A Weekday Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Monday May 4, 2020
1 John 2:7-11
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. 8 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. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
As the saying goes, sooner or later, everything old is new again. This is true whether it comes to fashion (bell bottoms anyone?), hair styles (apparently the mullet is making a resurgence), or the “newfound revelations” that playing outside is good for kids, eating less calories can help us lose weight, and washing hands can keep us from getting sick. In conveying his “new commandment,” John tells us that it isn’t really new at all, but something that they have already heard from the beginning. What is this old-new commandment? The commandment of love.
In Matthew 22, when jealous religious leaders were trying to prove that Jesus was a heretical madman, they gathered together to ask Him what they thought would be an impossible question to answer, “Which is the greatest commandment of the law?” How could anyone choose just a single commandment as the most important? After escaping from Egypt, the Lord had given Moses not one, but ten commandments on stone tablets to help guide the Israelites. Aside from those ten, there were also hundreds of other commands which the Lord gave in the Books of the Law. The Pharisees believed that no matter how Jesus responded, there was no way He could adequately answer the question without displaying negligence of some aspect of God’s law. And yet, Jesus answered perfectly: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.” Not only did His reply stop the inquisition, but it once again proved that He was different than anyone they had ever encountered.
Neither of the two great commandments — loving God and loving others— were truly new, as Jesus was simply quoting well-known passages from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. And Jesus did not claim to be giving a new command here, He was merely answering the question to summarize the un-summarizeable. But on the evening of the last supper, Jesus did give a new commandment to His disciples, which sounded once again very much like the old commandments, but with a very small, but extraordinarily valuable insertion: “Love one another as I have loved you.” The new aspect of the command of Jesus was not in the charge to love, but the example they were given to follow, and the degree to which they were to love. The Old Testament command to love your neighbor included the qualifier “as yourself.” Now, for the most part, we don’t need to be told how to love ourselves. Typically, we do a pretty good job of looking out for our own interests, doing the things that bring us happiness, and avoiding that which causes us discomfort, pain, or misery.
For the most part, we don’t need to be told how to love others like we love ourselves. Think of a young child picking out a gift for a parent, gravitating to the things they know they enjoy themselves. Plenty of moms and dads have innocently received toys or dolls or trips to Chuck-E-Cheese for their birthday courtesy of children who couldn’t possibly conceive of anything better.
But the new commandment is not to love as we love ourselves, but to love as Jesus has loved us. How did Jesus love? He gave up His life for us. John says the new commandment “is true in Him and in you for the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” For those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus, this type of love is already on display because the Spirit of Christ now dwells within them. And although the believer still wrestles with sin and darkness, as we have previously mentioned, the light within is unmistakeable nonetheless. The longer the Christian walks with Jesus, the greater the light becomes.
Love is synonymous with light; it is impossible to have one without the other. We cannot claim to be keepers of the light while at the same time hating those around us. Jesus’ main issue with the Pharisees was that although they kept the visible commands of the law, they had no love in their hearts. They loved to compare their actions to that of others, but they did not care at all for others. They neglected the poor, excluded the foreigner, rejected the sick, and despised the sinner. Jesus saw through their self-righteous claims and straight into the darkness within, and He referred to them as “blind guides leading the blind.”
Jesus, and John, make very clear that love for God will always reveal itself in love for others. If we look contemptibly on those who think, speak, look, or act differently than we do, that is a pretty strong indicator that the love of God may be not within us. Love in the way of Jesus is not a one time declaration, rather it is an ongoing demonstration. Jesus did not only tell us He loved us, He proved it on the cross. Loving others will undoubtedly be costly to us, but loving like Jesus is something we show, not something we tell.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the amazing gift of Your love. You did not love us in the way that we demanded or wanted, affirming us in our ignorance and sin. Your loved us enough to go to the cross, to take our debt and punishment upon yourself. We confess that we often lack love for others in our hearts. Help us to view our brothers and neighbors, allies and enemies, family and friends, in the same way that You view us. Strengthen us to love like You, no matter the cost. We pray this in Your name, Amen.