Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. Again, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who 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. [1 John 2:7–11].
It’s an old commandment and it’s a new commandment, this commandment to love. From the plural “commandments” in verse 4 we move to a singular “commandment” in verses 7 and 8; for all the commandments are fulfilled in loving others. Jesus says that all men will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another, that we are to love as He loves, which brings us back to verse 6, “…the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk as He walked.” From the beginning of the Gospel the recipients of John’s letter had this commandment to love one another as Jesus loved them, so it is an old commandment. Yet it is an ever new commandment in that it lives today as it lived when they first heard it. It is a commandment which ushered them into a new age in Christ; as they crossed the threshold of relationship with Jesus Christ the darkness began passing away as the true light began shining in their hearts (2 Cor. 4:6).
John will expand on what it means to love our brother elsewhere in this letter, he will drive home the quality of love and he will tell us what love looks like in action – for love is a noun and a verb and for the Christian it must ever be simultaneously both – our love must be seen to be believed by others, to be validated; in fact Jesus gives the world permission to judge us by our love, “by this all men will know that you are My disciples.”
As we keep His commandments His love is matured in us (verse 5), as we love our brother we abide in the light (verse 10), we are to walk in the light as He is in the light (1:7). In 1:5 John writes that, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” and in 2:11 we see that, “the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness.” Throughout the letter we have point and counterpoint and to appreciate the tension of the letter we stand back and take in the interplay of light and darkness, love and hate, truth and lie, confession and sin, obedience and disobedience, righteousness and unrighteousness – all of this is found in the first 21 verses of John’s letter.
Just as John and his companions saw and touched and heard God incarnate in Jesus Christ (1:14); so should others see and touch and hear Jesus incarnate in His people.
“Hate” seems like a strong word in the context of Christian community, just as “lie” may seem like a strong word in 1:6 and “liar” a strong word in 2:4, after all we all sin. We may tend to think that because we don’t hate our brother that we are okay, but do we really love our brother? If we say we love our brother then the noun love which we say we have must be validated by the verb love which others can affirm that we have. Just as John touched and saw Jesus loving others so others should see us loving others, others should be able to touch our love and our love should touch them.
“Hate” is not too strong a word for those whose hearts have grown cold in their love-in-action, “hate” may even be a word that can save them from themselves if they will receive it. Hate’s partner is darkness; love’s partner is light. We will not stumble if we love for love walks hand-in-hand with light; we will walk blindly like drunks if we hate, falling down here and there, hurting ourselves and others, for hate extinguishes light.
“Hate” is a sobering word; it is akin to a warning on a high-voltage electrical box that means, “If you touch this you will die.” Hate is like the Chernobyl nuclear accident, it kills those at ground zero, it sickens and kills those farther away and it pollutes the land for years to come. Any movement of our hearts and actions toward hate should scare us; the fact that it often doesn’t frighten us should frighten us. We think we can cross the line from love and mercy toward hate with impunity, if we think this we are fools. We think we have self-righteous warrant to despise and harshly judge and disrespect and dishonor; we think that we are entitled to be the judge and executioner of others – even within our church community; we can be so arrogant about this that we never second guess ourselves because it has become a way of life. We define ourselves not by what we are for but by what we are against.
Oh the joy of living a life in Christ where the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining, oh the joy of seeing the daybreak of the New Jerusalem in our collective hearts, of living in a Place where there is no darkness and no need for the sun or moon or stars for light, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Light. The light rays from that City enlighten our eyes and draw us to Him as a navigational beacon draws an airplane to its destination. There is no temple in that City (Rev. 21:22) for the Father and the Lamb are its temple; as we live in Him today we live in Him then – we are home today in Him, we will be home tomorrow in Him and in the unfolding ages to come we will ever know the joy of Him as our source of light, life, and delight. The radiance of His glory enlightens our hearts today, opens our eyes, and burns a love in our hearts that we must guard and share with others no matter what the cost – He gave His all for us, we can do no less for others. We are not called to kill for Jesus; we are called to die for Him.
Oh to catch a glimpse of that City, for to see the City is to see the Lamb, to see the face of God; we have seen His face on earth, we will see it in that City; do others see His face in us? Will others see His face in us and journey with us to that City? We dare not carry the baggage of indifference toward others, anger toward others, hate toward others on our journey to that City – it will not be allowed in the City, not then and not now – for the City is unfolding in His people, in His Church, and we dare not pollute that which is holy.
Love toward others is our homing beacon; let us bring as many as we can on this journey. Let us bind up their wounds, pouring in oil and wine and cleansing and bandaging them, and let it be at our expense; Jesus Christ stretched out His hands to the world on the Cross – we can do no less.