A NEW OLD COMMANDMENT
“Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.”
1 John 2:7-8 NLT
John sounds as though he is speaking in riddles. An old commandment but it’s new! A new commandment but it’s old! What does he mean?
An old adage says, “The new is in the old concealed. The old is in the new revealed.” Referring to the truths of Scripture, this implies that there is a cohesion between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains many truths that we can only fully understand as they are explained in the New.
This applies to John’s puzzling statement here. The Old Testament law connected all-embracing love for God and love for people together, almost as two parts of one commandment. It is impossible to love God’s people if we do not love God and… loving God inevitably embraces His people as well.
However, this commandment was impossible to obey in the context of the Law because the Law demanded compliance without the power of the Holy Spirit to obey.
The New Covenant provides the power to obey. The New Covenant is new, not in its standards of obedience to God, but as His provision of grace through the death of Jesus and the restoration of His Spirit to His people at Pentecost.
“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
Romans 5:5 NLT
“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us…. We love each other because he loved us first.”
1 John 4:12-13, 19 NLT
Those who were bound to God in the Old Covenant, although they had God’s word, still lived in the darkness of sin. Only a few of His people understood His way of faith in His Word that gave them access to His Spirit. David, for example, trusted in God’s mercy for forgiveness rather than in animal sacrifices.
“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin… Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me…. You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
Psalms 51:1-2, 10-11, 16-17 NLT
David enjoyed the blessing of forgiveness through his repentance and trust in God.
“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”
Psalms 32:1-2 NLT
How God longed that His people would acknowledge and repent of their sin and return to faith in Him, but they refused. Time and again He called them back through His prophets, but they stubbornly continued in their wickedness.
” Now,” says John, “you have a new way to obey an old commandment because you are no longer in darkness. The full light of God’s work in Christ and the presence and power of His Spirit are here. Now live in that light and power as God’s transformed and obedient children.”
So, as God’s children in His dispensation of grace, we have been transformed inside, motivated and empowered to love God’s people and to show that love by being generous gracious towards them in every way.
Without the evidence of this transformation working in our lives, we remain in the darkness of selfishness and unbelief.