Refresh & Restore — January 28, 2021

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. 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. 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.[1] 

1 John 2:7-11

Greetings, Sojourner – “Beloved”!

I am struck by the way that John writes to his original audience. He refers to them often as “little children” (2:1, 12, 18, 28; 3:7, 18); now, he calls them “beloved” (2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11). He loves them, and it shows. But this word we see as “beloved” is more than a regular term for someone you care about. The love in it is the word agape – God’s never-ending, unfailing love. “Beloved” is a word that is unique to the Church. It is rooted in His love for us. It refers to those who love God and worship Him. And it is a greeting specific to the family of God – those united by their adoption through faith in Christ (John 1:12, Galatians 4:5-6).

I greet you the same today, beloved Sojourner, knowing that as we journey through this world that we are loved by God. That love is at the heart of John’s writing. It is one of the themes that we loop through over and over: life, light, and love, all of which we will see in today’s passage.

Before we get too far, I want to address the issue of following/keeping commandments. So far in 1 John, we have seen the importance of walking in the same way that Jesus walked (2:6) and how we should keep His commandments (2:3), His Word (2:4), and abide in Him through all of that (2:5). It is easy to get legalistic when we talk about being obedient and keeping commandments. So, I would like to revisit a statement from the end of last week’s devotion:

“We follow Him, learning from Him, and keep His commandments. We do not keep His commandments to earn our freedom but because of our freedom, in love and gratitude for what He has done for us.”

It is important that we do not fall back into trying to keep the Law (Galatians 5:1; Romans 6:14-18). Any reference to keeping commandments here speaks to following Christ and imitating Him (Ephesians 5:1) because He loves us and gave Himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2). We obey because we love Him (4:19) and trust that His Way is better than ours (John 14:6, Isaiah 55:9). To keep His commandments is not to earn salvation but to see that salvation has taken root in our hearts and lives (Colossians 2:6-7).

The commandment that John talks about here mirrors Jesus’ exact teaching:

“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

This was no doubt unforgettable for John as it was part of Jesus’ last supper with His disciples on the night before He was arrested, the day before He was crucified. That night would impact the rest of John’s life (1:1-3). It was that same “new commandment”, given straight from the mouth of God, that John references here: love others as Christ loved us.

You have no doubt heard this commandment before. It was Jesus’ upgraded version of the commandment found in Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” – which has been a feature of many Sunday School lessons and sermons. Yet Jesus’ command, especially the way it is referenced in 1 John, is not based out of loving like we love ourselves or treating others how we would like to be treated. No, this is no “golden rule”; this is a heart overflowing with the love we receive from Christ.

Jesus’ love for us in salvation should impact the way that we interact with other people. Having received grace, we should be gracious. Having received mercy, we should be merciful. Having experienced the love of God, we should love others. But, as simple as that sounds, it is extremely difficult.

Part of the reason that this is difficult is because it requires more than just lip-service. Here where I live in the American South, “I love you” and “love” are thrown about casually. The love that Jesus commands of us is anything but casual. His love is a “greater love” (John 15:13). He loved us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). It is because God is “rich in mercy” and out of the “great love with which He loved us” that we have Life at all (Ephesians 2:4)! I speak from experience when I say that the true difficulty lies in acknowledging how difficult I am to love and how amazing the love of God is that He could ever love and save a “wretch like me”.

This is the reason that love becomes the defining characteristic of what it is to be a Christian. Just like Jesus told His original disciples that they would be known by their love for one another, the standard is the same for us. How we love God and share that love with others shows whether we are in darkness or light (2:7-8). In fact, hating our “brother” is an indicator that we live and stumble in the darkness (2:9-10).

Darkness is most definitely of Satan and not of God, but it also comes from our own sinful hearts. If we allow our hatred of someone – especially one close enough to be considered a brother in Christ (we will study more on this in the future) – to blind us, the darkness comes from that hatred; our own sinful hearts and desires have clouded our judgment and led us astray (Jeremiah 17:9).

If you are like me, this is where you start justifying your hatred. No, I do not know what they did to you. No, I have not experienced what you have. But God has (Hebrews 4:14-16)! He has experienced how I have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4). His heart has been grieved time and again (Genesis 6:6, Ephesians 4:30).

And it is at the feet of the One who would be righteous to cast us out that we learn to love and forgive instead. Or, if our love for ourselves and hatred for others makes us unable (or unwilling) to forgive and let go of hate, we find that we truly abide in darkness and have not experienced the love of Christ at all (2:9, Matthew 6:14-15).

Rather than rationalizing your hatred, beloved, I urge you to repent – to not “abandon the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). The beauty of repentance is that it is always met with love. Always.

If you look at today’s passage and feel more than a little inadequate, you are not alone. I remind you that we are incapable of following Christ’s commandments perfectly. Remember, when we sin we have an Advocate (2:2) to meet us where we are and carry us through. I believe that John included this next section (2:12-14) to illustrate that, no matter where we are in our walk with Christ, none of us have arrived:

12  I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
13  I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
     I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
14  I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.[2]

John pauses here to give a special word to Christ-followers in every stage of walking with Him: “little children” who are just starting out with Him, “fathers” who have walked with Him for many years, and “young men” who are actively (and often through error and trials) seeking to serve the Lord.

To the children, he reminds them that they have been forgiven of their sins (2:12) and adopted by the Father into the family of God (2:13). When we sin and stumble, these things are easy to forget and necessary to remember to continue following Christ.

To the fathers (and mothers) in the faith, he reminds them that their relationship is grounded in “Him who is from the beginning” (2:13-14) – both the beginning of all things and the beginning of their walk when they were but children in their faith.

And to the young men (and women) who are in the midst of spiritual warfare and service of the Lord – not yet mature in their faith but actively walking with Christ, he reminds them that the evil one has already been overcome (2:13) and that the strength to win the battle comes from the Lord as found and taught from His Word (2:14).

Wherever you are on your journey – baby or an elder – Christ still has something for you. Rest assured, that His same new commandment still applies. Go out and find ways to “love one another” today.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:7–11.

[2] ESV, 1 Jn 2:12–14.

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