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The compilers of the three-year Lectionary have largely omitted the letters of St John, which is a pity as we shall see.

The Apostle discusses assurance and false teachers, topics which continue to be relevant in our times, as any faithful Christian knows.

These omissions from the Lectionary make John’s letters an ideal addition to my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the King James Version. Commentary is by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 John 2:3-11

3And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

 4He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

 5But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

 6He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

 7Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.

 8Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.

 9He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.

 10He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

 11But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.

———————————————————————————–

Matthew Henry describes John’s epistle as:

general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

As with John’s Gospel, we see the same themes of light and darkness. I had not read these letters until last year and found them most instructive. I hope that you will, too.

Verse 3 addresses the matter of assurance. Every Christian wants to know how to assess whether he has truly been saved. John says that if we keep Christ’s commandments, then we are saved.

However, keeping the commandments must be a sincere undertaking, as John warns in verse 4.  If we claim to be Christians — to know Christ — yet we neglect to obey His commands, then we are liars and we do not possess the eternal truth of Jesus Christ.

Some Christians consider their faith as little more than a philosophy. They say that they believe in Christ, know the prayers, receive the Sacraments and have studied Christianity on an intellectual level. But little in their lives shows the spontaneous fruits of faith.  This applies equally to some pietists and holiness movement followers. They comply with their church’s legalism and think that it suffices. Yet, their behaviour towards others betrays them.

However, John says that a Christian who takes our Lord’s words seriously and obeys them is a person in whom God’s love is ‘perfected’ (verse 5). Matthew Henry posits that this verse also concerns our love towards God as we demonstrate in our behaviour and ties this in with 1 John 2:15:

… so v. 15, The love of (to) the Father is not in him; so ch. 3:17, How dwelleth the love of (to) God in him? Now light is to kindle love; and love must and will keep the word of God; it enquires wherein the beloved may be pleased and served, and, finding he will be so by observance of his declared will, there it employs and exerts itself; there love is demonstrated; there it has its perfect (or complete) exercise, operation, and delight; and hereby (by this dutiful attendance to the will of God, or Christ) we know that we are in him (v. 5), we know that we belong to him, and that we are united to him by that Spirit which elevates and assists us to this obedience; and if we acknowledge our relation to him, and our union with him, it must have this continued enforcement upon us …

And, indeed, if we profess and confess our faith, then, we naturally desire to imitate Christ and do what He would wish (verse 6).

In verse 7, John says that this is not a new commandment but an old one, which has been around from the start. John is going back even further than Christ, however, which is something his converts would have understood. John MacArthur says that the Apostle is referring to the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament:

Leviticus, the Levitical law, all the way back into Moses, chapter 19 verse 18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself and I am the Lord.” In other words, I’m telling you this and I’m God and that makes it very, very binding and very important.

The Old Testament, of course, in the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5 demanded that God be loved with all our heart, soul, mind and strength but Leviticus 19:18 added to that, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And that’s part of the law that’s been around since the very, very beginning.

So they knew that even in their Jewishness. That wasn’t anything new that God wanted them to love their neighbors, that God wanted them to love those that are around them. And then, of course, the apostle Paul builds on that. Turn for a moment to Romans chapter 13 which is a familiar portion of Scripture because of its link with the Old Testament law. Paul in Romans 13 verse 8 says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, or he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Not only is loving your neighbor part of the Law, but loving your neighbor fulfills the Law. That is to say all of the Law that pertains to human relationships is fulfilled if you just love your neighbor. And then he explains that in verse 9, “For this you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet.” And if there’s any other commandment that has to do with human relationships it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself because love does not wrong to a neighbor, love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law.”

However, in verse 8, John says that there is a new commandment in that Christ — the light — by His death and resurrection have freed us from sin — the darkness. And knowing that is light to the Christian; he no longer walks in the darkness of ignorance. That light comes to us through the Gospel message, the Good News. And when we have that light and love that light, then we will want to obey Christ’s commandments. Henry explains (emphasis mine):

We should see that that grace or virtue which was true in Christ be true also in us; we should be conformable to our head. The more our darkness is past, and gospel light shines unto us, the deeper should our subjection be to the commandments of our Lord, whether considered as old or new. Light should produce a suitable heat.

This is why John then says that anyone claiming to follow Christ and who hates his fellow man is not walking in light at all but is instead stumbling in the darkness (verse 9). And there are notional Christians who are, in reality, hypocrites. They make a big deal about their denomination then conduct themselves in appalling ways towards others — friends, family and colleagues.

Are we reflecting Christ’s light through our own actions? Are we attracting people to Christ or repelling them, keeping them and ourselves in darkness?

I hold my hand up, guilty as charged, wishing that I could have done many things in life better.

This is why it is so important to pray and to study the Bible regularly.  Pray for the grace to walk in Christ’s light. Read Scripture in order to be convicted as well as comforted.

John says that when we show our love spontaneously, then we really are walking in the light of Christ (verse 10).

He reiterates this in verse 11: we can profess and confess our faith all we like, but if we hate our fellow man, we’re still enveloped in the darkness of sin.

We might say, ‘Well, I don’t wish anyone ill’. MacArthur tells us that there is more to it than that:

…anything from disdain to indifference could qualify as a form of hate. Sometimes disdain and indifference seem to us polar opposites, but in fact they’re not. My indifference to someone comes out in the end equal to my disdain. Whatever might be that attitude, whether it’s just absolute indifference or whether it’s utter hostility, it’s virtually to have no regard for their condition. And if there is any regard, it’s to worsen it. Such people are in the darkness no matter what they claim. They are outside the Kingdom. They don’t walk in the light. They don’t have any spiritual life.

When we really love Christ, we will want to obey Him and do what He wishes. When we feel lukewarm or are too involved with the world, we begin to turn away from Him and His commandments.  That is why prayer and Scripture are so important in the Christian life.

Next week: 1 John 2:12-17

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