A New Commandment in a New Community with a New Power
1 John 2:3-27
The incarnation of the Son of God brought the age to come to bear on this present age. The age of the forgiveness of sins and light has broken into the present evil age of sin and darkness.
Our encounter with God, who is light, in the Person of Jesus is not simply informational but also conversional, transformational and powerful. The problem with us is we treat Christianity as if it is simply a set of propositions or an abstract notion that basically has no bearing on everyday living.
John writes reminding us of the real impact of knowing Jesus. Since as believers we uniquely live in the overlap of the present age and age come, we need to be reminded of the present reality, implications, and power of the KOG in our lives.
John wrote to churches in danger of being deceived by former members who left the faith to embrace the latest religious philosophy. They were being challenged to leave behind their former experience of Christ and to receive greater enlightenment. They were challenged at the point of their knowledge of the divine, of how God is to be known, and of fuller spiritual experiences than they had experienced in the past.
To counteract this pressure that was creating instability in the community of faith, John writes to assure the church of the absolute sufficiency of their experience in Christ. There is no more enlightening spiritual anointing than the Holy Spirit, no higher emanation of the divine than Jesus Christ, and no other way to know the Father except through the Son.
John gives us assurances of the reality of the message we first believed to sustain us in an age that is in opposition to Christ.
Verses 3-6 are bookended by the repetition of the phrase by this we know (3,5b). To know the Lord is not simply to know a set of encyclopedic facts about him, but to know him in relational terms as well. John’s concept of knowing is further defined as keeping (4) and abiding (6). We come to know we know him by keeping his commandments (3), and we know we are in him by walking as Jesus walked (5b). There is a community aspect of knowing. We know. We come to know we know him and are in him as we pursue obedience together and together walk as Jesus walked.
God’s commands are always prefaced by a wonderful story—a story that compels us to obey. The story before the 10 commandments is, I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:2,3). The story that introduces the Great Commission is, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…make disciples (Mt. 28:19,20). If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with Father (1)…we know we know him if we keep his commandments (3).
The defectors claimed to know God. They had moved on from Jesus through experiencing higher emanations of the divine (22). The knowing of God they claimed, apparently, exempted them from obeying his commands.
John counters: the one who claims, I know him, but does not keep his commandments is a liar. In fact, he is not in possession of truth period. His claim is bogus. In contrast to such a boastful liar, John said the one who keeps his word is the one in whom the love of God is perfected (perfect passive). Keeping his commandments (3,4) and his word (5a) are equivalents. The pronoun His seems to refer back to Jesus (1).
In the new covenant, we have greater lawgiver than Moses, and one who gave us a better law. His commandment is that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another (1 Jn. 3:23). John seems to be saying that we know we know Christ when God’s love has taken root in us, compelling us to obey. As Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn. 14:15). Later in this letter John will write, We love because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). Obedience does not come out of a sentimental or popular love, but love shows itself in moral, ethical obedience.
We know we know him if we keep his commandments is stated another way here. We know we are in him if we walk as Jesus walked. John had seen Jesus live out his life in ministry. His ministry is summarized: Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction (Mt. 9:35). Jesus had called his disciples to participate in his life and mission: Proclaim as you go, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raised the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons (Mt. 10:7-8). Jesus brought them into his mission. Jesus preached the gospel of the KOG and brought the power of the Kingdom to bear upon the people who heard him. He sent the disciples out to do the same, so that they preached the gospel of the Kingdom and were instruments of its power to save in the lives of others.
To be in him is to be united with him, not simply in his death and resurrection but also to be united with Him in His mission
John addresses the community upon whom God has set his affection (7, beloved). God’s love is compelling. Since keeping the commandments of Christ flows from love for Christ, John gives us an example of a new covenant commandment (7-8). John calls the commandment an old commandment and, at the same time, a new commandment. John does not specify what the old-new commandment (7-8) is, but since the subject of verses 9-11 is love for the community, the old-new command is to love one another. This text seems to appeal to John’s Gospel where Jesus gave a new commandment: 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 (Jn. 13:34; cf. 15:12,17)1. If in verses 3-6, obeying his commandments flows from love for Christ, then in verses 7-11 loving obedience extends to loving the community of believers.
The defectors, undoubtedly, had some novel teaching, but John argues it is not grounded in historical revelation. It had no moorings in salvation-history. In fact, it denied the light of the revelation of God in history and the final light of revelation in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for our sins and cleanses us from every one of them.
John’s example is not some novel teaching. Love is grounded in the eternal character of God, reflected in created order, and commanded as a summary of the Law (Deut. 6:4; Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:8,10; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8)2. However, love is not part of the old order that opposes God. Love is the new commandment in that it is once again built into the fabric of the new order ushered in by Jesus. John shows us some things about walking in love in community in these verses.
The new command to love is true in Jesus and in us because we are in the light of the dawning of the new age. Love is the atmosphere of that new world and is the evidence that the old order of darkness is passing away.
So when someone claims to be in the light, and he or she hates the community of faith, that person is still in the realm of darkness (9). Such people are benighted not enlightened. They have not had a higher experience of God.
What does John mean by hate? That feels like such a harsh word. Most people would probably say, I don’t hate anybody. Basically, we define hatred so extremely as to be sure we are not guilty of it. John is not speaking of seething hatred. Hatred is simply a failure to love as Christ commands. In the case of the defectors, they were in good conscience trying to enlighten the community of faith, but they were unwittingly leading them into a lie. Excluding, rejecting, denying respect, and dismissing the community of believers is hatred in the divine economy. In the evangelical tweetersphere and blogosphere, today, there is accusation, maligning, and character assassination that is parading as light, but it is part of the order of darkness.
John, here, draws a contrast between the person who loves and the person who hates (10-11). The person who loves the community of believers abides—remains, dwells, perseveres—in the light. This person walks in the light of God’s full disclosure in Jesus and knows fellowship in the community because the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. Such a one is not stumbling or causing others to stumble. Love in community is the evidence that the old order is passing away and the light of the new age has come.
The person who hates is in no position to instruct the community of love because they are part of the old order, blinded by this present age, and have no real direction. They are headed nowhere.
In these verses, John twice addresses the whole community and two specific groups within the community.3 As participants in the realm of light, John calls on us to live out our position in Christ.
As a community, we should not be easily shaken because we know that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’s sake (12), and we together know the Father (13c). We are in a position to know the Father, to be in loving relationship with him precisely because of Jesus forgiving our sin. Yet, we are so prone to heap condemnation on ourselves. Condemnation is part of the old order. It is a denial of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus that put us in loving relationship with the Father. Forgiveness and knowing God are the new covenant promises (Jer. 31:31ff), the realties of the new age, and the promised experience of every believer.
As older mature believers (13a, 14a), those who have persevered in the faith a long time, we have a settled knowing of the eternal, immutable, and only wise God. We have learned his ways in His Word and in our experience. We are not easily shaken or agitated by the movement of darkness in this world. We are too old for the wild goose-chases of the newest theological saber-rattling. We don’t move off of the message we’ve received to address the fads and fashionable discussion of the moment. The culture does not dictate to us what the sermon ought to be. Our task is to steady the old ship of Zion and ensure she stays on course. We see the times, and we know the mission.
The young men are on the frontlines of the battle in the Christian life. It important for you to know because you are twice told, you have overcome the evil one (13b, 14b). You are not fighting for victory but from victory. I know youthful temptations are daunting. You wonder if you can prevail in the battle. Perhaps you’ve married a wife, and you are desperate to lead but are filled with self-doubt. You may be learning to be a father, and you fear you are going to fail. You have pressure to provide and protect, and you wonder if you are up to the task. All of these anxieties are best case scenario. What if you have a demanding and critical wife? What if you are barely scrapping by financially? What if you desire a wife but can’t seem to find one? All of these things can be consuming and insurmountable. More than one before you has faltered under the load. On top of it all, the devil is on your back to remind you everyday that you don’t measure up.
Brothers, You have overcome the evil one (perfect tense). Don’t be self-consumed. You are strong. The Word of God abides in you. Be who you are. Do what God has called you to do. Take your place in the community of faith. Stop messing around. Stop wasting your life. Man up. You don’t have to click that button. You are not powerless, you are strong. The KOG does not consist in talk but in power (1 Cor. 4:20). Lead that woman, but don’t be a jerk; marry that wife; work that job; learn the Bible, and preach the word; be biblicists; plant that church; teach your children. Let them see a man of passion and strength. Be captured by a vision, not tossed about by every esoteric conversation. Stop looking for a mission, God has given you one. Be churchmen; don’t think your strength is outside the community of faith. Don’t major on the minors and the non-essentials; these things are quests for self-importance and self-congratulation. Young men, God is calling you to be all in.
Here is the first imperative of the letter: Don’t love the world. Don’t fall back on the world. The world is the domain of a Satan, the evil system that is in opposition to Christ and the church. It is a lost cause. You can’t make peace with the world or declare a truce with it. Overcome it, or it will overcome you.
One of the problems new believers face is running to familiar comforters in times of crisis. What comforted you as an unbeliever will not comfort you as a believer. What belongs to the old age will not meet your need now. You have new needs that old remedies will not fix. Believers can’t live on the energy of the old age. Sinful cravings, moral shortsightedness,4 and boasting about ourselves are not passions to be pursued but killed. Tell me, what has the devil ever done for you? Love for the world and love for God cannot coexist.5
The world and all its cravings are passing away. With the arrival of the new age, the old age is doomed and is passing away. The will of God is in contrast to the desires of the present age. All of the arguments of culture that want to give moral legitimacy to sinful desires fall right here, slain by the sharp blade of this text. The will of God for the Christian is to abstain from and war with these desires. Those things a part of the old age that is passing away, but the one who does the will of God will abide forever. By any scale what lasts forever is of more value than what passes away.
The last days, the eschaton, and all that characterizes it, were ushered in with the coming of Christ. John tells his readers that they are evidentially in the last hour of the last days (18-19). He basis his claim on the appearance of antichrists, that is the rising up of those within the church that were opposed to Christ. Their leaving the church was evidence that they had no part in Christ.
They, however, did not leave quietly. In fact, John’s purpose in writing is to counteract the ongoing effort of the defectors to deceive the church and lead them to abandon Christ (26, 21). Those who left the church were people who denied that Jesus is the Christ (22). This is the arch lie. John asks, Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? John has previously told us that to claim fellowship with God but walk in darkness is a lie (1:6). He also told us that the person who claims to know but does not keep his commandments is a liar (2:4). Now he tells us the liar denies that Jesus is the Christ, or to help us understand, would could say, the denial is that the Christ is Jesus. Such a view puts one in league with the devil. Such people are antichrists.
The defectors claimed to know God and to be in fellowship with God. John, however, says that to deny that the Christ is Jesus is to deny the Father and the Son (22). So that there is no misunderstanding, John further says, No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also (23).
As we move into the last 15 minutes of the present age and the opposition to Christ increases, John offers the church two safeguards6 against error: the Word and the Spirit.
At the beginning of his letter, John spelled out the apostolic gospel in the clearest terms. The Word of life which was eternally with the Father manifest in Jesus Christ was the subject of apostolic proclamation. The proclamation of the good news of the Gospel of the Kingdom powerfully brings us into fellowship with the Father and the Son and the community of believers, transfers us from darkness to light, and cleanses us of all our sin. (1:1-7).
John with his second imperative in his letter, tells the church, Don’t get off message (24). The objective, propositional proclamation of the Gospel is the message the church must hold to, abide in, and persevere in. To abandon that message is to show that we neither know the Son nor the Father. To hold to the apostolic gospel is to remain in the Son and in the Father.
The Word, the gospel of Christ, must be central in the proclamation of the Church.
If the apostolic preaching of Christ is the objective message the church is to hold fast to, it is the only message that is confirmed by the subjective working of the Spirit. John has a play on words with antichrist and anointing (antichristos or antichristoi (1,22) and chrisma (20, 27)). We don’t believe because we heard the message and thought, That’s reasonable. I think I will believe it. We believe because the Spirit illuminates the preach Word, so that it works powerfully in us. So powerful is this working that it is called new birth (1 Pet. 1:23).
The defectors claimed to be enlightened teachers. John says, Not so. They are not anointed. They are the anti-anointing. We are not lacking something as the defectors supposed. If there were something more, the Spirit would confirm it in, by, and through the Word (20b). John is not in any way saying the Church does not need to be taught. Rather he is saying, You have received an anointing, which arguably is the Holy Spirit, that abides in you, and teaches you to remain in the apostolic gospel. The Holy Spirit does not and will not witness to some other message (27).
The church has two safeguards as we move to the close of the present age: the Word and the Spirit, both the objective witness and the subjective witness working together for you to know and remain in the truth.
3 Because John address the whole congregation repeated as children using both words he uses in 2:12 and 14 (teknia 2:1, 12, 28; 3:1,2,7; 5:21; an paidia 2:14,18), I take John to have the same meaning here as elsewhere.