As we’ve seen, the first main part of 1 John (1:5-2:6) is about obedience and right morality. God’s Word calls us to examine ourselves (1 John 1:5-10), examine Christ (1 John 2:1-2), and examine our calling to keep and obey God’s commandments (1 John 2:3-6). The Apostle John concludes the first section of his letter by exhorting believers who abide in Christ to “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).
In the second section of the main body of this letter (1 John 2:7-17), John now turns his attention to love and right relationships. And, we begin with brotherly affections – or, love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 2:7-11).
An old, but also new, commandment (1 John 2:7-8; cf. John 13)
Unfortunately, the term love has lost its meaning in our day. Today, love typically means only feelings. Of course, that is part of it, but true love is much more that feelings. In fact, as the Word of God defines love, there are at least three parts to love: affection, allegiance, and action. Yes, there is an emotional feeling known as affection, but there is also allegiance – a loyalty and commitment. And, there is also action – doing things.
If you think about it, that just makes sense. If you love someone, you have an affection for them – you feel a certain way toward them. If you love someone, you have an allegiance for them – you are loyal to them. And, if you love someone, you express that love in your actions – the way you behave.
But, don’t take my word for it. The key to understanding the kind of love that John is talking about here is found in 1 John 2:7-8:
7 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.
8 On the other hand, 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.
In verse 7, John says that this command to love is not a new commandment, but an old one. Then, in verse 8, he says, “Actually, it is a new commandment.” So, what’s going on here? Is John just an irrational thinker? How can something be both old and new at the same time?
Well, first of all, in saying that the commandment to love your brother is not new, but old – we need to recognize that the commandment to which John is referring finds its origin in the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus, God commanded His people: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). So, the commandment is old.
But, the “newness” of this commandment has to do with the coming of Christ. In fact, it helps to know that John is quoting Jesus at this point. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus washed His Disciples’ feet. The Scriptures introduce this episode like this (John 13:1):
1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
Notice two things about this verse. First of all, there is a distinction between Jesus’ Disciples and the world. The Disciples are “His own” – that is, they belong to Jesus, but they still live in the world. Second, we should take note of the fact that Jesus loved His Disciples to the end. How did He love them? Well, He proceeded to serve them and wash their feet. This, He did as an example for them – and for us (John 13:13-15):
13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.
14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
Then, near the end of this same chapter in John’s Gospel, we find out why John says that this old commandment is also a new commandment: (John 13:34):
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
You see, Jesus is quoting Leviticus. He understands that this is an old commandment. The “newness” of the commandment to love your brothers and sisters in the Lord is not that it’s a new idea. The “newness” comes in the fact that Jesus gave the perfect example of this commandment. “A new commandment I give to you,” says Jesus, “that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
So, there’s the key to understanding how to fulfill the commandment to love your brother. Love one another, like Jesus does. When He washed the disciples’ feet, it was a self-debasing, sacrificial, pride-less act on Jesus’ part. He didn’t care what other people thought. He didn’t care that it wasn’t His place. He didn’t care that they were the ones who were supposed to be washing His feet! Instead, He – the Son of God – loved and served His Disciples.
Examine your brotherly affection (1 John 2:9-11)
This command to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus loved us is so important that it’s actually another criterion for self-examination (1 John 2:9-10):
9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.
10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
Hypocrisy is a very real danger. According to the Word of God, apparently it is possible for one’s profession of faith to be inconsistent with one’s affections. So, here is a test as to whether or not you are truly in the Light: do you love or hate your brother? Now, for John, “hatred” does not necessarily refer to an active animosity, but could also simply refer to the absence of love. But, let’s back up for a moment and make sure that we understand the difference between Light and darkness.
If you remember, in the previous verses, we saw how “Light” is usually a symbol for two things: truth and righteousness, or knowledge and holiness. “Darkness” then, is a symbol for lies and unrighteousness, or ignorance and sin. God is light and in Him there is no darkness. And, at the end of chapter 1, we found the first test as to whether or not we are in the light – whether or not we are in Christ: examining our behavior – our actions – whether we are controlled by sin or not. For those who walk in the Light, they keep God’s commandments (1 John 1:5-10).
That was in chapter 1. Here in chapter 2, we’re given a second test as to whether or not we are in the Light – whether or not we are in Christ – and that is: examining our affections. A person who loves his brother is walking in the Light. A person who hates his brother is in the darkness (1 John 2:9-10).
No doubt, you’ve heard the saying, “Love is blind.” By that we mean that we don’t make any moral judgments, we are simply saying, “When a person loves someone, they overlook many negative things.”
But, with respect to the morality of love (whether it is good or evil), John actually makes the opposite point (1 John 2:11):
11 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.
The point of verse 11 is an interesting one: Hate is blind. Hate is blind because hatred is walking in darkness – hatred is walking apart from Christ – hatred is walking in ignorance and sin. But, if a person says that He is walking in the Light – that he knows God and trusts in Christ – then he or she will love their fellow brothers and sisters in the church.
Here’s the bottom line for believers. If you say that you walk in the Light, then love your brother, in the same way that Jesus does. So, consider these questions: What are your brotherly affections like? Do you truly love the other believers? And, I’m not just talking about feelings. Do you also have a sense of allegiance to them? And, does your affection and allegiance manifest itself in action – showing your love for them? Or, could you care less what happens to other people in the church? If we want to truly walk in the Light, we must learn to love one another even as Jesus first loved us.