The Old New Command (1 John 2:7-8)


When I was in fifth grade, my best friend Darren Norris gave me J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for my birthday. In the fall season, when the rain begins to pour, you can find me in an easy chair, re-reading the pages of my second favorite book. Every time, I find something new to ponder in this old, familiar story.

There is an older, more familiar story that is my favorite. It is the gospel, the good news about Jesus. In 1 John 2:7-8, John writes about this story, which despite its age, always seems fresh, contemporary, and relevant. Here’s what John writes:

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Notice several things about what John writes:

First, he addresses his readers as friends. The Greek word is agapetoi, literally, “beloved.” To whom are these people beloved? The most obvious answer is to John. He is the senior Christian leader in their community. But John’s love for them is not merely personal, it is spiritual. He loves them because they are loved, first and foremost, by God. It is a loving God who draws us into fellowship with himself and with one another. The church, then, is the beloved community.

Second, John reminds them that his teaching is old. According to 1 John 2:18-19, a group of false teachers had seceded from the church and was trying to convince other church members to do the same. Evidently, these secessionists argued that John’s teaching was “new.” John replies by pointing out that his “command” and “message” are “old,” the same command and message he taught at “the beginning” of his ministry. First John 3:23 summarizes both the message and the command: “to believe in the name of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” This is basic Christianity, the old message of Jesus and his apostles.

But third, while old, this basic Christianity is also always new. John seems to contradict himself when he says, “I am writing you a new command.” How can the same message be both old and new? Simple. Its origin is old, but its application is new. Every time a person believes in the old story of Jesus, he or she begins to live a new life. In powerful metaphorical language, John writes, “the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” Today, I will see the 15,965th sunrise of my lifetime, and it will be beautiful. But more sublime is the change that takes place in life because of the rising of God’s Son, who spreads the light of salvation over the darkness of sin.

Today, make sure to see the Son rise on you.

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