Observations for discussion and questions:
Here again we see John ministering to a community that are suffering from the impact of the schism he mentions later in this chapter. He gives them tests both as a precaution and, I would insist, as a means of confidence that one has a right understanding of and relationship with God who “is light” (1:5). The first stanza below is framed by the clause “by this we may be sure” followed by the tests. The passage divides fairly clearly into three stanzas if one notes that the first and last stanzas below repeat the phrase “he who says” and “love” so as to provide a frame for the central portion with its double reference to not writing and yet writing a “new commandment.” References to commandment(s) dominate the first half and then in the middle portion shift to light/darkness. The last stanza spells out the content of light and darkness as ethical in character, i.e. they are being used of love and hatred.
- And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
- He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
- but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him:
- 6 he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
- Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.
- Yet I am writing you a new commandment, which 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 the darkness still.
- He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling.
- But he who 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.
Once again we can see John’s style of repetitions that both provide structure and variations that bring out nuances as well as provide clarifications of how he is using key words. For example, keeping the commandments cannot be reduced to formal observation, because ‘walking in the light’ has to do with the practice of the love, of walking as ‘he’ walked.
It should be noted here that the phrase “love for God” (2:5) is literally “love of God” in the Greek and can not only have God as the object of human love but also could mean “divine love” or “God’s love (in us). Furthermore, “perfected” is not a reference to absolute perfection but rather to ‘completion,’ ‘maturity,’ ‘fullness.’ Both meanings can be affirmed. John can intentionally play on the meanings of word and phrases. This clearly seen in the reference to not writing a new commandment and yet writing a new one. Here the difference being played upon is probably a reference the addressees’ initial experience of hearing the “word” (2:7), and their present experience of it as “true in him and in you” (2:8). Notice that as co-equal with “the word which you have heard” the term commandment is used for the whole Christian message and not just in the narrow sense of a specific, ethical command or commands.
In the previous lesson we saw the author’s focus on the atonement Jesus provided for our sins. Here an important focus is on Jesus as an example is implied in 2:6. What is the relation between atonement and example for our experience with sin? What happens when one emphasizes example at the expense of atonement? How does one love ‘a brother’ whose behavior seems to deserve only anger and hate?