The First Epistle Of John
Part 6 - 1 John 2.9-11
After showing his readers that the man who claims to know God and does not keep His commandments is grievously in error, John leads their minds to an even more searching question. What about the man who claims to know God but does not love his own brother in the faith? This is another aspect of practical Christianity, of the Christian faith in everyday life. "He that says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness even until now." This word "hates" has a wide range of meaning in the Greek. It is 'miseo' and does mean the evil thing we call 'hate', in many instances, but it also can and does denote disesteem or indifference. It is not necessarily a question of departing so far from Christian principles as to allow the evil passions of hate and malice to take possession of the mind and heart; it also includes the act of despising or ignoring, being indifferent toward, the person and the interests of one's brother in the faith. "One is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren" is the standard laid down, and to which we are all required to conform. Those whom our Lord has given us to be our brethren must be received and treated as such; and even then not as it were of constraint or compulsion, but spontaneously and of our own free will. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Later on in this epistle John returns to this point and puts the question "He that loves not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4. 20). It is clear that in his mind this question of brotherly love is of the utmost importance. Perhaps John had learned, better than any of his fellow apostles, the lessons of those times of dispute and wrangling when they were with Jesus and some had sought to gain pre-eminence over the others. Perhaps he had realised more than most, the spirit that was being inculcated by Jesus. Jesus had reproved those who in mistaken zeal would have called down fire from heaven upon some misguided villagers or would have forbidden those whom they found casting out demons in the name of Jesus although following not with Him. There was so much they needed to learn before they could be "made perfect in love". John, here at the end of a busy and devoted life, was perhaps in a position to have learned more deeply than the rest what was meant by the phrase "the love of the brethren". Sometimes the meaning of this expression, to those who lived in New Testament times, comes out in the narratives in a totally unexpected manner. The wonderful little letter written to Philemon by Paul is as lovely a gem of brotherly love as can be found anywhere in the whole of the Scriptures. "I preferred to do nothing without your consent" said Paul What an example of true humility and Christian consideration! Paul, as an Apostle, must of all men have surely possessed the conceded right to require or expect the ready assent of Philemon to his request. But no, he would win his consent by love or not at all. "Yea, brother" he writes, "let me have joy of you in the Lord". The affectionate manner in which he refers to his co-labourers speaks volumes. "Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you" - "Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellow soldier" - "Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord". So many references there are which show what the love and fellowship, no less than the ministry and service, of these loyal ones meant to the great Apostle of the Gentiles. And no doubt John had a similar experience.
The ease of falling into the condition of "hating" or failing properly to esteem or care for the interests of one's brother is shown in passages such as Romans 14 where Paul enjoins us not to destroy with our "meat" our brother for whom Christ died. There are times when for love of our brother we must impose some self discipline upon ourselves that he be not stumbled. James, in his epistle, leads our thoughts in a different direction. He speaks of the brothers or sisters who are destitute of daily food, and of our obligation in such case to do what we can to give those things whereby they may be warmed and filled. In so many ways in life do we come up against these words, "he that hates his brother is in darkness".
Therefore, concludes John "he that loves his brother abides in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hates his brother is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not whither he goes, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes" (vv.10-11).
This verse is the end of a long warning, commencing at chapter 1, verse 6. In that warning John has traced the course of the disciple who has turned, at first ever so imperceptibly, from walking in the light to walking in darkness. From failing to attain and maintain true fellowship with God he descends to a wrong understanding of his true position before God, claiming to be literally sinless, whereas no man is actually so. From that, there is a retrogression to failure to keep God's commandments and from that to a position of antagonism towards the brethren of Christ. At that point he enters into the darkness which blinds his eyes so that he knows not the direction in which unable any more to perceive the light of the truth of God. It is he is going and is significant that the first step in this drifting away from the light is loss of fellowship with God. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." It is a point that maybe ought to be stressed more than is usually done, that the first effect of our consecration is entry into communion, fellowship with God. In our progression toward Divine things we first of all accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour and are justified by faith, in that acceptance and the belief that prompted it. Then ‑ and not until then ‑ do we properly hear and understand the call to consecration of heart and life and all our powers and possessions and abilities. "My son, give me thine heart"! The result of our Father's acceptance of that consecration is that we become His sons. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God"; that we should be called by that honoured name. By virtue of that fact we came under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a manner that would have been impossible otherwise. We have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear son. The fellowship into which we enter is not only a fellowship of the "saints" here below, a communion that can be seen and experienced in tangible fashion, as when we come together in conventions, assemblies and gatherings. It is also a fellowship in which we, believers on earth, are included with God in heaven. The medium of that fellowship is prayer, and meditation, and a silent lifting of the heart to God in worship and adoration and gratitude amid the manifold activities of the day. That is the fellowship that we each ought to have with Him and which can be ours and assuredly is ours if we continue to walk in the light. Without sincerity of heart and purity of mind and fixedness of purpose that fellowship cannot endure. Without the consciousness that we are constantly endeavouring, however imperfectly, to carry out our covenant of consecration to Him and become a vehicle of His purposes, a tool in His hand, a vessel ready for His use, the communion is interrupted, the light fades from the sky and we commence to walk in darkness.
Perhaps John's greatest point here is that we must appraise the situation intelligently. We must not delude or deceive ourselves. Unless we continue in the right attitude of heart toward our Father in heaven and our brethren on earth we cannot possibly remain in fellowship with God. Unless we hold the right understanding of sin, the basis of our cleansing from sin, and the nature of the standing we have before God, we cannot remain in fellowship with Him. Unless we come into harmony with His ways and to the utmost of our powers, obey His commandments, that fellowship cannot exist. In this long appeal of warning that comes to us with all the urgency that the "beloved disciple" can infuse into his words, we are reminded solemnly and intensely of the great fundamentals of our acceptance with God. Observe the orderly fashion in which they are set out, as if to command our closest attention; the four stages of the Christian life, briefly outlined in these few verses.
First: Admission of sin ‑ repentance (1.8-10).
Second: Cleansing in Christ ‑ justification (2.1-2).
Third: Acceptance of His commandments ‑ consecration (2.3-5).
Fourth: Abiding in Him ‑ sanctification (2. 6-9).
The man who hates his brother has lost all this and is back where he started ‑ in the darkness, stumbling and staggering uncertainly, not knowing whither he is going, and at every step straying farther and farther from the true path. John is not really saying that his readers are like that. In his next exhortation he will express his confidence in their right standing before the Father. Here, in this early chapter of the epistle, he draws aside the curtain, as it were, and shows them ‑ and us through them ‑ the tragic end of those who, because of lack of love and zeal and sincerity, take the path into what Bunyan called "By-path Meadow" and never find the way back.
(to be continued)