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MAY 29 2016 THE NEW COMMANDMENT

The New Commandment

 

Our Scripture reading this morning is I John 2:7-11.

 

[I. Introduction]  In our last few times together we learned about some matters that the apostle John was impressing upon his readers. We saw the importance of walking in the light, of entering and remaining in the divine cycle of:

 

  • Fellowship with God and its enjoyment
  • Walking in the light
  • Confession of sin
  • Which restores fellowship and continues the good cycle.

 

We also saw that John, under the inspiration of the Spirit, thought that it was imperative that we not sin. He revealed that it was essential that we keep the commandments. That revelation presented an opportunity to address what commandments John had in mind.

 

We saw that “the commandments” meant the moral law. The moral law includes the commandments under the Old Covenant (we find those in the Scriptures that we call the Old Testament, excluding the ceremonial laws), the commandments of Jesus, and we should also include the commands of the apostles because Jesus promised to fill them with the Holy Spirit Who guided them into all truth.

 

If left to ourselves, we would not only be unable to keep the commandments, but we would experience despair considering how many there are – over 1000! But the Lord did not leave us to ourselves! In the same way that he promised the original disciples to expect and receive the Spirit of God, that same promise is extended to us!

 

The Spirit creates in us a love for God’s law. Whereas in our natural state we both avoid God’s law and even despise it (except when it will directly benefit us – “You shall not steal” means “nobody take what’s mine! But, maybe I’ll take things from my job that they won’t miss.”), when we are born from above we discover that we love God’s law! We can now say with David,

 

            Oh how I love your law!

                        It is my meditation all the day.

(Psalm 119:97 ESV)

 

And,

 

            Blessed is the man

                        who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

            nor stands in the way of sinners,

                        nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

            but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

                        and on his law he meditates day and night.

(Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

 

Today, we come to what John calls a new commandment. The new commandment is to love our brother. This implicit command is found in verse 10. I like the way the New Living Translation puts it:

 

Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.

 

Similarly, the translation by Dr. Robert Yarbrough has it:

 

The one who loves his fellow believer abides in the light…

 

This morning, by God’s grace, we will explore and rejoice in this new commandment!

 

[II.] John begins this portion of Scripture with the greeting, “Beloved.” The NIV translates this word as “Dear friends.” That is unfortunate. There is a Greek word for “friends” (φιλοι), but it is not used here. There is no thought or connotation of “friends.” Φιλοι is never used in the New Testament to denote the relatedness that exists among the family of God because of their shared union with Christ; and, that is something that John is communicating by this word. The word in the original language is αγαπητοι, which literally means “ones who are loved.” Even though John loves his readers, by using this expression he is saying that they are loved by God. In using this term he is expressing the same idea that Paul expressed in his epistles. For example,

 

            Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

(Colossians 3:12 ESV)

 

We are chosen by God. We are made holy by God. And, we are loved by God!

 

And,

 

            For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

(1 Thessalonians 1:4 ESV)

 

Oh! This is glorious and encouraging! We are loved by God! Your boss may not like you. Your neighbor may despise you. Even your own mother may hate you. But, if you belong to Christ, you are loved by God!

 

God’s love for us is the bedrock for the love that we are to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

[III.] The commandment that John is writing is an old commandment. So, in one sense, it is not new. It is not something completely new that John is bringing them. Rather, they have had this commandment “from the beginning.” This “beginning” is different from the beginning he refers to in 1:1. In chapter 1, verse 1 John refers to the beginning of creation or the beginning of time because he is writing about the eternal Christ. Here, he is referencing his readers, the early disciples to whom he is giving further guidance in the faith. This beginning is when they began to follow Jesus. This is confirmed by the last part of verse 7: “The old commandment is the word that you have heard.” They heard this commandment from Jesus.

 

But the commandment is even older than Jesus’ earthly ministry. This is the commandment that God gave through Moses. When Jesus taught, “All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” he had just quoted “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Deut 6:5) and “Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” Incidentally, for him to quote those two passages in the open air means that he had them memorized! That we are to love our neighbor (that is whomever we come across, not just the person living next door) is one of two fundamental commandments upon which the entire law of God rests!

 

But the commandment is even older than Moses. It is part of the created order. It is the way God made us. He made us to love. When we fail to love we disorient ourselves from the way we were made to be. We were made in the image of God and God is love.

 

The command is as old as the earth itself. People like new things and new ideas. They want change. Our current President got elected because he kept a mantra of change going through his entire campaign. The nation certainly experienced change under his watch, but it was decidedly not change for the better. “In John’s world, for something to be true it needed to have an ancient heritage and not just offer novel utility.”[1] Whether something is old and, therefore, good; or, new and, therefore, bad does not depend on it being ancient. Rather, it depends on its source. If it is from God it is wonderfully good. If it is from man and it is new it is usually bad. (Here I am speaking of behavior, not things pertaining to physicality, like medicine or technology.)

 

When John says the commandment is old, he means that it is, therefore, authoritative because its oldness is rooted in God.

 

[III.] At the same time, John says, it is a new commandment. There is something – and more than one thing – new about it. It is a new commandment! How is it new?

 

[A.] It is new in the way it was experienced by Jesus with the Father. Until Jesus, no one experienced love with the Father the way Jesus did.

 

            The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

(John 3:35 ESV)

 

            For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.

(John 5:20 ESV)

 

            If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

(John 15:10 ESV)

 

The way that Jesus and the Father love one another was seen by the disciples. They came to know that they could have the same kind of love that the Father and Jesus had for one another.

 

In order to love our fellow believer in a new way we must first experience the love of the Father and we must love Him. This love was first experienced by our Lord and we are able to enter into this same experience!

 

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.


Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

 

  1. When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  2. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

 

That love is not only for the redeemed as a whole, but it is for you as an individual.

 

The commandment  is new in the way it was experienced by Jesus with the Father. How else is it new?

 

[B.] It is new in the way that Jesus loved his own. When we consider the patriarchs and the prophets of old we never read, not even one time, that they loved the people they led. Certainly, they did. Moses prayed on behalf of the Israelites – that God would not destroy them. Jeremiah wept because of the judgment he prophetically saw coming upon Jerusalem. Yet, through the entire Old Testament we do not read that they loved them.

 

Jesus reaffirmed love in the way he loved his followers.  We see this in this short verse:

 

            Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

(John 11:5 ESV)

 

And,

 

            Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

(John 13:1 ESV)

 

From his own lips Jesus told them he loved them:

 

            As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

(John 15:9 ESV)

 

Just as no one ever spoke as Jesus spoke, no one ever loved as He loved.

 

The commandment is new in the way that Jesus loved his own.

 

[C.] Third, it is new in that Jesus taught his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them (John 13:34). Therefore, it is new in its depth. For Jesus loved us deeply, did he not? Yes, it is new in its depth. But, when he says to love one another “just as” he has loved us there is something more. How did he love us? He loved us sacrificially. And, we ought to love one another in that way.

 

Still, there is something else about the way he loved us. He loved us despite of the way we are! The apostle Peter sums this up:

 

            For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous…

(1 Peter 3:18 ESV)

 

The righteous loves the unrighteous! It is easy to love those who love us. It is easy to love those who are lovable. But the love of Jesus is the love that loves those who are indifferent to him. He loves those who are unlovable. This is the way we are to love! As soon as you begin to think you are better than a brother or sister, that is when the love of Jesus within you needs to enfold you! Maybe you are better than the person you find hard to love. If you are, it is only by God’s grace. The same grace that you are called to extend to the unworthy. But, may be you are not better after all. Maybe you just think you are. Maybe we see the unrighteousness in another but we are blind to our own. I think that happens quite often. If we love one another then we do not even have to think about that! Do you know what that means? Peace of mind and a tranquil spirit!

 

Let us love one another in the same way that he loved us – loving the unrighteous.

 

[D.] Lastly, with respect to its newness, it is new because of its empowerment. Who can love just as Jesus loved? No one! That is why he breathes his life into us as the Spirit! When we are walking in the light, receiving the life and the life-supply from the indwelling Christ, then we spontaneously experience and manifest his love.

 

The Spirit was available to the children of God in the Old Covenant but not in the same way. The Spirit imparts everything we need to live the Christian life including the love for our fellow believers.

 

On the very day that Jesus rose from the dead we read this in John 20:

 

            On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

(John 20:19-22 ESV)

 

When Jesus breathed into those first disciples they received the Holy Spirit. There were some promises given only to the original twelve, such as being guided into all truth (John 16:13).  But the promise of the Spirit is for every believer. Just as Jesus breathed into those first disciples, he breathes into everyone who is born again. It is this Spirit that empowers us to love as he loved. He imparts the love that we need.

 

[IV.] The reason that this new commandment is a reality in Christ and a reality in us (“true in him and true in you”) is because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining (vs. 8).

 

Is the darkness passing away in the world? No. It didn’t pass away during the time of the Roman Empire nor did it pass away afterwards. After Rome fell the barbarian hordes took over both Europe and the Mediterranean and the entire world entered the Dark Ages which lasted one thousand years.  Some date the Dark Ages from the overthrow of the Roman Empire in 476 AD.  by the Barbarian Odoacer who then declared himself king of Italy. An interesting account of the first change of kings takes place in 491 when, after a three year battle between Odoacer and the invading Goth, Theodoric the Great, they had agreed to a peace treaty to be signed at a dinner in Ravenna where Odoacer had taken refuge. At the dinner table Theodoric arose and instead of signing the peace treaty he pulled out his sword and cleaved Odoacer nearly in half from his collar bone all the way down to his hip! Lesson: never eat dinner with a Goth. Those were dark ages!

 

The Renaissance began in the 14th century. Renaissance is a French word meaning “rebirth.” It describes a time of renewal, a new beginning, in some notable and worthy areas such as art, science, and culture. But, in other areas, such as in ethics, the darkness not only remained but became even darker.

 

In modern times, for the last 300 years, the darkness is still upon us and it is getting darker still.

 

The darkness is not passing away in the world. The darkness is passing away in the church when the church is alive and walking in the light. Only God’s people can walk in the light because only they have the source of light, Christ!

 

The true light was in Christ and the true light is in us.

 

[V.] Now we come to a crucial verse. Verse 9 reads: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his fellow believer is still in darkness.” Here is what we must remember: We can be a true believer and be walking in darkness! This is similar to what we learned from chapter one: that we can be a true believer and not be in fellowship with God.

 

This, if possible, is even more serious. One can be out of fellowship with God and know that they are. When a child of God is aware that they are out of fellowship they seek to restore that fellowship. We do that by confessing our sin to the Father, not a priest.

 

But when one is walking in the darkness they do not even know their own condition because they cannot see!

 

In the first few verses of chapter 2 we saw that John gave us a test for us to determine whether we know God or not. What was the test? (Answer: keeping God’s commandments.)

 

We have here another test to determine whether we are walking in the light or not. The test is loving our fellow believer. If we are not loving our brother or sister then we are in darkness. If we love our fellow believer we are in the light.

 

[VI. Conclusion and Application] We have an old commandment because it was upon the lips of Jesus 2,000 years ago, from the pen of Moses 3,500 years ago, and part of the created order itself.

 

We have a new commandment because of its depth and because of its empowerment.

 

We have a test of whether we are walking in the light or not. That test is whether we are living out the new commandment! How do we know whether we are? Sometimes it is evident to ourselves. Other times it is not. Let me say one thing to help. Whether we love someone or not is not determined by what we feel (although it can be). It is shown by what we say about that person when they are not around. When you love someone you build them up to others. When you hate someone you point out their faults to others. It is that simple.

 

What are we to do? Start loving them! Jesus loved the unlovable (you and me!) and he has given you the life, the life-supply, and the power to do the same.

 

 

 

 

[1] Yarbrough, Robert; Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT, 1-3 John; Grand Rapids, MI; 98.