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1 John 2 (7-11)

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Keeping the Commandment

A sermon on 1 John 2:7-11 preached at Christ the King Church on 11/27/05

 

Prayer:  Father in heaven, we ask you now to teach us by your word, through your Spirit, so that your will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.  We pray this in Christ’s name.  Amen. 

 

Introduction:  The Tests of Life.  That is the title to Robert Law’s now classic book on First John that was published in 1885.  Law rightly argued that John, in his Epistle, presents us with “three cardinal tests” by which we may judge whether we possess eternal life or not.[1]

The first test is theological, whether we believe that Jesus is “the Son of God” (3:23; 5:5,10,13), “the Christ come in the flesh” (4:2; 2 John 7).  According to John, if one denies Jesus’ pre-existent divinity and/or His historical incarnation, then they fail the test.  One cannot and should not be recognized as being a Christian.  Now, we have already seen a hint of this test in our study of 1:1-3, where John speaks of Jesus as being from “the beginning” and yet “made manifest,” made manifest in such a way as to be “heard … seen … and touched.”  So, this theological test is really the foundational test.  If one does not know and believe the truths taught about Jesus (about His person and His works), well then one fails the first test, the most basic test of Christianity.

So, the first test is theological.  The second test is moral, whether we are practicing righteousness and keeping the commandments of God.  This is the test we discussed last time as it came up in 1 John 2:1-6.  There we looked at the fact that a saving relationship with God expresses itself not primarily “in sentimental language or mystical experience but in moral obedience.”[2]  It is not the one who says he knows God that knows God, but the one who keeps His Word.  

So, there is the theological test and the moral test, and then finally, as Robert Law put it, the social test, the test of whether or not we love others.  Now, this is the test our passage brings to us today.  Do you obey Christ’s commandments?  That was the question of 2:1-6.  Do you obey Christ’s commandment, His commandment to love your neighbor (or as John has it in v.10), the commandment to love your “brothers”?  That is the test question presented to us today.

The Oldness and Newness of the Commandment

Now, this will be an open book test, so I invite you to take advantage of that and open your Bibles to 1 John 2:7-11.  We will start with vv.7-8, where John describes this commandment to love as being both “old” and “new.”  In v.7 he says it is old.  “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.  The old commandment is the word that you have heard.” 

 

Now, in what way is this commandment old?  Well, here John could mean that this commandment is nearly as old as the world or at least as old as human beings, for in 3:11-12, John echoes this command to love and then illustrates the rejection of it by referring to Cain’s murder of Abel.  So, as early as Adam’s first sons, the second generation of human beings, we are taught to love our brother.  But, John also could mean that the command is as old as the Old Testament Law, for this command is apparent in the second half of the Ten Commandments, and then clearly and simply stated in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yet, I think the oldness of this command isn’t as old as those two possibilities.  Rather, it simply goes back to the beginning of John’s proclamation of the Gospel (of “the word”) to this church in Ephesus, for the apostle speaks of this old commandment as being that which they “had [and heard] from the beginning.”  To them this is not a new message.  It is an old one, as old as the first time they learned of Christ.  1 John 3:23 reads, “And this is his [God’s] commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as [Christ] has commanded us.”  So, when those first apostles and apostolic messengers came to Ephesus, they fulfilled the Great Commission:  they made disciples, they baptized, and they taught the people all the commandments of Christ, notably this old commandment to love.

So, there is an oldness to this command, but also a newness.  And that newness John addresses in v.8.  “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”  The key phrase here to understanding the nature of this newness is the phrase, “which is true in him and in you.”  This command to love is true “in Him,” in Christ.  That is, it finds its ultimate definition and illustration in His embodied example.  In John 13:34, Jesus said this to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you….” (cf. John 15:12).  So, what is new about this command is the part about Jesus’ model of love, a newness of quality and emphasis and extent.  Jesus so loved His neighbor, and even His enemies, that He gave His life for them.  

So this command is new in that in relates directly to Jesus and His example of love.  It is a commandment “which is true in him.”  But also, it is a commandment, as John says, “which is true … in you,” in the heart of every genuine Christian.  The prophet Jeremiah (in Jeremiah 31:33) promised there would be a day when God would write His law on His people’s hearts.  Well, in Christ and under the new covenant that day has arrived, a time in which “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”  Within every believer there is the internal reality of love.  Paul refers to this in 1 Thessalonians 4:9, where he writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another….” 

So, note in our passage that John is not commanding Christians to love.  I think only once in this whole Epistle does he exhort believers to love.  Now, this is because he is assuming they do love.  He is simply asking them to test this reality within themselves.  The fact is Christians love.  So, are you a Christian?  Well then, you (like Jesus) will love.  Christ is the vine; we are the branches (John 15:4-5).  If we truly abide in Christ we will bear fruit, especially this fruit of love.      

The Test Itself

So, here in vv.7-8 (just to get things started), John gives a brief lecture on the commandment to love, on its oldness and its newness.  And in doing so he is like the generous teacher who preps his class minutes before he hands out the pop quiz.  But then, as we see next in vv.9-11, he does actually place that exam before the churches’ eyes.  An exam that on paper it looks simple enough, for there is really only one question; yet, in reality, it is quite a challenging question.  In these three verses, John (in his typical black and white fashion) asks the question, “Are you keeping the commandment?  That is, do you love your brother, or do you hate him?” 

He writes, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.  Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 

 

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

    

Last time, we saw John’s portrait of the “talker” verses the “walker.”  Well, here we have his depiction of the “hater” verses the “lover,” that is, the one who hates his brother verses the one who loves his brother.  Now, look at how he describes this first person.  Look at v.9 and v.11. 

What is said about the one who hates?  First, note that he is one of those talkers.  He says … he is in the light.”  He confesses faith in Christ.  He is part of the church.  Yet, because he “hates his brother” it proves that such illumination is an allusion.  For he “is still in darkness” (as is said in both these verses) and (look at the middle of v.11), he “walks in the darkness,” and thus he “does not know where he is going.”  He is spiritually blind, and therefore he stumbles in the dark.   

In my sermon on 1:5, “God is light,” I talked about being blinded by the light of God’s holiness, as blinded as when we look into the sun.  That was a good blindness, a temporary blindness, a blindness with a benefit to it.  But the blindness spoken of in v.11 is a bad blindness, a blindness that leads one not to a recognition of sin but a continued ignorance of it.  Hatred has blinded this person, blinded him to the extent he cannot see what’s in front of him.  This so-called ‘Christian’ cannot see that he is acting opposite of Christ.       

Now, look at the other person John describes, the one who loves.  In-between v.9 and v.11 (those hate verses) we find v.10, structurally and theologically the key verse: “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.”

 

John is the apostle of love.  He loves to use the word “love” both in his Gospel and in his Epistles.  And here in First John he uses the word “love” and its derivatives (loves, beloved, and so on) 52 times.  A major point of this letter is that the “beloved” of God (that’s one of his favorite terms for Christians), the “beloved” of God (do you see that in v.7?) are to “love” others (v.10).  The “beloved” of God are to “love” others.  Those loved by God in Christ are to show Christ-like love. 

Now, look again at v.10 and notice how different this second person is described than the first.  The one who loves “abides in the light” and thus he doesn’t “stumble.”  He is the opposite of the first man.  He loves his brother.  He walks in the light.  He doesn’t stumble in his faith- stumble into wrong thinking and stumble into wrong living.

 

Clarifications and Applications

Now, the application of this passage should be plain to us.  If we say we are Christians we are to demonstrate this confession in the fact that we love our brothers. 

Now, it is tempting here to ask the Pharisaical question, similar to that question asked to Jesus by a teacher of the law in Luke 10:29.  In Luke 10:25-28 (and you can turn there if you’d like), we learn of a lawyer (not a civil lawyer, but a religious lawyer, an expert in the Old Testament law), a lawyer, who seeking to put Jesus “to the test,” asks Him two questions.  His first question is about eternal life.  Now, they both agree (Jesus and this man) that at the heart of the matter is love, the love of God and the love of neighbor. 

Well, this naturally leads to the lawyer’s second question.  He asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Now, Luke interestingly provides this man’s motivation.  He asked this question because (quote) “he desired to justify himself.”  This man wanted to know the limits of neighborly love so that he might know how little he had to love in order to be right with God.  Can I just love my immediate family, or my extended family, or my next-door neighbor, or my tight-knit Jewish religious community?  Who is my neighbor?  Well, Jesus replied (if you recall) with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which explained that the limits of one’s neighbor are as broad as you can possibly imagine.       

Now, you may find it tempting, like this lawyer did, to define “brother” in a narrow sense.  John says we are to love our brother.  But you may want to ask, “Who is my brother?”  Does John mean my blood brother, and him alone (3:11)?  Or, does he mean just male believers, just Christian men within the church?  Or, does he mean each and every Christian, and this community alone (3:13; cf. 5:16), or does he mean more than that? 

Now, some of us have talked about this before- how Pharisees like rules, specific, well-defined boundaries.  So, when God commands us to “honor our father and mother,” they want to know at what stage they cease to be the children of their parents.  And when God commands that we “shall not commit adultery,” they want to know in relationships with the opposite sex, “how far is too far?”  And when it comes to the command “not to murder,” they want to know if they can still hate people in their hearts, at least hate certain people.  Pharisees look for and live out the minimum application of the law.  Yet, Christians are to think and do the opposite:  We are to maximize the application. 

So, who are our brothers? -Blood brothers (yes), my spouse (yes), my children (yes), other Christians (certainly), the neighbors in my block (yes), my boss at work (yes), my co-workers (yes), my classmates (yes), my teacher (yes), even the stranger (yes, even the stranger).  Our “brother” is the least to the greatest in the church and outside of it.

Now, with all that said it would be accurate to still say that John, with this term “brother,” is focusing on church relationships primarily, for that is his common use of the term.  He commonly calls Christians, “brothers.”  But that shouldn’t take away the length and breath and depth of this word. 

For at times I find it tougher to love those who ought to be most lovable to me.  Shouldn’t it be easier to love (and not hate) my wife and family and my fellow Christians more than it would be a stranger?  Yet, experience reveals that this is not the case.  If we are honest, the common expression, “I could just kill … fill in the blank,” is most often used on our parents or spouse or children or fellow believers.  So, John’s test, even if it addressed specifically to how we treat others in the church, is a valid test of our Christianity.  For if we can’t love our brothers and sisters, our fellow Christians, those who love Jesus first in their lives, well then we cannot love anyone. 

Now, as I have clarified what is meant by the term “brother” and showed how it should be applied, I want next to clarify what is meant by such love.  That is, I want to answer the question, “How does Christian love manifest itself?”  If love is one of the tests of authentic Christianity, how then do I know if I am passing this test or not? 

Well, there are many ways this love can manifest itself.  This morning, however, I want to focus on the two ways that John himself illustrates such love.  So, turn with me to 1 John 3:16-17.  Listen to what John says here: “By this we know love, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But (v.17) if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart again him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 

The first way we can show genuine Christian love is to sacrifice for others.  Such selfless sacrifice, of course, can be done literally.  The example here is that of Christ, who did literally die on the behalf of others.  He gave His life so others might live.  And then, of course, we can also think of perhaps some of the Christian martyrs who also literally gave their lives, not only so that the cause of Christ might advance, but also (again) so others might live.  Some of the earliest Christian martyrs were willing to be the scapegoat for a whole community, to sacrifice their life so many of their brethren might survive.     

But this sacrificially love can also take form less literally.  And I’m sure we can all think of daily examples of how one can sacrifice for others.  We can think of all those little sacrifices of love that amount to much in other’s lives, all those activities done with the intention of putting others first, of considering others better than ourselves.  

So, the first way we can demonstrate genuine Christian love is through selfless sacrifice on the behalf of others.  Now, the second way we can demonstrate such love (which is not so far removed from the first) is through caring for and providing for another’s need.  Look again v.17 (3:17).  Here John says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart again him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

 

We demonstrate brotherly love when we put our money where our mouths are.  Last week in Adult Sunday School we talked about the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shall not steal.”  I summarized its application in this way.  What does the commandment mean?  It means that we ought not to take.  Rather, we ought to give.  One of the verses I had us look at was Ephesians 4:28, which reads, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”  What a beautiful thought is expressed here!  What a miraculously conversion!  Paul tells these former thieves to stop stealing, start working, so that they might start giving!  Like Zacchaeus when he was converted, the one who once took, now becomes the one who gives, the one who gives four times as much as is necessary.

So, are you a Zacchaeus?  Do you now live to give?  Do you live to give to others, to those in need?  Does your love manifest itself in generosity, generosity of time, generosity of money, and generosity of heart?  For Christian love does!  Generosity is one of the marks of genuine Christianity.  Jesus taught, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers (well, there’s our word again, isn’t it?), you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:31-40). 

You see, John’s litmus test of Christian love is no different that Jesus’ will be at the final judgment.  Do you love the least loveless?  Do you love those in need, those who cannot give anything but gratitude in return? 

Conclusion

This morning God brings before us in His Word this social test, this test of brotherly love.  And while we might be tempted to define love in emotional terms, to measure our Christianity by our passion for God and others, instead we find here in First John that the plumb line is practical, and it is practically defined by how we treat others.  Do we sacrifice for others?  Do we give to those in need?  That is Christian love!

In my last sermon, as we talked about this issue of assurance, I followed the chorus of that once popular hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” with the words, and so will we.  The world knows who is genuinely Christian and who is not.  They know the difference between the talkers and the walkers.  They know the difference between the haters and the lovers.  And so should we.

If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).  “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (3:10).  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (4:7).  Are you a child of God?  Have you been born of God?  Do you know God?  Well then you will love your brother. 

 

Prayer:  Father in heaven, we thank you for the clarity of your word to us this morning.  And we ask that as we look into this clear reflection of your truth that we would truly recognize ourselves; recognize ourselves to be those who walk in the light or those who do not.  And Lord, for those who do not know you, help them even this day to know Christ and then to abide in His love.  We pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.         

Benediction:  “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…” (1 Peter 1:22-23)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 5:38-42   38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.    

 

 

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.  The old commandment is the word that you have heard.  8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.  9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.  10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.  11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction:  Robert Law, The Tests of Life (in Stott, 53)

·       Robert Law, The Tests of Life (in Stott, 53)

·       Now, we come to the moral test:  Do you obey Christ’s commandments?  Do you obey Christ’s Commandment?

o    Last time:  The one who walks in the light keeps Christ’s commandments (2:3-6):  obedience

o    This time:  The one who walks in the light keeps the Commandment (2:7-11): love

Lecture on Love

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.  The old commandment is the word that you have heard.  8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 

·       Here John is talking about some commandment.  But, what is the command? 

o   It is implied in vv.7-8 and then

o   Spelled out in v.10:  It is the commandment to love 

·       Now, look at how does John describe this commandment.  He says that it is both “old” and “new”

·       Look at v.7.  How is it “old”? 

o   He could mean it is nearly as old as the world, or as old as human beings:  (see 3:8, 11-12)

o   He could mean it is as old as the OT Law (10 Commandments:  in Mark 12, love God/love others)

§   Leviticus 19:18  you shall love your neighbor as yourself

o   Yet, likely he means as old the Gospel itself

§   “That you heard” (v.7b)- this is a message this church heard

§   “The beginning” = of Christ’s teaching ministry (2:24; 2 John 1:5-6)

·       1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

·       Look at v.8.  How is it “new”?

o   It is based on Christ’s model of love, which is love even unto death 

§   John 13:34   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.

§   John 15:12-14   12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.  14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

§   So, it is “new” in quality and emphasis and extent (Sermon on the Mount; but I say to you, “love your enemies”; Parable of the Good Samaritan)

o   And perhaps also “new” in an internal sense: “and in you” (v.8)

§   The law of love is written on their hearts- 1 Thessalonians 4:9  9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…

§   Jeremiah 31:33   33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

§   Romans 13:8-10   8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

§   Galatians 5:14   14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

§   It is a new era, in which God’s people have the law of love written in their hearts (v.8c)

·       When Jesus came the darkness seemed to gain hold (John 1)

·       But now the light is growing and the darkness is subsiding (v.8)

 

The Pop Quiz

9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 

10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 

11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness

I think of it this way:  In vv.7-8, John gave a brief lecture on love.  And then in vv.8-11, he hands out the pop quiz.  On paper it looks like a simple test, for there are only two questions.  Yet, in real life, it is difficult test.  John asks, “Do you love your brother, or do you hate him?”  Look at vv.9-11.   

·       Note again we have two types of people:  the lover and the hater

What is said about the one who hates?

·       He is one of those talkers (see last sermon on the talker vs. the walker)- “whoever says” (v.9a)

·       He “is still in darkness” (v.9b)

·       He “walks in the darkness” (v.11) and thus “stumbles” (v.10b)

o   Illustration:  the one given (walking in darkness):  Being in darkness in a place you no the floor plan vs. being in utter darkness in a place you do not know (how easy it is to stumble) 

What is said about the one who loves?

·       The theme of love in John

o   “Love” – mentioned 52 times (beloved, love/s)

o   The “Beloved” (v.7) of God are to “love” others (v.10)

o   Note the structure (A/B/A)- emphasizes the love is what we are to be about

·       Positive:  He “abides in the light” (v.10a)

·       Negative:  He doesn’t “stumble” (v.10b)

Some clarifications: 

Who are our “brothers”?

·       A name used for believers (see the beginning of most epistles)

·       John uses it as a blood brother (3:11), but also of believers:  “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (3:13; cf. 5:16)

·       Does these command stop with the church?  Of course not (See the Good Samaritan).  No, the point here is you can’t even love those who are most lovable (blood brother and spiritual brother) than you can’t possibly love others beyond that


So, what then does it mean to love our “brother”?

·       Selfless sacrifice:  3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 

·       Provision of Needs:  3:17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?

Conclusion:

·       They will know we are Christians by our love.  And so will we.  Today we have looked a the moral test…

·       Assurance based on obedience/love

o   By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (3:10)

o   Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God (4:7)

o   No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us (4:12)

o   If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (4:20)

o   By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (5:2)

·       These tests are tough.  How do I know I love others enough? 

o   Is there anyone you hate?

o   Do you try to sacrifice for others?  Do you seek to help people in need? 

Benediction:  1 Peter 1:22-23  22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,  23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

 

 

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.  The old commandment is the word that you have heard.  8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.  9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.  10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.  11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.


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[1] For the first few paragraphs see Stott, 53.

[2] Stott, 91.

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