Continuing through 1 John

Since I’ll be out of my Sunday school class again this week (teaching the youth class), I’ve again prepared a lesson for them. Here it is in case anyone else might profit from it.

Sunday School Questions – 1 John 2 part 3

NRS 1 John 2:7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

Don’t you love John’s style? “I’m not writing you a new commandment, only an old one. But, yes, I’m writing a new one also.” What do you think is going on here? What have you seen in the text of 1 John so far that you think John’s audience would take as “nothing new?” Do you see anything yet that was likely new to them? (One possibility is that “new” has the sense here of “renewed.” Sure, it’s an old commandment, but it finds new statement – or restatement in new terms – in the life and teaching of Jesus.)

John says the new commandment is “true in him and in you.” What does it mean to say that a commandment is “true?” It seems more common to say that a commandment is “authoritative,” “wise,” “good for us.” But “true?” But then it’s not simply “true,” but “true in him and in you.” Who is the “him” John is thinking of? How is a command true in a person? Looking at yourselves, what might it mean to say that a commandment is true in you? One possibility is that John is saying that the commandment has been truly expressed in the life of Jesus – not just words from his mouth, but enacted in his life – and that in a similar way the commandment is now being enacted by the people in his audience. (The NIV translation – “Its truth is seen in him…” supports this idea.) If you think this is a possible interpretation, how do you see commandments enacted in your own lives?

Now we come to another question of interpretation. Does the explanatory phrase at the end of v. 8 explain “I am writing” or “is true?” In other words, is John writing what he is because of this change in circumstances, that is, that the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining – or is the commandment “true in him and in you” because of those circumstances? Both the NIV and the NRS are ambiguous. The New Living Translation, however, drops the “I am writing” phrase leaving the explanation to apply simply to the truth of the commandment.

What might it mean that the “darkness is passing?” Would you prefer that it be “the darkness is past – since darkness has a negative connotation here? What is meant by “the true light?” How does what John says here relate to what you find in John 1:9-12; 3:16-21; 8:12; Romans 13:11-14; Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:0-14; 1 John 1:5-7?

NRS 1 John 2:9 Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.

John continues his use of light language. What actions does he describe as clearly incompatible with walking in the light – embodying the truth of the commandment? Do you agree with him about this? Why or why not? If he’s right, why is hating apparently so common among those who call themselves believers?What might cause one believer to hate another? What effect does this hatred have on the hater? The hated? On the church as a whole? The word translated “stumbling” is the word skandalon. I bet you can figure out what English word we get from that. If we think of hate among believers as a “scandal,” what does it add to our understanding of this passage?

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