Scripture in Focus: “… I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:7-8).
In his first epistle, the apostle John tells his readers that he is writing an “old” command to them, and also a “new” command. But when we carefully read what he says, we realize that John does not actually specify what either the old or the new command is in these verses.
John does tell us that the old command is one “which you have had from the beginning” (vs. 7), but what is that command? The answer, in this case, is fairly easy to find. In the following chapter John specifically writes: “For this is the message you heard from the beginning: “We should love one another” (1 John 3:11, and see also 2 John 1:5 where the apostle says the command from the beginning is to love one another). This “old” command was, of course, found in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) and expounded in the teachings of Jesus.
But what is John’s “new” command? Many readers of the epistle presume 1 John 2:8 gives the answer, but there is nothing in this verse, or the following ones, that can be read as a command – we are not told to do anything, simply that whatever the command is: “its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”
The clue to the nature of the new command is found in verse 8, however. In writing “its truth is seen in him and in you,” John indicates this new command is one which applied to Jesus and to his followers and should be evident in both. That leads us to John’s Gospel where he tells us that at the end of Jesus' ministry, as he was about to be taken from his disciples, Jesus told them: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Jesus had clearly taught that we must love our neighbor as ourselves during his ministry (Matthew 22:39), so his new command was not simply to love our neighbor as much as ourselves, but to take that love further, to love one another as he loved us. This is sacrificial love that puts the other person not equal with self, but before self.
Returning now to John’s epistle, we see that in the chapter after he mentions the “new” command, John wrote: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). In other words, this is exactly the same sacrificial love Christ had taught as his “new” command. The “new” command of John and that of Jesus are the same – as John himself states: “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us (1 John 3:23). When we strive to love others to the extent Christ showed love to us, then – as John says – that "new" commandment "is seen in him and in you" (1 John 2:8).