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.
*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.
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.”
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….”
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.