Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard. Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes (1 John 2:7-11).
In his first letter, John works diligently to impress upon his audience their need to walk in the light and follow the ways of Jesus. This is God’s message (1 John 1:5-7) and it is God’s intention for man (1 John 2:1-6). We may know that we belong to Jesus if we follow His commandments and walk as He walked (1 John 2:1-6).
Having established that Christians are to follow Jesus’ commandments, John turns and begins to focus on the “new old” commandment. Surprisingly, John does not here come out and explicitly identify what this commandment is, and yet it is assumed throughout. John does identify this commandment in John 13:34:
“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).
What does Jesus mean that this is a “new” commandment? Furthermore, is John himself confused? He says first that he does not give a new commandment, but an old commandment, but then says that he is giving a new commandment (1 John 2:7-8)!
The idea of loving one another is not a new commandment per se; it was enjoined in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:39). Yet there it involved the idea of not harming one’s neighbor. Jesus now provides a new dimension to that old commandment: love as I have loved you. Just as Jesus came and gave Himself to be the ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), we are to give of ourselves and be devoted to the needs of others over our own (Philippians 2:1-4).
Therefore, “love one another” is the “new old commandment.” As John says, this is true in Jesus Christ because of what He has accomplished: the darkness is passing away and the love of Christ shines in the world (1 John 2:8). It is true in us as long as we are “keeping His commandments” and walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:1-6).
John’s main concern here involves brethren who do not share in this love. Some seem to profess to be Christians, and yet in their hearts they hate their brethren (1 John 2:9). This may have specific reference to those Christians influenced by Gnosticism who believed themselves superior on account of their greater “knowledge.” Nevertheless, the concern remains true for anyone who professes to follow Jesus Christ but does not have love for his or her fellow believers in their heart: despite what they say, they still are in darkness, and lost in their sins. As darkness pretending to be light, they “lie” and “do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). It is important for us to love our brethren, regardless of whether they “deserve” it or not!
Those who do love their brethren, however, abide in the light (1 John 2:10). When we have the love we ought to have toward others, we will not despise them or seek to sin against them. We will also seek their welfare and to show them love, mercy, compassion, and the other aspects of righteous behavior. On account of this John says that there is no cause of stumbling in such people: when they are motivated by that which is truly love, they will not sin against others.
But those who maintain hate in their souls toward others are controlled by it, and go wherever they are directed (1 John 2:11). John’s image is quite apt: just as people fumble around in the darkness because they do not perceive properly, so too for those who do not love but have hate in their hearts toward others. If such people thought rationally and sensibly, they would not act as they do; instead, they allow their passions to control them, and they become slaves, however willing or unwilling, to their hostility.
John makes it abundantly clear that we must love one another, for such is the way of Jesus. The way of hate is the way of darkness and sin, and many are those who find it and are lost. Let us show the light of Christ through our love for one another!
Ethan R. Longhenry