Letters From an Old Man

Obedience and Love, 1 John 2:3—11

Fellowship a tricky thing to engage in because it involves lowering your defenses and allowing people to get close to you; sometimes in a literal sense, other times in a metaphysical sense. Not everybody is good at fellowship. Some people are good at fellowshipping with one person at a time. Others are good at fellowshipping in large groups. And still others just don’t care for a lot fellowship with anybody. But all believers should want and experience unbroken fellowship with God. All believers should desire that closeness with their Creator. Through Jesus Christ, we are able to enter into a close personal relationship with God; we lower our defenses and let Him come close to us. Through the blood of Christ, we can get close to God. These are the things John was discussing up till now in his letter.

1. Knowledge and Love, 2:3—6

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

The first phrase, We know that we have come to know him, summarizes what John thinks fellowship with God is based on. The verb “know” occurs twice in nine words, the first time in the present tense, the second time in the perfect tense, meaning “knowing” God is something that never ends.

Fellowship with God and knowledge of God are two sides of the same coin (Kistmaker). For believers, we are able to have a wide range fellowship with God, from a casual one to an intimate one. God, however, desires intimate fellowship with us, not just a casual one. For that to happen, our knowledge of Him needs to be ever deepening. Knowing God suggests learning about Him and His will, loving Him, and experiencing His love for us. John, who had given his readers some tests to tell who (maybe themselves) is truly walking in the light, offers one more test. If the test of knowing God results in moral conduct, then knowing God means keeping God’s commandments. Bultmann makes a worthy observation that keeping the commandments, including fellowship with one another as stated in 1:7, is not the condition but the characteristic knowledge of God. He wrote:

There is no knowledge of God which as such would not also be “keeping the commandments.”

John restates his main thought in verse 4, but pulls out all the stops. To claim to know God but at the same time to be disobedient to the Word of God, makes that person an outright liar. Literally, a person like that is “devoid of all truth” (Barker).

Of course, that does not mean that merely obeying God’s laws automatically makes a person a Christian. A distinctive characteristic about a genuine believer is that they do their best to obey God’s commands because they have a relationship with Him. In John’s theology, knowledge of God is not seen as academic, theoretical, speculative book learning, but rather as practical and experiential. This is implied by this statement of John:

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (verse 6)

David Smith remarked,

To know about Christ, to understand the doctrine of His person and work is mere theory; we get to know Him and to know that we know Him by practice of His precepts.

Jesus Himself said this—

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

Emotionalized religion without discipline becomes sentimental, and intellectualized religion becomes sterile…Moral discipline is the path to Christian character. (Paul Hoon)

Our love for God is measured against the life of Jesus. We must live as He did and love God as He did. If a man and a woman can know what it is to love each other “until death do us part,” it is not too much to expect those who profess to love God to do so with undivided hearts, exerting all the effort they can muster.

2. New and old love, verses 7—8

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

“Dear friends” is not nearly strong enough in verse 7. The Greek is agapetoi, “beloved,” and John uses it because what has to say is so important and he wants his readers to pay attention. This passage is clearly a parallel to what John wrote in his gospel—

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

John knows well that his readers knew the words of Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5 but though those words were ancient even in John’s day, they were not obsolete; Jesus, in fact, took those words given by God in ages past and reinterpreted them for His new age. That’s why John refers to it as a “new command” in verse 8. Its newness lies at the point of its fulfillment in Jesus (Barker). Jesus lived a life that exemplified love, and He extended this love to His followers as a new command. Believers found that after the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were enabled to walk as Jesus walked; they were able to love as Jesus loved. While John calls it a command, it can also be looked at as a promise; what was true in the life of Jesus, what He demands in the life of His followers, becomes part of our reality when we live in the Spirit. Paul grasped this—

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

3. Love in light and darkness, 9—11

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

So far in his letter, John has exposed the fallacy of the claims of the false teachers and some members of the church who had claimed to be Christians but were not true believers. He did so in regard to fellowship, to sin and sins, and to knowledge of God. In each case, John gave his readers a test to determine the veracity of their claims. Now John turns his attention to love; some claimed to be genuine believers and claimed to love the body of Christ, yet their actions seemed to disprove that claim. The test of genuine Christian love is the absence of hate toward other believers.

John’s definition of “hate” is a simple one. Just as love is proven by acts, so hate is proven by acts. To walk in the light is to love members of Christ’s body, and that love will be manifested by concrete actions. If these concrete actions are not seen a person’s life, then love is not there. As Barker succinctly wrote:

Love unexpressed is not love at all. Love has no neutral capabilities. When it is absent, hate is present.

For John, there was never any twilight; it was either light or dark. In the church, there is either love or hate, and love is not so much a matter of words but of deeds. Whoever loves his brother in the Lord is living in the light, and when a person is living in the light, they do not stumble and fall because they can see clearly. Anyone who hates his brother causes his own downfall.

Concluding thoughts

John may be known as the apostle of love, but he was also a straight forward preacher who pulled no punches. Anyone who hates his brother is living in darkness because he has separated himself from the light of God. It is as though this person has bricked up the windows to his soul. This kind of person lives in peril because he cannot see where he is going; he is spiritually blind. Kistmaker observed that darkness has a devastating effect on eyes; for when eyes are idle for too long, blindness invariably results.

We must be ever on our guard to ensure that we are always walking in the light and loving the body of Christ in tangible ways. If we find ourselves stranded in spiritual darkness, life becomes meaningless and we live with no goals and no direction. No Christian needs to be like that for God’s light is available to all.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

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