“Again, a new commandment I write to you.” (1 John 2:8)
How can something be new if it’s already been around? When an established product promotes itself as “new” it suggests either redesigned packaging or a lesser amount in the box. “New” can be nothing but a marketing ploy.
But John speaks to love of a brother as simultaneously old and new. “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:7–8).
In what way is the commandment to love others old? In summing up the Law, our Lord Jesus cites the requirement to love God and love neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). Both of these commandments have their origin in the Old Testament, the first in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second in Leviticus 19:18.
The commandment to love others has been around for awhile. John acknowledges its pedigree yet also describes it as new. Unlike with marketers, John is not speaking of cosmetic change. Rather, the longstanding command to love others reaches its apex and achieves its ultimate glory in the incarnation of Jesus. That’s why John says, “which thing is true in Him.” Jesus is the personification of love for others and the culmination of the love of God anticipated in the Old Testament.
We know love by seeing Jesus. His coming to us is a manifestation of His love. His saving work for us is a demonstration of His love. Jesus sets the bar for love. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:12–13). Christ’s love for us reaches to even greater depths in that He died for while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:6-11).
God’s redemptive word, the Bible, is like an incubator for love, gestating until it reaches its maturity in the fullness of time. It is new in the sense of cygnet growing to become a majestic swan, becoming what it was meant to be.
Though this love is an exhibition of God’s grace, now seen more clearly as the darkness passes away and the true light shines its spotlight, we want to remember that John is expressing it to us not merely as an exhibition but as a commandment. We are to love as we have been loved. That love is not merely in sentiment but in substance, as John will detail for us.
What does it mean that the commandment to love is both old and new?