In the Gospel of John, he laid out an elaborate and poetic presentation of the gospel message – who Christ is, what he came for, and what has to happen next. As you move into 1 John we see his thoughts about Jesus and the great commission shape his idea of what a church should be and do. They should be beacons of light, in the world but not of it, and above all marked by a focus on the things of God, namely his promises and laws.
2 John doesn’t say anything new. The time before writing this letter has shaped John’s theology, how he understands God and the church. And now after experience and time he’s able to condense the message into literally two words: truth and love. Whatever it is he means by truth and whatever it is he means by love are tools – when they are said they are meant to invoke specific ideas and concepts. Furthermore, a sound understanding of these two words helps his readers navigate his other writings.
I am convinced, and so is John apparently, that if you are able to grasp these two simple words than the rest of the Bible is merely a commentary to these two concepts.
Where are we going? We are going to answer 4 questions:
- What is love?
- What does it mean to walk in love?
- What is truth?
- How does truth motivate love?
One more note – I am going to attempt to answer each question with John’s own language. Since 2 John is such a short book, it necessitates us looking in both his Gospel and 1 John to answer these questions fully.
What is love?
John begins speaking about love immediately as the letter opens, “to the chosen lady and her children whom I love in the truth.” Dear lady and chosen lady refer to the church – because of its status as the bride of Christ, he is not writing to an actual woman in this case.
Move down to verse 5, here John begins a short discussion about love. First thing he says, I am not writing to you a new command, love one another. Where has it been said before? John 13:34: A new command I give to you. Also again in 1 John 2 – John takes time again to state that his command is merely an echo of what Jesus has said – love one another.
This pattern is a glimpse of the pattern found in John’s writings – if he says anything in 1 2 or 3 John its almost guaranteed you will find it again, or even a fuller explanation in another letter or in his Gospel. His command to love is coming out of what Jesus has said – and as we see his understanding of love comes out of what Jesus has done.
Next verse in 2 John, and this is love, that we walk in obedience to his commands. This concept is again repeated in the Gospel of John and in 1 John. But if all love is is obedience, than just following the rules would be enough – regardless of where your heart might be. There are a few verse which help flesh out this definition, by looking at what Jesus has done – and then we’ll go from there.
1 John 3:16, 3:18, 4:10, 4:18, 5:3,
- laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13)
- with actions and in truth
- God loved us first and sent his Son
- There is no fear
- Keep his commands
In order to fit John’s definition of love – it must be other-centered and it must involve obedience. Now we can begin to craft a definition – love is an outward-extension of the inner-will.
The will is the power to act, the ability to both make a decision and carry out that decision. When John attempts to describe love he makes a very strong case that it is not an emotion, nor is it a thought, feeling. It is a conscious choice – displayed in action (3:18, 4:10), true Christ-like love is not meant to be swayed by doubt or feeling (perfect love drives out fear). But as a conscious choice, and an extension of the will – it must be guided towards the proper things in the proper ways.
When you are beginning to drive you don’t just hop in the car and feel your way to where you want to go. There are rules, speed limits, stop signs, precautions and laws you have to learn so that you can be an effective and safe driver – those speed limits and laws are not meant to stop you from getting where you need to go, but are there to help you reach your destination safely. Likewise, in order to love properly – there are commands which need to be followed, the obedience John is speaking about is meant to make you the best lover of people and of God possible.
What does it mean to walk in love?
5 years ago my great-grandfather passed away. Everyday he would wear a tank top and dress pants. He had a heavy face and extra-skin on the back of his head so when he would recline on the porch he looked like a propped up pug. But he was a sweet man, and one of the wisest men I’ve ever known.
My grandmother, his daughter, moved down to Puerto Rico to live with him and my great-grandma, her mom, to help take care of them towards the end of his life.
He died on Easter. They had been married over 60 years. My great-grandma didn’t know what life was without him and she began to deteriorate. Her mind and body grew weak. She developed stomach ulcers and advanced Alzheimer’s. Within 8 months of my great-grandfather passing, my great-grandma’s mind had reverted back to a child. And by the end of that first year she was immobile – incapable of cleaning or feeding herself.
My grandma cared for her. She made and fed her three meals a day. She bathed her. She carried her from one room to another, massaged her to prevent bed sores. And she slept beside her to keep her from harming herself. She did this every day for three years.
Love, true Biblical love, does not ask is my heart up to the task today. Genuine love cannot watch a person fall and not reach out to help them up. Sacrificial love does not remain only so long as the benefits outweigh the cost.
My grandma has been one of the biggest influences on me, and largely in the area of walking in love. I have letters she wrote to me during those years. She talked about the struggle her mind tells her it should be, but that each day its as if God woke her up – and as my grandma carried, fed and cleaned her mother, it was as if God was doing the same for her.
Love is an outward-extension of the inner-will. And as such, this is true. When you walk in love, love will keep you walking.
Genesis 22 records the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham has been given a promise that his descendants would outnumber the stars, but up until now he had no children. After years of waiting he finally had Isaac and then, just as Isaac begins to mature, God tests Abraham and asks him to sacrifice his son.
How could he do that – how could he love his son if he tried to kill him? How could he love God if he denied him? On one level Abraham’s heart was probably raging against him, but on another level – the level of his will, he had chosen to trust God. And out of trust, he carried the son, whom he loved with all his heart.
Love cannot extend outward unless the inner will is cultivated to do so. The heart is necessary but it is not the only faculty involved when loving someone. Just as important is a mind that trusts – and this is where truth comes in.
What is truth in John?
John begins his letter with a barrage of statements including the ‘truth’ but he never comes out and defines it. He does, however, state two qualities about the truth. First that it “lives in us” and second that “it will be with us forever.”
Again we can turn to John’s Gospel and 1 John to flesh out the definition again.
- 1 John 5:6 – Spirit is truth
- John 17:17 – your word
- John 1:1, 14 – Word, became flesh, Jesus
- John 8:31-32 – Jesus’ teaching/freedom
- John 14:6 – I am the truth
There are a number of words used to point towards the truth, but they are all claiming the same thing – the truth about Jesus, his message, and the Gospel. The Gospel message is truth.
It’s this Gospel truth that spins at the core of John’s message. He writes that if you can get a hold of this truth, and if you can walk in love because of it – then everything else will fall into place and you will begin to understand God on a whole other level. You will have an intimacy with the Father because that truth will be your truth, and the love you try to live in – you will see that God has that towards you, perfectly.
Truth in John is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that he came to save sinners and that he is God.
How does truth motivate love?
How do we know truth motivates love? Verses 1 and 2 – whom I love in the truth – because of the truth.
Put simply, this sort of love is a fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 – so I say live by the Spirit Paul follows that with a list of what life in the Spirit will keep you from: desires of the sinful nature, impurity, idolatry, envy, etc But then in verse 22 he switch the focus from negative to positive. Now that you know what the Spirit will keep you from, here is a list of what the Spirit will do in your life – these are the fruits, and the first fruit mentioned is in verse 22, love.
Love is a product of the Spirit of truth living within us. But it is also something we must work towards. In 1 Cor 2 and 3, Paul again goes into a discussion of what the Spirit is and does for us as believers – it reveals to us the wisdom of God, and the truths of his universe. What we know is from the Spirit, and what we do is by the Spirit’s powers; therefore, in chapter 3, we are called to work with the Spirit towards the mission of God which is redemption, and this is done by loving one another.