SERMON: “A New Commandment” 「新しい命令」
TEXT: 1 John 2:7-14
In John’s day, the Christian Church was being challenged, just as it is being challenged today, by other religions and world views. Some claimed to know God, or to know Truth, but their idea of “God” and of “Truth” was very different from our understanding. They held very different moral values and followed a very different standard for moral behavior. John’s letter provided a way for Christians to recognize one another, and also a basis for testing and rejecting new teachings that were assailing the Church and leading some away from Christ. It is just as necessary today, as it was in John’s day, for Christians to discern carefully between truth and error, light and darkness, love and hatred, serving God and serving man’s idols.
John understood that true social harmony was possible only when there was a proper alignment of truth and moral righteousness, or “light and love.” That happens when people come to know God. When men really have fellowship with God, they will walk in the light, know the truth, and practice love toward one another. But if any of these elements are missing, the other elements will not be possible. One cannot claim to know the truth, while walking in moral darkness. One cannot claim to love others, while denying the true God. Truth, love, and moral righteousness are inseparable. They are all essential to living your life with hope and joy. And they are the evidence of knowing and walking with God.
In today’s passage John explains the proper relationship between moral righteousness and love. Let’s explore a bit further this essential connection between righteousness and love.
II. THE INSEPARABLE BOND BETWEEN MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE
The first thing we learn from John is that even in an advanced, “progressive” society, God’s moral laws continue to be relevant and necessary. We should never think that we are free to abandon God’s moral standard of righteousness. In v. 7 John writes, “Beloved friends, I am not writing you a new commandment, but an old one, which you have had since the beginning.” The “old commandment” needs to be repeated and reinforced, not abandoned! In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, the commandments of God in the Law of Moses were already very old laws—about 800 years old, in fact. Jeremiah wrote to the people of Israel who had abandoned those old commandments (Jer. 6:16), “This is what the LORD says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’” It is always true that many people prefer to be on the leading edge of anything new. Whatever is new attracts many who want to “try it”—new technology, new fashions, new music, new ideas, and even “new morality.” That seems “progressive” and “liberal.” But Jeremiah warned that God’s “ancient paths” are the right paths. God’s laws show us the “good way” to live—the way that will lead us to rest for our souls. God does not need to change, because He is already perfect in every way; His laws do not need to be “improved” either. David wrote in the 23rd Psalm, “The LORD is my shepherd; I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters; he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.” Those are the right paths that will lead us to a good and happy “abundant life.” Proverbs 12:28 says, “In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path there is no death.” The meaning of these verses is clear: The laws of God are intended to guide us to a good life–a life of peace and abundance and hope. When we abandon God’s “old commandments,” we suffer!
In 2:3 John wrote, “We know that we have come to know God if we keep His commandments.” Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, and away from God’s presence, because they disobeyed God’s commandment. Like them, we also lose any hope of knowing God and enjoying His blessings, when we reject His law. “This old commandment,” John says, “which you have had since the beginning,” is the commandment I am writing to you. The earth grows old, but God’s righteous law never wears out! Prosperity and hope lie along the “ancient paths” of God’s word. However, John writes in v. 8, “I am writing you a new commandment.” I think what he means is that when we try to apply God’s word—His commandments—to our “modern” lives, we will find new joys and blessings, as well as new challenges. Specifically, John says that the “truth” of this “new commandment” is “seen in Christ and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” The life of Christ has brought “true light” and pushed back the “darkness.” John wrote about Jesus in the opening words of his Gospel (John 1:4-5): “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Christ’s obedience to God’s commandments is what pushed back the darkness. His righteousness brought light to the world. In the life of Jesus Christ we can see the truth of God’s commandment revealed to us in a new way. This is because Jesus kept God’s commandments perfectly. But John also says that the truth of this command can be seen in the lives of His followers. That is, when Christians keep this command, as Jesus had kept it, they also show evidence that God’s word is true. If we keep God’s commandments, we will also “shine” with the light of truth, righteousness, and love.
God’s commandments are true today, just as they were 2000 or 4000 years ago. Jesus Himself lived in Palestine about 600 years after the time of Jeremiah, and perhaps 1400 years after the days of Moses. But Jesus never suggested that God’s commandments had gone “out of style” and were no longer needed. In fact, He said just the opposite. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said (Matt. 5:17), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” As Jesus fulfilled God’s commandments, He taught His disciples a new way of keeping God’s moral Law. He showed that the commandments of God must first be written on the heart, and then performed in outward, visible actions. God’s moral law requires not just outward observance, but willing obedience from the heart. God wants us to serve Him because we trust Him–because we believe that keeping His commandments will be good for us, and will give glory to God Himself! In verses 9-11 John explains more specifically how the followers of “true religion”—that is, those who know God and walk in His light–must keep His commandments. One very old commandment that Jesus taught us to keep in a “new way” is the commandment to love one another. In the Gospel of John (13:34) Jesus had even called this a “new commandment.” “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” He repeated this again in 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
In other places Jesus had discussed the “scope” of Christian love. He said in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” In other words, Christians must “expand the boundaries” of their love to encompass not only their family and friends, but also their enemies. They must even love people who will not return their love. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus showed how broadly we must expand our idea of the people God calls us to love. Through acts of Christian love, some of our enemies may become our “neighbors.” Even today, people will often respond positively when we treat them with loving consideration.
However, in this epistle, John is not referring to the breadth of our love, but rather to its depth. This is the true novelty of Christ’s love, and of the love that we must learn to show to others. It is a love “for one another”– that is, a love shared among the members of the Christian Church family. The old commandment from the beginning of the Mosaic Law was already quite “broad” in scope. It included the “sons of your people” (Lev. 19:18) as well as “the stranger who resides with you” (Lev. 19:34). The command was simply, “You shall love him as yourself.” Jesus, however, raised the standard of Christian love even higher. He said to His disciples, “you shall love one another not only as much as you love yourself, but you shall love each other “as much as I have loved you!” How much did Jesus love His disciples? John says in John 13:1, “He loved them to the uttermost.” He kept back nothing for Himself! He gave them everything. He used up Himself in order to serve—that is, to love—His disciples. He amazed His disciples by taking on the role of a slave to wash their dirty feet! Then he said to them (John 13:12b-15), “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Of course, the supreme demonstration of Christ’s love was made when He offered Himself as the ransom price to pay for our sins! In 1 John 3:16 John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren.”
This is where we see the “newness” of Christ’s command. We should love one another in the Church even more than we love ourselves! More than we love honor and prestige and the praise of men. More than we love comfort and leisure and wealth. More than we love even our own flesh! It is not a love that “ebbs and flows” like the ocean tides, but a steady, persevering love. It is a love that gives until there is no more to give, even to one’s last breath. It is an active love and it is from the heart.
But who can love others like this? I know of only one example where we can see this love: Jesus Himself. Yet this is the love that Jesus commands His followers to show towards one another. It is a love that only becomes possible when people are united to Christ through faith. And it must be produced in your life by the powerful work of His Holy Spirit. In fact, this love is the first “fruit” of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. If it is “by its fruit” that a tree is known (Matt. 7:20), then it is by our love that we should be known. “By this all men shall know that you are My disciples,” Jesus said, “when you love one another” (John 13:35). Christian love is a surprising love—not at all like the world’s idea of love. This love is the true “mark” of a Christian. This kind of love must be learned from Jesus. A church filled with this love will have a powerful witness and ministry.
When we show Christ’s self-sacrificing love toward one another, in all sorts of practical ways, by God’s grace we show that Christian faith is “true religion.” As John says, we “live in the light.” (vs. 9-10) “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” If you know God and walk in His light of truth, you will learn to love one another, as Christ has loved you. (v. 11) By this we should recognize a follower of true religion. “But anyone who 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.” This is the test John gives to his readers, so that they can recognize true Christian brothers and sisters. He does not offer this to burden or discourage them, but to give them hope. “Because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining,” he said in v. 8. The true light and love of Christ are already showing in the churches to which John sent this letter. Christ’s love is not yet perfect in the churches, but it is really there. And those are the churches that grew and bore fruit, even in times of persecution.
The final section of our text may seem out of place in a discussion of Christian love, and we won’t attempt to study it in detail. But I think these verses provide an example of John’s own apostolic love for the scattered Christian churches in Asia Minor. He had first addressed these church members as “Beloved,” in v. 7. And in verses 12-14 John shows the wisdom and grace of a loving “brother in Christ.” There were surely many ways in which those Christians fell short of Christ’s call to “love one another as Christ had loved” them. But John does not point out all their weaknesses and failures. Instead, John commends them for all they had so far achieved. “Scolding” seldom brings the results that can come from positive encouragement! There is no trace of condemnation in John’s words. “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” What John writes now, he has already told them before. Even so, he repeats it. He praises them for what they have accomplished—or, rather, for what Christ has accomplished in them. Their faithful efforts must be continued. They must press on in their Christian “walk,” and continue to grow up into the fullness of Christ’s salvation and love. They are on the right “path,” the “ancient path” that God had shown His people in past ages. God will continue to show them how they must live. As Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonika (1 Thes. 4:9): “Now about your love for one another, we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love each another.” So it was also among these churches in Asia Minor. God Himself was teaching them to love each other as Christ had loved them. I think it is also true in Kasumigaoka Church. We are on the right path; let’s keep growing in our love for one another!