A. Darkness and Light
Cockroaches love the darkness. So do termites, slugs, and most kinds of mold and fungus. Some really disgusting stuff thrives in places where there is no light. Similarly, people who do evil deeds love the darkness (compare 1 Thessalonians 5:7). Physical darkness may hide misdeeds. Spiritual darkness is both the cause and increasing result of sin.
But God’s people are to live in the light. When we live lives of love, we walk in the light. We have nothing to hide. We do not stumble in spiritual darkness. We are not corrupted by the love
of the world and the lusts of the world. We gladly choose the ways of God. He is the one who said, “Let there be light!” He is the provider of both physical and spiritual light.
B. Lesson Background
Light and love are important themes in the writings of the apostle John. He writes near the end of his earthly days, after a long life as a leader of the church. In this first of three letters, he appears to address the church at large, warning people to avoid the darkness of false teaching and to embrace the light of love.
The time of John’s writing is perhaps some-where between AD 85 and 90. At this time near the end of the first century, the church began to be troubled by a false doctrine known as gnosticism. What we may call “full-blown gnosticism” doesn’t really appear until the second century AD. So John was confronting an early version of that heresy. Gnostics thought that they knew more than other believers and that they alone would be saved. They taught that following Jesus was not enough to save. The gnostics claimed that believers had to learn secret knowledge.
To set matters straight, John assured his readers that what they had received from the beginning was true. John’s epistle, however, is far more than a warning against gnostic heresy. Its truths about light, love, and righteousness are needed in every age. Whenever a new false teaching or a new temptation confronts the church, this letter helps to keep us on course.
I. Light’s Arrival(1 John 2:7-11)
John wants his readers to know the truth and obey it. He begins his epistle with truth, asserting that he and the other apostles had heard and seen and touched Jesus personally. The second chapter continues to focus on truth—the true light that guides the church.
A. What John Stresses (vv. 7, 8)
7. Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
John calls his readers brethren since they share membership in God’s community. As members of this community (the church), they most submit to all the commands of God. John reminds them that an important rule of behavior is a commandment that is as old as Leviticus 19:18: “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (We will see John unpack the content and meaning of this commandment as our lesson continues.)
Unlike the false teachers who trouble the early churches, John has added nothing to this truth, which is part of the gospel of Christ (Matthew19:19). John is merely reemphasizing the said command that Jesus gave, as we shall see (com-pare John 13:34; 1 John 3:23; 2 John 5, 6).
8.Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
The commandment of love is as old as the Law of Moses. It is as old as Jesus’ earthly ministry, now some 55 or 60 years in the past as John writes. Yet it is as new as tomorrow’s dawn.
The command is true in Jesus, who demonstrated God’s great love at the cross. The command is also true in the church, where believers live out divine love in their own lives. When love points the way, people no longer walk in darkness. The gloomy night of sin is over; the light of love accompanies the dawn of new life(compare Matthew 4:16). What was true in the life of Jesus is now being put into practice in the lives of believers (compare 1 John 2:5, 6).
The true light that now shineth is Jesus and truth about Him. The apostles have faithfully proclaimed this truth. Now false teachers are trying to extinguish that light. Their darkness must be rejected.
B. What John Knows (vv. 9-11)
9.He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. The sharp contrast between light and darkness serves to reveal who a person “really is.” Some-one may claim to be in the light, but the darkness of attitude and actions will expose him or her. The one who hateth his brother is not at all like Jesus; such a person is more like Cain (compare 1 John 3:12). Actions speak louder than words. To God, the heart-attitudes that produce actions speak loudest of all. When a person’s deeds show that he or she harbors hatred, that person loves the darkness (compare John 3:19-21). !See question #2, page 210.1
We should also remember that there is more than one way to hate. For many, hatred is shown by the absence of loving action. When they see their fellow Christians in need, they just do not care. When people who claim to be Christians fail to give anything—even a cup of water—in Jesus’ name, they show clearly that they do not have God’s love in their hearts (see Matthew 25:42, 43;1 John 3:17).
10.He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
The person who follows Jesus walks in the light of life. Such a person tries to imitate the greater love of Jesus, remembering how Jesus laid down His life for His friends (see John15:13). The true believer does not step into the light only on special occasions; rather, such a person abides in the light permanently.
Because the light of love has opened that per-son’s eyes to God’s reality, there is no occasion of stumbling in him or her. This means that he or she will neither stumble nor he the cause of stumbling for others. The word that is translated stumbling originally referred to a trap of some kind. For deeper study you can explore how John uses this word in John 6:61; 16:1 (verb forms)and Revelation 2:14 (noun form). When we walk in the light with Jesus, we neither stumble nor serve as a trap for others to do so.
11.But be that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
The one who hates a fellow Christian is some-one who perhaps still thinks of himself or her self as part of the fellowship of believers. But such a person actually walks in darkness. A person who makes this choice gives up the opportunity to walk safely with Jesus in the light. This person little knows (or cares) of the dangers that await in the darkness.
The false teachers whom John opposes make the darkness only worse. They have contempt, rather than love, for people who put their faith in Christ. They are quick to condemn anyone who does not have their “secret knowledge.” These false teachers walk in darkness and do not know it because the darkness has blinded them to God’s truth.
STUMBLING IN DARKNESS; WALKING IN LIGHT
Paris—the city of light! The city is famed for its brilliantly floodlit monuments and buildings that glow throughout the night. The cost for the lighting is considerable, but it pays for itself in quality of life for the residents and visitors. How-ever, there is another side to Paris. A darker side. In the city’s fourteenth district, down 130steps of a spiral staircase, one may enter “the empire of the dead.” It is a dimly lit catacomb of several city blocks. There stacked in neat piles rest the skeletal pieces of 6 million people—there mains of those who died by plagues, the guillo-tine, and other causes of times past. For a fee one may walk a dimly lit path through the bones. Two hundred years ago, the catacombs were totally dark and could be explored only by torch-light. The torch of one unfortunate explorer went out, and he stumbled along, lost in the darkness. Eleven years later his remains were found just a few feet from an exit. John reminds us that the times of darkness should be past because the gospel has come. It is a torch that never goes out. Yet one can still stumble along in darkness voluntarily, bringing grief to self and others. A clue John offers as to whether we walk in light or darkness is whether we choose to make hatred or love the defining character of our lives.
II. Light’s Results(1 John 2:12-14)
The light of God and the love of God are not intended for a chosen few. God’s light is for all people. By this light they can see the error of their ways and come to repentance (see 2 Peter 3:9). As the following verses show, everyone can walk in this light and enjoy its results.
A. Various Groups, Part 1 (vv. 12-13b)12. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. Turning to a happier theme, John writes brief notes of celebration to various groups in the church. By using the address children, it is possible that John is referring either to those who are young in age or are young in the time they have been Christians. The address little children is a favorite of John’s (see 1 John 2:1, 12, 18, 28; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21). This may mean that John thinks of all who receive his letter as his own children in the faith.
In any case, John celebrates the fact that their sins are forgiven. The gnostics falsely tell them that they cannot have salvation until they know “secret truths.” But John assures them that they are forgiven already. Moreover, this forgiveness is not a personal accomplishment. Rather, it is by Christ—all for God’s great name’s sake.
13a.I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. Next John turns specifically to the fathers. These are members of the church who are mature both in years and in faith. They have known Christ from the beginning—from the time the church was planted in their area. They know that their beliefs are the original truths. They can refute the assertions of the false teachers. God’s community must always adhere to the apostolic truth preserved in the Bible, regardless of what false teachers present as a newer “truth.”
We should pause to remember that Jesus cautioned against calling anyone on earth “father” Matthew 23:9). The apostle John is not violating that restriction since he is not using the term father in the sense that Jesus forbids—a sense of arrival to the heavenly Father. For deeper study, you can explore how the New Testament uses this word in Luke 1:55; Acts 7:2; 22:1; Ephesians6:4; Colossians 3:21; and 2 Peter 3:4.
13b.I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one.
Now John addresses the young men. As with “little children” of verse 12, young may refer to chronological or spiritual age (or both). The chief characteristic of young men is their vigor and strength. These young warriors for the faith have overcome the wicked one, the devil. Through Christ they have resisted temptation. Youth are particularly vulnerable to certain kinds of sin(2 Timothy 2:22). Blessed are the over comers!(See question #4, page 2401
B. Various Groups, Part 2 (vv. 13c-14b)
13c. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
As if writing a second verse to a song, John ad-dresses each group anew. He rejoices with the little children because they have come to know God. As the Gospel of John records, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God. and Jesus Christ. whom thou hast sent”(John 17:3). The first benefit of walking in the truth is knowing God.
14a.I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. Again John addresses the fathers, repeating the same important truth. They are thrones who
hove known Hiss that is from the beginning.
Walking in the light has given them the privilege of knowing Christ and serving Him for many years. Their ability to confirm and preserve the ancient truths makes them vital to the church.
14b.I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
When John addresses the young men again, he adds two statements about them. Not only have they overcome the wicked one (repeated from v.13b), they are strong and they have the Word of God abiding in them. They are not just casually acquainted with God’s Word! Such are the benefits of belonging to the fellowship of believers.
GUIDANCE STILL NEEDED?
A generation ago, the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) entered adulthood. They wanted to “cut the apron strings.” But in college they found they still needed guidance from adults—just not from their parents! So the Dean of Students office came to prominence in colleges to help guide students through academic life. Now that the boomers’ children are in college, the parents still want a level of involvement that colleges must learn to deal with. Thus, many universities have created a Coordinator of Parent Programs position to help parents learn to let goof their children who are becoming adults. The title of a Wall Street Journal article was “Tucking Them In—in the Dorm: Colleges Ward Off Over-involved Parents” (July 28, 2005).
People of every generation have needs that they want addressed. When John writes to children, young men, and fathers. he is telling us the Word of God speaks to the needs of all. That Word helps us sort out the difference between those needs and real needs. How will God’s Word guide you today?
III. World’s Desires(1 John 2:15-17)
Tragically, some people reject the light. Some reject it right from the start. Others reject the light after having first accepted it (see Hebrews6:4-6).
A. Stark Choice (vv. 15, 16)
15.Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Love should be our finest motive. It is to be a selfless devotion modeled after the nature of God. Yet some people direct their love to the things that are in the world rather than to the Father. Then love becomes an ugly thing—a distortion and a corruption. This was the problem of Demas (2 Timothy 4:10).
When John charges his readers to love not the world, he does not have in mind the world of humanity that God loved and sent His Son to save(see John 3:16). He means the fallen world as it continues defiantly to reject God (John 16:11;1 John 4:3-5; 5:19).
To love the fallen world and its things is to prefer the company of sinners to the community of saints. It is to prefer living in fallen brokenness rather than being born anew. It is to he “of ‘the world rather than merely “in” it (John 17:11,16). If a person loves the fallen world, he or she does not love God. We cannot have two masters(Luke 16:13).
16.For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. John has warned his readers not to love the world, and now he specifies what this means. The lust of the flesh is any craving that arises out of our selfish appetites. This includes the more obvious sins of gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality. It also includes sins such as racism (selfishness for one’s “own people”) and contempt for the poor (selfishness for one’s own social level).The lust of the flesh is the unholy desire to do any of the works listed in Galatians 5:19-21.
John’s second warning is against the lust of the eyes. This refers to enticements that come through our sense of sight. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden was “pleasant to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). There was nothing wrong with the tree in and of itself. But Adam and Eve used it for an unholy purpose. While there is often a sexual element in lust, as when David’s eyes lingered on Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2), the primary focus here is materialism. Television, movies, and the Internet offer materialistic enticements to our eyes that did not exist in John’s day. Believers must remember that their treasures are laid up in Heaven.
The third warning is against the pride of life. This is not pride in a positive sense, such as taking godly pride in doing the best we can. John refers, rather, to boastful arrogance. This de-scribes those who think they are too good to honor God (see Romans 1:30). Such people be-come lovers of themselves (see 2 Timothy 3:2).They proudly list their virtues for God (see Luke18:9-14). This is a fatal flaw of modern society, where status seekers care only about their public image, thinking, “It’s all about me.”
B. End Result (v. 17)
17. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
The fallen world is dying. Everything in the world passes away. Even the lust or desire for such things will finally die. Why should God’s people care about carnal pleasures that do not bring lasting satisfaction? Why should we care about amassing goods, as did the rich fool (see Luke 12:16-21), only to die and lose it all? Why should we care about our standing in the eyes of humanity, rather than our standing before God(see John 5:44)?
When life is done, only the one who does the will of God will endure. People who invested everything in the lust of the world will have nothing; God’s people will have everything. The arrogant will perish in their carnal boasting: the meek will inherit the earth. So John warns his readers that love for the world brings failure. The wise choice is to walk in the light of love, to do the will of the Father, and to abide forever.
A. Ignoring the Light of Love
Over the centuries there have been many false teachers who have tried to lead God’s people astray. Against this John issues a clarion call to the church to walk in the true light. This light is right for all ages and brings its special benefits to all ages. On the other hand, John warns that the one who chooses the darkness and the ways of the world will be exposed. The light of love is God’s beacon to guide our lives.
B. Following the Light of Love
What does it mean to us today to follow the light of love’? First, it means that to love God is to honor His truth. We must never let the “wisdom” of the world replace divine revelation. The light of love necessarily includes the love of truth. John clearly shows that love is not just a “feel good” emotion; it is inseparably intertwined with acting in accordance with truth. Truth matters! A second application is found in the way we express love in the church. We can learn to love both from God’s nature and from God’s command. We get a foretaste of Heaven in a community of godly love. God’s people are to be different from those controlled by worldliness. Our happiness does not lie in fulfilling the lust of the flesh; our eternal security does not lie in the size of our earthly estate. The only real satisfaction comes from walking with Jesus in the light—in the light of love.
Father of love, we drank You for giving us the light. We rejoice that You have shown us Your unfailing love; now help us to show that kind of love to one another. In the name of Jesus, the light of the world, we pray, amen.
D. Thought to Remember
The ultimate folly is to reject the light.