1 John 2 Commentary

v.1: “He writes so that you will not sin. Earlier John told them that he and those with him proclaimed the message so that his readers may enjoy fellowship with them (1:3), and that he has written so that his joy may be complete (1:4). This third statement fits in with the others for sin disrupts fellowship and destroys joy. Sin and vital Christianity are incompatible (cf. 3:6, 9; 5:18). But, while Christians do not live in sin, they never in this life become completely sinless (1:8). The closer we come to God the more sensitive our consciences become and the more we realize that we are sinners. A paradoxical consequence of this is that we now come to appreciate the fact that in our sinful state we are unworthy to approach our great and holy God. We need help. And John assures us that we have the help we need. When we sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence (Gk. parakl?tos). The term has a legal ring; it often means the counsel for the defence; it is the friend at court.”[1]

vv.3-6: “Now comes a test by which we can know whether, in spite of our failures, we are in right relationship with God, and this test is whether we obey his commands (again in v 4; 3:22, 24; 5:3; cf. 5:2). If we really know God, this will have a powerful effect on our daily lives. Knowledge is an important theme in this letter; the verb ‘to know’ (Gk. gin?sk?) occurs twenty-five times (and oida, another verb meaning ‘to know’, fifteen times). The knowledge of God is not some mystic vision or intellectual insight; it is manifested when we obey his commandments. Obedience is not spectacular, but it is at the basis of all true Christian service. Anyone who claims to have this knowledge but does not do what he commands, John says forthrightly, is a liar. He underlines this by adding, the truth is not in him.”[2]

vv.7-8: “John speaks about a commandment which is at one and the same time old and new. Some would take this as referring to the implied commandment in verse 6 that he who abides in Jesus Christ must live the same kind of life as his Master lived. But almost certainly John is thinking of the words of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: ‘A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another’ (John 13:34). In what sense was that commandment both old and new?

“(i) It was old in the sense that it was already there in the Old Testament. Did not the Law say, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’? (Leviticus 19:18). It was old in the sense that this was not the first time that John’s hearers had heard it. From the very first day of their entry into the Christian life they had been taught that the law of love must be the law of their lives. This commandment went a long way back in history and a long way back in the lives of those to whom John was speaking.

“(ii) It was new in that it had been raised to a completely new standard in the life of Jesus—and it was as Jesus had loved men that men were now to love each other. It could well be said that men did not really know what love was until they saw it in him. In every sphere of life it is possible for a thing to be old in the sense that it has for long existed and yet to reach a completely new standard in someone’s performance of it. A game may become a new game to a man when he has seen some master play it. A piece of music may become a new thing to a man when he has heard some great orchestra play it under the baton of some master conductor. Even a dish of food can become a new thing to a man when he tastes it after it has been prepared by someone with a genius for cooking. An old thing can become a new experience in the hands of a master. In Jesus love became new in two directions.

“(a) It became new in the extent to which it reached. In Jesus love reached out to the sinner. To the orthodox Jewish Rabbi the sinner was a person whom God wished to destroy. ‘There is joy in heaven,’ they said, ‘when one sinner is obliterated from the earth.’ But Jesus was the friend of outcast men and women and of sinners, and he was sure that there was joy in heaven when one sinner came home. In Jesus love reached out to the Gentile. As the Rabbis saw it: ‘The Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of Hell.’ But in Jesus God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Love became new in Jesus because he widened its boundaries until there were none outside its embrace.

“(b) It became new in the length to which it would go. No lack of response, nothing that men could ever do to him, could turn Jesus’s love to hate. He could even pray for God’s mercy on those who were nailing him to his Cross.

“The commandment to love was old in the sense that men had known of it for long; but it was new because in Jesus Christ love had reached a standard which it had never reached before and it was by that standard that men were bidden to love.”[3]

vv.9-11: “John has something further to say. As he sees it, our attitude to our brother man has an effect not only on him but also on ourselves.

“(i) If we love our brother, we are walking in the light and there is nothing in us which causes us to stumble. The Greek could mean that, if we love our brother, there is nothing in us which causes others to stumble and, of course, that would be perfectly true. But it is much more likely that John is saying that, if we love our brother, there is nothing in us which causes ourselves to stumble. That is to say, love enables us to make progress in the spiritual life and hatred makes progress impossible. When we think of it, that is perfectly obvious. If God is love and if the new commandment of Christ is love, then love brings us nearer to men and to God and hatred separates us from men and from God. We ought always to remember that he who has in his heart hatred, resentment and the unforgiving spirit, can never grow up in the spiritual life.

“(ii) John goes on to say that he who hates his brother walks in darkness and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. That is to say, hatred makes a man blind and this, too, is perfectly obvious. When a man has hatred in his heart, his powers of judgment are obscured; he cannot see an issue clearly. It is no uncommon sight to see a man opposing a good proposal simply because he dislikes, or has quarrelled with, the man who made it. Again and again progress in some scheme of a church or an association is held up because of personal animosities. No man is fit to give a verdict on anything while he has hatred in his heart; and no man can rightly direct his own life when hatred dominates him.

“Love enables a man to walk in the light; hatred leaves him in the dark—even if he does not realise that it is so.”[4]

vv.12-14: “John has been warning his people of the perils of the dark and the necessity of walking in the light and now he says that in every case their best defence is to remember what they are and what has been done for them. No matter who they are, their sins have been forgiven; no matter who they are, they know him who is from the beginning; no matter who they are, they have the strength which can face and overcome the Evil One. […]

“For John it was of supreme importance that the Christian should remember the status and the benefits he has in Jesus Christ, for these would be his defence against error and against sin.”[5]

vv.15-17: “John has two things to say about the man who loves the world and compromises with it.

“First, he sets out three sins which are typical of the world.

“(i) There is the flesh’s desire. This means far more than what we mean by sins of the flesh. To us that expression has to do exclusively with sexual sin. But in the New Testament the flesh is that part of our nature which, when it is without the grace of Jesus Christ, offers a bridgehead to sin. It includes the sins of the flesh but also all worldly ambitions and selfish aims. To be subject to the flesh’s desire is to judge everything in this world by purely material standards. It is to live a life dominated by the senses. It is to be gluttonous in food; effeminate in luxury; slavish in pleasure; lustful and lax in morals; selfish in the use of possessions; regardless of all the spiritual values; extravagant in the gratification of material desires. The flesh’s desire is regardless of the commandments of God, the judgment of God, the standards of God and the very existence of God. We need not think of this as the sin of the gross sinner. Anyone who demands a pleasure which may be the ruin of someone else, anyone who has no respect for the personalities of other people in the gratification of his own desires, anyone who lives in luxury while others live in want, anyone who has made a god of his own comfort and of his own ambition in any part of life, is the servant of the flesh’s desire.

“(ii) There is the eye’s desire. This, as C. H. Dodd puts it is ‘tendency to be captivated by outward show.’ It is the spirit which identifies lavish ostentation with real prosperity. It is the spirit which can see nothing without wishing to acquire it and which, having acquired it, flaunts it. It is the spirit which believes that happiness is to be found in the things which money can buy and the eye can see; it has no values other than the material.

“(ii) There is life’s empty pride. Here John uses a most vivid Greek word, alazoneia. To the ancient moralists the alaz?n was the man who laid claims to possessions and to achievements which did not belong to him in order to exalt himself. […] His conversation is a continual boasting about things which he does not possess and all his life is spent in an attempt to impress everyone he meets with his own non-existent importance.

“As John sees him, the man of the world is the man who judges everything by his appetites, the man who is the slave of lavish ostentation, the boastful braggart who tries to make himself out a far bigger man than he is.

“Then comes John’s second warning. The man who attaches himself to the world’s aims and the world’s ways is giving his life to things which literally have no future. All these things are passing away and none has any permanency. But the man who has taken God as the centre of his life has given himself to the things which last for ever. The man of the world is doomed to disappointment; the man of God is certain of lasting joy.”[6]

vv.18-19: “There is no article with hour. John is saying ‘this is last hour’, by which he probably means ‘this is a last hour’. Human history proceeds by periods of slow unfolding until a crisis is reached, an age is ended, a new age begins, and we say, ‘It can never be the same again.’ John is affirming that such a last hour has come. He sees evidence in the appearance not simply of the antichrist, but of many antichrists. The early church clearly expected that a mighty figure of evil, the antichrist, would appear at the end of time (cf. ‘the man of lawlessness’, 2 Thes. 2:3). John uses the term four times (and once in 2 John) but he is not interested in the future evil individual. His concern is for his readers, and he stresses for them the fact that the spirit of antichrist is already abroad. The situation is the same today.

These many antichrists had been members of the church. They had belonged to the visible organization, but John is quick to say they did not really belong to us. Their membership had been purely outward. This surely implies the doctrine of ‘the church invisible’ though that terminology is centuries later.”[7]

vv.22-23: “They denied that Jesus is the Christ and this is fundamental. The person who goes wrong here is not to be depended on anywhere; that person is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. The evidence that in Jesus of Nazareth God and humanity are indissolubly united is so strong that anyone who will not accept it is fundamentally astray and is guilty of the radical lie. 23 Without a right view of the Son we cannot have a right view of the Father. If Jesus is not the very Son of God and one with the Father, then it is not the love of God that we see revealed in his life and death; in that case it would be only the love of a good man that is seen. It is only as we receive Christ that we become children of God (Jn. 1:12), so that if we reject him we are not members of the family of God. We then have no right to call God our Father.”[8]

[1]Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.) (1 Jn 2:1–2). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.) (1 Jn 2:3–6). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

[3] The letters of John and Jude. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[4] The letters of John and Jude. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[5] The letters of John and Jude. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[6] The letters of John and Jude. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[7]Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.) (1 Jn 2:18–19). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

[8]Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.) (1 Jn 2:22–23). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

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