Tuesday

12 February 2013

"Beloved, I am writing no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard." (v. 7)


Background

There are some people who, if you know them well enough, you can guess that they are going to say before they open their mouths. John, the writer of this letter, could be one of them as he keeps returning to certain themes and ideas, love and light being two of them.

John's style of writing is very different to others. Whereas the apostle Paul takes an argument or idea and develops it systematically, step-by-step, John goes round in circles repeating the same thing. Except that that is not exactly true, as each time he returns to it, it is crystallised a little more. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that we have heard it before, but this should not mean that we switch off - rather that we ask what nuance is John trying to convey this time.

The word "commandments" can send us straight back to the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament (Exodus 20) - a list of shalls and shall nots. And the lawyers and scribes spent lifetimes analysing and relating them to daily life so that they became books of rules and regulations.

But quite probably John is thinking back to his own Gospel to the new commandment of Jesus, that "you love another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Here is a principle to live by, rather than a rule. And John gives some flesh to it by using another of his favourite images - light: "whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light ... but whoever hates another believer lives in the darkness, walks in the darkness ..." (vv. 10-11).

It is love that John will return to again and again throughout the letter. For him it bears repeating - just as Jesus' life a repeating and constant outpouring of love.


To Ponder

  • Often we can switch off when we think we have already heard something before. What new insight into an old truth have you had?
  • Try to crystallise into one sentence the commandment that you live by.
  • How do you live "in the light" by that commandment?


Bible notes author: Ken Kingston

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