5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:5-6 ESV
Love one another. Now, where in the world would John have picked up an idea like that? It doesn’t take much digging to find out that John had been heavily influenced by the three-plus years he had spent with Jesus. His time spent under the tutelage of his friend, rabbi, and teacher, had made an impact on him. And ever since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, John had spent his life fulfilling the commission given to him and his fellow disciples.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 18:18-20 ESV
The “dear lady” to whom John had written his letter was none other than a local congregation of believers located somewhere in the province of Asia Minor. And John was writing to encourage the members of this church to observe and keep the commands of Jesus. And John had one particular command of Jesus in mind when writing his letter.
John well recalled that fateful night in that upper room in Jerusalem, where Jesus had shared a last Passover meal with he and the rest of the disciples. The image of Judas walking out of the room in order to betray Jesus must have been indelibly etched into John’s mind. But it is obvious that he never forgot the words Jesus spoke to them just before they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. He recorded them in his gospel account.
“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV
There was a great deal that Jesus had taught His disciples during the time they had been together. But this particular statement from Jesus had resonated with John and had remained a focus of his ministry long after Jesus had returned to His rightful place at His Heavenly Father’s side.
Jesus referred to this command to love one another as a “new commandment.” And yet, in the first of the three letters John wrote, he described this command as an “old commandment.” Consider his words carefully.
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. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 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 7-11 ESV
Even under the Mosaic Law, the people of God were required to love one another. But it was based on the concept of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had stated that this idea encompassed all the teaching found in the Law and the Prophets.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 ESV
It was a reciprocal kind of love. In fact, Leviticus 19:18 reads: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill or complete everything written in the Law and the Prophets.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17 ESV
The kind of love commanded under the Law was reciprocal in nature. And, according to Leviticus 19:18, it was a love that used self as the standard: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But what made this old commandment new, was the arrival of Jesus on the scene. He had come to reveal a new way to love, one that was based on a much higher standard than “as you love yourself.”
That night in the upper room, Jesus had expanded the command to love one another by adding the important phrase: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). He was establishing Himself as the new criteria for measuring and modeling love. It was not enough to love others as you loved yourself. Now, the standard was Christ’s love. It was going to be a selfless and sacrificial love. A lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love. And just a few chapters later in his gospel, John recorded Jesus repeating this new command to love one another.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:12-14 ESV
Now, in his letter to the “the elect lady and her children,” John was reminding this local congregation of Christ-followers to love one another in the same that Christ loved them. This selfless, sacrificial love was to be the mark of each and every believer. Again, in his first letter, John explained:
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
The motivation behind their love for one another was to be the love of God for them, as expressed in the sacrificial death of His Son. As John recorded in his gospel:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV
How easy it is to enjoy the love of God, as demonstrated in His Son’s substitutionary death on our behalf. And how quickly we can express our love back to God for all that He has done for us. But John would have us remember how hypocritical it is to state our love for God while refusing to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we love God, we are obligated to love all those whom He loves.
And John wants his audience to know that our love for God is best expressed through our obedience to His commandments.
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:6 ESV
The New Living Translation puts it this way “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.”
For John, our love for God and others were inseparably linked. You could not do one and not the other. The greatest expression of love for God was to obey His commands, and one of His primary commands was for His children to love one another.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:2-3 ESV
It should not be difficult for believers in Christ to love one another. In fact, it should be a joy to love as we have been loved. It should bring us great pleasure to share with others the love that God has lavishly and graciously showered on us.
John had been steeped in the love of Christ. And, as one of His apostles, John was passing on His message of love to the growing body of Christ – the Church. And each time he stressed love for one another, John must have recalled the closing words of the prayer Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father that night in the garden: “…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.