New ‘old commandment’ (1 John series #7)

A new ‘old commandment’

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Read 1 John 2: 7-11

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 in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Not all of John’s intended readers were Jewish, but many were, and the Jewish roots of the Way of Jesus were more prominent then, where the Jewish, Roman and Greek cultures all clashed, than perhaps they would be for us. To Jewish readers, rooted in what we call the Old Testament, this was the oldest and most fundamental commandment if all: “Love The Lord your God with all your heart… and your neighbour as yourself,” although it was Jesus who put these two teachings together as a rule of life.

EXPLORE: Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18, Mark 12:28-31

However, the Old Testament “love your neighbour as yourself” phrase was buried in a list of other ordinances about not planting a field with two types of crop, or wearing garments of two types of cloth. No undersowing grass beneath a maize crop or avoiding polyester cotton seem a bit trivial to us by comparison.

Jesus gave “love your neighbour as yourself” a whole new dynamic when He quoted this as the Great Commandment and said in effect: This is your rule of life. It is worth noting that Luke’s account of Jesus’ reply to the religious scholar’s question includes the parable of the Good Samaritan. Some churches take this as a value or a mission statement to “Love God, love each other and love those still far from God”.

EXPLORE: Luke 10:25-37

It was Jesus who took the ‘old command’ and expressed it in a new way: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Love each other as I have loved you.”

EXPLORE: John 13:34 and John 15:12

John is clearly reminding readers of his epistle to recall these words of his previously-circulated gospel account. This is John’s way of saying, in effect, “Make the main thing the main thing.”

Loving and hating (verses 9-11) may seem like emotions to us but in the Bible’s language they are labels for attitudes and intentionality. Those who genuinely walk with Jesus will become like Him in their intentions — exercising good discernment of spiritual realities while demonstrating a love that is not conditional. We can’t claim to walk with Jesus, the demonstrator of unconditional love, and be picky about how we treat others, especially if they are attempting that same walk.

Commands don’t sit well with us in the 21st century – perhaps because we have been put off by legalistic strains of preaching. Of course, John is very much writing from an understanding of grace and empowerment. So his “ought to walk as Jesus did” (verse 6 in some versions) and ‘command’ language might be better understood as “ought to be able to…”. Not so much doing what we ‘ought’, but having the capacity to love others, as those who mirror and are empowered by God’s Spirit and God’s love.

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