Robert Wurtz II
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9–11 NKJV)
John brings us to a central theme of the New Testament with a renewed focus and insight. This theme is summed up in the words of Paul in Romans 13:10, Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10 NKJV) In other words, one of the objectives of the Law was to teach fallen man how to treat one another in relationships. When one is walking in love, one achieves the primary objective the Law.
1 John 2:9-11 may be used as a symposium on Romans 13:10a where Paul stated, Love does no harm to a neighbor. Both Paul and John agree that when a person loves their brother, there is no “cause of stumbling” in him. That is to say, there is nothing in them that could cause another person to fall into sin or fall in the faith. Our word in the Greek for “cause of stumbling” is skandalon; the word from which we derive the English word scandal. It is a trap or stumbling block. In other words, a person who walks in love is not a spiritual “trip hazard” for others. This is because a person who loves their brother is utterly conscious of the value of their soul. People are vessels who have to be handled with care — as if you were handling a priceless antique vase. In fact, a person who walks in love is conscientious and careful not to ever, under any circumstances, cause an unnecessary offense against others, by intention or recklessness so as to turn them against God or harm their faith.
Some professors of the Christian faith do not live by this rule. They have no concept of how their actions are affecting others. John tells us why this is when he writes, But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. This is a sobering passage. First, it teaches us that some professors of Christ actually hate their brother or sister. They may not admit it, but their actions testify to the fact that they do indeed hate them. What is one such action? It is behaving in such a way that could offend the person and cause them to fall from the faith.
The Disciples, before they were Born of God, had the attitude that if people didn’t respond to God in a way they thought necessary, they should call fire down from heaven. Jesus told them that they knew not what manner of spirit they were of. It was not the Holy Spirit inspiring them this way. Nevertheless, when they received the Holy Spirit, the love of God was poured out in their hearts and their perspective changed. They loved the very people they once hated.
The second thing I wish to see in our passage is that when a professor of the Christian faith has a hateful attitude towards his brother, he is filled with darkness. He is blinded by the hate. This not only endangers others, but it endangers the blind person. What is worse is that the person does not know they are blind. They believe they are seeing clearly, but what they see is a false reality. Hate distorts a person’s perceptions so profoundly that John characterizes them as “blind.”
John and Paul are not the only Apostles to address this issue. Peter takes up the exact same line when he writes:
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he who lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. (2 Peter 1:6-9)
A person who lacks temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love is spiritually blind. Peter adds the cause of the blindness; he has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. This is always the danger. When a professor of the Christian faith forgets that they have sinned and been forgiven, they develop a self-righteous, ungodly, and unloving attitude towards others that blinds them. What did Paul say? And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV)
Some professors of the Christian faith excuse their hateful behavior by suggesting that the person they hate is no Christian at all, but an enemy of the faith. Once they convince themselves of this, ungodly and unloving behaviors become acceptable to them. Paul addresses this stronghold in Romans 14:4 when he asks, Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4 NKJV) It is folly and a trap to exclude brothers and sisters in the faith because you or I don’t think their faith is “genuine enough” and they are therefore worthy of hate.
“What a blessing it is that the Lord’s heart is so large, that He can help whenever He sees some good; whereas man withdraws because he sees some evil thing, which is generally found to mean something that wounds his own self-love in the little scheme he had set up as perfection.” (Anthony Norris Groves)
Groves had his hand on God’s pulse when He wrote these words. How far is it from the attitude of the person who hates and stumbles their brother? Yet we need to add one more person to our list whose words are perhaps the most sobering of all.
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. (Luke 17:1–3 NKJV)
The idea is not simply to cause someone to sin, but rather to become less faithful disciples, or to stop following Jesus altogether (see note below). Jesus recognizes that such things will happen, but woe to that person through whom they come. In what sense is it terrible for the disciple who causes another to stumble? In v. 2 Jesus states that it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one to stumble. Elsewhere Jesus states that it would be better to lose an eye or a limb in order to gain heaven than to go to hell (see Mark 9:43, 47). Although this language may be hyperbolic, Jesus warns of the danger of judgment upon anyone who would destroy the faith of the one who believes in him. The final warning of v. 3a, so watch yourselves. (NIBC)