1 John 2:7-11

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.

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Hate, A Word Study

Yesterday we studied the word “enemy” and found that it primarily refers to those who oppose, persecute, or hate someone. So what do those words mean, especially hatred? We’ve already done a study on love, so perhaps now we be a good time to discuss its opposite.

The Hebrew word translated “hate” is sane; the Greek word is miseo. Since both refer to the same idea, we will look at them together. First, however, we should make an important distinction. Just like people confuse disliking someone with being their enemy, people often confuse anger with hatred. When someone opposes us, it is natural to have ill-feelings towards them. Likewise, when we hate something or someone, anger is a naturally accompanying emotion. Anger, however, is not hatred, and hatred is not anger. If it were, then every time we became angry at a loved one we would have to admit that we actually hated them, which obviously is not the case.

Hatred is actually the lack of love (love, if you remember, is the desire to for the best interests of another). Love unites. Love brings together (1 Cor. 13). Hatred, then, is an aversion to a person or thing. Hatred sees something as undesirable and as ought to be shunned. Hatred divides.

We can further distinguish between two kinds of hatred, what we may call “cold” and “hot” hate. “Hot hatred” is that with which we are most familiar. It is an aversion that is accompanied by strong negative emotions. People often hate one another in this regard, and this is the idea the NT condemns when it says that to hate someone is to be a murder (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15). On the other hand, Christians are called upon to hate sin, just as God does (Rom. 12:9). In fact, it is our hatred of sin that will often keep us from it! (cf. Ps. 36:1-3)

“Cold hate” is an emotionless aversion and may be more clearly understood as disinterest. To “hate” someone or something in this regard is to consider it so unimportant that it is unworthy of your interest; that is, you have absolutely no desire to consider it. In this sense, people are said to hate God (although they do so in the other sense as well), a sad fact which as terrible consequences (Ex. 20:5; Rom. 1:30). In this sense, to ignore people in need is to hate them in this way.

In addition to these literal meanings, the Bible also uses the word in a figurative sense of “love less.” Thus, Jesus says that we are to hate our father and mother and even our own lives (Luke 14:26). The idea is that, compared to our love for God, all other considerations are so secondary that that simply don’t matter to a degree that they could be considered hated. The point is clear: God comes first! Another example is found in Romans 9:13, which says that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. The idea is that God chose Jacob before he was born to carry the Abrahamic blessing but rejected Esau for it.

Hatred, then, is neither good or evil in and of itself. Like love, the important question is the object. To hate people is wrong. To hate sin is good. We are capable of being angry without falling into hatred, just as God does with us. Anger rooted in love is righteous anger; anger rooted in hate is murder. Understood properly, love and hate, properly understood, help us properly define all of our relationships and ultimately will lead to a more fulfilling, and fulfilled, Christian life.

Love, A Word Study

What is love? Writers and poets have tried for centuries to define it, to capture its essence. Even the biblical writers were captivated by it. 1 Corinthians 13 has been called the love chapter. There, Paul extols the virtues of love. It is patient. It is kind. It is forgiving. It doesn’t remember wrongs, and on he goes. John has been called the apostle of love. For him, love is part of the very essence of God Himself, for he says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

But in all this, what is love?

The New Testament uses two words to describe love: agape and philos. Most Bible teachers define agape as “God’s kind of love” and philos as “brotherly love.” Based on that, they take passages like John 21:15-18 and preach that our love for God must be of the highest order, and that poor Peter at that point in his life had mere philos for Jesus, rather than the agape Jesus desired.

It is certainly true that we should love God completely. We should love him with our heart, soul, and mind. But I think the distinction between agape and philos is overstated. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Amnon “loved” (agape) his sister Tamar. In fact, his love for her is asserted twice, in 2 Sam. 13:1 and 2 sam. 13:15! Clearly, agape, at least in those verses, do not mean “God’s kind of love.”

In fact, both words are much like the English word “love.” They have a range of meanings that includes everything from attraction to affection, parental to friendly concern, and everything in between. Love can be positive when directed at God. It is negative when directed at evil. The best way to understand love is not to look at a definition, but to look at how God Himself, who is love, demonstrated it to us.

Most translations render John 3:16 as “For God so loved the world.” But we agree with the NET Bible, which offers this translation “This is the way God loved the world . . .” Love is not an emotion. Does anyone think that God had the warm fuzzies for the creation that had turned its back on Him and declared Him its enemy? When Jesus demanded we love our enemy, was He saying we should like them a lot? Of course not. Love is an action. How did God love us? By doing for us what we could not do for ourselves: by sending His Son to take our place on the Cross.

Love is that which looks to its object and in grace seeks the best for it. It is distinguished from mere duty in that it is accompanied by an emotion, but that emotion has nothing to do with liking someone. That emotion is concern or compassion. We see that clearly in John 3:16. God looked on lost and dying world, and desiring what was best for us, in His mercy, compassion, and grace, He bankrupted heaven on our behalf. He gave the one thing that only He could give.

Whatever word we use to describe this, be it love, agape, or philos, the command to love is a command precisely because it is something we choose to do. We can put the needs of our enemies before our own and seek their best. Love, then, is grace in action. Of course, if God is love, then we cannot give love until we know Love, and the only way to know love is to accept the love He gave us in His Son. It is only when we come with completely open hands, offering nothing to God but receiving His grace, that we can understand the unconditional acceptance that is the very essence of the most powerful force in the world.