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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 104 – 1 John 2:7-8
Keeping the new commandment

What is your memory like? I hope it is better than mine, which is not improving either, but that is because of old age!
John is very anxious that neither the folk he was writing to and talking to, nor us 2000 years later, should forget one very important thing. So he says, ‘Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.’ in 2: 7,8. What is he referring to? It is not hard to see that his back reference is to John 15: 12, where we read, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’

At first sight there seems to be something strange here. Why did Jesus seem to suggest that their love should be extended to their brothers and sisters in the faith and not, it would seem, to anyone else. We can work this out by considering the different levels of difficulty in loving (that is placing someone else’s needs and requirements above our own). Consider the levels of difficulty we face in loving others from least to greatest like this:

1. Jesus – who wouldn’t love him? He places no burdens upon us and lifts many from us.
2. Family members – well most of the time and not perhaps including the more awkward ones who will need perhaps to go into category 5.
3. Nice fellow believers – these are our closest friends, they share our general outlook on life and we have a great affinity with them.
4. Nice people generally – many people, neighbours, colleagues at work and friends are very nice and easy to get on with.
5. Difficult believers – unfortunately they do exist. Perhaps life or illness or age has made them difficult.
6. Difficult people generally – as with the last category, only more so because there is no basic affinity with them, which make getting on with them more difficult.
7. Our enemies – oh dear. Did you really have to tell us to love them, Jesus (I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matt 5: 44). We do wish you hadn’t!

Both John and Jesus knew very well that this commandment is not at all easy for most people. So they were not expecting every one to go straight to number 7 – much better to start at the beginning and ask people to love those in categories 1, 2 and 3. Then it would not be too difficult to tackle 4 and 5. 6 should follow on from that and then 7 would be possible only after that.
Of course, the obvious thing I am going to do next is to ask where you are in this sequence. Where are you?
As we move through the categories our attitudes will inevitably change, real affection will, or should, colour our approach to 1, 2 and 3. After that it is more a matter of treating people as if they were in those easier categories even when they are not. Take the really difficult guy at work. How do you treat him? Are you the first to greet him in the morning although you know you will only get a grunt or a growl in exchange? If you do it long enough you may be surprised that eventually his resistance will begin to crumble and he will become a much nicer person, to you anyway.
There is much to think of here. We so easily skip over commands of Jesus like this one, ‘loving people’, as if they are not there. But they are and we are meant to obey them!

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