9 He who says he is in the light yet hates his brother is in darkness even until now. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no stumbling-block (scandalon) in it. 11 But he that hates his brother is in darkness and in the darkness walks and does not know where he goes because the darkness has blinded his eyes.1 John 2:9-10
Having established that keeping God’s word/commands is the fruit of God’s love within (2:5), John now turns to love of neighbor. “Brother” here should be understood as fellow saints. Initially, this might seem like a narrowing of what Jesus widened. Jesus famously taught (to his Israelite audience) that your neighbor isn’t just fellow Jews, but mankind in general. We should recall that Jesus was making way for the Gentiles (even the hated Samaritans) to be welcomed into the covenant blessings of Israel (while unbelieving Jews would be cast out).
John, however, is writing to a mingled audience of believing Jews and Gentiles. This new Israel must recognize that the loyalty and love which arises from the Gospel begins between brothers in Christ (i.e. those “born of God”). As this love take holds amongst God’s children it bleeds outward and infiltrates all other loyalties––familial, national, and ethnic. John is building on what Christ taught, not restricting it. The only way for us to show love to mankind in general is to begin by love for those ”born of God.” This is the light that is shining, which John anticipates will soon illumine the whole world.
Once more, John continues the illustrative conversation, i.e. “He that saith…”. This time the lie being spun is a claim to dwell in the light (Cf. 1:6-7) while detesting one’s brother. If you hate your brother, you dwell in darkness, not in the true light which is now shining. This is contrasted with the one who truly dwells in the light. The one who dwells in the light loves his brother.
There is a striking phrase used here that bears a lingering remark. The one who loves his brother demonstrates that he truly dwells in the light of God; thus, there is no stumbling-block in him. The word used by John here is scandolon. This is where we get the word scandal. Human history is littered with a constant ebb and flow of constantly escalating scandals. It starts with small slights, gnawing envies, and minor infractions. But the scandal, like rivulets joining into rivers, always grows.
Think of a child playing contentedly. Another child arrives, and grabs a toy that the first child hadn’t been playing with. However, now that toy now has captured the first child’s attention, and he’ll rush over to try to take it. The second child will then grip tighter, and then the whole situation escalates to screams, bites, and punches. This is what mankind has done on a large scale since Cain crushed Abel’s skull (note that John will use this very OT episode in 3:12 when he expounds on what is introduced in this text).
The scandal is that our envies and lusts have trapped us in a constant battle with our fellow man. It is a stumbling-block. Here, however, the path of escape from this fallen system of living is shown. Mankind need not remain in darkness, for the true light now shines, inviting man (whether Jew or Gentile) out of the darkness of the scandal, into the bright light of the Gospel scandal: Christ laid down His life for us.
The Accuser’s lies, which we have participated in spreading and believing, are undone by our Advocate (2:1). He says of us, “This one is mine, it is for this one that I shed my blood.” Thus, Christ is the great scandal that renders all the scandals powerless. Their grip is lost. The light shows us where the stumbling blocks are, thus, in essence, removing them. Because Christ forgave us and has brought us into fellowship with God, we are now able love our brother. The steeds of rivalry and contention are all hocked. The engines of envy and covetousness seize up.
Hating those for whom Christ died and has redeemed by His blood demonstrates that no matter how loudly you say otherwise, you still are walking in darkness. This is the condition of the fallen man. He walks around in the darkness of hatred. They stumble over all the scandals, big and small. The darkness has blinded them, and they have no way to know where they are going. But not so with those who have seen the ultimate scandal: God, in Christ, has forgiven you and begotten you––and all the elect saints––as his children.
There is some debate as to whether the last phrase in verse 10 should be translated that there is no stumbling block in him (the one who loves his brethren), or in the light. I prefer to render it according to the latter line of thinking. In other words, those walking in darkness have seen a great light indeed. Once we dwell in the light, as He is in the light, we see the stumbling blocks––the scandals––for what they are, and by the Light of Christ they are all removed.
- 1 John 5:1-5 | Swept Up Into Victory
- 1 John 4:17-21 | Bold Sons & Fearful Slaves
- 1 John 4:11-16 | The Offensive Love of God
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils
- 1 John 4:1-3 | Stranger Danger
- 1 John 3:23-24 | The Nail in Timidity’s Coffin
- 1 John 3:19-22 | God is Greater than Our Hearts
- 1 John 3:13-18 | The World Hates You
- 1 John 3:10-12 | Children of God, Children of the Devil