A sermon on 1 John 2 by Rev Richard Keith on 21 February 2021
In our passage today God calls us to love and to not love. God calls us to love one another and to not love the world. The old commandment says, Love your neighbour as you love yourself. The new commandment says, Love each other as Christ loved you. And that each other begins with the family of God, with those who are brothers and sisters in Christ. Love begins with us, because if we do not love each other, we do not love God and we cannot love anyone else.
In chapter 2 verse 7 John wrote,
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning.
As we read those words, we must remember what I shared a couple of weeks ago. John is writing to a church community that has been torn in two by a bitter division. They were divided over who Jesus is, over what he came to do, and over what it means to follow him. The issues they were fighting over can be seen in a few sentences in chapter 1 that start with “if”.
If we claim to have fellowship with God yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
And in a couple of sentences in chapter 2 that don’t start with “if”
The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
You can see that it wasn’t just a clash over abstract ideas that didn’t affect anyone. It was a conflict that struck at the heart, at who Christ is and at what it means to be a Christian. At least half the church had walked out on the others, leaving emotional and interpersonal wounds that were raw and bleeding. And John was writing to those who had been left behind. To those who’d been hurt and probably just as guilty of hurting back. So in his letter John called them back to Christ and back to love.
It wasn’t a new command that he was writing to them. It wasn’t something modern and new fangled. It wasn’t something that had just recently been made up. Like reality TV shows. They are all the rage, but I don’t get them. They are so full of unnecessary drama. The best are boring. The worst are mind bogglingly bad. No, the command wasn’t new. It was an old command. It was as ancient and authentic as clean air to breathe and nutritious food to eat. It was a command that we have had since the very beginning. Not just since the beginning of our life in Christ. Not just since the beginning of the creation of the church. But since the beginning of time. Because this command comes from the God who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth.
The command comes from the God who in himself from all eternity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We call this doctrine the trinity. That there are these three persons, these three aspects or modes to the being of God. We imagine that by giving it this name we have nailed down the truth of God for all time.
But what it means for God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, what it means for God to be one, yet three, and three in one, is that in himself God is community, God is fellowship, God is love. And because the eternal God is love, the old command which we have heard from the beginning, is love your neighbour as you love yourself. This is the message we have heard. This is the truth that forms the basis of our faith. This is the light of God in which we live and grow. The light for which we are called to leave the darkness behind. Because God is love his ancient and original command, the first and authentic message is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
And yet, as John himself admits in verse 8, it is not just an old command. He wrote,
Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
The old command is new in the same sense that John meant it was new in his Gospel in chapter 13 where John records that Jesus said at the Last Supper,
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
What is new in the new command is Jesus himself. No longer are we the measure of love. The old command says, Love your neighbour as you love yourself. The new standard and example of love is Jesus himself. The new command says, Love one another as I have loved you. The new standard of love is found in Jesus’ words of grace, in his deeds of power, in his surrender on the cross and in the victory of his resurrection. The life of Jesus proclaims the message that love wins. That the light shines and the darkness is overcome. That true life, that real, genuine human life is found in following the example of Jesus’ love. Love one another, he said, as I have loved you.
And the love of the new command is expressed first and foremost in the community of Jesus. Jesus the Lord, Jesus the teacher, says to his disciples, his students, love each other. This is not just the general good feeling towards the fellow members of our community. The old command says, Love your neighbour. The new command says, Love one another. Jesus teaches us that out of the general community of humanity there is a smaller, specific community of the new humanity that is called into being by the work of Christ when he says,
All men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
It does not mean that we do not love our neighbour. The old command is not annulled by the new command. But it does mean that if we cannot love the people of God, we cannot say that we love God. And if we cannot love those who belong to Christ, we will never be able to love those who do not belong to him yet. Or as John said in verse 9
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
For the Lord Jesus calls us into his light and he calls for his light to be transformed through the prism of our lives made new by the Spirit into works of love.
John makes the contrast clear in verses 10 and 11,
Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
John was writing to a church community who had been hurt and possibly, probably guilty of hurting others as well. This is what happens in a conflicted community. People take sides in the conflict. They dig trenches in their minds. People think, if you aren’t on my side you must be on the other side. Every issue, from the colour of the carpet to the sharing of the message of Jesus, is thought about and argued about in terms of whose side are you on. And anything less than full, one hundred percent support, is interpreted to mean that you must be on the other side.
In a conflicted community people jump to conclusions. Everything you do is seen in the worst possible light, while everything they do is seen in the best possible light. We are meant to be the family of God. We belong to Jesus. We are meant to walk by his light. But when the church becomes conflicted, we invite the darkness back into our lives.
What John teaches us here in chapter 2 is that the conflict will not stop and the wounds will not start to heal until the hurting stops and Christ’s people recommit their lives to Christ’s love. And he warns us that if the light of Christ’s love does not guide us, we will not ultimately be able to find our way home to the kingdom of God.
Through John God calls us to love each other. This is his command, both old and new. And he also calls us to not love the world. It is not a contradiction of the old commandment. He does not command us to love each other but to hate our neighbour. For one thing, we are not called to hate, but to not love. There is a world of difference. And for another thing what we are called to not love is not the people of the world, but the things which the world represents.
John wrote in verses 15 to 17
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
The world is the darkness out of which we have been called to come to God’s light. The world is the darkness to which those who had walked out of the church John wrote to had returned. The world is the life of sin that rebels against God, that resists his love and that burns with longing for the things which only the world can supply and which cannot really satisfy.
The world is the folly of Adam and Eve, believing the snake rather than God and taking the forbidden fruit. The world is the jealousy of Cain who raised his hand against his brother Abel. The world is the lust of David who slept with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. The world is the fear of the religious authorities who condemned Jesus to death. The world is everything that Jesus gave his life to set us free from. To love the world, to believe that we can safely flirt with its unfulfilled and unfulfilling cravings while we maintain a façade of respectability within the church is to deceive ourselves. It is to pretend to walk in the light, but really to live in darkness. Because the world is the darkness that blinds our eyes to the truth of God in Jesus Christ. That blind our eyes to his love.
Do not love the world. Open your eyes to its empty promises. See by the light of God’s truth how it tries to turn you away from him. Guard your heart against the promises that it cannot deliver. Love the people of the world. That’s the old command. Love your neighbour. Have compassion upon them. Forgive them their sin because they stumble about in darkness and they do not know their way home. But do not love the darkness that keeps them captive to their desires. Do not love the emptiness that can never be satisfied. Do not love the sin from which Christ rescued you.
Through his apostle John God says to you, love and do not love. Love one another. Love your brother and sister in Christ. If you cannot love them you do not love God and you cannot love your neighbour. And do not love the world. Love the people of the world. But do not love the darkness that blinds their eyes to God’s truth and love.