I John 2:3–14. Knowing and Obeying. Love and Hate.
Key Notes: Love is attached to knowing and abiding. Hate is complex, both good and bad. A note to children, fathers and the young. Forgiveness.
In his general epistle, John develops three themes: obedience, love and faith. He wants us to "know", to have assurance of salvation. John's grammar and vocabulary are very simple, but the ideas are profound. A similar challenge of words and meanings faces the reader of the Gospel of John.
2:3–6."By this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments."
"...whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected."
"By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says He abides in Him ought to walk in the way in which He walked."
Being sure and knowing are key ideas in I John. The phrase "by this we know" will be repeated in I John about five times. John connects knowing, with obeying and loving. The first teaching is that we know Him if we obey His commands. The one who obeys has a working love for God. Obeying depends on knowing. Obeying is motivated by loving. Knowing is connected to both loving and obeying; "abiding in Him" is to be in union with Him.
The result is that we should walk as Jesus walked.
What would Jesus do? How did Jesus walk? He preached the Gospel of the Kingdom, healed the sick, loved the children, and discipled men and women. He also suffered as an example for us. (I Pet.2:21). Jesus' own word summarizes His motive and plan: "I always do what is pleasing to Him." (Jn.8:29). Paul had the same goal: "we make it our aim to please Him." (II Cor.5:9). It is most pleasing to Him when we obey Him, a demonstration of loving Him, and an evidence of knowing Him.
2:7–11 But what commands are we to obey? John says it is not a new commandment, but one which they have had from the beginning. The command is to love your brother. (I Jn.2:10). Jesus summarized all the commandments (Matt.22:36–40) as loving God with all our being (Deut.6:5) and our neighbor as ourselves. (Lev.19:18). That is not a new commandment. Yet the commandment is new because the darkness is fading and the true light shines. The concept becomes clearer after Jesus' death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus showed love in a new light. He made the commandment to love new to His disciples by offering His life as a sacrifice for them.
"This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for His friends." (Jn.15:12)
John may also mean that love is a new commandment because the Holy Spirit now energizes the disciples and makes their love supernatural.
2:9 We are warned against hatred. There are many situations that can provoke hatred and motivate attack.
•Fear for our safety, loathing of the opponent, and hunger for revenge lead to hatred. All three of these motives can be seen in our reaction to Hitler, for example. The Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks early in the 20th century and they have not yet been able to let go of their hatred. We can loathe and dehumanize any opponent, even a politician, so that he / she could be thought of as destroyed without conscience.
•Jesus said that anger was morally equivalent to murder. (Matt.5:21–22). So also I Jn.3:15: "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer." That is true even if there is no physical attack on the other person.
•James says coveting leads to killing. (Jm.4:2). A classic case is the man who murders his spouse so that he can get her life insurance and run off with some other woman.
• Hate can be provoked as government policy. "We must know how to hate, for only at this price can we conquer the universe."-Lunacharsky, Soviet minister of education .( Quoted in Christian Personal Ethics. C.F.H. Henry; Eerdmans,’57; p.534.)
•Love (eros) can turn into hate. Many divorces are embarrassing when played out in the courts.
"The devil can so thoroughly destroy a marriage 'that hate is never so bitter as there.'" (Ethics of Martin Luther. Fortress;’52, p.95).
What does hatred do to the hater?
•Hate blinds the hater. (We call it "blind hatred").
•"Hated and hating" (Tit.3:3) implies that the hater is also hated. It is logical that hate will generate hate in others as love begets love in others.
•Hate shortens one's life. "His (God's) soul hates him that loves violence". (Psa.11:5). God promised destruction of haters such as Philistines, (Ezek.25:16) and Edomites. Ezek.35:6
Since love must characterize the believer, hatred should not be a problem. However, strongly held positive beliefs (love, faith, justice) are balanced with strongly held negative ones (righteous anger, hatred of evil). Sadly, Christians are more often known for their hatred than their love. Reformation Lutherans set themselves against Anabaptists, and Catholics were against Protestants. Is it true that a quarter of the Belgian population died during the Inquisition? Northern Ireland, Southern civil rights conflicts (Selma, Alabama; U. of Mississippi), Ruwanda and Burundi are recent examples of "Christians" behaving toward each other in hateful, destructive ways, walking in the darkness.
Pastors dread church business meetings because angry outbursts can leave a church in gloom for weeks.
The World also hates believers (Jn.15:19; 17:14). But we are not permitted to hate back. Killing abortion doctors, and hate-mail sent to public figures such as TV anchormen do us great harm.
"As dead flies make the perfumers's ointment give off an evil odor, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor". (Eccl.10:1)
Bad deeds are magnified; good deeds are minimized. May Jesus forgive us. "If anyone sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous."
2:12–14 John adds a word of affirmation. He is writing...
--to children (new believers) because their sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake. They are forgiven, and so are forgiving.
--to fathers (mature) because they know Jesus, the One who is from the Beginning.
--to the young men (immature) because they have overcome Satan. The temptations of the flesh are a struggle for young men.
He writes to the same three groups again with some variation. (Anything worth saying is worth repeating, although that may not be the whole explanation.)
--to children because they too know the Father. Knowing the Father puts our spiritual childhood in perspective.
--to fathers because they know Jesus, and they know the end from the beginning. They have the long view. They can see Him who is from eternity.
--to the young because they are strong, the word of God is in them and they have overcome Satan. They are victorious in their struggle because the Word of God is in them. "Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee." (Psa.119:31)
Another word of support. Christians are unique in their ability to forgive and indeed, are required to forgive. May we too who are forgiven, who know Jesus and love God supremely, also love each other and love our neighbors. In so doing, we will overcome Satan's destructive work in the Church and in the world.
In 2006, a deranged truck-driver killed five young Amish girls--execution-style--lined up in their school-room. He then committed suicide. The Amish community promptly extended forgiveness to the murderer's family. The story cannot be forgotten.
An Indonesian father from the Spice Islands publicly forgave the Moslems who killed his son.(Personal communication.) It is a tribute to the grace of God. May God give us such grace.