Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Command To Love

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

In our previous study we saw that keeping the commandments is a test of genuine conversion. In those verses (1 John 2:3-6) John was speaking of the commandments as a whole; in this passage he narrows his focus down to just one as he gives us our next test.

John begins by addressing his audience Beloved. The Greek word he used here is agapētós, which could also be translated as brothers or dear friends, and it shows John's deep affection for those to whom he is writing. This is the first of six times that John uses this word in this letter and although the use of this word makes it appear that John is beginning a new section here he is really just continuing the previous section where he wrote that if we know Him we will keep His commandments, and as I mentioned above he now moves his attention to just one commandment - the commandment to love.

John then writes "I am writing no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning." He then adds, "The old commandment is the word that you have heard." So what is this commandment? As I have already said, this is the command to love. But love is not mentioned anywhere in these two verses, so where do I get that from? In John's second letter he writes:
And now I ask you, dear lady - not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning - that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
In his gospel, quoting Jesus, John also wrote:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As well as three other times here in First John:

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.

And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

From these passages we can see that to John (and to Jesus) it was very important that Christians show love for one another, and that is the commandment that John is referring to here in 1 John 2:7-8. So that brings up the question then, how do we do this and what does it look like when Christians love each other?

The Greek word translated love in these passages is the word agapáō, which is the love that God has for each of us. It is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love. It is a love where you put the needs of the other person above your own needs and you do what is best for them - even if it inconveniences you. It is the highest form of love. And this is the love that Jesus commanded each of us to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ. So, what does this look like? For the answer we just need to look at Paul's letter to the Philippians where he wrote:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

We are to regard others as more important than our selves and look out for the interests of others . We are to have the attitude of Jesus, who emptied Himself and became a servant for our good. That is what Biblical love looks like. And in a verse that we just looked at, John 13:35, Jesus said that is is by our love for one another that the world will know that we are his followers.

To bring this all back to 1 John 2:7-8 then, what we are seeing is that as a follower of Jesus Christ we have been given the commandment that we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and as we move into the next verses in this passage next time we will see that this commandment to love one another is the next test that John gave for us to know if our faith is genuine.
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