The New Commandment -- Old From the Beginning

The apostle John wrote, “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). The beloved apostle was not discussing options. Commands of God are not optional. A command from God presupposes his requirement of man’s obedience. As the apostle Peter during his trial in Jerusalem, said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Obedience to this command that is both old and new is required of those who would enter and maintain fellowship with God.

 “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. From our chronological perspective we should be able to understand why this command is called “an old commandment.” Jesus was asked to say which command of God was the greatest. He replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, coupled it with Leviticus 19:18 and called it the “greatest command of all” (Mk. 12:29-34). That passage reads, “The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. `And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. So the scribe said to Him, Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. So when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God.” The command is old due to its longevity. No one has ever been able to update it, amend it, or replace it.

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.” The command of love is also new. Jesus gave it a new meaning by: demonstration, application, interpretation, and manifestation. The command is old in respect to the requirement and longevity; new in respect to its fulfillment and application. Notice further the words of John. “Which thing is true in Him, and in you...” It is true to perfection in Christ; it is true to a measure in his disciples.  The command is new respecting its relation to the Lord’s New Covenant. Christians serve now as “ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter” (2 Cor. 3:6). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the new covenant based on better promises. “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Heb. 8:6-8). Every accountable being living today should be profoundly grateful that the New and Living way through Christ has been clearly established.

The new command is linked to the newness of life. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:1-6).

Truly penitent believers who are baptized into Christ also become “new creatures.” Again from Paul, we read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, {he is} a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Only those who become new creatures enjoy these sweet new blessings under the new covenant.

The new command accords with the nature of Christianity in that one is initiated into Christ through what He called a “new birth.” Jesus and a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus were talking, and Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Jesus replied, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (vs. 3). The record continues: “Nicodemus said to Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (vss. 3-8).

The new birth is the only way one may enter fellowship with the Lord. It consists of being born of water and the Spirit. The water of the new birth answers to baptism into the newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4). The Holy Spirit reveals the divine truth that will set the sinner free and make him a new creature in Christ (John 8:32). Thus, one who is baptized, as a penitent believer, is born anew -- and we must realize that only those who do so are in fellowship with God.

“Brethren, I write . . . an old commandment which you have had from the beginning.” John reminds his readers that this was something that had been known since “the beginning.” He said, “Which you heard from the beginning...” John expressed this two ways. First, he said the command is something had from the beginning, then something heard from the beginning. Truth that has been heard the beginning of Christianity is what is stressed. Hearing the truth produces faith. Paul wrote, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The original message of Christ Jesus and his apostles must never be abandoned. It is that which we have had from the beginning of his rule over our lives. It must never be modified. It is as new as the newness of life Jesus offers. Those who abandon the original message of the gospel for a new approach to religion put themselves in danger. Modifying the gospel means a loss of faith and faith that becomes wrecked upon the crags and rocks of human wisdom and opinion. Hear Paul’s solemn warning: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9).

Please read carefully from a contemporary British scholar, Mr. John R. W. Stott. In his commentary on I John he wrote, “That which you have heard from the beginning is the gospel, the apostolic teaching, the original message which had been preached. It had not changed and would not change. They must let it abide in them. It would not do so automatically; they must allow it to do so. Christians should always be ‘conservative’ in their theology. To have ‘itching ears’, ever running after new teachers, listening to anybody and never arriving at a knowledge of the truth, is a characteristic of the ‘perilous times’ which shall come ‘in the last days’ (2 Tim. iii. I,7, iv.3). The continuous obsession for ‘some new thing’ is a mark of the Athenian not the Christian (Acts xvii, 21). Christian theology is anchored not only to certain historical events, culminating in the saving career of Jesus, but to the authoritative apostolic witness to these events. The Christian can never weigh anchor and launch out into the deep of speculative thought. Nor can he forsake the primitive teaching of the apostles for the subsequent traditions of men. The apostolic testimony is directed essentially to the Son. That is why it will keep them true to Him if they remain true to it. Moreover, they will continue in the Son, and in the Father, in the sense of experiencing an intimate spiritual communion with Both. To continue in God (or ‘abide in’, RSV; Gk. menein) and to ‘have’ God (verse 23) are virtually identical in meaning.”

Stott continues:

“The gospel does not change. The truth about the Person of Christ and about Christian conduct is unalterable. In both doctrine and ethics we must go right back to the beginning and inquire what the apostles originally taught and their first converts both had (ii.7, eichete, The message was that we should love one another (cf. iii.23, iv.7, II,12; 2 Jn. 5; Jn xiii.34, xv.12,17).” (John R.W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, The Epistles of John, 1979, pages 112-113)., page 139).

That can hardly be improved upon. How could a conservative Christian say that better? This is such a vital matter. This is the very reason why churches of Christ insist on going back to the original pattern Jesus gave for His church, for the plan of salvation and for everything pertaining to life and godliness. We have no other reason to exist separate and apart from the Protestant denominational world. And, we sincerely believe we have done what we intended to do. We accept nothing older than the Old Testament, newer than the New Testament, or other than the gospel of Christ. We sincerely invite and encourage all to do likewise. Our commitment remains to abide in that which we have had and heard from the beginning that remains ever new and fresh. We urge all who believe there is a God and that the Bible is his word to do likewise.

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