“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.” (1 John 2:7-8 NIV)
Truth be told, I’ve always found these verses in 1 John to be challenging to understand. It seems like he contradicts himself–is the command a new one or not? The command itself is to live as Jesus lived by loving one another. We see this in the immediate context of vv. 3-11. Jesus gave this command to His disciples in John 13:34.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)
But how is this a “new command”? Leviticus 19:18, written about 1,400 years before Jesus’ miraculous birth says this:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbors as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18 NIV)
I’ve puzzled over these verses for years, never fully comprehending the old vs. new concept. Then, as I was talking through this with the Lord over coffee, the middle of John’s old and new command teaching seemed to stand out as if it were written in bold and italics, like this:
“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.”
The command itself is an old command. What makes it new is that in Christ it is seen, not just heard. It’s not just a principle we read about in an ancient book or print on a coffee cup. We actually see this command embodied in Jesus.
Further, not only is it seen in Christ, but it is also seen in us. There is something incredible that happens when Jesus moves from a message that is heard to a person who is seen in us. The difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus is as profound and “new” as if it were actually new teaching we’d never heard before. When God becomes more than just a concept, it’s as if we’re discovering Him for the very first time–even if we’ve grown up in church and know all the Bible stories by heart!
Of course, this applies to everything the Bible teaches. Love one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, forgive one another, care for those in need, be humble, don’t gossip, put off the old self with its sinful desires… all these are “old commands” we have heard. Are they “new commands” that are seen in our lives as we have seen them embodied in Christ?
My prayer for the week is that God will show us a specific old command that needs to become a new one seen in us.