Truth and Love

Reading: 2 John

Sometimes we hear the story of a wedding in jail. A woman commits herself in marriage to someone who is on a life sentence for murder. "What does she see in him?" people ask. Is she blind to what he really is? Or does she see qualities that others in their prejudice are never able to see?

The impish Roman god Cupid - supposedly shooting love-darts at people - was thought to be blind. Is love blind? How does love relate to the truth? Does love deny or ignore the truth? Do people love because of the truth or in spite of it? How can love and truth co-exist with integrity?

The Lady and her Children

We don't know the recipients of John's second letter. Was it an unknown woman Kyria and her children? Or, as the Good News Bible suggests in the margin, was it a church and its members? For a number of reasons, this second option seems the most likely. The reference in v. 13 to "the children of your dear Sister" then refers to the members of another church from which John is writing.

By long tradition, the "Elder" who writes the letter is the apostle John, though more recent scholars have questioned this. There are very good reasons for accepting that 1, 2 and 3 John were all written by the writer of the Fourth Gospel - who is clearly the beloved disciple. And, while the style and subject-matter of the book of Revelation are different from the other Johannine writings, there are sufficient clear connections for us to accept the same author.

Notice the blend of "truth" and "love" in John's greeting. He "truly loves" this dear Lady and her children - but so do "all who know the truth… because the truth remains in us and will be with us for ever" (vv. 1-2).

Is this the perfect church, the church that has it all right? That isn't what John is saying, as we shall see in a moment. Note v. 3 - "May God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, give us grace, mercy, and peace; may they be ours in truth and love." This isn't some casual "proper" greeting. They are carefully measured words. God's "grace, mercy and peace" are the basis of "truth" and "love". God's grace - his costly unmerited favour towards sinners. God's mercy - his forgiveness of our sins. God's peace - the whole new relationship he has established between himself and all who put their trust in him.

Jesus called himself "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14.6). The "truth" is far more than all the works of the old sinful nature. It is the redemptive love of God in Christ. It is what we are in Christ. It is the new nature in process of formation within us in Christ.

Christian love doesn't have to pretend. Because of the grace, mercy and peace of God to us in Christ, God has completed his work for us and is still at work in us to bring about the fullness of his glory.

Love and Obedience

We said a moment ago that John wasn't saying this is the perfect church. Note v. 4, "How happy I was to find that some of your children live in the truth, just as the Father commanded us." That is a positive affirming statement. Yet behind it we sense the apostle's concern. Not all, not most, but "some… live in the truth." That is cause for thankfulness. They will be the growing edge of that church. But what about the rest?

Some have begun to view their lives by God's standards. They have acknowledged their sin. They have repented. They know that Jesus Christ died for their sins. They are trusting him alone for forgiveness and salvation. Their lives are being transformed day by day. But what about the rest? Apparently this is not the case with everyone in the church.

So John continues, "And so I ask you, dear Lady: let us all love one another. This is no new command I am writing to you; it is the command which we have had from the beginning. This love I speak of means that we must live in obedience to God's commands. The command, as you have all heard from the beginning, is that you must all live in love" (vv. 5-6).

Is this the problem in the church? People want to be affirmed. They want a warm fuzzy feeling. But they don't want to live in obedience to God's commands (plural) and they are notably lacking in response to that key command to "live in love".

Truth and Love

But the love John is talking about is closely allied to the truth. So we hear him say, "Many deceivers have gone out all over the world, people who do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ came as a human being. Such a person is a deceiver and the Enemy of Christ [literally, 'antichrist']. Be on your guard, then, so that you will not lose what we have worked for, but will receive your reward in full" (vv. 7-8).

We need to understand clearly the error John is talking about here. The truth is that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God come in the flesh. It is the whole doctrine of the incarnation, the "Word become flesh" (Jn 1.14). There were those of John's time who suggested that Jesus was truly divine, but his physical appearing and suffering were just an apparition. No, John was saying, Jesus truly became a human being. There are those of our time who have no trouble agreeing that Jesus was truly a human being, but deny that he was God the Son. John has already called Jesus "the Father's Son" (v. 3). No, he would say to today's deceivers, this human being Jesus who lived in this world was truly God the Son.

A person who comes into the life of the Church to teach such views is part of the "antichrist" movement in the world. Such teaching which denies the very nature of Christ and therefore strikes at the heart of the gospel. To approve such teaching is to "lose what we have worked for" and to fail to "receive your reward in full" (v. 8). Such views are not an acceptable alternative. They are simply no gospel at all.

John goes on to say, "Anyone who does not stay with the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God. Whoever does stay with the teaching has both the Father and the Son" (v. 9). To deviate from the truth is to leave God behind. To remain with the truth is to enter into a dynamic relationship with both the Father and the Son. That relationship, of course, is through the Holy Spirit.

Such people are not to be welcomed in any way which suggests endorsement of their deviant views. Christian love is to have integrity and discernment and cannot approve of false doctrine.

Truth and love - how can we hold them together? Ray Stedman has commented, "We may emphasise truth and centre on doctrinal matters, insisting that the Scriptures be followed carefully, but at the expense of love. When we do this, we are rigid and cold and judgmental, sometimes even cruel, in the way we say things. Even though what we say is exactly right, we are trying to defend the truth of God at the expense of love. On the other hand, there are those of us who make the mistake of emphasising love at the expense of truth. They feel that we should accept everyone and everything, being tolerant in all directions."

He goes on to relate a story told by Dr H.A. Ironside about the man who came to church, and on the way out, as he shook hands with the pastor one Sunday morning, said to him, "Oh Pastor, I want to tell you what a blessing you've been to me since you've been pastor of this church. Why, when I first started here, I didn't have any regard for God, man or the devil. But since you came, I've learned to love all three."

I believe that truth and love are held together by grace. I mean, of course, God's grace - from which our own graciousness should come. God's love hasn't pretended about the reality of human sin or the need for sin's penalty, death. At God's right time, Jesus, God's Son, came into the world and died - yes, gave his life for human sinners. Truth and love have come together in God's redemptive grace, mercy and peace.

As noted earlier - because of the grace, mercy and peace of God to us in Christ, God has completed his work for us and is still at work in us to bring about the fullness of his glory. By his grace, let us live in truth and love.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 18 July 1999
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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