I John 2:7-11
In a Nutshell
John follows up Jesus' new commandment to his disciples. It is the new commandment that allows them to dwell in the light.
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Does John have any choice in writing this letter?
7. Dear people, this is not me writing a new commandment to you, but the ancient commandment which you have had [and handled] from the outset; that ancient commandment is the word you have heard. 8 And yet, because of what is truly in Him and in you, I am writing [inspired by] a new commandment [which He gave], as the darkness passes away now that the true light already shines [upon us]. 9 [From this new commandment we know that] anyone saying he is in the light while hating a brother or sister continues in the dark. 10 Whoever loves his brother or sister continues in the light with no stumbling around whatsoever. 11 But the one hating his brother is in darkness, without any clue as to where he is going since his eyes are blinded by the dark.
Does John have any choice in writing this letter? As with Paul (see 2 Cor 5:14: the love of Christ constrains us), John finds himself lovingly constrained. It is not something of his own devising. He's conveying God's love to them. He writes in the friendship that binds them in the love they have been made to share. His appeal, "dearly loved people" [AGAPETOI], is not something that can be kept under wraps. To keep one's own counsel and remain silent, to fail to write what he is now writing, is too close to stumbling around in the dark. John is obviously constrained by what has "newly" dawned upon him and he just cannot keep it to himself.
Notice how John uses the distinctions "ancient" and "new", "darkness" and "light". It is, as it were, when these distinctions intersect in what he now writes, that this new commandment, Jesus' declaration to His disciples, comes in great power - "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you, so you also love one another. By this you shall be known by all as my disciples" (John 13:14 see also 15:12-14). This rule for Jesus' friends is as old as creation and it is by this that they are to be known every new day as it is obeyed in their lives.
The old and the new are contrasted in order to emphasize their continuity and that there is no excuse. The light has come. The new commandment shines with the light, the light of Jesus' friendship (John 15:15). That light is not only not overcome by the darkness (John 1:5), but it has gained victory over the darkness because of the prevailing faithful friendship of the One who is the Light. And so, the ancient precept is now the more clearly affirmed with this new commandment!
Why is there such fraternal hatred as part of the human condition? Is it not the result of people preferring darkness to light? Is this not a prophetic explanation of how even those claiming to be Jesus' associates have stumbled around and are still stumbling blindly in deep darkness? This is not some logical syllogism as if light will shine for us when we set ourselves mentally against hate, the opposite of love. That's not what John is trying to convey here. Rather, he is concerned to refute the claim of those who wish to associate with Jesus and the movement He had begun by living with hate for their brothers and sisters. They are therefore deceiving themselves. They need to think again; their deeds prove that they are not living in the light. To hate brother or sister is to remain in darkness. They may have a social status by some or other previous association with Jesus, but they are stumbling around blindly.