A New Commandment

from wikimedia commons

from wikimedia commons

Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. 1 John 2:8

John speaks of a “new commandment” in the second chapter of his first epistle, but what was new about it? It certainly was not the first time that the people of God had heard the commandment to love ones neighbor. Love had been commanded since way back in the time of Moses:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.  Leviticus 19:17-18 

So “love” itself was not a new commandment. But what was new about it this time? It was not the commandment to love itself that was new, it was the new context. The Christians in Ephesus and all over Asia Minor (Modern Day Turkey) had been gathered to the Savior, which produced a change in their lives. Just as God had drawn them to himself, he’d also drawn them to one another. In John’s gospel we find the “new commandment” stated by the Lord Jesus himself.

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. Buy this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34 

Jesus Christ was not saying anything new that his disciples had never heard before, being Jewish men well schooled in the requirements of the Torah, the law of God, as written in Leviticus. The newness of the commandment was not what was required: love, but a new context: the Church of Jesus Christ. No longer was the nation of God to be defined along ethnic lines, but by faith in Jesus Christ. And this new body, this community of the redeemed, established at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, was to be marked apart from the rest of the world by the love that they had for one another. And so we learn in this passage:

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 

There is a type of church member who has never personally experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, who does not know the love of God in Him, but who for various reasons decides to pretend to himself and others that he is a child of God. He goes to church religiously. He carries his Bible, joins in prayers and hymns, and engages in talk about God. But his religion is only external, and not a reality. These are known as false brethren or hypocrites, named after the actors on the Greek stage who played characters wearing masks. But the one thing that he can’t pretend consistently, is to love his fellow Christians. He backbites, criticizes, gossips, and complains, pointing the finger at others, and always to his own benefit. He insults people, whether to their faces or otherwise, and self-aggrandizes. This person is not a true Christian. He has never been born again. If he had ever personally experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ, applied by the Holy Spirit, he would also have that love for others who had been similarly saved. But he does not love them because he is not of them. He is as dead in his sins as the godless pagans whose lives are nowhere near as presentable as his. He is in darkness, blinded, since his life has never been illuminated by the Holy Spirit. He is like someone walking in a pitch black room without any ambient light or lamps to show where he is going, tripping and bumping into things, and falling so that he cannot even see where he is landing. So is the one who claims to be a Christian, who attempts to deceive himself and others, but who hates his brother or sister in his heart. That is the one mark of being a follower of God that is impossible for him to imitate consistently.

10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

In contrast the one who is born again of the Holy Spirit, who has been adopted as a child of God, who has experienced the forgiveness of his sins in Jesus Christ, is equally diligent to do all that God has commanded. He attends church, supports it with his income and time, and engages in godly conversation. His faith is orthodox. He confesses one God in three Persons, Jesus Christ who is God and man in one Person forever as the only Savior, in whom alone he trusts for his salvation. So far he looks a lot like the hypocrite. But the one thing he has, that the other doesn’t, is that he loves all those who are loved by Christ, especially his brothers and sisters in him.

For all those who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, they show it by loving all the others who have likewise experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ. They love their Lord, and are washed in his precious blood. So they love all the others for whom he died. They find it easier to forgive, remembering what they’ve been forgiven of. Love covers a multitude of sins.

In Christ there is a new family. We who believe in him are all brothers and sisters. This family tie cuts across all distinctions of culture, language, race, and personality cliques. Yet we are still sinners. Though in the body of Christ we annoy one another, and sin against one another, yet love covers over sins, even your own. Others are in need of our grace, just as surely as we need God’s grace. Let us then be assured that we are forgiven of God, by forgiving others their sins against us, especially our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

11 But he that hateth his brother, Jesus said that he who says “you fool” to his brother is in danger of hellfire. Matthew 5:22 This type of hateful rancor is a sure sign of perdition, when one hates his brother or sister in Christ in his heart.

is in darkness, The one who does not love those whom Christ loved and died for, shows that he is still lost in sin. He has not received the Holy Spirit, but is as blind as ever before.

and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not wither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. He who does not love other Christians shows by the evidence that he is still in darkness.

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

This doctrine is useful to Beware of false brethren. There is no better way to distinguish the goats from the sheep in the fold, than by the test of love. Let us practice loving one another, that we may know ourselves to be the lambs of Christ. Otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves, though others probably are not as deceived as we think. Mark out those in the Church who are unloving, and beware of them. They are tares among the wheat.

Having examined ourselves, let us repent of a lack of love toward our brothers and sisters, and diligently apply ourselves to loving them by the things we do and say, whether to their face or away from it.

This doctrine is useful to inspire us to love all who are Christ’s, despite all.

Let us love as we have been loved. By this, Jesus said, the world will know that we are his disciples. And if the world knows it, how much more shall we?

This doctrine is useful to be faithful disciples of our Lord.

Let us be diligent to keep all of his commandments, especially loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. This commandment is made hard by other Christians who try and exasperate us, but remember what you’ve been forgiven of. Remember the love of Jesus Christ who died for you, and love all of those for whom he also died. In this way we will know that we are truly children of our loving heavenly Father, when we love those whom he loves.

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.