VERSE 10: The Light
Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.
This is the second test in John’s apostolic epistle given to believers so that we can verify that Christ is in us and we are in him. In these first two tests, John contrasts the expression of darkness in hate with the expression of the light in love so that his point will be clear: light expresses itself in love and darkness expresses itself in hate.
Love is the means by which Christians are established in holiness:
1st Thessalonians 3:12-13 (ESV) …may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
“Anyone who loves their brother and sister”: this expression denotes continuance rather than perfection; while Christian brothers and sisters might offend one another – thereby falling short of Christ’s love – their love towards one another persists and endures as they forgive and reconcile with one another.
In a positive sense, therefore, love is the godly promotion of all holiness and goodness in one another’s lives:
1st John 5:2 (CSB) This is how we know that we love God’s children: when we love God and obey his commands.
Love is an arc that runs from God to us, and through us to others. We cannot love others rightly unless we love with the love by which we have been loved. That is why Jesus’ love-commandment was to “love as I have loved you”, not “love as you see fit”; we can only rightly love others when we love them with the love we have received from Christ.
Romans 5:1-5 (CSB) Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
In order to rightly love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must first have the love of God poured into our hearts by the personal presence of God himself. “Carnal love” does not please God, no matter how pious it may appear on the outside (Rom. 8:5-8); we must be filled with Christ-like love. First, we must taste love from the Holy Spirit himself and God must become the primary object of our love, then we will love our brothers and sisters in Christ as he loved them. But we cannot do this until we have tasted the personal presence of God’s love in our hearts.
“Loves their brother or sister”: this verse is directly linked to the “Christian fellowship” that John expounds on in 1:3 and 1:7, and unfolds the centrality of Christian fellowship in John’s epistle.
The commandment to love our brothers and sisters in Christ is itself a commandment to participate in Christian fellowship:
Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV) And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Forsaking the Church altogether demonstrates darkness rather than light because it does not allow for love.
“Lives in the Light”: one of the fundamental presuppositions of my teaching has been that John’s epistle is talking about the believer’s continual experience of life rather than singular acts at any given point in the believer’s life. The reason for this is John’s “present tense active” verbs, which describe a state of being and not single acts.
Μένω (menō – “Lives in” or “abides in”) is a present tense active verb describing a state of being. John isn’t saying that anyone who commits one act of love is in the light (in the same way that he isn’t saying that anyone who commits one act of hate is in the darkness), but that those whose life is characterized by love walk in the light.
The meaning is strikingly clear: anyone who claims to be in the light must first examine their life to see whether or not they walk in “real” and “tangible” love towards their brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Nothing in them to make them stumble”: because of the uncertain antecedents of the Greek pronouns, this verse is difficult to translate on its own merits and might be read as saying “there is nothing in him to make [his brother] stumble”, or “there is nothing in him to cause his [own] stumbling”, or “there is nothing in [the light] to cause him to stumble”, or “there is nothing in [the light] to cause [his brother] to stumble” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 317).
However, in view of John’s theological love-light-life arc, I think we are meant to conclude the following points:
First, the light secures the way for our feet so that no one stumbles in Christ.
Second, Christian love is the fulfillment of God’s righteousness in our life.
John does not mean that there will be no obstacles in the believer’s way that could cause them to stumble, but that those who walk in the light can see clearly enough not to stumble because they walk in the light as Christ is in the light. But the one who is in the darkness “does not know where he is going” – that is to say that he cannot see where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes (2:11).