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2 John: Truth in Love Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 24 January 2010

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We often divorce truth from love and love from truth.  We act as if these two ideas are incompatible, or at least not supposed to be talked about in the same conversation.  This is due in part to the fact that we value ‘love’ as the highest virtue, which is a problem when what we mean by love is no more than ‘warm feelings’ and tolerance.  When we begin to think in these ways, the only ‘sin’ in our day is to not be ‘loving’ or tolerant.  Thus, who cares what a person believes or how they act or what they teach, we must love them by being tolerant.

The Bible does not support this understanding of love.  No, the Bible calls us to hold love and truth together.  Without truth, love is ‘wishy-washy’ and fleeting.  Without love, truth is cold and arrogant.  Yet, when you bring the two together you begin to see what the Bible calls us to be and do.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at two letters which give us instructions about how to keep truth and love together.  In both 2 and 3 John we are called to demonstrate love for each other as we walk in the truth.  We will focus on 2 John this morning.

The letter of 2 John begins with a greeting and ends with a closing greeting.  Look at verses 1-2.  John identifies himself as the elder, a title which the recipients would have recognized.  We cannot be certain about what this title signifies, but we can say that John exercised some authority over this Church to which the title probably points.  He is writing to the elect lady and her children, which I think is best understood as a local Church (or house Church) and its members.  It is most likely the same group that he is addressing in 1 John.  He makes it clear that he cares for these people in both the opening and closing greeting.  He loves them in truth.  They are fellow believers in the truth of the gospel and John (along with other believers) loves them as such.  The truth of the gospel brings them into a relationship of love and concern.  It is this concern that leaves him wanting to come to you and talk face to face (v. 12).  Until then, he has written them this letter to encourage and warn them.  He has confident hope that grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.  It is this confident hope that makes this greeting stand out as distinctly Christian.

John begins the body of the letter with more evidence of his love for the Church.  Look at what he writes in verse 4.  A faithful brother in Christ, a minister, a pastor, should always rejoice when he hears that the people he loves are walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.  It seems that John had received news (albeit limited) that some in the Church were doing well.  He wants to encourage this and goes on to give them instruction and warning about how they can continue to walk (or best walk) in the truth.  What does he tell them?

We walk in the truth by loving one another according to God’s commands (v. 5-6).

John gets right to the point in verse 5.  Look at what he says.  His request of them is that we love one another.  Even though this community had been rocked by false teachers (as we will see later in the letter), John wants them to be firm in their commitment to love each other.  He reminds them that this is not a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning.  The language is similar to 1 John (see 2:7-11).  John is pointing out again that the command to love each other is not something that he is making up.  No, they have been taught to love each other as long as they have been Christians.  They were commanded by their Savior to love each other.  Thus, John is not giving them new instructions, but simply calling them to be faithful to the old ones.  It is easy to forget the call to love in the midst of hardship and difficulty. We have a tendency to turn on our brothers and sisters in Christ when the Church struggles.  What does John tell us?  We must love each other.  We must not forget this call.

Yet, is John just calling them to have ‘warm feelings’ about each other?  No, he goes on to define what he means by love.  Look at verse 6.  John defines love in this verse in the same way that he defines it in 1 John 5:2-3.  Love is not just a feeling or emotion.  No, our love is connected to ethical commands.  God has told us what is right and what is wrong through His Word and through the Word who became flesh.  He has given commands concerning how we should live and act and treat each other.  John tells us that if we want to truly love others, then we will obey these commands.  We cannot claim to love each other if we are ignoring the commands of God. 

 As we noted in our study through 1 John, it is this understanding of love that separates Christian love and worldly love.  Christian love is concerned with morality and ethics.  It takes its cue from Christ who was completely obedient to the Father in every way, even death on a cross.  Christian love does not ignore right and wrong.  In one sense, even in John’s definition of love we see the connection of truth and love.  If we neglect the truth (God’s commands) then we are not loving one another.  He develops this even further in the next few verses as he warns them about deceivers and antichrists, which leads us to his second way that we can walk in the truth.

We walk in the truth by remaining in the teaching of Christ (v. 7-11).

John offers a warning in verse 7.  Look at that with me.  How is this verse connected to what John has already said about love?  Again, if we see the connection between keeping God’s commands and love, or truth and love, then we can see how that leads to the warning that we find in verse 7.  As we have seen from 1 John, we know that the early Church was facing severe doctrinal issues.  Since it seems that John is writing this letter to the same community that he wrote 1 John, we know that the opponents were teaching false doctrine about Christ.  They were denying that Jesus really was Christ in the flesh.  They misunderstood the incarnation, which led them to further denials about Jesus’ death (see 1 John 5:6-12).  John has called them liars and antichrists before (1 John 2:22) and does the same here.  They not only believe false ideas about Jesus, but they are seeking to lead others astray as well. 

So how does John tell them to respond?  Look at verse 8.  He commands them to watch yourselves.  He does not want them to be lead astray.  He does not want them to show that they too were never really a part of the body of Christ (see 1 John 2:19), which would mean that his labor was in vain.  He wants them to win a full reward, so he commands them to watch themselves.  Yet, how are they supposed to do that?

First, they must remain in the teaching of Christ.  Look at verse 9.  It seems that the opponents were claiming to have more revelation and more understanding.  They had moved beyond what John had taught them and were encouraging others to do the same.  Yet, John tells them that to go on ahead is to actually lose Christ and lose God.  He tells them not to be lured away by claims of ‘greater knowledge’ or ‘further revelation.’  Rather, they are to abide in the teaching of Christ.  What they have been taught about Christ and by Christ is enough.  They do not need further teaching about His person and work.  If they have Him, then they have both Father and Son. 

Let me pause at this point and note the fact that we need to hear what John is saying.  There may not be teachers all around us saying the same things that John’s opponents did, but we must be wary of anyone who claims ‘new information’ about Jesus.  I fear that many have realized that such a claim is a good way to make money and sell books and increase ratings.  Thus, they claim ‘new truth’ or ‘new revelations’ and people are deceived.  We must avoid this error by believing and proclaiming and loving old truth.  G. K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, comments on how he tried to be original and creative in his beliefs but kept discovering that they were old.  He writes: “I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age.  Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth.  And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.”1  May we make the same discovery: we do not need new truth and any new truth that we think we might discover, if it is truth indeed, will turn out to be old.  If we are going to avoid being deceived, then we must remain in the teaching of Christ that we have received in the pages of the New Testament.

Second, in keeping with what he has already said, they must not support those who do not remain in the teaching of Christ.  Look at verses 10-11.  When John wrote this letter, many evangelists or teachers were completely dependent upon the hospitality of others.  As they traveled from place to place, they were constantly in need of housing and support.  By taking a teacher in and showing them hospitality, you were in one way advocating what they taught.  If you add to this the fact that churches met in homes, you can understand better what John is warning against here.  He does not want the Church to support the ministries of those who were denying these critical truths about Jesus.  They were not to welcome them and their teaching, since this would be participating in their wicked works.  Likewise, we must be wary of heresy in our day.  We must avoid supporting any ministry that teaches such blatant errors concerning Christ, lest we be deceived and support the work of others being deceived as well.

John wants his readers to walk in the truth.  He wants them to love one another and to avoid the errors that were being taught about Christ.  He wants them to stay true to what they had heard from the beginning.  This letter challenges us to be sure that we are walking in the truth.  We are called as believers to be loving one another, but such love does not mean ignoring sin and tolerating heresy.  No, if we are really going to love each other, then we must hold fast to the truth.  We must obey the commands of the Father and remain in the teaching of Christ.  We must keep truth in our love.  Thus, I challenge you to keep truth in your love for one another by meditating upon and obeying the commands of God.  Love like Christ by meditating upon His sacrifice for your sins.  Lay your lives down for one another just as He laid down His life for His Bride.  Be committed to keeping truth in your love for each other by letting God’s Word permeate your lives.  This will mean doing hard things at times.  But if we learn anything from the sacrifice of Christ, surely we learn that love, true love, means keeping God’s commands, even when they are hard.  May we love like Him.  Amen.

1 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995) p. 16.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 February 2010 )

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