One Chapter Books in the Bible

The Priority of Truth & Love

2 John 1-13

Teaching t23002


We are doing a series on the one-chapter letters of the Bible: Philemon, Jude, 2 John, 3 John, and Obadiah. Because of their brevity, these letters are seldom read or pondered – but they are a wealth of spiritual insight. This morning we look at 2John (read 1:1a).

The author is “the elder.” He does not name himself, but he is almost certainly John of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, and author of the gospel of John, 1-3 John, and Revelation. The style and content is identical to 1John, which has overwhelming evidence (from early church leaders’ writings) of Johannine authorship. “The elder” signifies both his advanced age and his recognized leadership position (1Pet.5:1).

The audience is “the chosen lady and her children.” This may be a figurative reference to a local church (see 1:13), but it more likely refers to a Christian woman who is a key leader of a local church, and to the Christians she leads.

The main theme of this brief letter is the priority of truth and love in biblical Christianity/Christian spirituality (read 1:1-6).

Notice the repetition of the words “truth” (5 times; 1:1,1,2,3,4) and “love” (4 times; 1:1,3,5,6).

John (along with the rest of the Bible) defines these two terms very differently from our culture:

  • Truth (alethia) means objective reality (contra subjective perception), and especially refers to revelation about who God is (1:3 - a loving Father who imparts grace, mercy and peace through His unique Son Jesus the Messiah) and God’s moral will for our lives (1:6 – “according to His commandments”).
  • Love (agape) means choosing self-giving, other-centered service (contra “I love you because you make me feel good” or “I love you, so you owe me”).

Truth & love are inseparable

The first thing we should realize about biblical truth and love is that they are inseparable. Notice all the ways John weaves these two terms together:

  • He speaks of his audience as those “whom I love in truth” (1:1), and says that “all who know the truth (love you)” (1:1).
  • He says that he loves them “for the sake of the truth which abides in us” (1:2).
  • He prays for God’s grace, mercy and peace to be with them “in truth and love.” (1:3).
  • He is “very glad to find some of your children walking in the truth” (1:4), which means that they are keeping God’s commandment to “to love one another” (1:5).

This should not surprise us, because truth and love come from God, and the God of the Bible is a God of both truth and love. John emphasizes this in his writings.

  • God the Father is Light (1Jn.1:5) and Love (1Jn.4:8).
  • Jesus, who is the eternal Son of God, is likewise “full of grace (undeserved love) and truth” (Jn.1:14).
  • The Spirit of God, who is a Person (not a force), is “the Spirit of truth” (Jn.14:17; 16:13), and the Spirit who reveals the love of the Father and Jesus to believers (Jn.14:21,23; see 14:16-18).

So truth and love are inseparable. They are like the two wings of an airplane. They are like the water and the banks of a river. Both are dependent on the other. Truth and love are at the very heart of who God is, and are likewise at the very heart of what it means to be spiritual. This raises an obvious question: What is the relationship between truth and love in our lives?

What is the relationship between truth & love?

The biblical answer to this question is very deep and complex! But we can summarize this relationship between truth and love in these two statements:

Love must be motivated and guided by truth.

Love is not self-motivating. Without motivation from God’s doctrinal truth (the gospel), it runs out of gas – and degenerates into a duty-driven life, or giving to get back, etc. The doctrinal truth of God’s truth tells us how God loves us, and this truth supplies us with the motivation to love (quote 1Jn.4:19; read & explain Col.1:4,5). This is why people who decide to believe the truth (i.e., the gospel) receive a whole new motivation to love God and other people (e.g., SCROOGE; GOSPEL HERE)! This is also why growing deeper in your understanding and appreciation of this message is crucial to growing in love for God and others.

Love is not self-directing. It needs the guidance of God’s ethical truth which informs us about what is good/designed and thus shows us how to love others (read Rom.13:10; 12:9). Without this guidance, love is blind and degenerates into something naïve at best (“ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE”), or self-serving at worst (SITUATIONAL ETHICS; ENABLING).

Truth must be tempered by love and promote love.

We are to speak the truth in love (read Eph.4:15)—that is, we should communicate the truth to others in order to help them (Heb.12:10; 2Tim.2:23-26). Without this tempering, truth can be used as a bludgeon to condemn and hurt others (PHARISEES; FUNDAMENTALISM; NASTY REBUKE).

We are to acquire truth so that we can love more effectively (read 1Tim.1:5). Without this intent, truth can become a means of self-righteousness (Rom.2:17-24) and self-promotion (1Cor.13:2; IVORY-TOWER THEOLOGICAL ACADEMIA).

So if you want to have a healthy spiritual life, you must keep truth and love together! Here are a couple of ways to do this – one reactive and the other proactive:

Beware of valuing one more than/over the other. This usually happens in one of two ways:

Your church culture can value one over the other. American culture clearly values love over truth (POSTMODERNISM); this is in the “air” we breathe. So many churches bring this same distortion into their church culture. This is the error of the Emergent movement—but it can affect us in subtler ways. For example, do you find yourself critiquing other churches with: “We are the really loving ones!” Or: “They are into head-knowledge, but we’re into heart-knowledge!” Other churches over-react to American culture and rationalize their lack of love in the name of “standing for the truth.” What’s the tendency in your home group’s culture?

As fallen individuals, we all tend to value one over the other. The real danger is when you justify/spiritualize this instead of leaning against it. The most common way we do this is by focusing on the dangers of the extreme that we’re not tempted by. For example, do you think: “I wouldn’t want to become a heartless dogmatist” – when your greater temptation is to compromise truth in the name of love? Or do you think: “I wouldn’t want to become soft sentimentalist” – when your greater temptation is to be unloving in the name of truth? Ask your Christian friends which tendency they see in you.

Set goals to keep growing in both truth and love. Paul urges Timothy to do this in 1Tim.4:12,13,15. Peter urges us to do this in 2Pet.1:5,7 (read). In what specific way do you want to progress in truth this year (EXAMPLES)? In what specific way do you want to progress in love this year (EXAMPLES)? Ask God to give you insight on this—He loves to answer this prayer!

Practical application

John applies the priority of truth and love to his audience in two specific ways. Let’s see what they are and apply them to ourselves.

Resist false Christian teachers (1:7-11). We covered this last week when we studied Jude, so I will be brief. Certain counterfeit Christian teachers were circulating through their area. They promoted some kind of Jesus who was not the one-and-only, God-incarnate Messiah who was promised by the Old Testament prophets. So because John loves his audience, he warns them that such teachers are deceivers and ultimately inspired by Satan (1:7b). Therefore, they should not receive their teaching (1:8,9) or provide them with hospitality or financial support (1:10,11), because this would be promoting their error. You may say: “This is unloving!” But it is actually unloving to not do this. If you knew that someone was posing as a doctor and treating sick people with medicine that made them sicker, what would be the loving thing to do? Isn’t the spiritual quackery of false teachers even more damaging?

Prioritize face-to-face relating (read 1:12). There is a great irony in these words. John has been speaking the truth in love throughout this letter. Because he is an apostle, this letter is inspired by God and has been preserved for our instruction and correction (2Tim.3:16,17). But John insists that even an inspired letter is a distant second to communicating to them “face to face” (literally, mouth-to-mouth)! Why? Because, as embodied creatures, the fullest communication of truth and love requires physical presence.

“The paper cannot smile, nor can it respond to changes of mood... A visit was what he was really looking forward to. His coming to strengthen the church and encourage their faith will complete, or ‘fill full’, their mutual joy... Open fellowship and Christian joy are best developed and maintained by personal, face-to-face contact... Some of us too easily hide behind a letter, or even a phone call, when we should speak the truth in love in a personal meeting.”

How much more applicable is his point today! Today, because of the rapid proliferation of information technology, Americans “connect” far more via email, text, Facebook, etc.—and far less by regular face-to-face relating (FAMILY AT N.C. COFFEE HOUSE)! And sadly, most American Christians tend to uncritically follow our culture in this area. The result is that instead of using IT to supplement a rich life of FTF relating, many Christians are using IT to replace FTF relating.

Biblical Christians need to be counter-cultural in this area! How to do this is a huge topic. I’m going to address it more fully in a workshop at our upcoming Summer Institute. But at least we should be asking ourselves questions like:

  • “Do I prefer face-to-face relating over communication via information technology? If not, why not?”
  • “Do I contain my usage of information technology and resist its encroachment? If not, why not?”
  • “Do I schedule regular face-to-face time with family, friends, and Christian brothers and sisters? If not, why not?”

John often uses “children” in his letters to refer to younger Christians that he leads in some way (1Jn.; 3Jn.1:4). We have no reason to think that Gaius (3 Jn.1:1) was not a church leader. Why would we not also assume that this lady is also a church leader, as were Priscilla, Phoebe, deaconesses; etc.?

D. Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters (Downers’ Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p.187.

: “...the kind of community required for (spiritual health)... comes through the human touch, the human voice, the human gaze. Genuine community shines through the human presence of truth expressed personally. Cyberspace can only mimic or mirror these things (however convincingly); it cannot create them. It can, however, (fool) us into mistaking connectivity for community ... If cyberspace is kept closely fastened to the real world, and if we refuse its temptations to exchange the virtual for the literal, it can be our servant. Otherwise it will become a demanding and all-consuming media monster.” Douglas Grootuis, The Soul in Cyberspace (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Co., 1997), p.143.