Tag Archives: love

Is “Love One Another” A New Commandment for You?

The coming of the light changes everything. Did you see the sunrise this morning? Even if you didn’t, it changed your life. The coming of the light transforms the whole world, including you and me. As the sun rises each day, we are infused (barring sickness or early alarm clocks) with new vision and energy, stirred to move with purpose and life.

The same is true of the spiritual dimensions of our beings. The coming of the Light changes everything.

The apostle and author John (assuming, with reason, that the two are the same person) liked to talk about light and darkness. He is the one, for instance, that noticed that Nicodemus visited Jesus in the dark while the Samaritan woman visited him in the light of the noonday sun. Guess who possessed spiritual sight?

One place where light makes all the difference is 1 John 2:7-11:

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

This passage is full of short, simple words. Even the Greek is among the simplest in the NT. But, as is typical with John, easy words bear weighty thoughts.

I see at least three basic themes in these verses:

  • A commandment to love one’s brother
  • A contrast between light and darkness
  • An apparent contradiction between “old” and “new”

Let’s start with the apparent contradiction first.

How can the command to love our brother be both old and new?

Some try to solve this dilemma in part by noting that the Greek word for “new” in verse 8 is καινὴν, not νέος. The latter often means new in time (i.e., recent), while the former can sometimes mean new in quality (i.e., unusual or superior). Thus we could perhaps theoretically translate verse 8 like this: “At the same time, it is a fresh commandment that I am writing to you.” This would remove the tension between “old” and “new,” for an “old” commandment could still be a “fresh,” or perhaps even “better” one. One commentator suggests it is like a familiar symphony being performed anew by skilled musicians, or a familiar dish of food prepared by a culinary wizard.1

But, however true such images are, this solution doesn’t work on a linguistic basis. Why? Because the same word καινὴν is also found, negatively, in verse 7: “I am writing you no new commandment.” Unless John changes the meaning of καινὴν from one verse to the next (which is entirely possible but which then overturns the distinction between καινὴν and νέος), he is still apparently contradicting himself.

The simple English word “new” is a good translation. And the word clearly includes a chronological dimension, for “old” is amplified by the phrase “from the beginning.” So we must not try to hide the appearance of contradiction: John is saying that the commandment to love is both old (known from the beginning) and, in some other and more recent sense, new.

(John, with his black-and-white language, is full of such apparent contradictions, prompting us to puzzle profitably over his words as over cunning proverbs.)

So, how is the love commandment old?

One possible answer is to note that the command to love our brother has existed since the oldest parts of Scripture. Jesus summarized the OT law with two great commandments:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-39)

In doing so, Jesus cited two OT texts:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut. 6:5)

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, …but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:17-18)

So the love commandment is as old because it is older than the Bible itself.

But John likely had something else in mind when he called the love commandment “old.” The commandment was old to John’s readers because they “had [it] from the beginning” (2:7). “From the beginning” is a phrase that John uses in multiple ways, but here it seems to refer to time when his readers first heard the gospel message:

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. (2 John 1:5)

Isn’t this true with us, too? I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know I was supposed to love my brother. Can you? “Love one another” is  very old command—so old, in fact that we sometimes forget that it is also new.

So, how is the love commandment new?

Here we are reminded of the words of Jesus—as recorded by John:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

What did Jesus mean when he called this commandment “new”? I think the answer lies in the phrase “just as I have loved you.” Jesus provided us a new example of love, an example that renews the old commandment by giving us a picture of what our love should look like.

John says much the same thing in his first letter:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)

Jesus’ example demonstrates a new magnitude of love:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

In fact, Jesus’ love extended not only to his friends, but to his enemies—an almost unheard of thing, as Paul notes:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:7-8)

Jesus’ coming also provides a new power for us to love. John is the apostle of new birth. He is the one who records Jesus’ words, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). He said that all who received Jesus were given the right to become children of God, born of God (John 1:12-13). And in his first letter he says that being born of God gives us power to keep God’s commandments, including the command to love one another:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments... And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world… (1 John 5:2-4)

Being born of God gives us power to love. So does abiding in Christ, another theme emphasized by John. At the end of the famous passage about bearing fruit by abiding in the Vine, John records these words from Jesus:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends... You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (from John 15:12-17)

Abiding in Christ, therefore, empowers us to bear the fruit of mutual love.

I have suggested three ways (there are surely more) in which the love commandment can properly be called new:

  • Jesus provided a new example of love.
  • Jesus’ example demonstrated a new magnitude of love.
  • Jesus’ coming gives us new power to love.

John pictures all this newness by talking about light.

Listen again to the verse where John first calls the love commandment “new”:

 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:8)

There are grammatical challenges in interpreting this verse. (In the Greek, “which” is a neuter pronoun while “commandment” is female, so the relationship between clauses is debated.)

But the basic ideas seem clear: The love commandment is “true”—realized or actualized—in both Jesus and in those who belong to him. And it is realized because “the darkness is dissipating and the true light already shines.”2 The coming of the light actualizes the commandment, thus making it new.

This language of light links back to the foundational theological thesis statement for whole letter:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

How did John know that God is light? Because Jesus, God in the flesh, had come into the world. John is a first-person witness to the word/Word of life (1 John 1:1). The incarnation of the Word is the theme of the opening verses of John’s letter (1 John 1:1-4), and also of the prologue of his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:1-9)

As John’s poetic prologue continues, the identity of the “true light” becomes clear: It is Jesus.

“The true light.” This is the same phrase that John uses in our original passage: “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). Jesus, God in the flesh, is “already shining”!

Putting it all together, here is what John is saying: The coming of Jesus, the light of the world (cf. John 8:12), makes the commandment true and thus new.

There is much more to see about the nature of light and darkness in John’s writings. Light suggests divine revelation, human exposure, honesty, spiritual sight, and holiness. Light exposes our hearts (John 3:19-21; John 9:39-41) and will transform us into “sons of light” if we believe in it (John 12:35-36).

We have enough light to ask ourselves some questions:

Am I loving my brother in a way that demonstrates that the Light has come into the world? Or am I still living as if the world is abandoned in darkness?

Can others see, by the way I love, that I have been transformed by the Light?

Am I imitating Jesus’ new example of love? Does my love mirror his new magnitude of love, or is it no bigger than the love of non-Christians around me? Am I experiencing new power to love? (Or is there little evidence that I am abiding in Christ or even born again?)

In sum, is the command to love my brother a new commandment for me? Or is it just an old, powerless, forgettable and forgotten one?


I’ve tried in this post to express the love command in something of its end-of-the-age freshness. I have also tried to demonstrate some techniques of good exegesis:

  • Identifying and focusing on key words and themes.
  • Tracing these key words and themes beyond the immediate text, giving priority to (a) the rest of the same book of the Bible and then (b) to other books by the same author, without importing meanings from more distant contexts.
  • Teasing out apparent contradictions, without denying anything Scripture affirms.
  • Looking for how Christ, the ultimate subject of Scripture, is key to the meaning of the text.

Now it is your turn. What insights do you think John intended to communicate? How has the coming of the Light changed the way you love your brother? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  1. David L. Allen, 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), Kindle Location 1251.
  2. Translation by Robert W. Yarborough in his 1-3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Exegetical, 2008), 101.

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Jesus in the Room [Poem by Mom]

We all need more love than we deserve. And it is undeserved love that transforms us into who we should be.

It is love that frees us to acknowledge sin, both ours and others. And it is love that frees us from sin and from its shadow, shame.

Here is a new poem from Mom about the transforming power of Jesus’ loving presence. I’ll let Mom explain how the poem came to be.


Many books, blogs and posts today deal with the issues of sexual abuse and sexual sin in various forms. Questions of blame, shame and the process to freedom abound. Two things, it seems to me, are certain. We are all sinners in need of Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing; and everyone, no matter how heinous his sin or how deep his wounds, needs the compassion of Christians and the biblical message of truth and deliverance. If only we could always respond as Jesus would!

These thoughts framed my recent devotional reading of Luke 7:36-50, the account of the “woman who was a sinner,” who dared to enter a Pharisee’s house because she heard Jesus was there. What had she heard from Jesus’ lips that propelled her into a home where she was unwelcome, that braced her to face the scorn of the guests, and gave her the courage to approach the holy God-man? How I longed to glimpse just for a moment how Christ’s deity, veiled in humanity, expressed itself.

As I read, I seemed to slip in beside her, to see Jesus’ form lying there, to hear His quiet voice. The woman knew, without seeing His face, that He knew she was there. Just for a moment I was at her side experiencing the physical nearness of Jesus; the power of His words of clarity and compassion, able to convict and to protect; the magnetism of His readiness to deliver and forgive. His presence was like a fortress in a room full of enemies.

Just for a moment… and then I was only seeing my open Bible, but moved deeply and longing to express what I had felt when I was in the room with Jesus. Robert J. Morgan says that “the art of meditating on Scripture involves using one’s imagination.” He records how the beloved hymn “In the Garden” was written by C. Austin Miles from a vision he experienced while reading John 20. My sensation was far too brief to be labelled a vision and the poem I have written is not a hymn. But I pray this poem will bring you for a moment into the presence of Jesus, to a place of listening and hearing, so that His Word and Spirit can live through you to a needy world.

—Elaine Gingrich, September 14, 2015


JESUS IN THE ROOM
 Luke 7:36-50

I slip into the dining hall,
An uninvited guest.
I heard he is reclining here—
The object of my quest.

The host disdains me—only loves
Those who return in kind.
His righteousness gives me no hope,
Blind leader of the blind.

How dare I touch this holy man
With my sin-scalding hands?
But oh, his voice is like a bell
Across interior lands.

It tolls each conscience in the room.
My tears are hot with pain.
His feet accept my ministry.
He shares in my disdain.

This man looks deep into my eyes
As father would to child,
While others only see my form,
Voluptuous but defiled.

His eyes burn as he names my sin,
Names but does not condemn.
My sin was great, but so my love!
And now he points at them.

I’m not the only sinner here.
His voice a sheltering arm
Around the shoulders of my guilt
Addresses those who harm.

He speaks forgiveness to my shame.
His voice is like a breeze
That blows the perfume of my love
To others on their knees.

Oh Jesus, are You in this room?
I bring my oil and tears.
By faith I hear forgiveness speak
Across two thousand years.

Your voice pours ointment on our wounds,
Commands our fears to flee.
Oh speak your hope into this room
Oh speak and set us free.

—Elaine Gingrich, September 5, 2015


For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.

And if you enjoyed this poem (and want to encourage Mom to keep writing new ones!), leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!


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The Love of Christ Controls Us

My Sunday post about Sabbath and the Lord’s Day went viral. Okay, I’m speaking in relative terms. But it has certainly struck a chord: That post has already been viewed over 600 times, which is already more all-time views than any other single post or page on my website. (Even more than the one about kissing in the first century. Which is strange, because I enjoy kissing more than working on Sunday. Or most any other day. I digress.)

Freedom Recap

I am excited by this response. People love good news! We love the good news! And the gospel of grace through Christ does indeed bring freedom. It brings freedom from sin:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

And from “good cop” Sin’s “bad cop” buddy, Death:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:2)

The gospel of Christ brings freedom from everything that the Law could not free us from:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39)

And it brings freedom from the Law itself:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:19-20)

(Note closely: The previous famous verse is not about “dying to self,” but about how we, in Christ, die “to the Law,” so that we now live instead by faith in Christ, relying on all the benefits of his cross-work. Read the rest of Galatians for context!)

A few of you might have thought that my post on the Sabbath wasn’t very “conservative.” Maybe it sounded rather “liberal.” But I submit that it is the very essence of true conservatism to hold faithfully to Scripture, without adding or subtracting. It is very “liberal,” indeed, to add to God’s word, even if what we are adding is rules. (This is why some scholars suggest that the Sadducees were actually more conservative than the Pharisees.) Insofar as I have faithfully explained Scripture, I make no apologies for my post. Insofar as I have failed to do so, please instruct me.

So I am excited over your excitement about our freedom in Christ! (I could even add more about how Christ is the fulfillment of the Sabbath, based in part on your insights. What a rich reality!)

A Potential Danger

Yet, as I reflected on our joy, I became aware of a subtle danger. I found this danger lurking within my own heart. Here is the danger: It is possible to be more excited about our own freedom than about Christ.  So I’m writing this post as a follow-up sermon to myself and to you.

Let’s pursue Christ, not freedom! After all, freedom isn’t our end goal. In Romans 6:18, Paul writes, “having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness.” This sounds ironic, but is true: Authentic freedom from sin involves “bondage” to righteousness.

So what does authentic freedom from the Law look like? Or, to put it another way, what does authentic freedom from legalism look like?1  How should we finish this statement: “Authentic freedom from legalism involves ‘bondage’ to                      ?” What is the opposite of legalism? These questions sound a bit topsy-turvy, I realize. We might want to stick “freedom” in the blank, but we’ve already used that word in our sentence. Is there another word that fits?

I’d like to suggest two good ways to fill in our blank: “The word of God” and “Christ.” Let’s consider them in order.

“Bondage” to the Word of God

Authentic freedom from the law involves “bondage” to the word of God.2 Let me explain.

Legalism and lawlessness are two variations of the same problem: disregard for the word of God. If you reject legalism simply because you don’t like to be restricted, then you will probably end up embracing some measure of lawlessness. If you reject lawlessness simply because you want law and order, then you will probably end up preaching some legalism.

Here is the key: We must not simply turn away from legalism or lawlessness; we must also–and primarily–turn toward the word of God. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in Mark 7. On the one hand he strongly condemns legalism because it sucks all the life-shaping power out of the word of God:

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13)

In this chapter, as Mark observes, Jesus undermines both human traditions and also, by implication, even the OT food laws. (See Mark 7:19 in translations such as the ESV: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”)  Yet Jesus equally firmly rejects any hint of lawlessness:

21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23)

The word of God, as taught by Christ, brings freedom from both legalism and lawlessness.

This begs the question: Am I more excited about my freedom from observing a mandatory day of rest, or about being devoted to living out the word of God? Am I excited about ridding my heart of all things the Bible labels “evil” (by diligently walking moment-by-moment with the Spirit)? Or am I only excited about tossing aside the Law of Moses and all human traditions?

“Bondage” to Christ

Authentic freedom from the law also involves “bondage” to Christ. Paul understood this well:

…My brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Rom. 7:4-6)

Notice: Paul says we died to the Law “so that” we may belong to Christ. He says we are released from the Law “so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit.”

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. (1 Cor. 7:22)

And for Paul, “bondage” to Christ meant “bondage” to his fellow man:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. (1 Cor. 9:19)

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal. 5:13)

Here is one of the most memorable ways he put it:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

So, here is my question: What is controlling you, Dwight? Is it love of freedom? Or the love of Christ? Are you controlled (compelled, driven, guided) by Christ’s love for you–by the grace that is yours thanks to sharing in his death and resurrection? Are you controlled by your love for Christ (a possible secondary meaning of 5:14), serving him from a heart of gratitude? Or are you merely happy to be free from the Sabbath law?

How sad it would be if freedom from the Sabbath law wouldn’t turn our hearts toward Christ, the fulfillment of the Sabbath!

Are you running from legalism, or are you running in step with the word of God? Are you driven by your love of freedom, or are you compelled by the love of Christ? Does the freedom Christ has given you awaken delight in Christ and stir devotion to him? Are you listening, Dwight?

May Christ’s love compel us!

Do you ever find yourself greedily enjoying Christ’s gifts while forgetting the Giver? How do you cooperate with God to keep your heart devoted to Christ? How can we use our Christian freedom regarding the Lord’s Day to serve Christ and others? Freely share your comments below.

  1. Legalism is a slippery term. In this post I am using it with imperfect consistency, referring specifically to bondage to the Law of Moses but also broadly to the practice of multiplying rules to achieve or enforce holiness.
  2. Word of God is another slippery term. By word of God here I mean primarily Scripture, although it is important to remember that the two terms, as used in Scripture, are not identical in scope. Word of God sometimes refers more narrowly to the gospel message, and sometimes more broadly to any communication from God to man, including Jesus himself. But I believe all Scripture is properly called “the word of God.”

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