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The Priority of Love

Tom Pennington • 1 John 2:7-8

  • 2022-01-09 AM
  • 1 John
  • Sermons

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It was July of 1967, when John Lennon wrote a song that was then recorded and released as a single by The Beatles. The song was entitled, "All You Need Is Love." The song was written for the first live global television event broadcast via satellite watched by over four-hundred million people in twenty-five countries. Many of us have heard the song; you know, the lyrics didn't take long to write. Lennon's simple lyrics were an attempt to capture the utopian ideals of what was dubbed, "The Summer of Love." The single topped the charts in the U.K. and the U.S. and many other places around the world, and his song really became an anthem for the counterculture and its embrace of the philosophy that was encapsulated and championed at the "Summer of Love."

Sadly, I think that's how many people still think about love. Most people in our world have a very fuzzy idea of love and what it is. If they think about it at all, it tends to be either something sentimental or something romantic or something sexual, and that's where it ends, "All You Need is Love." I actually like Charles Schultz's response, the creator of Peanuts, he wrote, "All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."

The question, though, if all we need is love, and there's an element of truth to that, by the way, what exactly is love? You see, Lenin had a terribly flawed definition of love, as does most of the world around us.

And the other question is, not only what is it, but how do we actually learn as selfish, sinful, fallen human beings, to love others? If you've read anything on the internet, you have the perfect formula for learning how to love others. The answer you'll hear is like that of Katy Perry, "First and foremost, self-love, and then give love away." Or Scarlett Johansson, "I'm just a big believer in you must love yourself before you can love anybody else. And I think for me, that breeds the most inspired relationships."

Clearly, our world has no concept of what love is. They understand something of the reality that love is a huge priority in the life of us who've been made in the image of God, but they have no idea what that love looks like. The truth is, the Scriptures teach us that holy love is at the heart of our faith. In fact, listen to Jonathan Edwards. He writes:

It is doubtless true and evident from the Scriptures that the essence of all true religion (Listen to that expression.). The essence of all true religion lies in holy love. (He goes on.) And that in this divine affection and a habitual disposition to it, and that light which is the foundation of it, and those things which are the fruits of it, consists the whole of religion.

Is that how you think about your faith? When you think about your faith in Jesus Christ, do you think as Edwards said, "That the essence of it is a holy love?"

Well, that's exactly what John the Apostle wants us to learn from our text this morning. Let me just remind you of what we've seen so far by overview. The theme of this first letter written by the Apostle John is, "The Tests of Eternal Life." Chapter 5, verse 13, puts it like this, "These things I have written to you so that (for this purpose,) you may know that you have eternal life." Christ designed this book, the Spirit inspired this book, and John wrote this book to help you gain a personal assurance of your salvation.

Now, there are two images that help us understand the structure. As I've said to you before, it's a hard book to outline; it's a hard book to follow exactly the flow of thought. But two images help us understand the structure. The first one I've said, it's like the musical themes in a symphony that the composer returns to again and again; but each time he returns to that same musical theme in the symphony, he does so with distinct variations. 1 John's like that. It's also like a spiral staircase and the three tests of eternal life hang down the center of that spiral staircase. And as the letter unfolds, John walks around that spiral staircase; and from different vantage points, he examines those three themes or those three tests. And as it would be in the Spirit's providence, there are three tests hanging down the middle of that staircase, and John the Apostle walks around, looking at those three tests three times. So that's the structure of this book. There are three cycles or three turns around the staircase or there are three movements in the symphony.

We're studying the first movement or the first cycle. After the prologue in the first four verses of this letter, you get to cycle one, the first set of tests of eternal life. It begins in chapter 1, verse 5, runs to chapter 2, verse 27. We've learned and studied the first test; it is "Obedience to Jesus Christ, and His Word." It begins in chapter 1, verse 5, runs through chapter 2, verse 6.

The second test is "Love for God and His People," chapter 2, verse 7, through verse 17. And the third test in this first cycle is, "Faith in Jesus Christ and His Gospel." It begins in chapter 2, verse 18.

So today then, having finished that first test of "Obedience to Christ and His Word," we come to the second test in this first movement, or this first pass around the staircase, and it is, "The Social Test-Love for God and His People." Let's read a portion of it together; the portion that we're going to look at initially. 1 John, chapter 2, and I'll read verses 7 through 11.

Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Now, as we begin this paragraph, as we begin to look at the test here, let me sort of put it in this form. If I were to take the entire section, the verses we just read all the way down through verse 17, I would summarize it like this. You can know that you have eternal life, you can know that you're a true Christian because you have a new love for God and a new love for others. This is the test. Now this paragraph unfolds, I'll give you sort of the roadmap we're going to look at together, it unfolds in two basic parts.

First of all, in verses 7 and 8, we have "The Divine Priority of Love," and that's, Lord willing, what we'll examine today. The second part begins in verse 9 and runs down through verse 17. It's, "The Believer's Commitment to Love." If you're a true Christian, you're going to love and that commitment to love comes in two expressions or two ways. First of all, in verses 9 through 11, we just read together, this new love will show itself in, "Love for Others." And then in verses 12 to 17, this new love, this new commitment to love is going to show itself also, in loving God. So that's the roadmap of where we're headed.

Let's begin today with, "The Divine Priority of Love" in verses 7 and 8. Let's read it again just so you get the framework for what we're studying, verse 7:

Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.

So here, John begins by introducing us to this "Divine Priority of Love," and he begins by telling us that this priority is, in fact, an old command. That's the message of verse 7; it's an old command. Notice how he begins, "Beloved." That's obviously an appropriate way for him to start an admonition about love, right? "You are loved," he says, just before he tells us that we are to love others.

Now, John uses this expression "beloved" often in his letter. It really points to two great realities. It points to John's love for his readers. John says. "You are beloved, brothers and sisters, I love you." By the way, John wasn't just saying that to those in the first century he was writing to. He knew, as the Apostles did, they were writing not only for the disciples alive then, but for the disciples who would live after them. You remember even in the High Priestly Prayer in John, 17, Jesus prayed, and John recorded it. Jesus prayed for those who "will believe in Me through their words." So, John says, down through the centuries to those of us gathered here and those listening, "You are beloved, I love you, I'm concerned about you."

But not only is it John's love included in this word 'beloved,' but it's God's love for His people. You are beloved not only by John, but by God. Paul uses it this way, for example, in Romans 1:7, he says of all Christians, you "are beloved of God." Ephesians 5:1, "…be imitators of God, (as His) beloved children." So, this passage comes to us, not as a whip to beat us, but it comes from the love of the Father and the love of the Son to those of us who follow Him, "Beloved."

Now, notice how he begins, verse 7, "…I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment." Now first of all, remember the context. Back in verses 3 and 4, John just told us that every true Christian keeps God's commands, plural. Now he emphasizes one of those commands, the command that stands above all other commands. Also in verse 6, he just said that a true Christian walks as Jesus walked. And of course, Jesus walked in love, so you see how this connects, "Obey God's commands." Well, here's one, and here's one that stands above all others you need to pay attention to.

And notice, this command is an old command. The word 'old' refers to that which has existed for a long time; it can even be used of that, which is ancient. I think John is intentionally here making a contrast between the new teaching of the false teachers and the pre-Gnostics that he's writing against, and his own teaching which he says, "The truths, I'm teaching you, have existed for a long time."

So, what is this old commandment, verse 7, which is also a new commandment in verse 8? What is it? You'll notice as we read verses 7 and 8, he doesn't tell us. Nowhere in those two verses does he say what the command is. However, in the context, it's clear that he's referring to the command to love because in verses 9 through 11, that's exactly where he goes, "You must love," you must love. Also, the Greek words translated 'new commandment' in both verses 7 and 8, are the exact same words that Jesus uses in John 13, when He gives us the command to love. Also, if there's any doubt left in your mind, John makes it crystal clear in his second letter. Go to 2 John, verse 5; 2 John 5:

Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, (And here he tells us what it is.) that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

So, the command is the command to love.

And John says in verse 7, "It's not new. Instead, it's old." Now, in what sense is the command to love old? Well, there are a couple of senses. First of all, when he says it's old, it's old because love is eternally an attribute of God; God is love. In fact, look at chapter 4; 1 John 4, verse 7:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; (Love is out of God. All true love finds its origin in God.) and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, (And here it's stated plainly.) for God is love.

In chapter 1, verse 5, he says, "God is Light," that is, God is holy, this is who God is, this is what His nature is. And now, he adds, "He is love."

So, what exactly do we mean, or what did John mean when he said, "God is love?" What is love? Well, there are a number of definitions we could look at together, but listen to Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology in describing the love of God, he writes this, "It is that perfection of God by which He is eternally moved to self-communication." In other words, to reach out beyond Himself to others. There is in God this quality that drives Him to reach out and care for others. Cottrell puts it this way, "God's love is His self-giving affection for His image bearing creatures and His unselfish concern for their well-being that leads him to act on their behalf, and for their happiness and welfare."

That's who God is.; God is that. God is moved by self-giving affection and unselfish concern for the well-being of others. That is the heart of God. Isn't it ironic that that is the very thing that Satan challenged Eve with in the garden, to doubt that reality about God? "God is actually not looking out for your wellbeing, Eve; He's holding out on you." And let's just be honest, that's the temptation that Satan has used for thousands of years, and it still works.

Because God is love, His love is not separate from His other attributes; it is marked by all of His other attributes. In other words, God's love is holy, it's sovereign, it's infinite, it's eternal, it's faithful, and so on with the attributes of God. His love doesn't stand alone. It is intertwined with the other things that are true about God.

Because God is love, He demonstrates love in all of his relationships. Think about this for a moment, the members of the Trinity, one God, three persons, the three persons in the Trinity love one another. This is where love comes from. In Matthew 3, verse 17, you remember at the baptism of Christ, a voice came out of the heavens and said, What? "…This is the Son I love. Listen to Him." (Paraphrase.). Jesus expressed the same thing toward the Father in John, 14 31. He says, "…so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me." Jesus says, "I love the Father;" the Father says, "I love the Son." (Paraphrase.)

Now, the love within the Trinity is an eternal self-giving, self-sacrificing love. This is the nature of God. In fact, think about this, in eternity past, the Father was moved to express His love for the Son so that He gave the Son a gift of a redeemed humanity that would ever love Him and praise Him. So, the members of the Trinity love one another.

Now, God's love in Himself, the love for the other members of the Trinity, first of all, it's not selfish. A lot of people think, you know, "Well, God loves Himself," as if that's some selfish thing. No, remember there are three persons, God, the Father loves the Son; God, the Son loves the Father. And so, there is this same unselfish quality as they relate to one another. But God's love for the other members of the Trinity is necessary theologians would say. In other words, it can't be otherwise because He wouldn't be God if He didn't do that.

On the other hand, God's love for us, God's love for His creatures is free, voluntary, unobligated. In other words, God could still be God and not choose to create humanity and not choose to love them. But He freely chose to direct His love outside of Himself. Once He decided to create other beings, He was compelled to love by His own character because He is love. So, God loves the other members of the Trinity, God loves all of His people, or I should say all people, God loves all people. This is what the Scriptures teach.

Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, verses 43 to 48 says, "…love your enemies, do good to your enemies, (Why?) so that you can be like your Father who loves His enemies, and He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust; He causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good." (Paraphrase.)

As I've said to you before, if you doubt God's universal love for mankind, go next time it rains, go see if there's rain falling in your neighbor's yard who doesn't love Christ. No, Christ's point is God's love is as universal as the sun and the rain. And in John 3:16, His love is shown in sending His Son to reconcile the world to Himself.

John Calvin, no slouch on the sovereignty of God which of course we believe in strongly, he said of John 3:16, "Here is the evidence of God's universal love for the world, for mankind, and in making a genuine offer of the gospel to all men." God loves all people, but, and don't miss this, God especially loves His own people. He loves them with a unique, special love. In fact, look at chapter 3; 1 John 3, verse 1, "See how great a love (a different kind of love altogether) the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are."

There is obviously a special different kind of love. God doesn't adopt everyone, He loves all men, but He has a special, unique, compelling, driving, eternal love for His own, those whom He has adopted and made His own. In Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 4 and 5, it says, "… (The Father) chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world." There is unconditional election. You can study that passage; I've preached a number of messages on that first part of Ephesians 1, if you're unclear about that.

But "… (the Father) chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him." Why? Why did God choose you? Why did God choose me? Listen to the next words, "In love, He predestined us (He predetermined our destiny.) to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself." What drove Him to do it? His love, His unconditional love. He chose! Christian, don't miss this, don't miss the encouragement this is. Yes, God loves all people on this planet, but He loves you in a unique, profound way. He loves you with a special, everlasting love, with an eternal love; He loves you like He loves His one-of-a-kind, only Son.

As we learned in Chapter 1, verse 5, God is Light or holy; and therefore, once we come to know Him, we, as His children, will begin to manifest that same quality of light or holiness. Well, here in Chapter 2, we're learning that God is love, and therefore, as we come to truly know Him, as we see His character, as we reflect His character, we also will begin to love. Yeah, love is old, the command of love is old, it's as old as God Himself.

We can also say that the command to love is old because love has always been the greatest commandment. Once God created mankind, this command has been around. Go back to Deuteronomy, chapter 6. You're familiar with this passage, the 'Shema,' recited by Orthodox Jews every day to this day. Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 1. As Moses recounts the giving of the Law and summarizes the giving of the Law here in Deuteronomy 6:1, he says this, "Now this is the commandment," notice singular, this is the commandment, one command. The statutes and the judgments are appositives. In other words, there's one commandment and that one commandment is fleshed out in statutes and judgments. What is 'the commandment?' Well, read this text and the first commandment you come to down in verse 4, "Hear, O Israel! (Yahweh) is our God, (Yahweh) is one!" Great statement of monotheism, and "You shall love (Yahweh) your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." There it is, the commandment. That's a summary of God's Law. All the statutes and judgments are just fleshing out love. "Love God, Love God!"

Loving others has also always been around as long as there's been God's Law. Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18 says, "…you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am (Yahweh)." Now, if those texts are bringing something else to mind, that's good, because our Lord brought those two passages together, Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. He brought them together in answer to a question in Matthew 22. Turn there with me, Matthew 22. It's Tuesday of the Passion Week. Jesus has essentially taken over the Temple Mount. He's not allowing the buyers and the sellers to be there. He's not allowing people to carry merchandise through the Temple Mount, and He's teaching the people. And in that context, the leaders of the nation are trying to stump Him. They're trying to ask Him questions that will cause Him to get Himself in enough trouble to be arrested or even to be killed. Verse 34, here's one of the questions:

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"

Now, stop there for a moment because you have to understand that, in that first century context, there was a raging battle, a theological battle as they tried to sort out what were the weighty commandments in the Law, they had separated the law into 614 commands, and they said, "Which are the really important ones, the weighty ones and which are the light ones, sort of the unimportant?"

And so, this question is, "What is the weightiest of all?" Verse 37:

(Jesus) said to him, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOU MIND." This is the great (the weightiest) and (the first, literally) …commandment (the foremost, the chief one, the primary one, and) The second is like it (Jesus volunteers more than he asks.) "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." (And He quotes Leviticus 19:18, He brings these passages together, and Jesus says, "You want to know the important commands? Here's number one, and here's number two," and then look at what He says in verse 40.) "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Paraphrase.) Now, whole law and prophets is shorthand for the Hebrew scriptures. The Law described the first five books, the books of Moses; the Prophets, everything else. That's how they use this in contemporary expression. And so, Jesus basically says, take the entire Old Testament and summarize it in these two commands. This is it; this is your duty, "Love God and love others."

By the way, the Ten Commandments are structured in the same way. The first four explain how we are to love God, an outline of our love for God; and the final six are an outline of how we are to love others. This is an old commandment. Look at Romans, chapter 13, we studied this together; Romans 13, verse 8, Paul writes:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in the saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.

If you want to keep God's Law, every one of the commands, you need to know what those commands are specifically. But if you want to know what that is in the large sweeping terms, it's love God and love others.

In Galatians, chapter 5, verse 14, Paul writes, "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'" No wonder Jonathan Edwards, whom I quoted a few minutes ago, said this, "Love is the sum of all virtue," love is the sum of all virtue. This is an old commandment. It's old because it reflects God's eternal character, and it's old because it has always been God's priority for mankind.

But it's also an old command for us for a third reason, and that is because love has been the priority for us since our salvation. Go back to our text, back to 1 John, chapter 2, and this is really the focus of verse 7, "Beloved, I'm not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which (Notice what he says.) you have had (The tense of the verb he uses there has the idea of you have continually possessed.) from the beginning." (From the beginning, meaning from the beginning when you first truly heard and responded to the gospel, in other words, from your salvation.).

Look at chapter 3, verse 11, "For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." From the beginning of your Christian life, you've known this. Chapter 4, verse 21, "And this commandment we have from Him (God), that the one who loves God should love his brother also." We've received that; this is an old commandment because it's one that Christians have heard from the very beginning of their Christian lives. In fact, what John is saying to his first century readers is, "Part of the ethical instruction that you received from the day of your salvation was to love." It was not, as the heretics claimed, some command that John and the other Apostles invented. We'll look next week, Lord willing, briefly at how the false teachers and their followers treated other people. It was completely contrary to this. John says, "Listen, this command to love is not something new I invented. This is an old command.

And then he adds in verse 7, "…the old commandment is the word which you have heard." Literally, "the commandment is the 'Logos' which you have heard." The command to love, he says, is as old as the gospel itself. It was woven into 'The Word,' the 'logos,' the basic apostolic message of the gospel that you responded to. You say, "Wait a minute, how was the command to love part of the gospel that I believed?" Well, think about it like this, the gospel is a message about God's love for us in reconciling us to Himself through Jesus Christ, through His life, death and resurrection. And when we learn about God's love for us, what does it cause us to do? To love in response. Chapter 4, verse 19, "We love, because He (What?) first loved us." The gospel is about the love of God in Christ, reconciling us to Himself through His death on the cross, paying for our sins, and when we hear that message, when we understand that message, when we believe that message, we love in response; we can't help ourselves. "We love because He first loved us."

You can't repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ without loving God and loving His people because you have become the recipient of amazing love. That's why Jesus said about the woman in Luke's gospel, "She loves much because she has (What?) been forgiven much." The more you understand what you have been forgiven, the more you love in response. So, it's an old command in the sense that it's an attribute of God; It's always been God's primary command of us, and it's a command that we have known, and we've known to be a priority since the day we were saved.

At the same time that it is an old command, verse 8 tells us it is also a new command. Verse 8 says, "On the other hand." John isn't contradicting himself here, you know, John wasn't dumb. He understands what he just wrote in the previous verse. Instead, he's making a separate point. He's saying there's a sense in which the command to love is old, and we've seen that together, but there's also a sense in which it is new. Verse 8, "…I am writing a new commandment to you." Now, as we did with the idea of it being old, we deal with the idea of it being new. We need to ask the question, "In what sense is the command to love new?"

Well, it's new because of what God did in Jesus Christ; it's new because of what God did in Jesus Christ. Notice what he says in verse 8. He says this is "a new commandment," and the newness of this command is, "true in (Notice the capital letter.) Him." It's because it's a reference to Jesus Christ; "It's true in Christ."

Now first of all, notice the word 'true.' In the New Testament, this word often means true as opposed to false. But sometimes, including here, it means 'genuine or real as opposed to fake.' The command to love is a new command in the sense that the world has now seen real, genuine "love in Him," in Jesus Christ. We now understand love as we never understood it before. And that's true; it's what God did in Christ to make this love clear and obvious. Let's take that apart a little bit.

What did God do in Christ to make this love look new to us? First of all, "Jesus Powerfully Demonstrated Love by His Life and His Death." He powerfully demonstrated love by his life and death. I mean, think about it. That was the first and only time in human history when God's commands to love Him and to love others were actually kept in a human life.

Jesus demonstrated love in His life and ministry. Read the New Testament, read the gospels. Jesus loved unbelievers, He loved unbelievers. I mean, think about He wept over the city of Jerusalem, think about how He prayed for the people of Jerusalem, think about His interaction with the rich young ruler in Mark 10, verse 21, it's said about Him after He shares the gospel with the rich young ruler, tells him he needs to repent and puts his finger on the issue, which was greed and that man's life, and the man went away saying, "No thanks, I don't really want what you're offering because he had much property." (Paraphrase.) No evidence that guy ever came to faith, and yet, Mark, 10: 21 says, "…Jesus felt a love for him." He felt a love for him, He loved unbelievers; you see that throughout His ministry, He loved those in need, and I don't need to prove that to you, just read the Gospels, it's on every page. People with spiritual needs, people with physical needs, Jesus's heart of compassion was moved, He loved them. He even loved His enemies. I mean, what better demonstration of that could you have than,, when on the cross, He says, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing."

He, of course, loved His disciples, most of all. I love the way the Upper Room Discourse begins in John 13:1, where we read this, "…Jesus knowing that His hour had come (and) that He would depart out of this world to the Father, (Listen to this.) having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." He loved them, not to the end of His life, but to the 'telos,' to the maximum, to the nth degree. He loved them as much as was possible for the heart of God to love. He demonstrated love in His life and ministry, and of course, He demonstrated love most of all in His death.

Look at chapter 3; 1 John 3, verse 16, "We know love by this, (Here's how we really know what love is like.) …He laid down His life for us." That's how we learn what real Godly Holy Love looks like. Look at chapter 4, verse 9:

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

It's like what Paul says in Romans, chapter 5, God loved us, and God didn't love us when we were good, when we were worthwhile people worthy of being loved. He loved us when we were sinners when we were rebels. And "God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, (Romans 5:8.) Christ died for us." Listen, we see love in the Old Testament. We see love in godly relationships, but we never saw love like we saw it in the life of Jesus Christ. It's new because now we see it. It's in full HD. Jesus powerfully demonstrated love by His life and death.

This command to love is new because, "Jesus Also Clearly Explained and Reemphasized Love in His Teaching," He explained and reemphasized love in His teaching. He made it a renewed priority for His people. Look at John, chapter 13. In the Upper Room Discourse, the very center of His time with His disciples, He says this in John 13, verse 34:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all men will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.

Jesus explains it; He re-emphasizes it; it's an old command, but it's new, and He explains it to us in a new and profound way. Chapter 15, verse 12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." Verse 17, "This I command you, that you love one another." So, He explained it, He re-emphasized it. It's new in that way in Jesus Christ.

But there's another way it's new in Christ, and that is, "He Completely Raised the Standard of Love," He raised the standard; He raised it in quality. Did you hear what I just read? You remember Leviticus 19:18? "Love your neighbor (What?) as yourself." What did Jesus just say in John, 13? "Love your neighbor as I have loved you." Those are two different things. He raised the standard hugely.

He also raised it in extent. You see, the first century teachers had taken that command and said, "Well, your neighbor, it's really somebody you like, somebody like you and somebody you like." And Jesus says, "No, you've misunderstood the whole thing." In Luke, chapter 10, He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. And in that story, the point is Jesus redefines 'neighbor,' and he redefines neighbor as anybody God sovereignly brings across your path. You're to love them. In other words, there's nobody excluded! Nobody, even your enemies! We are to love everyone, regardless of race, position, background, circumstances, etcetera. The command to love is now new in the sense that real genuine love has been demonstrated and explained as never before in the life, teaching, and death of Jesus Christ.

But it's also new because of what "God Has Done in Believers." And this is shocking! It's not only new because what God has done in Christ, but it's new because of what God has done in believers. Look at verse 8, and He says, not only is it "true (or real) in Him," but it's also real or true "in you." The command to love is new because it has now been demonstrated in a real and genuine way in us. You say, "How has it been demonstrated in us?" Let me just give you a couple of thoughts.

First of all, it's been demonstrated in us in that in love, the Father saved us and adopted us as His children. In other words, we've experienced that love. We just saw it in chapter 3, verse 1, "…how great a love the Father has bestowed (upon) us, that we should be called children of God."

Secondly, at our salvation, the Spirit shed the knowledge of God's love abroad in our hearts. Not only did He love us, but He has helped us understand that love. Look at chapter 3, I John, chapter 3, verse 16. It says, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us." We have come to know love by what He's accomplished in us, and we have come to understand that love. In Romans, chapter 5, verse 5, Paul writes, "…the love of God (That is a knowledge of God's love for us.) has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." You understand God's love; you know God's love through the gospel and through what you know about what Christ has done.

And thirdly, our knowledge of God's saving love produces love in our own hearts through the work of the Spirit. In other words, as you hear about God's love, as you see God's love, as you see the love of Christ carried out for you in the gospel, then you love in response. Chapter 4, verse 19, "We love, because He first loved us." Galatians 5:22, "The fruit of the Spirit is love." When the Spirit comes and He sheds the love of God abroad in your heart, that is, He helps you understand God's love for you, He in turn produces a response of love in your heart for God and others.

1 Thessalonians 4:9, "…as to the love of the brethren, (Listen to this.) you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another." It's part of your new nature. It's part of the work of the Spirit. Examine the New Testament, and you will discover that a true Christian loves God, loves Jesus Christ, loves his or her Christian brothers and sisters, loves spouse and children, loves neighbors, even loves enemies. Love marks the true Christian! With our conversion, the command to love becomes new in the sense that it now becomes suddenly the same priority for us that it's always been for God. That's what happens when the Spirit helps us understand God's love; and seeing that love, we love in response and the Spirit stokes and inflames that love. The command to love is new. It's new now in the sense that real, genuine love has been demonstrated in what God has done in Christ and what He's done in believers.

Notice verse 8 goes on to say, "…because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining." Now, let me just admit to you that that last expression is a very difficult one to interpret. But there are two primary possibilities. The first is this, it could be describing what happens in the heart of every believer. In the heart of believers, darkness is gradually passing away and true light is increasingly shining, is the idea with this. In other words, in progressive sanctification as you are made more and more like Christ, the darkness is slowly passing away and the light is progressively shining more and more in your heart. It's not totally gone, but the Light, the Light of love, love for God and love for others is gradually dispelling the darkness. That could be what John means, and certainly that's true.

But the end of verse 8 could also be referring to the change that's happened in our present experience. We have come to enjoy the quality, a quality, the quality of love, of the life to come. Think of it like this, Christ has delivered us from this present evil age, Galatians 1:4 says, "We've already begun to experience the age to come." (Paraphrase.) Do you understand that as a believer, you've got one foot in this age and you've got another foot in the age to come, and there are things in you that don't mark this age; there are things in you that mark the age to come, and one of those is love.

And so, if this is what John means, he means the darkness of this present evil age is passing away because the true or genuine Light, our Lord Jesus Christ, is already shining. As one author puts it, "The new command remains new because it belongs to the new age which has been ushered in by the shining of the true Light." Regardless, don't miss the main point of the end of verse 8, and that is, there is a significant change going on because of the work of God in producing true love in the hearts of believers. Those are amazing verses. And notice, he hasn't even gotten to the test yet; he's just laying out the priority of love--It's an old command; it's a new commandment

What are the lessons that we learn from these two verses we've studied today? Let me give you three of them very quickly. Number one, it's a timeless command; love is a timeless command. It's an old command that is a reflection of God's eternal character, it's an old command that summarizes the entire Old Testament scriptures; but it's a new command freshly seen, freshly explained, freshly emphasized by our Lord.

Second lesson, and this plays out of the first one. Love is the greatest command to you and must be your highest priority. It's always been, it always will be the main thing. Now look folks, we're a Bible church and you know I love the Scripture; we sang about our love for the Scripture this morning. But if all you do is love the truth and love knowing the truth, and it never goes any further than that, if you think that truth without genuine love for God and His people is enough, you need to compare Christ's letter to the Ephesian Church in Revelation 2. There's a church that they got the truth, they love the truth, they taught the truth, they defended the truth. But Jesus says, "You lack love., and if you don't change, I'm going to take away your life, I'm going to take away the lamp stand, and you're going to stop being a church."

Look at 1 Timothy, I have to show you this, 1 Timothy, chapter 1. In verses 3 and 4, Paul begins by saying, "Timothy, listen, I left you there in Ephesus so that you could correct all the false teaching, there's a lot of fruitless speculation, things that don't produce anything." (Paraphrase.) Now look at verse 5, "But the goal of our instruction is (What?) love." So why do you sit in a service like this, why do you listen to me teach for however long I've taught, why do you go to Bible studies, and why do you read your Bible, and why do you go to Sunday School classes? "The goal of our instruction is love;" not so you can accumulate more information. It's not so you can wow and impress your friends in Bible Trivia. "The goal of our instruction is love (Notice what he says.) from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." You better get used to the idea that love is God's greatest command to you, and it must be your highest priority, "the goal of the instruction is love!" That means, the goal of this Book is love!

That brings me to lesson number three. Love is a test. It's a test of your faith. If you say that you love the truth, you love the Bible, you love theology, you love doctrine, you love accumulating information. You say, "Yes, I try to live a reasonably righteous life, you know, I don't smoke, and I don't chew, and I don't run with girls that do." If you say all of those things are true, but you don't truly love God and His people, and people generally like He does, you're not a Christian. Let me say that again, you are not a Christian, because remember, there are three tests in 1 John, and those three tests are not multiple choice. They're like a three-legged stool. If you remove any of them, then your entire claim to be a Christian, collapses in a pile of worthless rubble. Or, to use Jesus's image at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, you'll get to the judgment and your claim to be a Christian will be swept away like a flood. So, the question I have to ask myself and that you have to ask yourself is this, "Do you love? Do you love God? And do you love people, the people He sovereignly and providentially brought into your life? Do you love them?" Over the next couple of weeks, we're all going to get a chance to take that test in a little more thorough form.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for your eternal love. It amazes us that you've set your love upon us in eternity past, that you've loved us through this life, and your love will usher us into your eternal presence. And thank you, Father, that because you are love and because you have loved us, you have, by your Spirit, produced a response to your love in us. And that response is to love you and love others. Father, for all of us who, however imperfectly, can look at our lives and say, "Yes, that's true," use this study to give us assurance, to give us confidence that we really belong to Christ.

But, Father, for those who are here who have to admit already, even with this overview of the test, that they just don't pass, they don't really have love; they're self-consumed, they don't have love for you, they don't have love for the people in their lives, Lord, help them to see they need to repent and believe in you so that they, even today, can experience, they can experience the adoption of sons. Help them to repent of their sins and put their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ and come to truly know you, to be changed into a person who loves like you love. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.

1 John