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Obedience Isn't What It Used to Be (1 John 2:3-11)

Obedience Isn’t What It Used to Be
1 John 2:3-11

Minister’s Summary:
In the world’s fellowship – and under its influence – obedience to the holy was hateful and oppressive. It put boundaries on our selfishness! In heaven’s fellowship of light, obedience to the command “Love one another” is revolutionary to every dimension of our existence.

Exegetical Notes

This text easily breaks down into three sections: (a) 2:3-5a; (b) 2:5b-8; and (c) 2:9-11. The first section is the necessity of obedience, the second is the definition of obedience as love, and the third is the contrast between light (love) and darkness (hate). In each section, John comments on the self-declaration (“I…”) of people in the community. When people in the community say they know God, or they abide in Christ, or that they are in the light, the evidence of the reality of those declarations is found in the lives they live. The below chart illustrates point of each section in relation to these self-declarations in the corresponding three sections of the text. We know that we know God through obedience (2:3).
TextThe one who saysObligationProgression
2:4"I know him"and does not keep his a liarobedience as a test of relationship with God
2:6"I abide in him"ought to walk as he walkedJesus is the standard of obedience
2:9"I am in the light"and hates his brother is still in the darkness. Love as the command to obey

The Necessity of Obedience (2:3-5).

What does it mean to know God? To share his life, to abide in him, to be in the light with him. This is a relational concept of knowledge--to reflect the perfection of God in our own lives, that is, to image him. We know we know God when we see the life of God within us; when we see the fruit of God within us.

Walking in the light is obedience. If we “know God” (that is, have fellowship with him; cf. 1:6), then we keep his commandments (that is, we walk in the light). If we fail to keep his commandments, then we walk in darkness. The parallel between 1:6 and 2:4 is illuminating for understanding the correlation between walking in the light (obedience) and fellowship (knowledge) with God.

1:6 and 2:4 Parlleled
If we say thatThe one who says that
we have fellowship with himI know him
and we walk in darknessand does not keep his commandments
we liehe is a liar
and we do not do the truthand the truth is not in this one

John speaks generally about God and light in 1:6, but interprets this as obedience in 2:4. He will bring light back into the subject through the prism of love in the following sections. Thus, he will fundamentally interpret obedience in terms of love. Consequently, walking in the light is loving God and his family.

And this is assurance--it is how we know we are in God or abide in God. Brown calls this the "Johannine theology of immanence" (p. 283) which is a mutual indwelling. The kind of indwelling that the Father has in the Son and the Son in the Father is offered to God's children. God dwells in them and they in God. The Triune fellowship is offered to the human community.

What is the meaning of God's perfected love in us? The love from God manifested in Jesus Christ is perfected in us when we obey his word, that is, when we love each other. The fullness of the divine immanence is manifested in a community of love between God, ourselves and others.

The New Command: Love One Another (2:6-8).

The claim of God's immanence in a life ("abide in him") is measured in the light of God's own character. The standard of obedience is the walk of Jesus who manifested the light by his own life of love.

What is the oldness of this command? It is "from the beginning." This refers to the beginning of the preaching of the light, from the ministry of Jesus. The church has always proclaimed this command just as it has proclaimed that "God is Light" from the beginning event of the incarnation of the Word of Life.

What is the newness of this command? It is as old as the Mosaic law. But the newness is the present eschatological situation where the darkness is passing way and the light is already shining. It is last hour.

Notice that the "truth" (walking in the light, loving each other, obeying his word) is seen "in him and in you." It is seen in Jesus Christ who revealed God's light/love and it is seen in our participation in the light when we love as he loved or walk as he walked.

Darkness and Light (2:9-11).

Light and hate are mutually exclusive just as love and darkness. Here John explicitly defines what it means to walk in the light. It is to love each other. If we love, we walk in the light. If we hate, we walk in darkness.

Walking in darkness is blindness. When one hates his brother, he cannot lead because he does not know where he is going and he does not understand the light. He does not understand God. He does not recognize the God who is light. Consequently, while the blind person will stumble, the one who loves will not.

Theological Perspectives

What does it mean to walk in the light as he is in the light? It means obedience. But obedience is not perfectionism or compliance with a set of abstract rules. Rather, it is a life of love. To love is to obey. We know that we walk in the light when we love each other as God, who is light, has loved us. We know that we walk in the light when we obey the command to love because God is love. Love is light and light is love. To walk in the light is to perfect the love of God within us by loving each other.

The embodiment of this love and walk in the light is Jesus himself. He is the standard of life lived in the light. He is the standard of love. When we walk as he walked, loved as he loved, then we walk in the light. God’s love is demonstrated and revealed in Jesus. He is the Word of Life who reveals the love of God and the nature of the fellowship within God. The fellowship between the Father and Son is love, and therefore the fellowship of humanity with God is located in the experience of this love which overflows to loving others.

This is the newness of the command—it is embodied, located, demonstrated and lived out in Jesus Christ. It is an old command—it has been God’s intention from the beginning (that humanity love humanity), but it is a new command in the sense that there is a new experience, demonstration in Jesus. Something has changed. The world is different after the coming of Jesus and the revelation of the love of God he offers. The light has entered the darkness, and the darkness is passing away. A new era has dawned, and the light is encroaching on the reign of the darkness and dispelling it.

Consequently, to fellowship God and walk a life of love is to have the love of God perfected in us. We are become like God when the love of God works on the inside to shape us into his own love and that love blossoms (is perfected) in our relationship with others. Thus, we love each other. When God’s love is perfected in us—when it is present, experienced and given—there is no stumbling block in us and we see because the light illuminates the path. We experience the God of love through loving others and through loving others we know that we walk in the light.

This is the mark of true discipleship (John 13:35-36), and it is the fundamental command—to love each other. It distinguishes between light and darkness. Where there is no love, there is darkness, because God is love and he is light. Wherever hate is, God is not. Whoever hates is lost in the darkness and cannot see the truth that God is love. Darkness debilitates.

Teaching Particulars

Function of Text: The test that we truly know (have genuine fellowship) God is obedience to God's command to love one another.

Theology: Walking in the light means to love each other as Christ has loved us, and this is the command he gave us from the beginning.

Application: We know God when we see the light of God shining in our communities through loving each other.

Teaching Outline: The Obedient Lifestyle

1. Who knows God? Is it the one who knows about God? Is it the accumulation of knowledge? Show me the person who knows God, who truly enjoys the communion of light in a walk with God. Show me the person who has a genuine relationship with God.

2. That person is an obedient person. Obedience is the lifestyle that truly reflects a walk with God. It is a walk that walks as Jesus walked. We walk in the light with Jesus. Christ is the model of our obedience.

3. But obedience here is not the completion of a list of commands. Obedience is not a checklist of 614 commands. Rather, obedience is loving each other. It is a lifestyle of love. The one who truly knows God is not the one who knows the most about God but who loves as God has loved in Jesus Christ.

4. This is the light that shines in the darkness. This is the dawning of the coming age. Love dispels the darkness and the community of God shines the light of God in the world through loving each other.

Questions for Discussion:

1. What is “obedience” in this text? “Obey his commands….obey his word…new command.” How do verses 9-11 give content to the new command and to the nature of obedience?

2. What does it mean to say that the love of God is perfected in us? What does that look like? How is that experienced?

3. What is the new command even though it is old? What is the new/old contrast about in this text? What is different in the light of 1:1-4 that makes everything new?

4. In your own experience, how do love and hate shape our experience and distinguish good and evil? Share from your experience of how hate/love make a difference in the revelation of God in your circumstances and life?

5. How is assurance genuinely assuring in this text? How do we know that we walk in the light? Obedience? How do we know we obey enough? Love? How do we know that we love authentically?


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