Let’s do a little Bible study together in I John 2:3-11, and I John 2:15-17
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
The New Commandment
7 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. 8 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. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 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.
Do Not Love the World
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Some General Observations
John uses the word, “know” four times in verses 3-5 and 26 times throughout the book. Anything repeated is important. What does it mean to “know” according to the scripture? There is the knowing of something intellectually, but there is also the knowing of experience. The word, know, is used in this passage to denote knowing something by experience. Notice in verse 3 that John says we have, “Come to know.” This is experiential. We know God through our experience with him, guided by his word. Thus, the person who doesn’t know him does not have a real experience with God through his word.
There are six “Whoever” statements. This is a reference to people who claim to know God. John draws a contrast from those who do know him to those that don’t know him.
(v.3) “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”
The Greek word used here means to “Keep and observe.” It denotes a careful attention given to God’s word and our role in imitating what it says. It’s like when Paul told his readers, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1).
(v.4) Whoever says, “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
John’s writings tend to be chocked full of emotion and graciousness. But here he makes a black and white statement. You’re either a liar or not. You either have the truth or you don’t. This flies in the face of our modern society. Our secular society tends to ridicule absolutes, right and wrong. But John’s writing is clear. Just as there are absolute rights and wrongs, so too, we either know God through Christ or we don’t know God at all. Scripture says, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (I John 2:23).
Traits of “lair” and one who actually knows Christ.
- Keep his commandments (v.3)
- Love perfected (v.5)
- Walking in his ways (v.6)
- Walks in the light (v.10)
- Does the will of God (v.17)
- Not keep his commandments (v.4)
- Hates his brother (v.9)
- Loves the world (v.15)
(v.5) “Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.”
Notice that John ties together the concepts of “keeping” God’s word and the concept of experiencing God’s “love.” We often think of love as an emotion, a feeling. But God’s love while being emotional, is also tied to truths. Remember Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13:6, “[Love] rejoices in the truth.” We cannot have the love of God perfected in our lives without that love being guided by the truth. In fact, in many places in Paul’s writings, wherever love is mentioned, some kind of mention of truth is not far behind.
(vs.5-6) “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
Obedience is a sign of our salvation. Not the cause of it. If a person claims to be a Christian but makes sin a habit, then that person does not know the Lord. This is similar to Jesus’ saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves… Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
I was once taken to task because I dared to say on social media that Hugh Heffner was probably in hell. Some people scolded me saying that he could have come to Christ at the last minute. Yet, God rarely works that way. Usually, God allows the decisions we make in life to be the same decisions we make in death. And just like Jesus said, you will know them by their fruits. If you don’t have obedience to the scriptures, then you do not have salvation.
Here it is that we should pause and note that many Christians often struggle with these things, often doubting their salvation, that they really know Jesus. Why do we sometimes doubt our salvation?
- We commit a repeated sin.
- We don’t sense God’s presence.
- We struggle with the concept that God actually loves us.
- We doubt God’s promise of salvation, we think we are “too bad.”
- Probably the greatest reason: we are not living a life of obedience and feel cut off from God.
(v.8) “It is a new commandment that I am writing to you.”
John is not saying that he is giving them a new commandment that had never been heard before. In v.7 he notes that it is an “Old commandment,” meaning that is previously came from Jesus. To quote Jesus: “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” (John 13:34). The command to love is a new command because Jesus is the standard, not us. Consider, we are commanded in Deuteronomy to love the Lord with all out heart, mind, and strength. Yet Jeremiah tells us our hearts are wicked. Paul tells us we need to renew our minds and bring every thought captive. And our strength, our bodies, are weak. So, how am I to love the Lord with my wicked heart, depraved mind, and failing strength? By making Jesus’ heart, mind, and strength our own through trusting the Holy Spirit by faith to believe him.
To love others carries a price. Just like it cost Jesus.
(v.10) “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light.”
In a previous lesson we noted that in the scripture, “light” is a symbol for “righteousness.” We’ve also noticed that where love is, truth is not far behind. There’s a contrast here with the next verse in v.11 where it says, “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.” Notice the phrase, “Does not know where he is going.” This reminds me of an episode of Mythbusters on TV. One of the hosts was to walk in a straight line across and empty field while blindfolded. The result? He didn’t walk in a straight line. He made all kinds of curves and turns, and even went in circles—but the whole time he thought he was traveling in a straight line. This is the same as spiritually walking in darkness. Without Christ as our light we do not know where we are going. There is no clear direction in life without the light of Christ.
(v.15) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
To what kind of “world” is John referring? People? Culture? Earth? The “world” in this passage is a reference to the sinful world system. It is a way of living that does not include Jesus as the supreme affection of life. In a world lived without God, sin has free reign over a person. We see an example in scripture of one person who traveled with the Apostle Paul. It was Demas, of whom Paul said, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (II Timothy 4:10). As an example, what exactly did Demas love? John begins to define this next.
(v.16) “For all that is in the world—the lusts of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Notice the three definitions of what is in the world system:
- Lust of the flesh.
- Lust of the eyes.
- The boastful pride of life.
What do you think the lust of the flesh is? Eyes? Life? Let’s see these three things in operation elsewhere in the scripture. Look at Genesis 3:1-6.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘Youa shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting food. There’s nothing wrong with wanting pleasant things that look good to us. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting wisdom. We are actually commanded in Proverbs to seek wisdom. But in this passage, each of these are twisted, turned around to be pursued without God. In this case, they are wanted apart from God’s promise and law. Thus, Eve disobeyed God and sin was brought into the world.
(v.17) “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
This literally means, “The world is dying.” Then notice the contrast. The world is dying, but you will live forever. What does it mean to do the will of God so that we will remain forever? There are, in general, two ways to do the will of God.
- To believe in Jesus Christ (“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ” – I John 3:11)
- To obey Jesus Christ (“…and love one another just as he commanded us”)
To believe is to acquire salvation. To obey is to prove our salvation.
What is John’s Big Idea?
- Keep his commandments.
- Keep in love.
- Keep away from the world.
In John’s writings, “Loving” and “keeping” are often used together.
John 13:15, “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love.”
John 14:21, “Whoever has may commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me.”
John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”
Paul’s writings are known for their focus on faith without works of the law. The law and good works don’t get us to Heaven. Only by faith are we given the free gift of salvation. However, good works demonstrate that our hearts have been changed by faith.
In these passages, John is essentially using “love” as the defining behavior to prove that someone has true faith in Christ. It’s because of love that we keep his commandments. It’s because of love for Christ that we resist the world system of sin.
Our application is the same as our interpretation.
- Keep his commandments.
- Keep in love.
- Keep away from the world.
To keep his commandments, I need to know them. That means spending time everyday reading scripture and giving those principles attention in my daily life.
To keep in love, I need to cultivate my relationship to the Lord in prayer and how I express myself to other people. I must always ask myself, what motivates me right now?
And to keep away from the world system I need to keep my focus on loving others, even sacrificially. But it all starts with keeping Christ’s commands.
Someone you know may need to read this. Please share.