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.
1 John 2:1-6: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did."
This passage talks about Christ as our advocate. What does this mean? According to Black’s Law Dictionary, an advocate is “one who assists, defends, or pleads for another; one who renders legal advice and aid and pleads the cause of another before a court. A person learned in the law, and duly admitted to practice, who assists his client with advice, and pleads for him in open court.” The Greek definition of this word John uses is "called to one's aid - of Christ in His exaltation at God's right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins."
So the picture is of Christ advocating on our behalf before the Father, who is judging our guilt and innocence as we stand before the gates of Heaven. So, why do we need an advocate? Why can we not just plead our own case before the judge? Let me provide you with a real-world example.
There is a landmark court case in the United States, Gideon V. Wainwright. This case took place before the Supreme Court in 1963. A homeless drifter named Clarence Gideon was convicted in Florida in 1961 of stealing from a pool hall. He did not have enough money to hire an attorney – an advocate – and so represented himself. He was convicted and sentenced to spend five years in prison, the maximum sentence for the crime. However, while in prison, Gideon wrote a letter to the Supreme Court, asking them to retry his case because his constitutional right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment had been violated, as well as the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court accepted and granted him a court-appointed lawyer – an advocate. This time, on March 18, 1963, the court ruled unanimously in Gideon’s favor. He was then granted a retrial, when his attorney – his advocate – W. Fred Turner, won the case and Gideon was acquitted of all crimes.
What was the difference in Gideon representing himself and having a qualified advocate represent him? Most importantly, Gideon was found guilty and sentenced when he represented himself and he was acquitted and released when he had an advocate. What provided the difference in guilt and innocence, in being sentenced and being acquitted? It had everything to do with the qualifications and knowledge of the advocate. When Gideon acted as his own advocate, he was not qualified or knowledgeable enough to plead his own case. As a result, he was found guilty and sentenced. However, when he had an advocate who was both qualified and knowledgeable to act on his behalf, Gideon was found innocent and was acquitted. The entire case hinged upon the qualifications of the advocate.
In this case, Christ acts as our advocate before the Father, the Judge. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it is appointed once that man dies, and then he faces judgment. We all have an appointment with the judge – with God the Father. This word “judgment” in the Greek literally means “a trial” or “a decision given concerning right or wrong”. So, when we die and we face the Father – the Judge – there will quite literally be a trial concerning right and wrong, and a decision will be handed down of whether we are guilty or innocent of upholding the holy standard worthy of entering heaven. And since Romans 3:10 and Romans 3:23 are universal truths – that there is none righteous and that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard – we will all be found guilty of “unholiness” in our trial before the Father. We will be unable to enter eternal dwelling with God the Father.
However, there lies some good news in here. We have an advocate that is qualified to act on our behalf. He is the exalted one. Philippians 2:9 says that God has exalted Jesus Christ to the highest place and has given Him the name above every other name, and that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Is he qualified? I would say so! He has been exalted by God the Father to the highest place.
He sits at the right hand of the Father. What does this mean? This means that he sits upon the throne of Heaven, ruling with the Father. Romans 8:34 says that Christ who died and, more than that, was raised to life and is at the right hand of God – interceding for us! What a beautiful picture! Jesus Christ overcame death, hell, and the grave to intercede for us – to act as our advocate before the Father. All this so that, when our trial does come, he is qualified to act as our advocate before the Father. His sinless life was the sacrifice that you could not make to open the doors of Heaven to you.
1 John 1:5-10: 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness,we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
In this passage John is talking about living in the light versus living in the darkness. All men are born into darkness (Romans 3:10 and Romans 3:23, for example) and need the light that comes from Christ in order to inherit eternal life. So, the next question is how do I get from darkness to light? The key is found in verse nine.
So, how does this happen? How does one go from darkness to light? We have established that we ourselves are lost in darkness, and that they natural, physical life we inhabit is but a short one. The only answer is to accept God’s “light” – His life – that life which belongs to Him alone. Jesus Christ provides the solution to this “life” problem. He provides the transference of life from God to man, so that we too may have and inhabit His eternal life. The solution to his problem lies for us in verse nine.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the properties of light and dark here assigned to God and man. What is the condition of man here in this verse without God? Man is:
- Full of sin
- In need of purification
- Full of unrighteousness
Compare this to God. God is:
- Forgiving of sin
- Able to purify
This is the process by which this transference of light and life takes place from God to man. The condition of man is darkness and the condition of God is light. However, all is not as hopeless as it seems. God offers man His light through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. So, then, how does man trade his darkness and temporal life for the light and eternal life of God? It is amazingly and profoundly simple: confession of sin before God. All that God asks of us is that we come before Him and simply confess who we are! The only other option here is to “hate the light”, as John says. In this case, rather than confess our evil deeds and thoughts before God and come to Him for purification, we run from the light and continue to live in darkness. If we do this long enough, we find ourselves in utter darkness apart from the presence of God – misery in hell.
I would plead with you to do just as John encourages – live as children of the light. If you are now in darkness, please respond to the Lord and His Spirit and come forward and confess your sins before Him. He is eager and willing to forgive and purify you from your own unrighteousness.
1 John 1:1-4: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete."
In verse 4, John says that the gospel message he writes about in verses 1-3 makes his joy complete. So, what makes our joy complete? When we find joy in the Lord, we can go beyond circumstantial happiness, which is ever fluctuating.
Fullness of joy, because it is founded in the God of the Gospels, transcends circumstances. This is not to say that it will not be assaulted by circumstances – for we are fallen human, fleshly beings living in a fallen, human, fleshly world. Circumstances will constantly assault our joy in the Lord, but, praise the Lord, they cannot remove it unless we let them. The best biblical examples of this principle can be found in Job and David. One could certainly say that during his trials Job was completely void of happiness. One need not read any farther than the third chapter of Job to discover this. This entire chapter is a lamentation of Job about his life and circumstances. And yet, in all of his sorrows, in all of his suffering, He never cursed God. For he knew the God whom He served, and He knew of His attributes. He certainly cursed His circumstances, and his circumstances certainly assaulted his joy, but he understood that God transcended all of that. This is why he could say, in the middle of his intense suffering, “To God belongs wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His” (Job 12:13). David is much the same as Job. Throughout the Psalms, you find David cursing his circumstances, and yet finding joy in knowing the Lord.
So, now let us revisit our initial question: what makes our joy complete? Do we find our joy in the words of Scripture? Do we rest our joy in the Gospel message? Is the completion of our joy found in God alone? If not, I would encourage you to examine the circumstances of your life and ask the Lord to help you find your joy in Him. Just because you are a Christian does not guarantee this fullness of joy, and, you can meet many Christians who seem to have little joy or none at all, and this is a very tragic thing. For, you see, this gospel message brings great joy to the hearer and believer and, if any person in the world is to be filled with joy, it ought to be the Christian.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.