We are continuing our study this morning of 2 John. This brief letter was written to remind the readers of the command to love one another which they received "at the beginning" and to warn them about certain itinerant deceivers. False teachers had arisen in the church who claimed to have deeper knowledge of the things of God. They claimed to have the secret to knowing Christ, but in reality, they denied His bodily incarnation and His deity. The danger was that the church might welcome these men into their midst and provide hospitality for them. It's a warning against being loving and hospitable toward those who say they belong to Christ but teach false doctrine.
We ended last week with verse 4,
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 2 John 1:4 ESV
"Some of your children"—doesn't mean that only some in the church were walking in the truth but that he had heard from some and they were walking in the truth.
Last time we stressed "the truth." In my opinion it would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of divine truth. Yahweh is the God of truth. Yeshua is the Truth. Scripture says He is full of grace and truth. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth, the Scripture is called the Word of truth, and the church is called the pillar and support of the truth. We live in a world of lies and the Church is called to guard the truth, to uphold the truth, to defend the truth, and to proclaim the truth. Every church needs to be strong in the knowledge of the truth so that the members can avoid destructive heresies.
Last week we talked about abiding, which John mentioned in verse 2,
because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: 2 John 1:2 ESV
I said last week that the Truth is Yeshua, and He abides in them. To abide is to have fellowship with Christ, to walk closely with Him in obedience to His Word. Christians are exhorted to abide in Christ because this privilege and duty may be neglected and very often is. You cannot abide in Christ if you are not keeping His commandments.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV
The abiding Christian walks in the commandments. We cannot really say that we love God if we do not walk in the commandments. Love expresses itself in following the divine guidelines. Obedience is love. It is foolish for us to say that we love God but then do not keep his commandments. Notice that the word commandment is used 4 times in verses 4-6.
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 2 John 1:4-6 ESV
We can see that keeping the commandments is very important to John. But what are those commandments? Last week in the Q&A after the message I received this question from Linda: "We are to follow Yeshua's commands …Are these commands only in the New Testament and/or referring to the 10 commandments?"
This is an excellent question. One that I often asked in my early Christian walk, and one that I am often asked. It's a very good question because if we are to obey the commandments and if obedience to the commands is love, it really helps if we know which ones. Doesn't it?
Do we obey the ten commandments? Do we obey the Pentateuch, Genesis to Deuteronomy? Do we obey the Levitical Laws and the rituals and ceremonies of the Old Covenant? The rabbis had gone through the Torah and codified all of the Scriptures so that they had their 613 laws. So, which commandments are we to keep? I love lobster, snow crab, shrimp and oysters. Am I allowed to eat them? Not according to Leviticus,
"These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. Leviticus 11:9-10 ESV
As far as seafood goes you can only eat what has fins and scales. What about getting a tattoo? Nope, not according to Leviticus 19.
You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:28 ESV
If you go through the 613 Laws of the Tanakh, you will find that you are probably breaking a bunch of them. How much of the Old Covenant is binding on us? By us, I mean Gentiles. How much of the Old Covenant is binding on Israel? Let's look at what Yeshua said about the duration of the Old Covenant Law,
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 ESV
The use of the terms "the law" and "the prophets" indicates that what the Lord is speaking of in these verses is the whole of the Tanakh. If you trace these terms throughout your Bible, you will find that wherever this expression is used, it includes the entire Tanakh. So, all 613 laws are in effect until heaven and earth passes away.
The word "iota" in form was like an apostrophe. Presuming that Yeshua originally made the statement in Hebrew, iota would stand for י (yod), the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
The "dot" is the little projecting part at the foot of a letter, the little line at each side of the foot of, for example, the letter "t." The message is clear. Not even the smallest part of the law will be abolished until heaven and earth passes away.
The phrase "until heaven and earth pass away" refers to the duration of the whole Tanakh's authority. Yeshua is saying that not a single item of the Law, the Tanakh, will ever be changed until heaven and earth pass away. Is that what Yeshua said? Please notice that the word "until" occurs twice. And it is the first "until" that most people ignore. So, if "heaven and earth" have not passed away, then all of the Law, all 613 commands are still in effect. Every bit of it. Who is under these 613 Laws? Israel. Are all these 613 Laws still being obeyed by Israel today? Not at all. When did Israel stop obeying these 613 Laws? In A.D. 70 when their Temple was destroyed. Do you see the problem here?
Believers, here is what we need to understand. As Gentiles, we are not and never have been under the Law/Torah. Look at what Paul wrote to the Romans,
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. Romans 2:12 ESV
The "Law" here is the Torah—the Jewish Law of Moses, the Writings and the Prophets. "All who have sinned without the Law"—simply means Gentiles. And "All who have sinned under the Law"—refers to the Jews. The Gentiles did not have Torah. They had no prophets, they had no biblical writers, and they did not have the written revelation of God, the Law of God. Only Israel did. Look at what Paul says in verse 14,
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. Romans 2:14 ESV
The misinterpretation of this verse has led to great misunderstanding. Many see this verse as saying that God has written on the heart of every man a basic moral code. That code is similar to the things contained in the Ten Commandments. This universal moral code consists of things like "Do not steal," "Do not cheat," "Tell the truth," "Honor your parents," "Keep your word," "Help the poor," "Do not kill," and so on. That is not what this verse is saying.
The key to understanding this verse is translation. Most of the major translations have missed it here and their mistake has led to a faulty view that all men have an innate knowledge of God. The Christian Standard Bible got this right.
So, when Gentiles, who do not by nature have the law, do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. Romans 2:14 CSB
N.T. Wright says, "The phrase 'by nature' goes with the possession of the Law, not with the doing of the Law." Those who do not have the Law by nature were the Gentiles. Paul is here distinguishing between Jews who are born with Torah and Gentiles who by nature or birth do not have the Law. Yet these Gentiles are doing the things of the Law.
The ESV's "by nature" is from the Greek word phusis. That Paul uses this word to refer to the possession of the Law is clear from his use of phusis in Romans 2.
Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. Romans 2:27 ESV
The word "physically" here is phusis. This is almost identical to the point that Paul makes in verse 14. Here the "physically uncircumcised" who keep the Torah refers to Gentiles. This cannot refer to people who are "naturally" or "innately" circumcised but refers to those who do not physically have the Law. We could translate verse 14 as: "To those who do not physically have the Law, do the things of the Law."
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. Romans 2:14 ESV
Who are these Gentile law keepers? They are Gentile Christians! Cranfield says, "This view [that they are Gentile Christians] is found in Augustine and in the earliest Latin commentary which has come down to us."
We could translate it, "For when Gentiles who by nature do not have the Law, do what the Law requires, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves." They don't have the Law, but they do the things of the Law. How is that possible? They are Christian Gentiles, they have trusted Christ, and the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them.
Look at what Paul writes to the Corinthians,
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 ESV
Gentiles are not under the Law and never have been. But many in the Church today try to put Christians under the Law. They teach that believers are commanded to tithe. In other words, they are to give ten percent of their income to the church. I read an exchange on Facebook last week in which a man said, "If you don't tithe, Christ will destroy you at his coming."
Tithing is taught in the Bible, in the Old Covenant, but even in the Old Covenant it was not giving. Giving was also voluntary under the Old Covenant. The tithe was a debt, it was taxation, not giving. Just like on April 15, you don't send the IRS a gift. You pay what they say is your required giving—if you don't pay it, you'll go to jail.
Old Covenant Israel was a Theocracy—a government by the rule of God, mediated through the priests. So, the tithe was collected to support the government. It was taxation, and it was mandatory! Furthermore, Israel's tithe wasn't 10%. It was actually three different tithes which added up to around 33%. Taxation today, unlike in Israel, is theft.
Now the believers to whom Paul was writing had not seen the Parousia yet, so weren't they still under the Law? No, there is another event which ended the Law on an individual level before A.D. 70. It was the New Birth:
Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. Romans 7:1-4 ESV
The "you" here is plural, referring to Jewish believers. Paul draws an inference from the previous illustration, noted by "you also." Just like the husband died in the previous verses, you also died. "Have died"—is a passive indicative meaning you were "made dead" to the Law. The passive voice points to the sovereign, gracious work of God in applying the work of Christ to them regarding the reign of sin and jurisdiction of the Law. It points back to our having become united with Christ in His death.
The Law had no jurisdiction over any believer after Pentecost. The Jewish believers were free from the Law "through the body of Christ." This is why Paul said,
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 1 Corinthians 9:20 ESV
During the transition period, Old Covenant Judaism was still a veritable religion, and the Jews were still "under the Law" because the Old Covenant was still in effect. However, Jewish and Gentile Christians were not "under the Law" (Old Covenant) but under the New Covenant made in Christ's blood on the cross.
Back to Matthew 5:17-18. If "heaven and earth" refers to the literal heaven and earth, then the Law is still in effect for Jews. What is the problem with that? First of all, as we said earlier, Jews haven't kept the Torah since A.D. 70. And there are no racial Jews today which means there can be no priesthood, and without a priesthood, there can be no offering of sacrifices. According to the Law, if you have sinned, then you should have sacrificed an animal according to Numbers 15:22-25.
When is the last time that an Israelite offered up a burnt offering? All sacrifices ended in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Temple. Let's say that someone wanted to keep the Jewish Law, and they had the animal for the sacrifice. Where would they find a legitimate priest?
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. Numbers 3:5-7 ESV
The Levitical priests were a special class of qualified ministering priests chosen from among the tribe of Levi. If you can't find a Levitical priest, then you cannot keep the law. The writer of Hebrews says,
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? Hebrews 7:11 ESV
The parenthetical statement, "for under it the people received the law," is a reminder of the close interdependence between the priestly and the legal systems. "Under it," is literally "on the basis of it." The law and the priesthood belonged together for the simple reason that, since the law, representing the divinely ordered standard of conduct and character was universally broken (Romans 3:9-23), there was a continuous necessity for the ministry of reconciliation, which the Levitical priesthood provided, even though imperfectly.
The writer is saying that the Mosaic Law was given in order to validate the Levitical priesthood. If the Levitical priesthood is taken out of the Mosaic Law, nothing of meaning is left. Why? Because the whole purpose of having a religious system is to bring people into a personal relationship with the living God. If there are no priests to represent the people, then there is no reason to have a religious system.
It is very important that we understand what the writer is communicating in this verse. The concept is that the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law are inseparable. If someone wanted to incorporate the Mosaic Law into their religious system today, they would also have to incorporate the Levitical priesthood because it was the basis for the Mosaic Law. If there is no Levitical priesthood today, then the Law cannot be obeyed. If the Law cannot be obeyed, then all are sinners if heaven and earth have not passed away.
If we take "heaven and earth" in a literal sense, then the Law would still have to be in effect. But it is not. Either Yeshua was wrong or "heaven and earth" is not to be taken in a literal sense.
If you are familiar with the Tanakh, you will understand that this is not literal language. If you want to know what a term means in the New Testament in relation to prophecy, you need to go back to the Tanakh to see what it meant there. If it was used a certain way in the Tanakh, wouldn't it make sense that Yeshua and the New Testament writers would use those expressions in the same way? We must get our understanding of "heaven and earth" from the Tanakh. In biblical apocalyptic language, "heavens" refers to governments and rulers and "earth" refers to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah.
In summary, we have seen that the Old Covenant law with its 613 laws is not in effect now for anybody and that heaven and earth (the Old Covenant system) have passed away as well as the Mosaic law. As believers we are not under the Old Covenant Law, but we are under the Law of Christ:
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 ESV
The Law of Christ is the law of love. We are to love Yahweh and love our neighbor as ourself. We are under the laws of the New Covenant.
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Yeshua from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2 ESV
"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Yeshua—this is Torah of the Spirit. This introduces us to a new facet of Torah, New Covenant Torah. Paul says that the Torah of the Spirit "has set you free"—he is talking of setting slaves free in exodus language. Those in Christ are brought out of the Egypt of sin and death and made citizens in the Kingdom of God. Through the death of Christ, they become dead to the Law of sin and death. The Law of sin and death was the Old Covenant Law. We are under the law of love.
When Yeshua was asked what was the greatest commandment, what did he say?
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:37-40 ESV
Yeshua boiled the Tanakh down to these two commands: love God and love your neighbor. The Ten Commandments are simply a list of ways you can demonstrate that you love God and your neighbor. You love God so you don't make an idol. You love God so you don't worship anybody else. You love God so you don't take His name in vain. And you love your neighbor, so you don't covet what he has, or his wife. And you don't kill, and you don't steal, and you don't commit adultery. That's all about love.
Believers, the Old Covenant Law has passed away. It is GONE. We now live under the New Covenant, the Law of Christ. Christ reinstituted nine of the ten commands (the Sabbath is excluded). Believers, we don't have to be confused as to what is permissible behavior and what is not; we simply need to become familiar with the New Testament, the Law of Christ, and we'll know how to live.
With that as an introduction let's look at our text for this morning.
And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 2 John 1:5 ESV
"And now"—this is a logical link with verse 4 and has slight adversative force ("but now") because John's readers are already "walking in the truth." But John stresses obedience all the more because there is now a threat coming from the false teachers.
The "dear lady" here is the local church. John says that what he writes is not a "new" commandment." He may have the sense that it did not originate with him. The false teachers were parading their knowledge as a NEW revelation. They claimed to have some "new" truths. John counters them by saying that what he is teaching them is not a new commandment. One of the charges he makes against the opponents is that they have "gone ahead and do not abide in the teaching of Christ" (v. 9). Therefore, he might be stressing that his message is one that has been "from the beginning" and is not an innovation such as the christological teaching of the opponents.
"We have had from the beginning"—this is an imperfect active indicative which refers to the beginning of Yeshua's teaching (1 John 2:7, 24; 3:11). In other words, it points back to the time when John's readers first heard the gospel message.
The content of the commandment is reaffirmed as "That we love one another"—this is the present subjunctive form of the verb "to love." It indicates that he has in mind an ongoing love of fellow believers. This is the last of six references (1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12) in the Letters of John to Yeshua's command that his disciples should love one another.
Loving others was not a new command. Yeshua had taught his disciples this,
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 ESV
Even before Yeshua's command to love, Yahweh had taught the Israelites:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18 ESV
You could sum up the Old Covenant Law in two commands: 1. Love God; and 2. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10).
So, the command to love is not new. What, then, is so different about our Lord's command here that He can call it "new"? The new part is "Just as I have loved you"—the sacrificial work of Yeshua on the cross of Calvary is the "new" standard for the Christian's love for fellow believers. They had seen His love for them during His entire earthly ministry, and most recently in His washing of their feet. But they would only understand its depth through the Cross.
The "new command" of Yeshua was the "old command" for the author and his readers, and it was something his readers had heard long ago when they first received the Gospel.
We believers often think of love on an emotional level. We think of love as being a feeling that somehow supernaturally enables us to reach out and accept other people. But love as it is defined in the Scriptures it is not emotional in its essence, it is an act of the will. It is to determine to treat other people the way that God treats you. The reason why we can do it is because Christian love is not an affection, it is an attitude. It is manifest in our actions, not in our affections.
Most people react on an emotional level, and we're all guilty of this. Something is said to you or something is done to you, and you get hurt. We have all had this experience, but the problems come when we allow ourselves to react on an emotional level, and it is our emotions that dictate our actions. John is saying that Christian love is where God's truth regulates our attitude, and that attitude regulated by God's truth determines our actions.
Often our natural reaction is to hate, to retaliate, and to get even. Yet Christ tells us to turn the other cheek, bless those that curse us, pray for those who despitefully use us. Now you may be thinking that such a command is impossible. And it is impossible in our own strength. However, when we abide in Christ, when we walk in the Spirit, we are enabled to walk in love, to walk as He walked. So, to walk in truth means that we walk in love. Paul told us in Galatians 5:22: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love."
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 2 John 1:6 ESV
The author explains what love consists of. It is obedience to God's commandments. First John 5:3 says virtually the same thing.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 ESV
"This" has the hina-clause as its referent. The hina-clause is exegetical (explanatory) to the preceding phrase. It explains what the love of God consists of—"that we keep his commandments." So, believer, it is easy to test our love for God. How committed are we to being completely obedient to His will?
Christians express their love for God by obeying his commandments, and especially by loving one another. How much you love the Lord is directly related to how much you obey His commands.
John no doubt had the words of Yeshua in mind when he said this.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV
In John 14:15-31, Yeshua makes similar statements about love for Him and obedience to Him over and over. Three times in these verses Yeshua says "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word." This means that Yeshua neither assumes that His followers love Him nor assumes that they do not. But if they do love Him, they will keep His Word.
If someone is not living in obedience to Christ's teaching, does he really love Him? No, love is not a feeling; it is obedience to the revealed will of God. Listen, believer, if you don't obey the Word of God, you don't love God no matter what you say. You really should not sing, "O, How I Love Jesus" unless you are living in obedience to His teaching. Loving God consists in keeping his commandments.
The commandments of God are simply the manifestations and the definitions of how you love. Every command in Scripture that tells you how to honor God and every command that is directly connected to the relationship between a believer and God is an expression of love to God when obeyed. That's why Paul, in Romans 13, says, "Love is the fulfilling of the whole law."
We love in the truth. That is to say, our love is defined by our obedience to Scripture. When I am obedient to those commandments that relate to God, I'm loving God. When I'm obedient to those commandments that relate to others, I'm loving others.
How can I obey His commandments by loving Him more? Where can I get a greater capacity to love the Savior? The only way you'll get it is by dwelling on His love for you: God's love is manifest in the word of God. We need to be saturated in the Bible. To the extent that we are, we will see God's being, God's attributes, God's character as they are there. We will especially know the great love that the Father has for the Son, and the Father and Son have for all of us.
People may think that reading through the Bible in a year is a huge task. But in reality, all that is required is to read 15 to 20 minutes a day. These same people would consider a 30-minute television show a short one. We fill our lives with secular things and neglect to spend time in His Word, and then we wonder why we're not walking as He walked.