They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. – 1 John 2:19 ESV
They had left, vacated the premises, taken their football and gone home. An undetermined number of members of the local church there in Ephesus had walked out and their departure had left those who remained behind confused and hurt. But John wanted them to know that these so-called brothers and sisters in Christ were not what they had appeared to be. There was one very important ingredient missing: Love. Oh, they loved their opinions and had a strong affection for their beliefs about Jesus. So much so, that they were willing to walk out on the rest of the fellowship when they refused to see things their way. John made it very clear that they had never really been a part of the body of Christ there in Ephesus. But no one had known it until they finally decided to part ways. Their departure had been the thing that exposed their true nature. By leaving they had exposed their lack of love. There is no doubt that their doctrinal beliefs concerning the deity of Christ, their refusal to accept that He was the Son of God, and their denial of their own personal sins were major factors in the split, but it was their willingness to walk away from the family of God that exposed their real problem. They did not have the love of God within them. John made this point perfectly clear when he raised the issue regarding the new commandment. This was a not-so-subtle reminder of the words of Jesus Himself. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV). But John accused the recently departed faction of failing to keep this commandment. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” (1 John 2:9 ESV). “But 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” (1 John 2:11 ESV). These people had allowed their false doctrine to turn into hate. It wasn’t enough to claim to know God and have a relationship with Him. “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:4-5 ESV). They had failed to love one another. But their problem was that they did not have the capacity to love. The love of God could not be perfected or completed in them because it did not reside in them. By rejecting the deity of Jesus and refusing to accept Him as God in human flesh and their Savior from sin, they had rejected the love of God altogether. God’s love for the world had been expressed through the giving of His own Son as the sacrifice for the sins of man (John 3:16). But that love must be accepted by receiving His Son as Savior. By denying that Jesus was the Christ, they had refused God’s gift of love. And without it, they were incapable of keeping Jesus’ command to love others as He had loved them.
John had made it clear that “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). God is light, and to walk in the light is to walk in His presence. To walk in His presence we must have accepted the gift of His Son, which is the only means by which sinful man can gain access into the presence of a holy and righteous God. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV). One of the benefits of being able to walk in the light of God is a new capacity to live in fellowship with one another. Our capacity to get along with one another and express love to one another comes from God. His love is perfected in us and through us. But it all begins with our acceptance of His love for us. Which requires that we believe His Son was who he claimed to be. John will make this point again a little bit further into his letter. “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19-21 ESV). How do you love God and not accept the gift of love He gave? How do you love others unless you have allowed His love to permeate your life by accepting the gift of His Son? Our ability to love one another comes from God. It is His love being expressed through us.
By walking out, the individuals of whom John is referring, revealed their true nature. They didn’t love because they had never experienced the love of God by accepting His Son as their Savior. And the absence of that love within their lives had left a vacuum of hate. They loved their false doctrine more than they loved God or others. Jesus had said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). And it all begins with accepting God’s love as expressed through the gift of His Son’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.