2 John 1:1-6 Inseparable: Love and Truth (Rev. Erik Veerman)
2 John 1:1-6
Rev. Erik Veerman
Inseparable: Love and Truth
This morning and next week we will be in the book of 2 John. It’s one of the shortest books in the Bible… very similar to 3 John in that way.
As we read, you’ll hear that this is in more of a letter format than 1 John. It has a salutation, a letter body, and a conclusion.
The author identifies himself as “the elder.” It’s very likely this is the apostle John. The language, content, and style are very similar to John’s Gospel and his first letter. The early church also ascribed the book to John. I’ll refer to him as John.
And he’s writing this letter to the “chosen lady.” Most likely it’s not an individual that he’s writing to, but rather a specific church. As I read, I want you to have that in mind. I’ll present some reasons as we get into the details.
We’ll focus on verses 1-6 this morning but I’ll read the whole letter given its brevity.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
2 John, the whole thing
Reading of 2 John
Sodium is one of most abundant element on earth. And scientists would tell you, it is highly reactive. For that reason, it can be very useful in chemical processing. However, sodium reacts violently with certain things, like water. That reaction produces hydrogen gas and sodium hydroxide, a very corrosive compound.
Similarly, the element Chlorine is also highly reactive. By itself, it is a toxic gas. Chlorine is used to produce bleach, which, as you know is a very strong disinfectant. However, exposing yourself to Chlorine can burn your skin and damage your lungs.
But when you take sodium and combine it with chlorine, the result is a very stable compound called sodium chloride. You know it by its common name, salt.
Kids, I bet you didn’t think you were going to get a science lesson today.
Even though salt is made from reactive and toxic elements, it is a very safe and useful compound. Think about how salt brings out the flavor in food. Or how it is used to preserve meat. Salt is also an essential nutrient needed by our bodies.
Well, this morning, we’re going to examine two highly reactive concepts. Individually, they are each potent. They can be used in many ways, sometimes for good, but sometimes for control or in other unhelpful ways. But when these two concepts fuse together, there is nothing more powerful for good in the world.
What are those two concepts? Truth and love. They should be inseparable to us because they are inseparable to God.
And that is the emphasis of this first half of 2 John. The call from God to walk in truth and love.
We’ll get into what that means.
But first, let’s consider the letter and situation.
I mentioned earlier that that the “elect lady” to whom John is writing is likely a church. That’s pretty much what most believe today. I would agree for a few reasons.
•First, the language that John uses to reference his readers mixes singular and plural. He talks about “loving one another” in verse 5. In verse 8, watch “yourselves” – plural. Half of the uses of the word “you” are plural. He switches back and forth from talking to the church (singular) and to her members of the church (plural). That plural includes the “you” references in verse 12. In other words, it gives the vibe of a broader audience.
•Second, the fact that John addresses the letter as “the elder” also gives us a clue. The term elder most often refers to a formal role in the church. Yes, John is an apostle, but his position in the local church is one of a spiritual elder. And as you may be aware, the church is often feminine in Scripture. She is the elect bride of Christ.
•Third, the concepts in the letter more broadly apply to the church. In fact, it covers similar themes from 1 John. Truth, love, and obedience – those were the three themes that wove their way throughout that letter.
•And finally, in John’s closing, he sends a greeting from “the children of your elect sister.” That itself has a similar allusion to the members of another congregation.
And think about this. This letter was written at the turn of the first century. In the life of the church at that time, persecution was very heavy. Especially in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, where John lived. We know that from the opening chapters of Revelation, which John wrote. The sender and recipient of this letter is somewhat hidden or veiled.
Well, that’s very similar to email correspondence sent today between churches and people serving in sensitive areas of the world. We avoid certain words and sometimes use different names. If this letter fell into the wrong hands, it could cause more targeted persecution, especially considering the warning in the second half about these deceivers. We’ll get to those details next week.
So, most likely this letter written to a specific church, dealing with a difficult situation.
And what John does in this letter is first, he establishes a firm foundation upon which they should stand. And second, he addresses the deceivers and how the church should respond.
In verses 1-6, he directs them to truth and love. In verses 7-11 he addresses the situation and how to respond.
So, let’s dive into these first six verses.
A Salutation of Truth and Love
This letter is very much written in the style of other New Testament letters. Most of them begin with a similar salutation. Who the author is; who the recipients are; some comment about the author or recipient; And some sort of pronouncement of God’s grace upon the recipient.
You know, sometimes when we are reading letters in the Bible, we skip over the salutation. Have you ever done that? We think, let’s just get to the heart of the letter. But if we do that, we often miss out on some clues as to the letter’s focus and some great promises!
And I would say, the opening greeting in 2 John is so enriching. The apostle John, who spent three years with Jesus, who was called the disciple whom Jesus loved, writes that he loves this church.
Imagine the scene. The pastor of this congregation, likely a house church, calls his people together. A letter from the apostle John for us! And he opens this small scroll for them. They are all gathered around. Some of them know the apostle John personally. Others know of him. They all respect and love him.
Then, they hear these words, written to them, “whom I love in truth” And John goes on to add that he is not the only one who loves them, he says “all who know the truth” love you as well. Why, “because of the truth that abides in us.” We are in the truth together.
There’s something very significant about knowing you are loved. Sometimes we feel isolated or unloved. But to know that someone loves you, or that a whole church loves you is a deep reassurance. You see, this congregation hasn’t even gotten to the main content of the letter, and they are already overwhelmed by the love expressed to them.
Then, verse 3! It’s like the apostle John’s hands were raised like a benediction. He writes, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us…” That’s different from the apostle Paul’s opening blessings. He usually writes, “grace and peace be to you.” John instead uses the plural “us.” He’s writing as a fellow elect member of the church. In fact, multiple times in this letter, he uses the plural “we”. “We have…” “we were…” “we love…” “we walk…”
John is in solidarity with these dear believers, whom he loves.
In these three opening verses, he’s already framed his message. You’ve probably noticed it. These three verses are saturated with the concepts of love and truth. “I love you in the truth… all who know the truth… because of the truth.” And look how he ends this salutation in verse 3. A blessing, “from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s son, in truth and love.” Both together… truth and love.
So, now that they’ve heard of his love for them, have been reminded about truth, and blessed by the God of truth and love, John is ready to focus in on the matter at hand.
A Message of Truth and Love
Some of you know me pretty well. An you would probably say that I’m usually pretty direct. In a discussion about a situation or in a meeting, I often want to get to the point. “People, let’s focus!” I don’t think I’ve ever said that, but sometimes I want to. I’ve learned the hard way that a straight-forward manner often comes across as aggressive or insensitive or uncaring. I’m still learning the importance of what the apostle John is doing here – Speaking the truth in love.
You see, before John gets to the false teachers, he begins by (1) encouraging the church (in his salutation). And then (2) next, he establishes important principles of faith. Those principles are in verses 4-6. And then finally after that, he addresses the issue.
Most of you have section titles in your Bibles. Those were not part of the original manuscripts, but they are usually helpful. And the title in this section is “Walking in Truth and Love.” I find that a very helpful description of verses 4-6. Because three times he refers to walking. And that walking is in regard to truth and love. We’ve come across this idea of walking before. It’s a very common metaphor throughout the Scripture. Walking refers to how we live our lives. Back then, people walked everywhere. The metaphor is about how you go about your day. How you live your life. What you think, say and do.
John is emphasizing here that the life of a Christian should be a life that walks in truth and love.
He first starts with truth. You see that in verse 4. He says, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.” He’s talking about the truth of God’s word - the commandments, the teaching, their belief in the truth of who God is and who Jesus is. Walking in the truth.
But notice that he doesn’t stay there. No, in verse 5 he quickly switches to love. He writes about the commandment from the beginning. And he names it right there at the end of verse 5: “that we love one another.”
But you know this… love is a very squishy word! Sometimes we define it the way we want to. And to be sure, there are different kinds of love. In the past, we’ve discussed the different words for love that the Bible speaks of. Brotherly love, romantic love, unconditional love. Love in verses 5 and 6 is agape love. That’s the Greek word used. It’s the unconditional commitment love that we receive from God, which we can give to one another.
And look at verse 6 – he defines how we live out that agape love. He writes, “And this is love,” he writes, “that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.”
Love is walking according to God’s commandments. To use the words of Jesus. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Specifically, 2 John is referring to loving one another, as he says in verse 5.
So, to recap: he’s telling them to walk in the truth of God, verse 4 and to walk in the love of God with one another, verses 5 and 6. So, together, walking in truth and love.
Let me put it this way: this truth and love are inseparable. As one pastor put it, “Love without truth is not real love, and truth without love is not real truth.”
Truth without love is hypocritical. It’s harsh and cold. It’s information without a relationship. Truth without love is a hammer treating everything like a nail.
On the other hand, love without truth is misguided and foundationless. It’s often selfish and fleeting and sentimental. Love without truth is like driving with your eyes closed. It’s a runaway train with no rails, no brakes, and no engineer.
But truth with love is true love. It’s genuine and faithful, kind and compassionate. It listens and responds graciously and thoughtfully. As we learn in 1 Corinthians 13 “love rejoices in the truth.” It pursues God and others selflessly. It is unwavering but embracing. Truth with love is a refuge in the storm. It does not compromise on truth but at the same time is compassionate.
This is why John greatly rejoices, verse 4, because he has found that some of them are walking in truth and love.
A Life of Truth and Love
There are many many examples of Christians who reflect both truth and love. But one historical example came to mind - William Wilberforce. I think he particularly modelled what it means to walk in truth and love.
Some of you are very familiar with Wilberforce. He lived in England at the turn of the 19th century. He was a member of the British Parliament for over 30 years. And he dedicated his life to ending the slave trade and slavery. Wilberforce was not a bombastic politician like so many in the British parliament. No, he was firm but gracious. He spoke the truth in love. He cared greatly about others. He was patient and persistent. Wilberforce used his position to advocate for the rights of all men and to reveal the tyranny and oppression of slavery. His own life testified to this same commitment to truth and love.
Wilberforce pursued these convictions for decades. In fact, Wilberforce had served in Parliament for 27 years before finally seeing some fruit from his labor. The slave trade act was adopted in 1807. It put an end to the slave trade in the British Empire. Slavery remained legal for a few more year, but the tide had turned. Through his compelling and loving advocacy, Wilberforce had won many hearts and minds. Even after his service in Parliament ended, the work continued. In 1833, only three days before his death, Parliament adopted the slavery abolition act. It put an end to slavery in Britain and its territories.
But what compelled Wilberforce? What drove him to not only to stand up for truth and life, but to be a witness through the grace and love that he displayed?
For Wilberforce, it all originated from his faith in Christ. He was 27 years old when he believed in Jesus. From that moment, it would define his motivations. His beliefs in the truth of God gave him an understanding of the dignity of all men. And it gave Wilberforce a love for others. In some of his writings, he describes how in every conversation, he sought to bring the discussion around to eternal things. He wanted everyone to know and believe in Christ and for them to experience that same love and transformation that he himself experienced.
You see, it was the truth of the Gospel in his life, and the love of God for him, that compelled Wilberforce in those conversation and in his tireless work to end slavery. He modelled what it means to be salt - truth and love bound together.
Does that describe your life? If the apostle John were alive today, would he rejoice greatly to find you walking in truth and love? Do your life and beliefs reflect the truth of God as you pursue him and his Word? And d your life and beliefs reflect the agape love of God as you seek to love others with that same love? Not just truth by itself, and not love without truth, but truth and love?
The Source of Truth and Love
Honestly, it probably sounds overwhelming. To me it does. It’s hard enough to walk in truth, let alone to love at the same time.
So how do we do it? How do you and I become salt, in which truth and love live together?
Well, I can tell you, it doesn’t come from the outside. You can’t see the ideal of truth and witness the ideal of love and somehow take them and try to make them yours. It won’t stick. You’ll find yourself failing at both.
No, that won’t work.
But the answer is here for us.
And we have to go back to this beautiful salutation. John has written that he and others love them in truth. And did you notice that very important word at the beginning of verse 2. The word “because.” I love you in truth… “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.”
Living a life of truth in God and the agape love from him comes from within. It is the same transformation that Wilberforce experienced. God’s love and truth in Christ changed him on the inside. And notice verse 3 again. Where does the grace, mercy, and peace come from? It comes “from God the Father,” and “from Jesus Christ,” his son. And then he ends his salutation “in truth and love.” Our hearts are transformed from within by God. Though his abiding in us, we will have his truth and love.
As we draw to a close, there’s a greater example than Wilberforce - a greater example of truth and love. In fact, we can’t just call him an example, we need to call him Savior.
You see, Jesus’ life embodied truth. He lived a life of truth and righteousness. As God, his words and actions perfectly fulfilled what is good, and right, and true. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Jesus also embodied love. He is the fulfillment of God the Father’s love for us. There’s no greater love than the love of Christ dying for us… enduring what we deserved.
You see, in the cross of Christ, truth and love are perfectly united. Truth and love inseparable forever.
And that perfect truth and unending love is yours by faith in Christ. When you know and believe in him, his truth and love will abide in you forever. That’s what the end of verse 2 tells us. The truth that abides in us will be with us forever. He will be that never-ending source of truth and love in your life.
So, Instead of trying to walk in truth and love because you see truth and love out there, you will be able to walk in truth and love because of the truth and love of Christ in you… all your days and into eternity.
May we each know the truth and love of God in Christ. And out of the abundance of God’s truth and his agape love for us, may we each live out that truth and love.