Old Is Gold

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 John 2:7-14
2 John

David Bast’s series “Living in Love,” is a series of studies of the three New Testament letters of John the apostle. Christ’s coming gives us a new power to actually do what we know we ought to do, to fulfill the law of love.

 

One of our most faithful and dear Words of Hope missionaries is Stephen Paul, the Words of Hope director for South Asia and longtime Hindi language broadcaster. Once when I was visiting him at his home in Ranchi, India, he showed me his little old car – I think it must have been about 30 years old at the time – and he remarked, “In India we have a saying, ‘Old is gold.'” I love that! And I often remind Stephen of this proverb that he taught me as we both grow older, both in years and in terms of service. It also helps me to resist temptation whenever I’m thinking about trading my aging automobile in for some sleek, shiny new vehicle. “Old is gold.”

An Old Commandment

The same thing is true when it comes to God’s Word. “Beloved,” writes the apostle John in 1 John 2:7, “I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.” John says that the word he is passing on to the church from the Lord contains nothing startling or novel; there’s nothing of the avant-garde about Christian morality or teaching.

I don’t know about you, but I’m instinctively drawn to the old when it comes to doctrine. I don’t like novelties. I’m suspicious of anyone who claims that they’ve just now discovered the secret truth about Jesus or the Bible and that only now can we understand what Christianity really teaches. I don’t like churches or groups that claim to be the only true believers to the exclusion of all others, especially ones that haven’t been around for very long.

One of the Fathers of the ancient church once said that the Christian faith is that which has been believed “always, everywhere, and by everyone.” This is an important truth. Of course all Christians don’t agree on every last point or detail, but it is broadly true that the basics of our faith – the truths that we confess, for example, in the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed – have been believed and taught by virtually all Christians in all times and places.

And so the apostle John begins by underscoring the ancient pedigree of the commands he delivers to the Christians in his charge. These are no new things; in fact, they were already centuries old when John was writing about them almost 2,000 years ago. Christianity has no real surprises, at least not when it comes to ethics and morality. Jesus did not invent a new religion; the old one was good enough for him. “I did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets [i.e. the Old Testament],” he said, “but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus does not negate the revelation of the Old Testament, he completes it. He is the reality to which all the rituals and symbols of Israel’s faith point. Jesus does not repeal the high ethical demands of God’s ancient law, rather, he deepens and reinforces them.

Do you know how Jesus once summarized all the commandments of the Old Testament? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:34-40). But did you also know that he was quoting the Torah when he said this? “You shall love the Lord your God” is Deuteronomy 6:5, and as for the command to love your neighbor as yourself, that’s from the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 19:18.) So if you want to know how to live like a Christian, the answer is pretty much the same, at least in terms of moral responsibility, as how to live as a Jew. It all boils down to loving God and loving others.

A New Commandment

But having said that, John goes on to point out that there is something new – in fact, quite a lot that’s new – in the Christian faith. “The old commandment is the word that you have heard,” he says, but then immediately adds,

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. (v. 8)

God hasn’t got many rules for the lives of his human children. All he wants from us can be boiled down to two simple statements. He says, “Love me and love each other.” That’s as old as the Bible itself. One of the earliest stories in the Bible tells how Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy and envy. And when the Lord confronted him about it, Cain churlishly asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, quite simply, is Yes! This isn’t rocket science. God doesn’t ask for anything too complicated or sophisticated. Just take care of each other. For a start, why don’t you try to stop killing each other. Look after one another. Help one another. Pay special attention to the poor, the weak, the elderly, the defenseless. Nothing new about it.

Why, then, does John call this a new commandment? The old commandment that is at the same time new. The answer, I think, lies in the fact that Jesus’ coming into the world changes everything. The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining, says John. That doesn’t change the law’s basic demand upon our lives which is simply to live in love, but it does change entirely the way we go about meeting that demand. So the first thing that’s new about it is that the darkness is now passing and the true light is now shining. He is referring, of course, to Christ’s incarnation. Recall these majestic words from the opening chapter of John’s Gospel:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:4-5, 9

It’s Christ’s coming that makes all things new. He gives us a new power to actually do what we know we ought to do, a new possibility of fulfilling the law of love. You know, people’s problem is rarely a lack of knowledge about what is right. What we need is not more moral exhortation. “Do the right thing,” we are constantly told. “Just do it,” the ads scream at us. The problem is, how? But Jesus Christ came to redeem us from bondage to sin. He not only paid the penalty of our guilt; he also releases us from slavery to our sinful cravings and desires and reorients our life away from love of self to love of God and others. He sends his Spirit to live within us to give us the power to actually live according to God’s commands. For the first time, love becomes a real possibility for everyone who believes in Christ.

Here’s something else that’s new. We have a new example of this kind of selfless love. Just before his death on the cross Jesus said this to his followers:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. (John 13:34)

There it is again, that new/old commandment. The old part we know all about: “love one another.” But listen to what’s new: just as I have loved you. Jesus’ own example hits us like a blow to the heart.

What will it cost me to genuinely love my neighbor as myself? Will it cost my pride, so that I actually put others’ interests ahead of my own? Will it require me to give up my own position of privilege and sacrifice my own comfort in order to meet the needs of my neighbor? Will I have to assume the form of a servant for the sake of my brothers and sisters? But what else can I do, if I want to share the mind of Christ and live the Christ-life? Because these are exactly the things that he has done for us (see Philippians 2:1-11). As the apostle writes,

Whoever says he abides in [Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:6)

One last new thing about this commandment to love: we are also given a new motive for keeping it. Listen to John once more:

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 2:9-11)

Love for our neighbor is the clearest proof that we really do know Christ and belong to Christ. John says a bit earlier in chapter 2,

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. By this we may be sure that we are in him…. (vv. 4-5)

The entire world was stunned with horror by the murder of several Amish schoolgirls in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 2006. But stunning in a different way was the reaction of the Amish community to this unspeakable evil. One news report described it this way.

Carrying deep grief, in solemn sadness the Amish worship plan was profound: To bury lovingly five daughters . . . to prayerfully forgive the murderer, and within their community to start a fund to aid the murderer’s widow and three children.

Answering a stunned reporter, they gently explained: “We simply follow the Christ who lives within us.” (Dorothy Roth, “The shock and awe of Amish forgiveness,” The Roanoke Times, November 9, 2006)

We see this and we say in awe, “Surely he does live within such of his followers.”