Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:7-11.
Just before these verses, in verse six, John reminded the readers that we should “walk as Jesus walked.” From there he goes on to quickly remind them that it is not a new commandment that was suddenly thrust upon them. He is alluding to Jesus’ command that the disciples are to “love one another as I have loved you.” – John 15:12 (also John 13:34). He also calls to mind the statement, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:13. John isn’t just reminding them to love in general, but reminds them of specifics in the examples that Jesus lived. It was Jesus who gave the command to love—but it was also Jesus who lived it out to the full in giving His life for those He called His own. So it was that years later that the Beloved Apostle reminded his readers of this command and that it was no longer new, but familiar and so, it was in essence “old,” committed to them “from the beginning.” The command to love was part of that message that was heard.
When Jesus gave the command to His disciples to love one another, it was not a new command even then. The Old Testament tells us the same thing; “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Leviticus 19:18. Jesus often quotes it as found in some of the other Gospels. Jesus doesn’t have in mind a new kind of love or a new expression of love either. The God whom Jesus knows and proclaims as His Father, is a God of love.
However, the command to love one another can be called new for a couple of reasons: First, it points to a new example of love, and that is of Jesus’ own life. We see His love most fully manifested in His death on the cross. Second, Jesus’ death is the act by which all of God’s children can be gathered together as brothers and sisters. The command to love was given and lived by Jesus, He is the prime example, and now it is to be put into action by the His disciples and all believers who come after. Through their love for one another they testify that the light brought into the world by Jesus’ life continues to shine.
In the Body of Christ love is commanded and that is where it must be lived out and practiced. This doesn’t mean however, that love is limited to the believers only. If the believers don’t live by the example and teaching of its founder, Jesus, how can any of us expect others to do so, or to hear the call to join with them?
John goes on to show that just as it is impossible to live simultaneously in two spheres—the sphere of light and the sphere of darkness—it is also impossible to live in the body of believers and yet hate a fellow brother or sister. Hate and love are totally incompatible; they repel each other like oil and water.
To be sure, hate is a strong term. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that Christians who know the tradition of Jesus’ command to love each other are openly advocating and practicing hatred for one another. However, the hatred in this context refers to the actions of those who have left the church. John reminds his readers of the long-standing command to love each other, and asks whether those who have disrupted the fellowship are displaying obedience to that command. Hatred, like love, is not mere sentiment or emotion, but rather, like love, is dependent on actions. Those who are spoken of as hating their fellow Christians aren’t necessarily despising or detesting them. But for John, their leaving and the disruption to the church in the way they leave is an action that speaks for itself.
The results of hatred are the opposite of the unity with each other that Jesus commanded. Those who have turned away from other Christians show themselves to be dwelling in darkness. If they deny fellowship with their brothers and sisters how can they say they know God, who is Light. So, contrary to their claims John states that “he who hates his brother is n darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” John doesn’t seem so much concerned with how we “feel” about one another as he is about our actions concerning living in peace and harmony together. I have always taught that once we act, the feelings may come after the actions. But unless our claims to love one another manifest themselves in actions, then the claim to love each other—and to love God—rings false.
Before we can love those in the world who are searching and seeking, we have to be able to love, in action, those who are of the family of God. John is not saying that we are not to love those outside the bounds of Christian fellowship. Loving each other within the church and loving those outside the church are not mutually exclusive, even though it may seem strongly emphasized in John’s letters. We do however, owe a special obligation of love to those within the Body of Christ. I believe John stresses this love towards brothers and sisters in his letters because of the fact that if we can’t live the example that Jesus manifested, among ourselves, how are we able to extend the love of God, that Jesus exemplified, to the world?