Post Series on 1 John 2:7-14:
- How Jesus Made the Old Commandment New (1 John 2:7-8)
- Love as the Litmus Test of Genuine Faith (1 John 2:9-11)
- Envisioning the Beloved Society (1 John 2:12-14)
John’s transitions are abrupt and short, but clear and significant. In 1 John 1:5-2:6, John had described the message of the gospel and then applied that message to two false beliefs. (On this passage, see posts 1, 2, 3, 4.) At 2:7, John quickly changes subjects through a single-word transition: “Beloved.”
In 1 John 2:7-14, John pictures a fellowship of people transformed by the gospel, and the watchword of this group is love. John is not a 1st century hippie, however. Love is not a fuzzy, flowery, or sappy feeling, but something far more substantial. More than that, love is something impossible to generate through music, political action, or even drug use, and neither getting together nor smiling on your brother can accomplish what John intends here.
But don’t be mistaken–John would not dismiss hippies as overly optimistic; he would, in fact, chastise them for setting the bar so low.
To John, love is not an ideal toward which we should reach; it is a commandment, a requirement, a standard. John insists, “I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning” (1 John 2:7). Love has always, and love always will be, the criterion against which God’s people will be judged. This is nothing new–God’s people have had this commandment from the beginning.
So, when Jesus (John’s master) proclaimed that the two greatest commandments were that we love God with everything we have, and that we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34), he wasn’t making up those commandments–he was quoting the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, respectively.
Nevertheless, God’s people have also broken this commandment from the beginning. As John will point out in 3:11-12, Cain’s fratricide against Abel took place immediately after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden; such a heinous crime needed hardly any time to develop, but took place right away as a natural outgrowth of sinful natures. And even if no one reading this has ever murdered a sibling, we have all fallen short of the full scope of the love that God requires from us.
But the gospel proclaims to us that, “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you…” (1 John 2:8). By “new,” John does not mean that extra burdens or duties have been added–by “new,” John means that, in Christ, we fulfill the commandment, “…which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). Christ has come, and he has made all things new.
The gospel is not merely a message that heralds our forgiveness through Christ’s death, the propitiation for our sins, but the gospel also carries in itself the fulfillment of all the Law. By the gospel, the law of love is true in us because love is true in Christ.
And this is why John transitions into this passage by the single word “Beloved.” We cannot conjure a society of people who love one another through peace rallies, education, or legislation. Only those beloved by the Father through faith in his Son Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit can truly love their brothers and sisters.
The old commandment is made new because of Jesus himself–because Jesus has come, the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The power of the gospel melts hearts frozen in sin, hatred, and death.
Thus, before we exhort people to love, we must point them to the cross–love (or lack thereof) in our hearts, lives, families, and churches is a gospel issue first and foremost.