The command to obey comes three times in our section (2:3, 4, 5 and again in 3:22, 24). So we wonder what kind of obedience is required? We know that in the New Testament obedience is never obeying a set of laws to gain a place in heaven (see PHARISEES). So we begin with a list of some kinds of obedience which are not legalistic.
There is the obedience of a faithful servant to his or her master. Or the obedience of a soldier who is happy to serve under a great leader. In North American football there is a mutual obedience of a receiver and his quarterback, and both obey the coach. Similarly Paul gives us gives us some principles for congregational life. "Respect those who labor among you, be at peace among yourselves, admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them, do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:12-19). These are not rules from heaven designed to make us feel guilty. They are essentials of any Christian fellowship.
In each of these cases the obedience is part of an organic relationship, not a mindless submission to a set of arbitrary rules. Jesus had spoken of abiding in himself as the Vine (John 15:1-3). And later in this Epistle John uses the same metaphor of organic abiding (2:6) to picture our obedience. "All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them" (3:24). It is not that obeying a list of commandments enables us to abide in the Messiah. Rather abiding includes the obedience of a branch being open to the life of the Vine.
There is an important distinction between an old commandment and the new. Here the contrast is not between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but between John's Gospel and his Epistle. The purpose of writing the Gospel was "that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). But at the last supper, the night before the crucifixion, Jesus gave his believing disciples a hint of the new commandment for disciples that follows the initial obedience of faith. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35). And again later during the meal: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
Similarly John explains in his Epistle that the old commandment relates to the good news and the obedience of faith as set out in the Gospel. And his readers had believed that word of good news in the Gospel. "The old commandment is the word that you have heard" (2:7). But now John wants to fill out what Jesus meant by love for one another (John 13:34-35). So he says "I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you" (2:8). And he distinguishes faith in the Gospel with the love that will result from it. "This is his commandment that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus the Messiah and love one another, just as he commanded us" (3:23). Faith is accepting the good news, and it is lived out in a loving community.
What is the source of this new commandment to love? At the end of the last supper Jesus concluded his prayer with "I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26). This suggests where the love of Christians for one another originates from, and expresses the love that was the eternal love that unites the three Persons of the Trinity. The organic love between Christian disciples is to mirror and make visible the organic love that constitutes the oneness of the Trinity. And as a result of faith we are adopted into that Trinitarian love (John 1:12).
So in this Epistle John is reemphasizing and filling out Jesus' new commandment. "This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (3:11) and he repeats this five times (3:14, 23, 4:7, 11, 20). In our present section he makes the very strong statement that "Whoever says 'I am in the light' while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness" (2:9).
2:4 There is no truth in the abstract. There are only truths within systems of mathematical, scientific, historical, or religious truth. Within Base 10 maths it is true that 4 + 5 = 9. This is wrong in Base 5, and it makes no sense in Base 2 computer mathematics. So those who claim to know the Lord without being in this organic relationship to the Son, and other brothers and sisters, do not belong to his truth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God's truth (John 16:12), and Jesus said "he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). We do not have to deny that there are innumerable truths that belong to every other system of truth. But we certainly know (4:13) when the Holy Spirit has guided us into "the way, and the truth, and the life"(John 14:6) of the Kingdom of Heaven.
2:5 In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). God's perfection is a perfection of love, and we are perfected when we begin to share in (obey) the organic oneness of love with the Son and our spiritual family (2:4).
2:6 The word "abiding" (as in 3:23) is taken from the parable of the Vine and the branches (John 15:1-5). But the metaphor changes in the second half of the verse to walking with (as did Enoch and Noah, Genesis 5:24, 6:9) and many others. Obviously we cannot go on a walk with another unless we agree about our direction and the purpose of our walking.
2:7 John reminds his readers that "The old commandment is the word that you have heard." This is the good news about God's love for us that Jesus proclaimed as presented in John's Gospel. (See the note in the Introduction)
2:8 The new commandment is to live out the truth of our relationship to the Messiah and our brothers and sisters in a church community (2:3). And it is this truth that enlightens us by dispelling the darkness of our previous way of life.
2:9 But this light is not compatible with hating the brothers and sisters of our community.
2:10 It is by love for one brother or one sister that we begin living in the light, and in that light we are saved from disaster.
2:11 But hatred for one of the brothers and sisters in our community quickly darkens our path, and leaves us confused.
2:12 In the introduction we noted the organic obedience of love in a Christian community. In the next two verses we note that a Christian fellowship welcomes children, older people (fathers) and young people full of enthusiasm. There is also a distinction between the very little children (teknia, 2:12, as in 2:1) and the children (paidia, 2:14, as in 2:18). Within the organic relationships of a loving fellowship Paul also describes the mutual submission of husbands and wives, parents and children, and employers and employees (Ephesians 5:21-6:9). John is writing to believers who have already experienced Jesus words that "Your sins are forgiven" (see comment on 1:7).
2:13 The word 'fathers' probably represents the older members of the Christian fellowship. Over the years they have come to know God in a rich personal way. The 'young people' are full of zeal and enthusiasm to battle Satan for the work of the Kingdom.
2:14 In the Greek text there is a contrast between the threefold "I am writing" (2:12-13) and the threefold "I wrote" (2:14, the NRSV unfortunately misses the three past tenses). Here "I am writing" (2:12-13) refers to the present time of writing the Epistle, and the "I wrote" to the previous writing of the good news of the Gospel. In the first chapter of his Gospel John wrote about knowing the Father: "To all who received, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12). He also wrote about knowing him from the beginning: "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1). The word of God abiding among the young men looks back to "And the Word became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14, and perhaps the 'abiding' of John 15:1-3).
2:15 As opposed to the love of the Father (2:14) there
is the constant pull of the world around us.
We are not to leave the world (John 17:15), and we inevitably live in it like fish living in the sea.
2:16 The world impinges on us first through our instincts (the desire of the flesh, as in Romans 7:14-18). Then by what we find attractive (the desire of the eyes). And when we get rich and powerful, through pride. There is nothing wrong with our instincts, which were designed and given to us by God. Jesus himself took flesh (John 1:14). And there is nothing wrong with our feelings of attraction for beautiful people and beautiful things (Philippians 4:8). Nor is there anything wrong with financial prosperity (2 Corinthians 9:8, Philippians 4:12). What goes wrong is when our instincts, our enjoyment of beautiful things and people, and our money turn us aside from our love of God the Father.
2:17 When we are tempted in these directions the cure is to contrast what is only temporary with what is of eternal value. The transitoriness of the world contrasts with "Those who do the will of God abide for ever" (2:17). As Paul explained, "If anyone builds on the foundation (Jesus the Messiah) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - the work of each builder will be visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done" (1Corinthians 3:12-13). And he reminds us that even spiritual gifts are transient. "Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end" (1 Corinthians 13:8).
C. PAROUSIA (COMING) 1 John 2:18-28