In this second portion of 1 John 2, John begins to turn his attention to the way Christ lived and what that means for us. The command to love one another (and the consequences for failing to do so) dominate this section. Through it all, the focus remains, however, on fellowship: fellowship first with God through Christ, and second by expressing (and indeed living out) that fellowship by keeping Christ’s command to “love one another.”
v7. Next, John points out that what he is saying is “not an new command, but an old one.” That is, this is something that the church had always known. In fact, they “have had it since the beginning.” So what is this “old command.” John says it “is the message you have heard.” That message, of course, is in general the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in particular Jesus’ command that we “love one another.” That is how He lived, what He commanded us to do, and how we are likewise to live.
v8. In an important sense, however, this command to love one another is new. Jesus was not the first person to teach it. It’s found as far back as Lev. 19:18. And yet in Christ, this command takes on a new significance, a new centrality. Jesus’ Incarnation was an act of love. His life was an act of love. His death was an act of love. His resurrection was an active of love. His ongoing ministry in heaven is an act of love. And His Second Coming to bring our ultimate salvation will be an act of love. In Christ, love finds its perfect expression and ultimate fulfillment. Therefore, in calling Christians to love one another, this really is “a new commandment,” for we are now living as Christ lived. Notice that John says the “truth [of this command] is seen in Him and in you.” When we look at Jesus and see the love He shows us, we can immediately understand not just that we ought to love each other, but what real love is. In fact, it seems to me that by looking closely at the way Jesus lived, we get a very clear sense of what is wrong with this world.
But when Jesus returned to heaven, God did not just leave the world without a witness to His love. John says that the truth of the command is seen in us. When we look at one another, and when the world looks at us, they should see deep and profound love. They should see compassion, grace, forgiveness, humility, and all the rest that flows from deeply loving one another. Indeed, John says “the darkness is passing and the the true light is already shining.” In a word, we should be set apart. We should be different. It is that difference that draws people to us, like a moth a light at night. Imagine if you were in a pitch black room and someone struck a match. The light would immediately draw the attention of you and everyone else in the room. But imagine if you were in that same room, only now it was well lit. If someone now strikes a match, who will notice?
No one could ignore Jesus. He stood out. Just so, no one should be able to ignore the church. We should “stand out.” We are part of a dark and dying world, and if we live the way Christ lived, if we keep His command and love Him and each other–if we have a deep and intimate relationship with God–then we won’t need marketing tips and church growth gurus anymore than Jesus did.
v9. John wants to be sure, however, that the church sees how practical this point is. It is easy to talk of love and being the light of the world in the abstract. But now he challenges his readers: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother or sister is still in darkness.” It’s easy to say we are in the light. But remember that to be in the light is to be in Christ–to be in a loving, intimate relationship with Him by faith. Yet if rather than loving our neighbors we are hating them, how can we say that we are in fellowship with Jesus? We can’t, anymore than I can claim to be standing in a well lit room and yet not be able to see anything. As such, if we hate our brothers and sisters, it just shows that we don’t really know Jesus as much as we thought we did.
v10. Now John gives us the obvious parallel truth: “Anyone who loves his brother or sister lives in the light.” Such people are coming to know God through Christ experientially. Even better, “there is nothing in them to make them stumble.” I think a better rendering of this phrase is, “there is no cause for stumbling in them.” The word for “stumble” here is the same word we get “scandal” from. When we walk in the darkness by not loving one another, we can find ourselves in scandal. We can trip up our own lives, and worse, we can trip up others as well. Scandal and stumbling is the opposite of fellowship and harmony. But that’s exactly what sin is. It brings destruction, harm, and chaos. Failing to love others is so terrible because it brings with it all sorts of sins. Yet if we simply trusted Jesus–if rather than trying to “get even” and if we forgave and served others as He forgave and served us–then our love would ensure we avoided such traps.
v11. John summarizes this thought by concluding that “if anyone hates his brother or sister, then he walks around in darkness.” There is simply no fellowship between the Christian and Jesus, or for that matter between Christians, when we hate others and live in darkness. Fellowship can only be found in the light, and we are only in the light if we love as He loved. Moreover, those who hate “do not know where they are going.” They are aimless and without purpose, and therefore they are in danger of stumbling (and causing others to stumble). If they could see, they could live clearly and with purpose. They could avoid bringing harm on themselves and others. But because of their hatred, “the darkness has blinded them.”