Tuesday

29 December 2015

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning.” (v. 7)

Psalm: Psalm 117


Background

John's letter is very densely written, but only really has one theme - consistency. That consistency, in our hearts, is fully expressed in love, a consistent emotion. John tells us that we come to know Christ if we keep his commands (verse 3). Both 'knowing' and 'keeping' are aspects of loving - "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Thus we are given a choice between lying and living truly (verses 4-5) and in obeying love is made complete. The believer is aiming for completeness, arguably an idea which spans many, if not all, religions.

John introduces his "new command" by first of all saying that he is not giving a new command but an old one instead; the old command is the message they have already heard. The new command which Jesus originally gave, back in John's Gospel, was that his followers love one another (John 13:34). So John seems to be saying that Jesus' new command is now old. Confusingly, he doesn't then tell us what the new command is. It may be a new way of describing Jesus' message, a new emphasis on darkness and light (another feature of this letter, see verse 8), an injunction to stay in the light (verses 9-10) or perhaps he distracted himself with his caveats so much that he never returned to unpacking this new command.

Another possibility is that the new command is 'do not hate your brother, or sister' (v. 11; 1 John 3.15; 4.20). One of the key messages, and purpose, of John's letter is to give guidance for building a community of love. Today's reading leaves us with a choice between love or blindness in the dark.


To Ponder

  • How would you describe your faith? As 'old' or 'new'? Why?
  • What would this passage look like if you were rewriting it or sharing your own reflections on love?


Bible notes author: Julian Bond

 

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