At times, it seems like Christians have difficulty with the twin commands to stand for the truth and to show love to others. John shared the message of standing for the truth, but he also continued to proclaim the need to love each other. We should never accept falsehood, but at the same time, we should always show the love of Christ to others.
1. My little children these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
We begin this chapter with John revealing the nature of his relationship with these churches. He considers them his little children. John is old, probably around ninety years of age, and he recognizes all of those who follow Christ as his “little children.” This isn’t to demean them, it’s a picture of his love for them.
In the first chapter, John dealt with the idea of sinless perfectionism. (tldr: It can’t happen.) As John starts this next section of the letter, he hints at another problem in the church: the belief that since Jesus forgives all of our sins, it doesn’t matter whether or not we sin. He lets them know a few things about sin: first, we shouldn’t do it, second, Jesus stands before the father on our behalf, and third, that Jesus is our propitiation for sins, not only those who are His children now, but for all people. Propitiation being the idea that Jesus paid the punishment for our sins and opens the door for a Holy God to love those who have sinned. While Jesus did this for the whole world, this doesn’t imply that there is universal salvation for those who reject God’s love, it means that God’s love is available to all people at any time if they will accept the opportunity He gives to be reconciled to Him. He also reminds them through this discussion of the great price that Jesus paid for this reconciliation. If we understand that price, how can we go ahead and continue in sin?
3. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
One of the claims of gnostics is that they had a special knowledge of Christ. They believed that because of their special knowledge of Christ, they could live any way they wanted to and still be good with God. The problem they ran into was John. John actually had knowledge of Jesus that no one else at that time had. He had lived and walked with Jesus for three years. He knew what Jesus thought, to a point. He’d lived with Jesus as He taught. John made it clear that if you know Jesus, really know Jesus, you’ll keep His commandments. Mere talk isn’t enough, in fact, John called those people who claimed to know Jesus but didn’t keep His commands liars. They had no understanding of truth. I have no doubt that John could have said that there were groups of people who lived and talked like that – people we know today as gnostics who claimed that secret revelation. On the other hand, “whoso,” meaning anyone, keeps His commands, His word is in the process of being perfected by God’s love. He included himself as he noted that anyone who fit that bill could know that they were in Him. If we know Him, we’ll keep His commands. If we keep His commands because we now Him, we can now that we are in Him. Verse 6 makes perfect sense as John concluded this thought. If you say you follow Jesus, you ought to actually follow Jesus. You don’t get to pick and chosse your lifestyle, you make your lifestyle align with Him.
7. Brethren, 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. 8. Again, 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.
The Bible’s teaching doesn’t vary much down through the ages. While John wrote to both Jews and Gentiles here, Jews had seen the call to love as God loved down through the ages. Those Gentiles who accepted Christ knew that they were called to love one another. Jesus told His disciples that all people would know that they were His disciples if they loved one another. They had heard this call throughout the ages. At the same time, the love of Christ is new every day. When they loved each other it wasn’t supposed to come from the stale old habits they might have had because they were following some commandment; it was new and refreshing every morning because of our walk with Jesus Christ. I love sun rises. If you look at it through old jaded eyes, you might be cynical and remind me that it’s not really the sun that’s moving, it’s the earth. You might say something like, “Yeah, we had one yesterday and we’ll have one tomorrow.” When you see each day as a reminder that the darkness of our old way of life is past and we have new life in Jesus Christ, each day takes on new significance. Each day has a new sense of importance. Just as the beauty of the sunrise is different each day, so the opportunities to show our love to one another is new and different every day that we’re alive. We should celebrate the dawning of God’s love in our lives and share that love by shining His light into a world that needs the love of Christ.
9. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11. But 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.
If we remember that light reveals all things and darkness can be a cover for sin, it helps us to understand John’s meaning in these next few verses. What does John mean when he says “if someone says they’re in the light?” Very simply, it means if someone claims to be walking with Jesus. If someone claims that they follow Jesus, yet shows hatred toward his brother, they aren’t walking in the light of Christ, they’re walking in the darkness of their sin. Hatred rears its ugly head in a variety of ways: racism, classism, indifference, failing to acknowledge the existence of another, and we could go on, but I want to look at the positive side of this. If I seek to take advantage of another person to benefit myself, that’s a form of hatred because it sees the other person as a tool to use to advance our own cause, rather than a human being loved by God. God seeks to reconcile ALL people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19), He doesn’t seek to divide us, so anything that pushes people away from God, or brings division between people or between man and God should be examined to make sure that we’re not acting through hatred. Obviously, calling people to repent and turn to God may turn people away from God, but, if done in a spirit of love, that isn’t hatred. What do I mean by that. I don’t use “cuss” words. I don’t like them. It’s part of my past that I don’t enjoy. Having said that, suppose I were to post a meme on social media that came from one of those sites that included the kind of language that I just noted. (I did that once accidentally.) If you were to contact me and say, “Bob, did you realize that the meme you posted came from this site?” that would be a way of correcting me gently and with love. On the other hand, if you were to comment and say, “Bob is such a hypocrite because…” while the correction would still occur, it wouldn’t be done with love. The first example would exemplify verse ten: you would be showing love to me and helping me to correct an error. The second example would exemplify verse 9, because it didn’t show love, it sought to take advantage of my error to make me look bad, and you look superior because you caught me in my mistake.
The problem with hate is that we see everything else through dark glasses. I have a friend who wrote a book called, I Wear My Sunglasses at Night. We laugh at the title because we can imagine how difficult it would be to see in that situation. When you realize that it’s a vampire story, though, it makes some sense. Still, hatred for most of us, those who aren’t vampires, would be like putting dark sunglasses on at night and trying to walk around. You wouldn’t know where you were going and you’d probably stumble around fall given the condition of most sidewalks in the world. And most of us, filled with hatred, would make sure we had our sunglasses to put on again before we stood up. That’s what hate does to us.
12. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. 13. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
This passage is extremely interesting to me. The first point of interest upon examination of the text is the repetition of the groups of people John wrote to: children, fathers, young men. The second interesting part of that is that John wrote them to speak of strengths or accomplishments, and there’s a repetition of those: forgiveness, known Him (Christ), overcome evil, known Him (Father), known Him (from the beginning), strong, God’s word lives in them, and they’ve overcome the wicked one. The phrase “overcome the wicked one” is mentioned for the young men in both instances. As I researched this passage, it was pointed out that the word for children in verse 12 is the term John used earlier when he talked about all the readers, while the word in verse 13 seems to be more of an age-based term. As I read this, I thought at first that this was part of a song. I looked for some confirmation, but I didn’t see any. We know so little about the worship practices of the early church that it’s hard to be sure. That being said, as I’ve re-read this passage a few times, I couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t meant as a responsive reading of some sort designed for the various age groups mentioned. Again, in my limited research on this passage, I didn’t find any confirmation of this possibility. Of course, my thoughts on that are speculation, but while I wouldn’t make this a point of faith, I’d lean toward this passage being a type of responsive/choral reading.
My opinions are of little importance compared to the meaning of the text. The first thing I see is that the message of Christ is for all people of any age. While it seems to be focused on men (young men and fathers) that would seem to be in accord with how society in general addressesa group of people. The first teaching is forgiveness. We’re forgiven not because we did something worthwhile, or found a way to read it, we’re forgiven for the sake of the name of Christ. The fathers are addressed by noting that they’ve known Christ from the beginning. Obviously, some came to know Christ later in life, but the message seems to be that faith continues throughout the ages. Some men today seem to think as we grow older, faith doesn’t have a place in their lives anymore. John made it clear that faith begins at an early age and continues throughout life. There is a message of strength, strength that can overcome the power of the evil one. We are stronger than anything the wicked one can throw at us in large part because the word of God dwells richly within us. If you want to live a powerful life, live as forgiven children of God who abide in His word and seek to know Him throughout this life. That will give us the strength we need to overcome the wicked one.
This week’s Bible readings are below: