

Literally, “if someone keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is being made complete”. If you walk in the light, living out God’s commands, then that’s necessarily obedience springing from love.

First, it springs from your love for God (in Christ, redeemed and loved by him). And second, as you obey God’s commands his love flows outward through you – because he is love and will do good through you. His commands express his love. So obedience to God and his love in you go hand in hand. 

And since Jesus is the perfect example of obedience to the Father, you’re to grow to be as obedient and loving as him: Read 1 John 2:6.

But what commands are we to be obedient to? We know that the Old Testament food laws have gone, the sacrifices have gone, etc. John is writing into a specific situation where there are people working to oppose him (imagine! Opposing the apostle John!). Those opponents are spouting lies. They’re not teaching truth. And they’re telling others not to listen to John.

Love is not an option

If someone tries to teach you stuff, dissuading you from checking it with the Bible, and keeping you from listening to other people – beware. Because Christians have fellowship with the Father and so fellowship with each other; no barriers and divisions.

So, if all Christians ought to have fellowship with one another, they must surely love one another. And that’s the command John has in mind. Read 1 John 2:7.

  • Your English translation might not have that middle bit “to love one another” (it’s not in the original).
  • The NLT have added it to smooth out the translation because that is the command meant!

We know that because of the next verse: Read 1 John 2:8. Is this an old commandment or a new one?

  • In John 13:34, Jesus said to his disciples “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.”
  • John’s letter is year later: The ‘new’ command is ‘old’ and yet it’s still Jesus’ ‘new’ command!

But it’s ‘new’ in other ways too. It’s new in nature. The command to love each other is very much ‘of’ Jesus – from him, like him, for him. And as you have union with Jesus (you in him, him in you), as you love other Christians he loves them through you. As you do that, we have fellowship with him and one another. As we all love one another more, Christ’s kingdom grows.

The darkness is disappearing, passing. To love another Christian is to shine, to walk in the light even as Christ is light.

But wait: Aren’t we supposed to love everyone anyway? Even our enemies? Yes, obviously. But the standard of love expected between Christians is higher because of one simple fact: We’re family; we have one Father.

Love all other Christians (9-11)

That brings us to a rather challenging thought: That we’re to love all other Christians because we all have the one Father. Read 1 John 2:9.

It’s a simple enough statement. But John probably has someone in particular in mind – his opponents. People, claiming to be Christians, trying to pull people away from John and his teaching. People who, frankly, hate John and anyone who follows his teaching. Now read 1 John 2:10.

Notice that someone walking in darkness will be seen by the incompatibility of their words and their actions: “I’m living in the light” doesn’t go with hating believers. But someone actually living in the light doesn’t need to say so – you can just see it by their actions. They love others.

Someone not living in the light doesn’t know where they’re going or how to love. Read 1 John 2:11.

But notice something small but important: John doesn’t say, “anyone who hates all fellow believers”, or even “some”. He says, “anyone hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness.”

And it’s precisely there you need to pause and check yourself. Are there Christians (or groups of Christians) you hate? You hate them, if you discriminate against them or look down.

So beware putting labels on groups of Christians that actually highlight how different they are from you:

  • “They’re a bit happy-clappy in that church.”
  • “They’re a bit ‘Church of England’”
  • Isn’t that all a bit “superior” sounding? Doesn’t it sound better to say, “A bit different but they love the Lord”?

Pride, envy, division

You can hate other Christians by being envious of them. A church down the road seems to be growing. “Well, it’s all flashing lights and loud music” – rather than, “Praise and thank the Lord for kingdom growth.” When a pastor or church hits problems and you’re secretly a bit smug about it, that’s hate. It’s not love.

In the book of Judges, a big part of Israel’s collapse was that they started fighting among themselves rather than their common enemies. A church divided over secondary doctrine is not spiritual warfare; it’s a battle that the demons have won. Division over internal matters is not love.

Much of this kind of hate (lack of love) stems from pride. You look down on other Christians because of how they speak, how they pray, what Bible they read, or what church they go to. If you can think of anyone you look down on like that, it’s not love.

You can hate another Christian, of course, because they’ve hurt you. Whether that hurt is real or imagined, the outcome is the same. Your unforgiveness of them is not love, it’s hate.

All of which reminds us that love makes you vulnerable to hurt. If you’ve any doubt about that, look at what it cost God to love you.

Also, it’s clear that some people are harder to love than others. But Jesus’ command to you to love one another doesn’t have any little asterisks, caveats or get-out clauses.

  • Love. When hurt, love again.
  • Be hospitable. When rejected, be hospitable again.
  • Pray for your own loving heart; a prayer surely that will be heard.
  • And pray for those you want to love; pray with those you want to love.

And we do all this because we’ll spend eternity together!

Love that which lasts forever (12-17)

1 John 2:12-14 are a bit of an abrupt change in style.

3 times he says, “I am writing” and 3 times “I have written”. In the first 3 he writes (literally) to children, fathers, and young men, and then he writes much the same in the second 3.

What’s it about?

First things first: He uses the word “children” elsewhere in the letter to refer to all his Christian readers, so the NLT is right to spell that out for us as “I am writing to you who are God’s children.” The ‘fathers’ then might be older Christians, or maybe Christians of any age but more mature in the faith. Likewise ‘young men’ – referring to age or maturity. In a sense, it doesn’t matter so much.

What he is saying is that he’s writing to God’s children – whose sins have been forgiven and who know the Father. He’s writing to those who know Christ, the eternal Word of God who became human for us. He’s writing to those who have won the battle with the evil one because of God’s word of life living in your hearts.

Remember, he’s not writing to the false teachers to prove them wrong. He’s writing to you, if you’re a Christian, to remind you of the truth that saves you, to encourage you, and to warn you of false teachers.

So you’re to love other Christians (all other Christians, as God’s own children with you). Love is to be a distinguishing feature of Christians because love is ‘of’ Christ, who is in you.

Don’t love everything!

But you’re not to love everything! Read 1 John 2:15-16.

The advertising world is set up to convince you that you need all sorts of things to make you happy:

  • A nice house, a new car, make-up because you’re worth it, the holiday you deserve, a home shopping that just for you
  • So you can strive at work, get loads of money, buy lots of things.
  • And you’ll want more things, because they won’t actually bring happiness.
  • But you’ll put photos on social media anyway to make it look like you’re happy, and then everyone else will want what you’ve got and everyone gets sucked in.
  • And on it goes, until old age, illness and death robs you of the whole lot and none of it was worth anything.

John wants you not to join in with that. Shift the direction of your love:

  • Away from the world, from achievements and possessions that will pass and fade.
  • Your love is to be oriented towards God and his people – because that is all you have that will last forever.
  • Read 1 John 2:17.

But do love everyone!

And yet… “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). In that sense, you are to love the world, to love the people – with compassion, and hurt, and grief, and a yearning to see lost people come to Jesus.

And one way to achieve that is actually to love one another. “Love one another,” said Jesus, “so that all people would know that you are my disciples.”

So we know we’re not perfectly sinless. But we also know that we have fellowship with God and his Son, who is light. As we become more like him and have richer fellowship, we will love his children as he does. If you withhold your love from other Christians, you’re stunting your own growth, walking in darkness. Love the lost, but not what they’re lost in. Have an eye to eternity, and love till it hurts.