Studies in I John, III Walking in Love, Text: 2:7-27, Title: Love or Perish

Introduction

The Apostle has already taught us, in the preceding section, that love for God and for others is essential to assurance that we are believers. Love in the Bible is never a mere sentiment but involves a total commitment in action. John is a gentle soul but he does not hesitate to expose the falsehood, deceit , and hypocrisy of anyone who claims to know God, but does not love. Such people are liars. We are in the domain of either-or. Either you love or you do not, and consequently either you are a Christian or you are not. If we are born of God, then we must display the character of God. Christian love is the ultimate display and an unambiguous proof of regeneration, for Christian love can only be demonstrated in the power of the Holy Spirit. Love is the true nature of the regenerate soul. Love is the major theme of I John-the epistle uses ‘love’ as a noun, verb and adjective 51 times in its 105 verses, so this theme obviously permeates the book. It is introduced in 2:5 and runs until 5:3, so is a subject developed in the middle 75 verses of this epistle where its average use is twice in every three verses. Today we use the word love so often with such a variety of denotations that it tends to lose its significance so it is important that we go back to the Bible to discover what love is, and as we have seen already in our studies, it is keeping God’s commandments. Jesus showed his intimate circle of disciples what love means in John 13. There he washed their feet in the Upper Room, and he told them that they should do for one another what he had done for them. In that place John introduces the story of telling us that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, now showed them the full extent of His love.” In verses 7-27 we have the guidance we need to properly express the character and love of God, and we find three realms in which we are to exercise this virtue: love the family, love the Father, and love the faith.

I Love the Family

John writes about family, or brotherly love in verses 7-14, 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 you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. There are two parts to this portion of Scripture. The first part is devoted to explaining the command to love and the second part is devoted to an encouragement to continue in love.

A The Command

In the clearest possible terms John reminds his readers that they are either in the light or in the darkness. Where they are is gauged by whether they love their brethren or not. The division is clear because if they do not love then they hate. We make the same mistake with hate that we do with love. Hate is not just a feeling. We may not be filled with acrimony, animosity  and anger and feelings of hatred but if we are not extending a hand of love, then we are hating. Strong words, but true! In John 15:13 Christ defined love as it impacts on man, greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Of course the old commandment makes clear that we cannot love our brother without loving God and we cannot love God if we do not love our brother. In the Old Testament it is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-40, Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” What does John mean by referring to the commandment as new as well as old? I believe the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VII, section 6 explains it best. It is speaking of God’s covenant with man and we read, “Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy.” It is that fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy which has come to pass with the first advent of Christ, His death and resurrection. The commandment is new because its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

B The Continuance

John has used strong words of warning that hold forth the options of being safe in the light or lost in the darkness. Lest the believers be discouraged and disabled by doubt John reminds them that they manifest all the signs of being true children of God. John is endeavoring to guide the church and individual believers through the confusing turmoil of first century heresies. In doing this he, as a wise pastor, knows that a steady flow of admonitions can have an adverse effect on the members of the church. Positive words build confidence and assurance. John calls the attention of all the readers to the possessions they have in Christ: They know that their sins have been forgiven; They have known God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ; They have overcome Satan through the Word of God. They have all come into this fellowship with God the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, He who is the Son from the beginning. The old and the young, the mature and the less mature, have been delivered from the power of Satan and brought into the realm of forgiveness and light, and in this they are to be steadfast.

II Love the Father

In verses 15-17 John contrasts the love for the Father with a love of this present age and world system and says they are diametrically opposed, Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. Love for the world precludes love for the Father. We see a parallel between the words of John and those of James 4:4, Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. We should note that the Apostle’s description of the world is simply what we see in the media every day, the lust and greed, the boasting and devotion to false flattery. The word world means different things, but in  this context it means the world system or the way the world around us works. We should also note that John is saying that for unbelievers the love for the world that John is talking about is the same love as in verse 10 where he speaks about the person who loves his brother. The love which he has in mind is that of attachment, intimate fellowship, loyal devotion, but given to an object that is passing away rather than to that which is eternal. In the words of II Peter 3, Since we see that all these things shall be destroyed in the day of the Lord, what kind of people ought we to be?

III Love the Faith

And now as John finally warns about antichrists, who are the false prophets of his time, he writes in verses 18-27, Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. In our day when people talk about anti-Christ they are usually referring to some unknown future figure who will rule then world and be destroyed at the second coming of Jesus Christ. I am fearful that we are so preoccupied with this eschatological prediction that we are missing the very thing John is talking about here. John says it is the last hour which is equivalent to the last days. In the language of the Bible the last days comprise all the days from Jesus first advent to His second. Therefore John is saying we are in the last days, we have been in the last days and those last days are characterized by the ascendence of the antichrist who is not one but many. It is the evil world system, mainly religious and  political that killed our Lord and has attacked the church both within and without for centuries. This is antichrist and we live with it every day. We should be more concerned with identifying the present threat than some future figure. John is talking about those who had sneaked into the church, created pandemonium by their false teaching and then did not have the courage to remain under persecution. They are the antichrists about whom Jesus warned in Matthew 24: 5 and 23-25, Take care that no one misleads you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and shall mislead many...At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. The burden of the false prophet’s message is the denial that the Savior has come in the flesh and that Jesus is the Christ. John is reiterating Jesus’ warning and reminding the church that they have had the truth from the beginning and they have the anointing which is the illumination of the Holy Spirit, so they should not and must not be deceived.