27 December 2014

1 John 2:3-11

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” (vv. 7-8)

Psalm: Psalm 117


Today is the feast day for John the Evangelist - the writer of John's Gospel and, probably, letters of John.

This passage, on the command to love one another, picks up a number of themes which are possibly even more familiar from John's Gospel. There, they come in Jesus' lengthy discourses and prayers, in chapters 14 to 17, which take place at his last supper with his disciples, after Judas has gone to commit his act of betrayal. They are part of the message that Jesus wants to pass on to those who will continue his ministry. This gives them a huge significance within the Gospel, so it is perhaps not surprising to find that they are themes which are important to the author of that Gospel and this epistle.

The idea that knowing Christ and obedience to his commandments are inextricably linked might seem to be opposed to the idea that faith alone is what is required. Are we not taught that faith in the grace of God gives freedom from a religiosity which is rule-based and legalistic? But it also follows that genuine faith in that grace will prompt us to "walk just as he walked" (v. 6), or at least to long and strive to do so. This kind of obedience is not a set of rules, but a transformative process, by which we become more and more conformed to the image of God, until we reach perfection.

The passage is also a call to honesty; it is not just about how much we actually abide in Christ, but about the claims we make on that front. If we claim to be good disciples, who have achieved a high standard of Christian living, then the onus is on us to prove that by the way we live! Otherwise, we risk becoming judgemental about the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in the faith, and causing them to stumble. If, however, we are humble enough to acknowledge our own imperfections, then we can encourage one another and together grow towards the light.

To Ponder

  • If you have been able to attend any Christmas worship, you will very likely have heard another famous passage by John the Evangelist. The opening to John's Gospel (John 1:1-14), with its beautiful, poetic account of the light coming into the darkness, resonates with the promises of Isaiah (chapter 9) that the people who walked in darkness would see a great light. The theme of living in the light comes in today's passage too. Hatred brings darkness, while love is in the light. How might you bring a little light into the dark places of today's world?
  • If we admit that we are not yet perfectly obedient to Christ's commandments, does that amount to an admission of failure, or an opportunity for transformation? How might you be open to that opportunity today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.