Love lights the Path

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

That’s a peculiar place to start, don’t you think? 

Don’t be too concerned – sometimes when we bring a phrase into English from an old language that has sentence structures that are unique from modern English things can get clunky. I always try to begin any study of the Bible in the most woodenly literal translation I can find, I also try to read it in at least 3 different translations to get all of the nuance of the text. Literal is helpful in someways, but sometimes literal can sometime trip us up because how John may have structured an idea might be very different from how we would do the same. 

I mean, the same is true in English: trying to literally explain the idea of a “butterfly” – is it a nasty, beady-eyed, buzzing insect landing on a stick of deliciously emulsified milk fat? That’s woodenly true, & absolutely NOT a “butterfly”! So, we need to DIG a little deeper.

So, for this verse, let’s – instead of a “wooden” word-by-word translation – take a glance at a phrase-by-phrase or idea-based translation of the same section:

My dear friends, I’m not writing anything new here. This is the oldest commandment in the book, and you’ve known it from day one. It’s always been implicit in the Message you’ve heard. On the other hand, perhaps it is new, freshly minted as it is in both Christ and you—the darkness fading away and the True Light already blazing!

Wow. That’s GOOD, but I’ll simplify verses 7-8 even more for you;“What I’m about to say ain’t anything new, but I hope putting it in a new light will serve as a helpful reminder of what you already know.

Boom! John is saying of what’s up next: “GUYS! YOU KNOW THIS!” In other words, the next section coming up is “Jesus for Dummies.” If you are a fundamentalist, verse 9-11 are “fundamentals.”

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.

Oh no. Has anyone just been busted? Did any of you just fail Christianity 101? But, what about what I said earlier about translations – maybe it doesn’t have as much bite in another translation? Let’s try that…
The Message translation says; “Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark.

Uh… well, that’s no good. Let’s try another…

the classic – King James Version; “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.

Nope. Still doesn’t sound very good. Friend, it doesn’t sound like there’s much wiggle room here.

In verse 11 John directly expands on this gut-punch: “whoever 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.

Heart check: do you harbor hate for anyone? 

Be honest with yourself because hate is a sly one. Hate likes to justify itself, or pretend that it’s something righteous. Hate masks itself as “discernment” sometimes, which will really trip someone up: that leads to judging someone’s motivations without truly knowing their heart – we do that ALL OF THE TIME, among other things, to people who hold different POLITICAL VIEWS than ours, don’t we? Of course we don’t haha… well, that’s what we tell ourselves, because HATRED…is…SLY. The devil loves it when we feel justified in our hatred, and this is why…it’s right here in verse 10…
Verse 10 gives us the positive side of the equation: “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” 

John is continuing with his “light” analogy here – by loving others well we light their path to better see and follow Jesus! Living in hate, and expressing that hatred, whether vocally in-person, or online by rage-posting on Facebook or other social media sites, or even being passive aggressive or rudely sarcastic with the hopes that the other person or persons will feel the sting – living that way DARKENS THE PATH for others to see Jesus & make their way to Jesus!

The Message translates it this way; “It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others.

Love… lights… the path… to Jesus
. Hate darkens the path, which causes people to stumble. It’s that simple… that’s John’s message here. Pause and sit in that for a minute.

The ONLY room there is for hatred in following Jesus, is hatred of sin, and for the most part that should be hatred of YOUR OWN SIN, because hatred is sly, & it is very very easy to turn hating other people’s sin into hating them, because that’s the sort of game that the devil likes to play with us. So HATE SIN… hate your own sin, and HATE the sin of HATING others!

Why? Because LOVE LIGHTS THE PATH TO JESUS.

Now, let’s unpack that for a minute: 
though I am totally able to “chapter and verse” my way through this statement, for the sake of time I will not right now, but I think it is very safe to say that even the simplest reading of the New Testament makes it very clear that Christianity’s power to change lives doesn’t lie in heaping more and more rules onto people’s shoulders, and with those rules more judgement and criticism, but change comes by lives lived simply in response to LOVE and grace. This is how change happens NOT ONLY WITHIN the church, but OUTSIDE of it. By loving people we light the path to Jesus, and when faced with Jesus that is where genuine change occurs!
Now, what’s next in 1st John seems at first as though we’re suddenly shifting gears, but… not so fast! Let’s take a closer look because there’s always a reason God guided the authors of Scripture to write what they did, & it’s all God-breathed & valuable to us. 

Let’s read 1 John 2:12-14;
I am writing to you, little children,because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.I am writing to you, fathers,because you know him who is from the beginning.I am writing to you, young men,because you have overcome the evil one.I write to you, children,because you know the Father.I write to you, fathers,because you know him who is from the beginning.I write to you, young men,because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,and you have overcome the evil one.

No more hypotheticals. He’s writing to YOU: children, youth, and adults. Whether you are an elder in the faith or a “baby christian”, you are in John’s scope. Wherever you are and whoever you are, if you are in Christ, you are called to WALK IN THE LIGHT. Parts of this section are reflecting back on ideas from chapter one, but parts reflect upon & expound the section immediately before it as well. “Walking in the Light” entails growing in your relational knowledge of God (not just “head knowledge”, but growing as a “friend of God”), confessing sin, accepting God’s forgiveness, overcoming the evil one, and letting God’s word dwell in you.
Eugene Peterson translates that last part of verse 14 as “Your fellowship with God enables you to gain a victory over the Evil One.” What does the evil one want? He wants the path to God thwarted – he wants our hatred to “darken the path”, but LOVE lights the path to Jesus.

Again, this is Christianity 101 – Jesus for Dummies; YOU KNOW THIS… it’s not a new law, but something that goes all the way back to the very Father-heart of God, and is a theme that runs through the whole Bible.
It’s in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 commands us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This should be obvious, however because we’re made in God’s image – we were created to reflect God to one another, & to the world around us. That’s why Jesus takes it to the next level. When he’s asked what the greatest commandment is, he takes two Old Testament commandments and merges them into one. His answer echoes both Deuteronomy 6:5 & Leviticus 19:18 at once; in Luke 10 Jesus put his stamp of approval on the Lawyer’s response, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” In Mark chapter 12 Jesus’ answer to the Scribes mirrors this, saying that the greatest commandment is to love God & love people… but there’s a catch: Jesus says that there’s “no greater commandment.” How can the greatest commandment be two different commandments UNLESS they are one-and-the-same. We love God by loving our neighbor!

And from the moment the early church had launched, even before 1 John had been written, we see this truth with feet on the ground. The church went forth healing the sick, taking in orphans, helping widows – the church recognized the image of God in the most broken, & THEY CAME because LOVE LIT THE WAY. The crooked business men came to Jesus. The prostitutes came to Jesus. The alcoholics came to Jesus… because LOVE LIT THE WAY.

Whether you are young in the faith or have been walking with Jesus most of your life and see the end more clearly in focus than the beginning, remember the greatest commandment – Love God/Love People.

But YOU know this, says John – the one Jesus loved – the youngest disciple, now in his old age, writing to God’s church. He’s encouraging God’s people to keep the faith – love God & love people well.

He writes; Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”…

BUT YOU KNOW THIS, so always keep it close to your heart & live it out: LOVE LIGHTS THE WAY TO JESUS. Love WELL!

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