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 words in 1 John 2:9-11 are hard, and they should give every sincere Christian pause:
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever 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.
I like, though, that Augustine refuses to soften what John writes. Rather than pandering to those who think John asks too much, he turns the tables:
Come now, my brothers, how long have we been telling you, Love your enemies (Mt 5:44)? See how much worse it is if you still hate your brothers. If you only love your brothers, you aren’t yet perfect. But if you hate your brothers, what are you? Where are you? Let each one examine his own heart. (“First Homily,” Homilies on the First Epistle of John [Hyde Park: New City Press, 2008], 32.)
John is not confronting garden-variety lacks of love; he is confronting those who hate their brothers. Such people have not merely failed to attain perfection of love; they are opposed to the pursuing it.
Augustine goes on, though, and vividly dramatizes the passage:
Now there was some pagan or other who became a Christian. Listen to this: He was in the darkness when he was a pagan; now he has become a Christian. “Thanks be to God,” everyone congratulates him. The Apostle is read in a congratulatory mood: You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. He used to adore idols; now he adores God. He used to adore the things that he made; now he adores the one who made him. He has changed. “Thanks be to God,” all the Christians congratulate him. Why? Because now he is an adorer of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and a detester of demons and idols. Still John is concerned about this; still he mistrusts the many congratulators. Brothers, let us willingly embrace his maternal concern. Not without reason is a mother concerned on our behalf, while others are congratulatory. I refer to charity as a mother, for she dwelled in John’s heart when he said these things. Why, if not that he is fearful about something in us at the very moment when people are congratulating us? What causes him to fear? He who says that he is in the light—what does that mean? he who says that he is already a Christian—and hates his brother is in darkness even yet. There is nothing to explain here, only to rejoice at or to mourn over. (“First Homily,” Homilies on the First Epistle of John [Hyde Park: New City Press, 2008], 32.)
Love is indeed a litmus test for the genuineness of our faith. Remember, faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone. Either we walk in the light, and love our brothers, or we walk in darkness, and hate our brothers. The gospel alone can transform us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
There is nothing to explain here, only to rejoice at or to mourn over.