Bob Tamasy: The Command That's Both Old And New

  • Thursday, April 4, 2024
  • Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

Many of us are at least somewhat familiar with the Ten Commandments. There was a time when most people could recite them almost by rote, but in these “post-Christian” days, that’s no longer the case. In reading the Bible we discover other commandments, but when asked, Jesus boiled them all down to two:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

But did you know there’s a commandment that’s both old and new?

Years ago, the keynote speaker at a national Christian conference stated the best way to gain a good understanding of a book of the Bible is to read it repeatedly, “until its message becomes a part of you.” He suggested starting with the New Testament book of 1 John, since it’s short, consisting of five chapters. “If you read it through every day for a month, you’ll be amazed at the impact it has on you,” he said.

I decided to give it a try. Every day, I dutifully read all of 1 John’s five chapters and learned a lot. However, two verses didn’t seem to make sense. They were 1 John 2:7-8, “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; its truth is seen in Him [Jesus Christ] and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

Why did this trouble me? Because as a writer, I’m conscious of how ideas connect and am quick to notice when a train of thought seems to jump the tracks. Verse 7 said, “I am not writing you a new command but an old one….” Yet the very next verse stated, “Yet I am writing you a new command….” Knowing the author of this book was the apostle John, after reading and re-reading this several times I wanted to ask, ‘Come on, John! Is it old or is it new?’ I couldn’t get past the seeming contradiction.

As it happened – not a coincidence, I’m certain – I had been trying to memorize two other verses that describe what the Bible says about followers of Christ. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

The other verse was 2 Corinthians 5:17, which declares, “Therefore anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!”

Being relatively new in my faith at the time, these verses perplexed me because they seemed to say that if I was “in Christ” and had been “born again,” then I was a new person. It said I’d been given a new life. Yet in many ways I seemed like the same messed-up guy I had always been, struggling with the same issues and temptations as before. How could I be a “new creation”? How could Christ be living in me if I continued doing the same old stuff?

This led to be a turning point in my spiritual journey, an “Aha” moment. One weekend I was assigned to cover and report on a Christian businessmen’s event in another city. As it happened – again, I know it wasn’t coincidence – I stayed in the home of a man who felt his mission in life was to help young believers understand who they really are in Christ, rather than who they think or feel that they are.

It would take too long to detail our discussions that weekend. Suffice it to say I discovered I had been trying to live the so-called “Christian life” in my own strength. When I failed, I thought I should just try harder. That isn’t what the Scriptures teach, however.

At a particularly teachable moment, Jesus used the object lesson of a grapevine to admonish His disciples, “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He didn’t say “you can’t do a lot” or “you can’t do nearly as much.” He said, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

At another time Jesus told His followers, “A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). There’s that phrase, “a new command” (or commandment). Since the Jews had already received the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), why was He calling it a “new command”?

This was my “Aha”: Living the Christian life as God intends isn’t difficult; it’s impossible – in our own strength. This is why Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” Later the apostle Paul would echo that principle by writing, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Attempting to live a new spiritual life with old fleshly habits and weaknesses is an exercise in futility. To be a “new creation in Christ” means having the life of Jesus in us through His Spirit. Appropriating the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to do what we can’t do ourselves, no matter how good our intentions are and how hard we try.

Summing it all up, John the apostle wasn’t contradicting himself when he wrote, “I am not writing you a new command but an old one,” and in the next verse stating, “Yet I am writing you a new command.” The old, unchanging command is for us to love others as Jesus would. Except our imperfect, sinful selves can’t. We might not even want to. But through the power of the “new command,” we can – appropriating the power and motivation of Christ’s Spirit at work in us. This understanding, at least for me, has been truly transformational!

* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is btamasy@comcast.net.

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