The New/Old Command
Here are some riddles:
- What goes up and down at the same time?
- What tastes better than it smells?
- What makes two people out of one?
The answers are at the end. (Warning: Unless you are in 1st grade, the answers will make you groan.)
Here is another riddle: How can a command be both old and new at the same time?
I pose this final riddle because the Bible describes such a command in 1 John 2:7-8. The Apostle writes:
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 verses that follow indicate that the command John refers to is the command to love other people. In verses 9-10, he writes: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.”
In what sense is the command to love both old and new?
That the command is old is easy to understand. The call to love one’s neighbor as oneself dates back to the Law of Moses (Lev. 19:18). It was reiterated by Jesus (Mark 12:31; John 15:12; 17). It is found throughout the New Testament (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). Since their introduction to the gospel, John’s readers would have been taught that love for others is an essential part of the Christian life. There was nothing novel about this idea.
But, in what sense is this command new?
I consulted a number of preachers and commentators for the answer to that question. They all had much deeper insights than I could come up with, but none of their answers were very satisfying. Until I ran across the ideas of Robert Candlish.
Candlish was a Scottish minister in Edinburgh in the 1800’s. His commentary on 1 John is long, archaic, and difficult to read. But his thoughts on this verse are brilliant. Candlish basically says that what makes the command to love others new for us is that, even though this is the same command we have always known, every day presents us with new occasions to apply it. We are constantly faced with new opportunities to love people. Candlish writes: “But if anyone [desires] novelty, here is a safe [way to get] it. Let them make the old [command to love] new in their own experience by the ever-fresh practical application of it…. For though doctrinal Christianity is always old, [the experience of] Christianity is always new. The gospel preached to us is old; but the gospel realized in us is always new.”
So, what new opportunities will you have today to love others? Who can you serve today? Who can you forgive today? Who will you meet today who needs some encouragement from you? Who needs you to give them the benefit of the doubt? Who needs you to pray for them right now?
The answers to those questions today will not be the same as yesterday’s answers. But the answers to those questions today show you exactly what you need to do to make an old commandment new. Today is a new chance to love others for the glory of Christ.
What I find thrilling about this idea is something John writes about the “new command” in verse 8. He writes: “It’s truth is seen in him and you.” In other words, the command to find news ways to love others is not just something to look for in ourselves. How disappointing would that be? No, the truth of this command is also found “in him” – in Jesus. Jesus loves us in new ways every day. His love is more than a static doctrine grounded in the past. It is offered fresh to us right now in exactly the way we need it. (See Lam. 3:23.) This ever-new love given us by Jesus is what empowers us to love others in new ways every day.
Want the answers to the riddles? Don’t blame me. I told you they were groaners.
- What goes up and down at the same time? [Answer: a seesaw]
- What tastes better than it smells? [Answer: a tongue]
- What makes two people out of one? [Answer: a mirror]