Brotherly Love: Both Old and New Commandment

It has been several months since we were in 1 John. Some of you may be thinking, “Is his goal to spend a lifetime preaching sermons from the five chapters of 1 John?” I assure you it is not; it only seems that way. 

By way of review, I want to highlight just a few of the truths we learned from the previous message. For a complete summary, I recommend you go back and listen to the all the previous sermons because we have learned much from John regarding Jesus Christ and how we are to live. 

Ultimately, we are to live a life of obeying God and imitating Christ. Of course being obedient and being transformed to the image of Christ absolutely requires the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As I mentioned in one of the earlier sermons, John is writing to believers in the Church; people who knew Christ, but who were not assured, or confident, that they knew Him. Therefore, God has John provide clarity about how we can know we are saved.

God doesn’t want us to live in a constant state of uncertainty; He wants us to know that we have come to know Him. No doubt, no questions – confidently assured! If we obey Him, thus keep His commandments, we can be confident that we know Him and have fellowship with Him. 

John wrote later in this epistle in chapter 5 verses 2-3, “We love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments…” So one of the key evidences of true conversion, and thus fellowship with God, is obedience to His commandments brought about from a desire to love Him. 

A genuine love is required for us to know that we are in Him. John Stott comments by saying, “Being a Christian consists in essence of a personal relationship to God in Christ, knowing Him, loving Him, and abiding in Him as the branch abides in the vine. This is the meaning of eternal life.”

I don’t think there is room for misinterpretation here. John makes it abundantly clear that if we claim to abide in Christ, we must walk in the same manner as Jesus walked. In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul implores believers “…to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It is certainly true that Christians have not, nor will we, reach perfection of love or obedience here on this earth, but we should always be growing and striving in that direction with the help of the Holy Spirit. 

Now that was the Cliff Notes version of an entire sermon! Now that you have had some meat, you may want to drink a little milk by listening to the rest of the sermon online. 

Before we dive into today’s message, I want to remind you why John wrote this epistle. He wrote this letter to address various problems and specifically issues of belief and behavior in the Church. So John is responding to what the Church needed to hear then and what we need to hear today. 

Today we will be focusing on verses 7-11… 

7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who 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. (1 John 2:7-11)

For centuries theologians, preachers, teachers, and commentators have called John, “The Apostle of Love.” John’s love for followers of Jesus Christ is often expressed by the familiar term “beloved” as it is here. John uses the term numerous times throughout his writings to highlight his deep affection for the brethren. 3 John 2-4 is a very good example of how John loves the brethren. 

2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 2-4)

John’s title as “The Apostle of Love” is absolutely appropriate here in this section of Scripture because of the declaration of love as the benchmark of true salvation and thus true faith in Jesus Christ. John is saying that love is the only true imperative that should define our life and our daily walk. This requirement to love is the core of the gospel message and is therefore foundational for all Christians.

As previously mentioned in other sermons from this letter, John has focused on several foundational beliefs including the first and greatest commandment: love of God. But now John turns to the topic of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. These two commands do not contradict each other but instead are so coupled that they cannot be separated. Jesus Christ said…

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40)

John Calvin commented, “Both these things are true and in agreement, for the love of God teaches us to love men; and we also in reality prove our love to God by loving men at his command.” 

You may recall that the foundation of the previous message in 1 John 2:3-6 was the greatest commandment, to love God. Now John focuses on the commandment to love your brother. 

Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. (1 John 2:7)

Here in verse 7, John is emphasizing love as an old commandment. Although it appears that John is starting a new thought using the word “beloved,” verse 7 actually continues, and even amplifies, the thought found from verse 6; “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” Therefore, we are to walk as Jesus walked, which would be walking in love. So here in verse 7 there is a continuation of that discussion of being obedient to God’s command to love, but with a focus on brotherly love. 

God established the law of love, brotherly love, in unmistakable terms all the way back in the Pentateuch. God states… 

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)

In the New Testament, Paul also highlights love when he instructs the Romans concerning brotherly love…

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

Paul emphasizes that “love is the fulfillment of the law,” therefore we can conclude that there is an inseparable link between our obedience to the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor.

Paul also highlights in Colossians 3 that love is the harmonious binder for all that God has for us…

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Here in Colossians, Paul has absolutely set love as the foundation for Christians. It is to be so woven through the fabric of our Christian faith that it holds all characteristics, deeds and actions together in perfect harmony. 

John wrote here in verse 7 that the commandment to love was not a new commandment, but actually an old commandment. The commandment to love your brother has been taught throughout the Old Testament. For example, in 1 Samuel 20:17 Jonathan expresses his love for David: “Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life.”

John also states that all readers of this epistle would “have heard” from the Old Testament about the command of loving one another. This was illustrated with the example of Jonathan and David. 

In emphasizing this basic truth about loving one another, John states that they would “have heard from the beginning.” From what beginning? The beginning of time? The beginning of creation? The beginning of the New Testament? What beginning is John talking about? 

The “beginning” highlighted by John is the beginning of their Christian walk, the point of their salvation, and the beginning of their walk in faith. In 2 John 6, John writes: “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning that you should walk in it.”

The “word” they “heard” was the old commandment, the enduring commandment; it was the Old Testament teaching on loving one another. As previously mentioned, Jesus also reiterated this in Matthew 22 when confronting the Pharisees… 

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:34–40)

John’s teaching here in this epistle was an instruction that permeates all of Scripture and as such, all who read this epistle would have heard of both the command to love God and the command to love your brothers from the beginning of their Christian walk. 

On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. (1 John 2:8)

Starting here in verse 8, it sounds like John is indeed stating a new commandment which would contradict the earlier statement in verse 7 for which he stated he is not writing a new commandment. However, John is actually clarifying how the old commandment to love is at the same time not new in principle, yet it is new in our understanding of what it really means to love. 

The law of love is new in the sense that we can now see it lived out in Jesus’ life and ministry, and ultimately through his death and resurrection. This command is also new in that Jesus fulfilled the whole law and gave it an incredible depth that no one had ever known before. Therefore, there is a sense in which John was “writing a new commandment.” What John is doing is clarifying and amplifying the original commandment to love. 

This new commandment is absolutely and undeniably new in the sense of the illustration and application Jesus provided and is captured in the expression, “which is true in Him.” 

Just like many others who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, John’s readers devoted themselves to obeying God’s law, loving Him, and loving others. Jesus certainly taught others about being committed to obedience and love but, he also demonstrated the application of love during His earthly ministry. John records Jesus’ demonstration of obedience and love in John 10:11-18…

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:11–18)

This was an example of amazing proportion. Jesus humbling himself in obedience to the Father by laying down His life as the Good Shepherd for His sheep: us. Amazing love!

Certainly the Old Testament taught the “duty to love,” but never before had perfect ἀγάπη love been so clearly personified as it was in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul gives us another glimpse of this love in Philippians 2…

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

So the commandment of love was not a new commandment, but was a new manifestation of love in the person of Jesus Christ – “true in Him.” The Son fully revealed the Father’s nature and character of love which had not previously been completely known or exhibited. Specifically stated: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Even before Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, He magnificently illustrated the Father’s love to the apostles in the upper room. Just listen to these love promises he gave them: 1) “I will prepare a place in heaven for you” (John 14:1–4), 2) “I will send the Holy Spirit to be with you.” (John 14:25–26), and 3) “My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). 

Although these are great promises and illustrations of God’s love, Jesus Christ displayed love in the most selfless, gracious, and humbling way when He served them in a very real, practical, and totally unexpected act of love.

5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:5-17)

Certainly Christ’s act of humility toward the apostles in the upper room exemplified brotherly love. Jesus Christ manifested perfect love through humility. 

The new commandment, actually the new demonstration of love, has come “because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” I hope everyone here knows that the true Light is Jesus Christ, which was specifically highlighted earlier in 1 John. Jesus himself tells us in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus Christ came to establish His kingdom where He is already “shining” or reigning. With the establishment of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, He began shining and overcoming the “darkness” of Satan’s kingdom and ultimately will “crush Satan,” as stated in Romans 16:20.

In this age we live however, the “True Light” coexists with “the darkness,” but the world is slowly passing away and the Light is gradually dispelling the darkness and worldly desires according to 1 John 2:17. 

You might be thinking, “What in the world is he talking about? All I see is evil exponentially increasing all around us!” We need to realize that the “True Light,” Jesus Christ, came to destroy the darkness of sin and death and to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, which is characterized by light and love. John declares that the new commandment has been established in which the darkness will eventually and ultimately be expelled. 

We need to remember that Jesus initiated this kingdom through humble submission and perfect obedience to the will of the Father. And in his death and resurrection the power of sin and death were defeated and Christ’s kingdom was established. However, the battle is not over. Despite the fact that the victory over darkness has been absolutely secured, the final triumph is in the process of being worked out and has not yet been fully realized. However, Jesus Christ will shine even brighter during the millennial reign and ultimately will shine in His full glory throughout eternity when the darkness has been completely and finally eliminated. 

This new commandment of love can only be a reality in a believer’s life because we have been delivered, even rescued, from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

This new commandment of love is for believers and followers of Jesus Christ, those who are regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is a new commandment because we are looking back at the work of Jesus on the cross and now being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is the newness of the command to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who 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. (1 John 2:9-11)

These concluding verses continue with the contrast of light and darkness and compares it to a person who is either walking in the light or walking in the darkness but cannot do so at the same time. We are not commanded to ride a wave of emotion based feelings toward others, but instead to act out of love toward them. Understanding the proper definition and application of love, as well as a desire to be obedient to God, will give us a proper perspective on how to act toward our Christian brothers; it will help us love them.

John says that brotherly love is to be the way we live our life and gives a test for all who claim to be Christians. It is a test of whether God’s supernatural love exists in each of us, because the existence of God’s love is an indisputable indicator of a true transformation, actual salvation, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

As you may recall, John has been refuting the false teachers of the day who claimed a higher spiritual knowledge of the divine nature and communion with God. This arrogance produced a prideful contempt for the unenlightened. But the true Christians were the ones who confirmed their knowledge of God as they not only loved God but they loved one another and reached out in love to the lost in sin’s darkness. The true believers exercised true brotherly love, as stated in Luke 6:27-28: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

A person who brags that they are in the light, yet hates their brother, has absolutely made an illogical and hollow statement. This individual does not and cannot love their brother in Christ with a selfless, sacrificial love because they are living “in the darkness until now.” 

If you are a child of God, it is impossible for you to walk in the light and hate your brother. To hate another Christian means there is something seriously wrong with your profession of faith. 

Let’s be very clear. Loving your brother doesn’t mean that some of your brother’s manners and habits will be perfectly acceptable to you. In fact some may be completely objectionable, yet not sinful. It doesn’t mean that you agree with their habits. I get that and completely understand. Some of you may not like my habit of cutting my hair short or how I drive or how I like to fish and shoot guns. Although most of you probably like the fact I enjoy shooting guns. However, I absolutely feel loved by all of you despite my quirky habits. But to hate brothers and sisters in Christ that have different manners and habits reveals that you are living in darkness and absolutely provides evidence you are not in the light. 

If you are struggling with hatred towards a brother or sister in Christ, please take some time to consider what John has said about living in the darkness until now. 

The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. (1 John 2:10)

In complete and stark contrast, the one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. Therefore, those who exhibit love and obedience to God’s Word through selfless love of fellow believers can be confident that they have been transformed and are abiding in the light. And as such, they are not going to stumble nor or they going to cause their brothers and sisters to stumble and fall. 

Throughout the New Testament, the term “stumbling” refers to sinning. John uses the term “stumbling” to explain that the believer who has been transformed and is exhibiting brotherly love will not stumble. Obviously we all sin, but the believer who is loving the Lord and loving his brother should be less likely to stumble. 

Jesus had previously addressed this issue of stumbling when He was responding to the disciples who were questioning whether he should go to Lazarus’ grave…

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9–10)

So a believer lives in the light and gives evidence of his position in Christ by loving his fellow believers. When a believer is loving his brother, it provides evidence of living in the light, thus confirming his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, a believer who lives in this manner should not stumble nor will he cause a brother to stumble. 

John Stott comments, “If we truly love people, we seek how to avoid sinning against them. It is love which sees straight, thinks clearly and makes us balanced in our outlook, judgments and conduct.” It should be our deep desire to have such a relationship with our brother that we would be an encouragement to them and not cause them to stumble. 

But the one who 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. (1 John 2:11)

John once again emphasizes here in verse 11 that anyone “who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness.” These individuals do not know where they are going because the darkness has blinded their eyes. John is reiterating a point he previously made in John 12:35: “The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.”

Those who hate their brothers live in a state of darkness where there is not just an absence of love, but an absence of God. Such selfish and loveless people are clearly not a part of God’s kingdom because there is no light. You may recall that John described such people as liars back in 1 John 1:5-6…

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:5–6)

It is absolutely impossible and even inconceivable that unrepentant sinners, who lack love and who are living in spiritual darkness, could possibly fulfill Jesus’ command to love. They certainly can’t fully express the kind of humble, sacrificial love Jesus showed the apostles when He washed their feet in the Upper Room. They can wash feet, but not love. 

The person with hatred in his heart is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. He doesn’t know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. These brother haters are spiritually blind and are fumbling around through life confused and lost, not knowing where they are going. These people are living in complete spiritual darkness. 

As I mentioned earlier, obedience to the command to love is a valid test of a believer’s genuine salvation. This obedience is in direct contrast to those who are without love and who insist and persist to walk in darkness. 

Let’s summarize what we’ve seen today. As usual, John doesn’t mix words or pull any punches when it comes to whether you are living in the light or in the darkness. When it comes to an individual’s relationship with God, you are living in the light or living in the darkness. You can’t live in both. You either love your brother or hate them. When someone is in the light, he is enabled to love. The one who is in darkness has no capacity to love.

John has shown us that Jesus Christ, the True Light, is also the light of love, and therefore to live or to walk in the light is to walk in love.

The old/new commandment is about loving God and loving your brother as yourself. This command has always been a part of the Christian faith. In fact, this commandment to love is the culmination of all of the instructions previously revealed. It is all summarized in the command to love. It can also be characterized as “old” or “from the beginning” because it was a foundational part of the truths given to all believers who accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. James 2:8 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

The command to love is a new command in the sense that there is now new evidence and new power to fulfill it. The new evidence is that Jesus has died, was buried, and has risen again. We have now seen the example Christ came to give to us and now we have a better understanding of what love looks like as compared to the Old Testament.

The new power to fulfill this love command comes from the Holy Spirit indwelling believers, helping them to live out the commands of Scripture. God has also established the Church to encourage one another to demonstrate brotherly love and to commit good deeds toward them. By doing so, we will demonstrate to the world that the light of Jesus continues to shine in the darkness.

I hope it has been made abundantly clear that the old/new commandment involves brotherly love. So make no mistake, the command, both old and new, is that we should love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love others as ourselves. Obedience to this command to love is a test of the authenticity of our conversion and an essential part of submitting to Jesus Christ. The true Christian, who knows God and walks in the light, obeys God and loves his brother.

The contrast between the light and darkness is stark and absolute; there is no compromise nor shades of grey. Therefore, love and hatred are in direct opposition to each other with clear lines of distinction. You are either in the light or you are in the darkness, and there is no dusk nor dawn.

How are we going to apply what we have learned today? John MacArthur says, “If anything defines this kind of love from the human side, it is humility.” At the point of salvation, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer’s life and continues to guide the Christian in true humility. It is through the love for the Father and love of our brothers that we are able to humble ourselves and produce spiritual fruit.

I want to ask all of us just five simple questions about brotherly love that I took from a Paul Tripp devotional entitled, “Invitation to Love.”

1. Are we loving our brother and sister in such a way that we are willing to have our life complicated by the needs and struggles of others without impatience or anger?
2. Are we loving our brother and sister in such a way that we are actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward another while looking for ways to encourage and praise?
3. Are we loving our brother and sister in such a way that we are making a daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses?
4. Are we loving our brother and sister in such a way that we are being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding?
5. Are we loving our brother and sister in such a way that we are being more committed to unity and understanding than you are to winning, accusing, or being right?

When the Lord Jesus was here on earth, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). 

Let’s face it, the bottom line is this: if we are hating our brother, we are dwelling in darkness; if we are loving our brother, we are dwelling in the light.

7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who 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. (1 John 2:7-11)