1 John 2:7-11: Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
John here talks of an old command of love and a new command of love. What are these commands and what is the difference? The old command is from Leviticus 19:18, which says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” The new command is found in John 13:34, which says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” What's the difference in how we are to love others?
The love that is found in the law in the Old Testament comes from the generosity of one man to another. However, the love of Christ goes far beyond that. This love can be summarized in three ways: its width, its depth, and its length.
How wide is the love of Christ for us that we are called to bestow to one another? It is wide enough to include every human being. John himself stated this just a few verses earlier: that the blood of Christ did not cover your sins only, but the sins of the entire world. Israelites often interpreted the old command of love as from one Israelite to another, and that was the full extent of the command. This new command of Christ, however, was wide enough to cover the entire spectrum of humanity.
How deep is the love of Christ for us that we are called to bestow to one another? It is deep enough to reach the vilest of sinners. In many cases in the Old Testament, there were certain sins that were punishable by death: adultery, incest, homosexuality, etc. However, Christ comes to “bridge the gap” and He puts a new spin on the law: grace abounds for even the vilest of sinners. The apostle Paul highlights this well when he says, in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
The emphasis of the love of Christ toward us – and thus the emphasis of our Christian love toward others – is always grace. This is an important differentiation between the old command and this new one: under the old command, you treat others as you want to be treated, while under this new command you treat others with grace as Christ has treated you, no matter how you or the other person want to be treated. Let me provide you with an example to help highlight this point.
In the newest remake of the movie “Les Miserables”, there is a scene where a convict is in the home of a bishop and his wife. They feed him dinner and give him a place to sleep for the night. In the middle of the night, the convict gets up and begins stealing all of the silverware in the kitchen. The bishop hears the clatter, and gets out of bed to go check up on things. He enters the kitchen, spots the convict, and they stare into each other’s eyes for a moment. Then, the convict punches the bishop, knocking him unconscious, and makes off with the silverware. The next scene is the convict being brought back to the house, in chains, escorted by armed soldiers. They tell the bishop that they caught the convict, and he told them that the bishop gave them all his silverware, to which they all laugh. Then, the bishop says, “I did! Why did you forget the two silver candlesticks? They’re worth at least 2,000 franks!” He then has his wife fetch the candlesticks and get the soldiers some wine to drink. He then approaches the convict, chains now released, and removes his hood and says, “Don’t ever forget, you promised to become a new man.” The convict replies, bewildered, “Why are you doing this?” The bishop then replies, “My brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred. And now I give you back to God.” The scene then ends with the convict looking into the bishop’s eyes.
How powerful is the grace of Christ, bestowed freely to us, when we bestow it to others! What would the treatment of the convict have been under the old command? At a minimum, he would have found himself in prison. Could the bishop have performed the same act under the old command – extending grace? I think so – for he could have said, “I would like to be treated this way.” However, would there not still be a twinge of selfishness present in this extension of grace? “I will treat this man this way because I would like to be forgiven of trespasses when I trespass in the future.” Is there not a difference when you have experienced the grace of Christ in Him dying on the cross for your sins, while you were yet a sinner, as Romans 5:8 says? In my mind, there is most certainly a difference – and it is a grand one. The love of Christ is deep enough to reach the vilest of sinners.
How long is the love of Christ for us that we are called to display to one another? Why, it is long enough to last through all of eternity. Was the old command so far-reaching? Certainly not! The old command could, at best, only last for the duration of the lifetime of the two parties. What is the primary difference? It is that the love of Christ comes from an eternal God, given to temporal man. We have this new command from Christ to love others as He has Let us seek to love others with this kind of selfless, Christ-like love.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.