Impersonal Love

(from Lesson 21 – 1 John 2:7)

 

We begin an introduction to the doctrine of impersonal or unconditional love. This is a major theme in this first epistle of John and is a reason why this epistle is John’s expansion and commentary on the doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ taught to the disciples in the upper room the night before He went to the cross. The theme of that discourse had to do with the new commandment that Jesus gave to the disciples, that they were to love one another as He loved us.

 

This paragraph, 2:7-11, is the final paragraph in John’s introduction. The first part of the introduction focused on staying in fellowship, walking in the Light, and advancing as an infant. Now he is going to get into the advanced skills and there are three that relate to the concept of love. The final and ultimate one is that we share the happiness of Christ. As we learn grace orientation we begin to respond in love for God. In doctrinal orientation we learn more about Him and that love for God grows. But it becomes a major factor here, it reaches a maturity when we get here; that is what John is talking about when he says in verse 5, “but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of [for] God has truly been perfected [brought to completion].” That is a process. So now we get to personal love for God the Father, and that is going to be the foundation for being able to have impersonal or unconditional love for all mankind which is the new commandment that Jesus gave the disciples.  That then increases our focus on Jesus Christ. This is living our lives as Jesus did, walking as Jesus walked. The more we learn about promises, the faith-rest drill, about God’s grace, the more we learn about who and what Jesus Christ is and did in doctrinal orientation, it develops pour love for God. We then understand the cross, so we understand what real love is all about, and then we realise all that Jesus Christ did for us and he becomes a model for our thinking and our living. This doesn’t happen over night, it is a process and we have to master these spiritual skills.

 

In verses 3-6 John establishes the basic principles of keeping His Word and abiding in Him and following the pattern of Jesus life. Then in 1 John 2:7 NASB “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.” He uses the address of agapetoi [a)gaphtoi], “Beloved.” It is from the word agape which means love. “Beloved” emphasises position in Christ. Because we are in Christ we are beloved of God. Paul uses the word “Brethren,” as does James, but John uses the word “beloved.” It is just a stylistic difference but it is still emphasising the same positional truth doctrine, that he is addressing believers. This is the term for the members of the royal family of God. Then he says, “I am not writing a new commandment to you,” and there he is using an epistolary present, that he is writing at this very instant no new commandment. For “new” he uses the word kainos [kainoj], and it is new in the sense of a new kind or something unprecedented, something that is previously unrevealed. The word neos [neoj], which is a synonym for kainos, refers to something that is either new or recent. So he is saying that he is not writing something that hasn’t been revealed or that his readers aren’t aware of or that he hasn’t already taught them. He says, “but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning.” The “from the beginning” is not talking about eternity or the beginning of time as in John 1:1, it is talking about from the beginning of your personal Christian life when you were beginning to learn doctrine. They have been taught this again and again and again. Then he says, “the old commandment is the word which you have heard.” The “word” is translated from logos [logoj], meaning “the message.” This is the same message he has talked about going all the way back into 1:1, the message of life, explained in 1:3: “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you.” He is expanding on that message idea. This is the old commandment which is the message which they heard from the beginning of their Christian life. So they have been taught this.

 

1 John 2:8 NASB “On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you…” It is not a new commandment in their experience, they have been taught this again and again and again, but it is a new commandment for the church age. That goes back to what Jesus said in John 13:34 in the upper room NASB “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Jesus calls it a new commandment, but it sounds like an old commandment. The Old Testament says to love you neighbour as yourself. So what is the difference? In the Old Testament the commandment was to love your neighbour as yourself. The comparative is self and the point in the way that was phrased in the Old Testament is that every person is a sinner. We are all born with self-love, we are self-absorbed. The focus that God is making under the Mosaic Law is that rather than focus on yourself you need to focus on other people and put other people first. They can’t love as Christ loved because Christ had not come yet and they don’t have the Holy Spirit. When that passage is quoted in Galatians 5:14 it is immediately followed by the mechanics to fulfil the love command which is “walk by means of the Spirit.” Five verses later it is explained that this is a fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is first of all love. The reason Paul listed love first in that grocery list of character transformations that take place in the believer’s life as a result of the Holy Spirit is because he is talking about love. Love is going to be related to other characteristics—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, which are facets of impersonal love. It is not just an absence of mental attitude sins, there is something positive to impersonal love. That is why in the New Testament the comparison is no longer “love your neighbour as you love yourself,” it is now “love one another as I love you.” It is stepped up. The comparison now is with the perfect love of the Lord Jesus Christ for rebellious, hostile sinners. Romans 5:8 NASB “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love for us didn’t simply involve an absence of mental attitude sins, it involved the fact that God was going to do something that cost Him something in order to provide salvation for a race that he had created in His image that had rebelled against Him and that was completely hostile to Him. That is the new kind of love that Jesus said would be the mark of the mature believer and the Christian disciple in the church age. It is a new commandment and John emphasises this new commandment again and again in his writings.

 

2 John 1:5 NASB “Now I ask you, lady [local church], not as though {I were} writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.”

 

1 John 3:23 NASB “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”

 

This is what is going to characterise the mature believer. He takes one of the most difficult concepts, the most difficult of the spiritual skills that we can’t get any other way other than through the Holy Spirit. We can’t produce it on our own, we can’t wake up in the morning and say that today we are going to start loving people, it is a production of the Holy Spirit; and we get there by studying doctrine, learning doctrine under the filling of God the Holy Spirit, day in and day out, and as the Holy Spirit works He produces maturity. And one day we wake up and begin to realise that we are executing this mandate in our life, it is produced by God the Holy Spirit, it is not self-generating.

 

1 John 4:21 NASB “And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” Notice the relationship. Love for God precedes love for one another. Why? Because love for God becomes the motivation for loving one another. It is love for God that gives us the virtue so that we can love one another. Love without virtue is meaningless. The only way that we can have virtue in our love is by making God first. And if God is not the priority, doctrine is not the priority, and we haven’t come to love God, then whatever love we have for other people is going to be tainted by our spiritual immaturity and our carnality. Love is not self-centred and until this is understood what real non-selfish love is, which is exemplified by Christ on the cross, there is no concept of what it means to say “I love you.” Most people run around thinking that love has something to do with emotion and sentiment, and something that is rather superficial, and then as soon as life begins to get tough they fall apart.

Jesus expanded on the concept in John 15:12-15 NASB “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” So love is related to knowledge, and knowledge about God.

Our understanding of impersonal love starts with understanding the cross and it advances from there.