“Dear friends, 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; it’s 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)
We bought my wife a cell phone on eBay a few months ago. It’s an Iphone 5, which was the model before the 5c and the 5s, which was the model before the 6, which was the model before the 6s. The 5 came out in late 2012 and was replaced by the 5c and 5s in late 2013. That is over two years ago now, which is something like a billion in technology years. Despite being an ancient artifact from Silicon Valley, one you half expect an archeologist had to dig out of the California desert, the phone was listed on eBay as “new.” And sure enough, it arrived in the original box, still shrink-wrapped, with no evidence any human had ever touched it since the day it first went into that box in China.
New doesn’t always mean “new in time.” New can also mean “new in quality.” That’s what John is trying to say here when he says about the old command, “Yet I am writing a new command.” Love has not lost any of its luster. It hasn’t lost any of its power either. Each time we put it into practice, it is as powerful and lovely to look at as if we just pulled it out of a shrink-wrapped box.
“Its truth is seen in him,” John writes–that is, in Jesus. If we want to understand Christian love, there is no better place to look than Jesus. Later in this book John will write, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” What do you call it when the people God created, the most gifted and privileged of all his creatures, completely turn against him and abandon him; and though he has the power to do so, God doesn’t wipe them out and start over? No, he promises to rescue them. For millennium after millennium he holds out his hands to them and invites them to come home. One day he comes and he takes their shape. He actually adopts the same sickened and weakened material they had made of the bodies he once gave them. He lives in the garbage dump they had made of the perfect planet he once fashioned as their home. For thirty years he served them. When they were sick he healed them. When they were hungry he fed them. When they criticized him and attacked him, he sat down to teach them. Finally, he shouldered the guilt for all their violence, and all their selfishness, and all their lack of self-control, and he suffered hell on a cross to make it all go away, like none of it had ever happened. He forgave them. What do you call that? That’s love. It’s not the attraction of a man for a woman. It’s not the camaraderie between close friends. It’s love freely given, just because Jesus chooses to love us.
That all happened two thousand years ago, but it is still as perfect and as shiny as that iPhone 5 in the shrink-wrapped box. It’s lovely to look at. It’s powerful to take in and consider. It’s new. And here’s how its useful: John says love’s truth is seen in him. There is something here that is hard to deny, isn’t there? There is something here that is just right, and winsome, and convincing, and magnetic, pulling us in. You know, you can debate with people about all sorts of spiritual trivia. You can try to answer all their objections to what the Bible says on a thousand different topics. But in the end, this is what is going to win them: the triumph of love, the truth we see as love emerges from the life and death of Jesus.