Very early in his first letter, John writes this.
3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
The heart of following Jesus is the new and personal relationship Christians have with God our heavenly Father and with other believers as well. John is writing to Christians who are breaking that fellowship with God and with the church in a number of ways. We saw last week that some people were denying that they were sinful, or that they had sinned. So John calls them to confess their sins, assuring them of the promise that God will forgive them through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Then in chapter 2 we read that John encourages his readers to keep on obeying God’s commands, to walk in the light as God Himself is the light.
3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.
Obedience is essential if we wish to remain in fellowship with God and with other believers. And the standard of obedience God demands is very high.
This is how we know we are in him: 6 whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
While John talks in general about obeying God’s commands, it is clear from our passage this week that he has one particular command in mind. So he goes on to say this.
7 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. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
Christians are called to walk in the true light of God. John’s readers already know what they should be doing – they heard it right from the start of their discipleship. But it is a new command because it always has a freshness about it – just as God’s love and mercy is fresh and new every morning.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.
The new command of course is the new commandment Jesus gave his disciples to love one another.
John 13:34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Love is at the heart of the gospel. Our love for other Christians is the essence of our witness to the world. And Jesus has set the example and the standard for that love – just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. Love is the sign that we are living in the light. Its opposite would be hating our fellow Christians, and that is clear evidence that a person is still living in the darkness.
11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
Some of John’s readers were bringing division to the church and demonstrating hatred for other Christians. So John wants to remind them of the supreme importance of love.
. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.
That is the challenge for every believer and every church in every age. Relationships between Christians in the church are our witness to the world. There is no place for hatred or division.
This next little section is a bit strange, for a number of reasons.
12 I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
13 I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
14 I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
Quite strange. To begin with, it’s not obvious what place this section has in the argument for John’s letter. Why should he start talking to his readers at this point about his reasons for writing?
Then the grammar is a bit strange, in a way which the NIV hides. Verse 13 is in the present tense, “I am writing”, but verse 14 is actually in the past tense – “I wrote”. NIV translates this in the present, “I write” because in Greek letters they sometimes said “I wrote” when they were referring to the current letter, rather than some past correspondence. The so-called “epistolatory aorist.”
Commentators generally agree that there is no significance whatsoever in John saying “I am writing” and then repeating himself by saying “I write” (or I wrote). And there is no significance in the small changes in the repetition, other than for emphasis. They also mostly agree that when he talks about children, fathers and young men he is probably talking about Christian experience rather than age in years. So he is talking to young Christians, mature Christians and Christians with a vibrant faith. Everybody also agrees that the characteristics which John assigns to particular Christians should be true of all Christians at every stage in their discipleship. So your sins have been forgiven on account of his name, and because you know the Father are not just true of young Christians. Because you know him who is from the beginning is not only true of mature Christians. And you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one surely refer to all Christians and not just “young men” and “young women of course.” All Christians have experienced forgiveness and know the Father and through Christ have overcome the evil one.
So John is simply reminding his readers of what Christian discipleship is all about. This challenges us to obey God’s commands, and especially the new commandment to love one another. And it also prepares the way for the next challenge which is a rebuke for another way some of John’s readers have been breaking fellowship with God and with each other.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.
The reason that many Christians fall away from God is that they love the world around more than they love God.
The great reformer John Calvin said something like this. “Unless a person breaks free from the pull of the things of this world they will forever be bound to it.”
Love of the things of this fallen world – the sin of the Rich Young Ruler who would not let go of his wealth and possessions in order to follow Jesus.
16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.
The lust of the flesh is passion for sensual satisfaction. The lust of the eyes means an inordinate desire for the finer things of life but also probably includes sexual desires. The pride of life means self-satisfaction in who we are, the things we have, and what we have accomplished. These are three things which lead people into sin. There is an interesting echo here in what we read about the very first sin, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 3 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Eve saw the fruit, she desired the fruit and she took the fruit. And then she gave the fruit to Adam. What we see leads us to what we want leads us to taking what we should not, and then to causing others to sin as well.
“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”. A perfect summary of our own self-centred self-obsessed generation.
MESSAGE Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
Worldliness was already causing some of John’s readers to break fellowship with God and with each other. So he gives them this warning.
17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.
Love one another – don’t hate other people. Do not love the world, which is passing away. Whoever does the will of God lives forever. This is what it means to live in the light of God.