By James Riley Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament, Samford University
SURE OF A RELATIONSHIP
1 John 2:3–11, 15–17
Today is our second study in First John. The book deals with a split: False prophets have left John’s congregations, but their doctrines have remained.
The key false teaching was that Jesus Christ did not “come in the flesh” (4:2; 2 John 7), a common heresy in the second to fifth centuries A.D. Last week we saw John dispels this notion when he says, “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7) and “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (2:2). John is referring to the Greek translation of Old Testament passages where an atoning sacrifice restores the divine-human relationship (see Lev. 25:9; Num. 5:8).
Jesus would not be a sin offering had He neither bled nor suffered bodily death. For John, what Christ’s followers do with our bodies also matters.
Last week we noted that John talks about walking either away from God or with God: “in darkness” or “in the light” (1:6–7). He is combining two other biblical ideas: Light refers to knowing what God desires and to “walk with God” and “before God” refers to doing that desire (see Gen. 5:22; 17:1; Mic. 6:8). Walking requires a body: eyes for seeing and limbs for doing.
Walk in obedience to God’s commands. (3–6)
In verse 3, John clarifies the metaphor of walking: We must obey Jesus’ commandments.
The false prophets might have claimed to possess special knowledge about Jesus Christ.
John says, the one who knows Him will obey Him. And what commandments are we to obey? Of the many things Jesus said to do, John focuses on the command to love our fellow Christ-followers.
The clause, “the love of God is perfected,” is vague in both Greek and English. Who is doing the loving, God or us? I think the ambiguity is deliberate: John means both God’s love and how we work out that love.
The NIV’s “made complete” is helpful, for John is speaking of God’s love reaching maturity in us. Jesus Christ, in whose body God’s love was fully expressed, is our model.
Walk in the light so that you don’t go blind. (7–11)
John expands the idea introduced in 1:5–6. He begins by referring to John 13:34–35, where Jesus gives the disciples “a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Hence, John’s commandment is not new.
Indeed, as John’s gospel places the Word “with God in the beginning,” this is “an old commandment that you have had from the beginning.”
If God’s love was fully expressed in Jesus, then it was fully expressed at creation. What is new is that God’s love has become fully visible in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
If “the true light is already shining” yet we “walk in the darkness,” then we have chosen blindness rather than sight. This willful ignorance leads to willful wrongdoing, in particular, hatred of our fellow Christ-followers.
Walk in the will of God, not the ways of the world. (15–17)
John uses “the world” to speak of everyone in the world, whom God loves and for whose sins Jesus died (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), and, as here, to refer to attitudes and actions that are opposed to God.
Of these, John mentions only “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” (literally “in life”). Desire need not be sexual; craving anything — including happiness, peace of mind and security — can take God’s place.
We can become fixated on these goods to the point that searching for them, or clinging to them, pushes aside pursuing the love of God.
It is easier to walk in darkness than we think, for darkness can seem like the light.
Thanks be to God that the true Light is always shining for us to see.