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A Mini Commentary on 1st John (3): The Word from the Beginning and the World that Passeth Away (2.7-17)

J Hay, Perth

An Old Commandment (vv.7-8a)

A major theme of the epistle is introduced at v.7, a topic that surfaces frequently till the end of the letter; it is about loving our brethren. The Gnostics boasted in things that were new, but this directive to love was an old commandment for it was "from the beginning". In the upper room the Lord Jesus had introduced it as "a new commandment", giving the demands of the law a new dimension. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (Jn 13.34). The passing of the years had rendered it "an old commandment", but it was still new, still fresh (v.8), because it was still relevant. The need for it had not passed; its truth was not redundant; warm affection was still an essential among the saints. Christ embodied the truth of this commandment; it was supremely exemplified in Him, but John gives his readers credit for meeting its demands too: "which thing is true in him and in you". Could John have written to us, "which thing is true…in you"?

Light and Darkness (vv.8b-11)

The shining of "the true light" is surely a reference to the intervention of the Lord Jesus in this world's affairs (Jn 1.9); with that having taken place, the darkness of ignorance and of sin is "passing away" (v.8, RV). As men are brought into the light by conversion, the frontiers of darkness are being pushed back. The Bible nowhere teaches that the Lord will gradually bring the world under His sway by the spread of the gospel; ultimately He will impose His authority by military conquest (Rev 19.11-16). However, every soul that is turned "from darkness to light" (Acts 26.18) contributes to the darkness "passing away". These dear souls who are now in the light demonstrate the reality of their experience by loving their brethren.

For the third time John says, "He that saith" (v.9). People claiming to be in the light and hating their "brethren" are still in darkness. They have known nothing of the enlightening activity of salvation; they are devoid of eternal life (3.15). By contrast, the persons who love their brethren give evidence that they are abiding in the light (v.10), and there is "none occasion of stumbling" in them. This could mean that their genuine affection ensures that they would never deliberately stumble another believer, but the more likely interpretation is that their disposition leaves them less likely to stumble personally. This is in contrast to those whose bitter hatred makes it obvious that they are still in the darkness, and because they are still in the darkness they have no focus, no sight; they lurch from one failure to the next; they are perpetual moral casualties; in other words, they have never been emancipated from the grip of sin.

The Whole Family of God (vv.12-17)

John was encouraging love, and it was love that prompted him to write to his fellow-believers. He again addresses the whole family of God with this term of affection, "little children", dear children (v.12). These were people who were abiding in the light and proving it in their lives, and so with confidence he says, "your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake". Religious people charge believers with presumption when they claim to be saved and to enjoy forgiveness. It would be presumption if there was any element of personal merit in it, but forgiveness has been imparted "for his name's sake". "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph 4.32). John had already mentioned His precious blood and the propitiation, and therein lies the basis of our blessing, so there is the confident affirmation of forgiveness. That forgiveness is the possession of the whole family of God at whatever stage a believer may be. John is about to highlight three phases of development among God's children. Some are "little children", recently saved and still immature (vv.13,18). Some are "young men", saints who had developed spiritually (vv.13,14). Some are "fathers" (v.13), believers who had been on the Christian pathway for a lengthy period and had attained maturity. A surface lesson is to ask if the passing of time has seen us graduating from one stage of development to the next, or are we static and stunted like the Corinthians (1 Cor 3.1)?

The fathers

John has little to say to these mature believers, except that for a considerable time they had "known him", that is they had come to know Him in what was a saving relationship (vv.13-14). We must never assume that there comes a point when we have "arrived" spiritually, but at the same time a stage can come when fewer exhortations are necessary. It is wonderful to know that elderly believers can "still bring forth fruit in old age" (Ps 92.14).

The young men

With regard to these young men, John's main source of encouragement was that they had "overcome the wicked one" (vv.13-14). They possessed spiritual strength, the first of three statements in v.14. Why were they strong? How had they overcome the wicked one? The central statement gives the answer: "the word of God abideth in you". Allowing God's Word to saturate their minds and fill their hearts and regulate their behaviour gave them spiritual strength, a strength that enabled them to stand in the face of the devil's assaults. We can never overestimate the value of the Scriptures. To neglect them leaves us vulnerable. "The evil day" of temptation with its satanic attack can find us still standing after the smoke of battle has cleared if "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph 6.10-17) has been used effectively,

Having spoken of the young men's victory over the wicked one, John now highlights another of the believer's foes, "the world". He is conscious that even battled-scarred victors can be allured by the enchantments of the world and hence his injunction, "Love not the world" (v.15). The term "the world" can sometimes mean the planet or the people of the world (Acts 17.24; Jn 3.16), but there are times when it means a culture, a life-style, a system that men have developed to make life without God tolerable. Satan is its "prince" (Jn 16.11), and, unwittingly, the men of the world are manipulated by him; "the whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 Jn 5.19, RV). He influences their philosophies, their tastes, and their activities. It is all anti-God and yet dressed up in such a way as to make it magnetic, and hence John's solemn warning, "Love not the world". Family members cannot love both their Father and the world at the same time (v.15). God is never satisfied with divided affections; He demands the unswerving loyalty that is His due. The Father and the world are incompatible.

Nothing connected with "the world" takes character from the Father (v.16), and John specifies three features of the world system that can cripple the believer. As in verse 14, items one and three seem to revolve around item two. The lust of the eyes stokes the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes incites the desire for ostentatious living, "the ostentation of the life" (YLT). It was "the lust of the eyes" that prompted the "lust of the flesh" in Samson; He "saw a woman". He "saw there an harlot" (Judg 14.1; 16.1). It was "the lust of the eyes" that ensnared David. "He saw a woman" (2 Sam 11.2). In an age in which visual images play an enormous part in entertainment, the attitude of Job is apt: "I made a covenant with mine eyes" (Job 31.1). In His teaching, the Lord Jesus linked looking and lusting (Mt 5.28); hence the need to avoid suggestive and provocative reading material, videos, or internet sites.

Advertisers know the value of promoting their products through the eye, and their "must-have" items are presented in a flashy way which appeals to the "pride of life". What we see we covet, not because it is a necessity, but because we are pretentious, and our showy possessions give an illusionary sense of smug contentment! John sees it as worldliness.

His subsequent statement should shatter these illusions of grandeur: "And the world passeth away" (v.17). It is all destined for the flames (2 Pet 3.10-13). But even before that momentous climax, palatial homes become ruins, swanky cars become rusty wrecks, and flamboyant styles become dated. What is the point of loving the world when it is so obviously transient? It is far better to be among those who do "the will of God" and abide for ever. When the world system is finally laid to rest, a body of people will still be in the enjoyment of things that are lasting and eternal. Do we love the world or do we do the will of God? What world are we living for?

To be continued.


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