The apostle John is giving confidence to his audience by teaching them who are truly in fellowship with God. The first six verses of chapter 2 taught that those who know God keep his word and walk as Jesus walked. No one can say that they know God if they are not keeping his commands. John is going to explain the next characteristic in the profile of the Christian.
The Old and New Command (2:7-8)
John begins by teaching that this command for those who claim to be disciples of Jesus is not a new command. In fact, it is an old command that can be found from the beginning. What should be fascinating to us is that John does not directly explain what this old command and new command are. Verses 9-10 reveal that John is talking about love, particularly loving one another. When people came to Jesus and ask him what the greatest commands were in the Law of Moses, Jesus’ answer always was to the love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. These are the old commands from the beginning. Love God. Love one another. What John is saying is that this command to love which is the profile of the Christian is not a new command. This is not a command that comes from nowhere. Disciples know these age-old commands. This old command is the message you have heard.
John says that he is also writing a new command. This new command is “true in Him and in you.” Loving one another is not a new command. But John says it is a new command because of its illustration through Jesus. Never before had love been so plainly illustrated. In Jesus we are able to see what loving others truly looks like. Love had been commanded under the old covenant but never had love been perfectly displayed. Think about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Think about when Jesus was arrested how he made sure his disciples were safe. Think about Jesus dying for the world so the world could have eternal life and not experience eternal condemnation. Loving others is grounded in Jesus coming to earth and dying on the cross. You have never seen love until you see Jesus. There is nothing we can do to be proud of ourselves as if we have shown great love. Jesus is the revealing of the new command. Here is what loving others truly looks like — look at the life of Jesus. Listen to the words of Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)
This is what John is teaching us and will continue to teach us through this letter. Notice what John said in his letter. “Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in Him and in you…” (1 John 2:8). The new command is true in us when we love one another just as Jesus has loved us. The profile of the Christian is a person who loves others like Jesus loved us. We are able to love others because we are cognizant of the love Jesus has showed to us. I act in the best interests of others because Jesus acted in my best interests. I forgive because Jesus forgave me. I give because Jesus gave to me. I serve because Jesus served me.
The second reason we love is stated in the rest of verse 8. We love because the darkness is passing away and the true light in shining. The light has come in Jesus and we are to walk in the light and imitate Christ. The scriptures repeatedly remind us of who we are which is to lead us to proper actions.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14 ESV)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10 ESV)
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 ESV)
The true light is already shining. You were called out of darkness. When we do not show the love of Jesus to one another then we have returned to the darkness. We are not longer in the kingdom of his beloved Son but are back in the domain of darkness. This is where John goes in the next few verses.
Love Is The Way of Life (2:9-11)
Anyone who says they are in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness. You cannot say you are a Christian and not show love to your brother or sister in Christ. Do not think you are in fellowship with God when you do not love your brother. Notice in verse 11 what John says about those who hate their brothers and sisters. Such a person is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. You have threefold darkness. You are not in fellowship with God. You do not have eternal life. You are living your life in the domain of darkness and not in the kingdom of the Son. Finally, you are so blind to your condition that you cannot see where you are going. You are just clueless and lost. You think you are a Christian but you are so confused and lost. You are stumbling in the darkness and causing others to stumble. We understand this imagery. When the power goes out, we are stumbling around in the dark trying to find the light. Consider the image John paints. When you do not love your brother, you are stumbling around in the darkness and do not even know where you are going. Your life is lost. You cannot find God because you have no love for others. Recall what John said in the first chapter. Who had the blood of Jesus cleanse them from all sin? Those who walk in the light have fellowship with God and the blood of Jesus cleanses them (1:7). John is clear that those who do not love their brother walks in darkness. The implications are enormous. Therefore you are not in fellowship with God and the blood of Jesus does not cleanse you of your sins. You have lost the effect of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice in your life when you do not love your brother. You are walking in darkness and do not know where you are going. You are causing problems for others and creating problems because you are stumbling around in the dark.
I think the point is fairly simple: you don’t get it. If you do not love your brother then you just do not get it. You are as blind as could be and stumbling around in darkness. You simply do not get it. When we cause problems and divisions, we just don’t get what it means to be a Christian. When we give other Christians a hard time because we think they should be doing something for us, then we do not get what a disciples truly is. When we act selfishly, inconsiderate of others and not think about what you can do for them, then you are walking in darkness. You do not understand what it means to be a Christian. When you are an irritant, when you cause friction, when you cause troubles for others, when you are just a general pain in the neck, you are showing you are in darkness. This is why the scriptures speak of withdrawing from such people. You think you are a Christian, but you just don’t get it. You are so blind you cannot see your faults and errors and do not recognize the pain you are inflicting on others.
However, when we love our brother then we know that we are walking in the light (2:10). You are truly transformed and not going to cause others to fall into sin. You are not going to cause trouble in selfish thinking and selfish acts because you love your fellow Christians. Jesus summarizes this thought. We looked at verse 34 a moment ago but now look at verse 35 also.
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35 ESV)
Everyone is going to know if you are a disciple of Jesus by how you treat one another. People cannot come into the congregation and find fighting and divisions. It is shocking to me how people claiming to be Christians will treat other Christians so poorly because they think they are right. It is even more shocking to me that we will treat our Christian brethren worse than we will treat our non-Christian friends and acquaintances. There is no loophole to the statement made here by John. He does not say that you must love others unless they do something wrong. He does not say to love others unless they teach something false. Then we can act selfishly and ugly to make our point. No, this is not what John teaches. We are to known by our love. Our love for each other is to be an attraction to the world, displaying the love of Jesus. We love others by not bringing attention to ourselves but caring for others. We do not get upset when our sense of justice is violated. We will not consider who is helping me or taking care of me, but will measure fellowship by how much I can help you. We are going to look to settle disagreements, not make mountains out of anthills. We can have differences and still maintain love and peace because the faith of the other person is more important to us than anything else. John tells us that the profile of the Christian is to have proper loving treatment of others.
John has taught us the second characteristic of the Christian. Last week we learned that we know him by keeping his commands. This week we learned that we know God by loving our brethren. Walking in the light means obedience and love toward God and toward others.