Truth and Love - 2 John 0
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Well as anyone will know who has had extended contact with children, parenting requires great patience and wisdom, not least in keeping yourself sane. And you might not be surprised to hear that the same skills of patience and wisdom are needed when it comes to nurturing spiritual children. Perhaps as children’s and youth workers we have had the privilege of seeing children come to faith and then grow in the faith. And it’s been a joy but also hard work and a struggle. Maybe others have worked with students or in Home groups and seen lives change gradually over months and years. Others of us will have seen our friends come to faith and then gradually grow in that new found faith and it’s thrilling to see.
Well if you have ever had that experience of seeing someone you love and care for grow in the faith, then you’ll be able to understand the apostle John and his reasons for writing this short letter. It’s a letter that is from the elder to the chosen lady and her children in verse 1. And it’s most likely that the elder is the apostle John who wrote the gospel of John and 1 John and Revelation, and the chosen lady is a local church that John has responsibility for. And like John’s first letter, it becomes obvious very soon into reading this letter that John has deep affection for the people he is writing to. He says that he loves them in the truth in verse 1 and at the end of the letter he says that he longs to be with them so that his joy will be complete. In fact it’s a mark of the apostle John that he deeply loves those in his care. He calls the people he writes to in his three letters his “children” some ten times. So here is a man with deep affection for his spiritual children.
But problems have arisen which cause John to put pen to paper, to leap to defend his children and make sure they do not go the wrong way. Because certain false teachers have come into the church and have been peddling falsehood and lies. And John writes his letters to help this church to stand firm in the truth and to keep going as Christians. And although this letter was written to a particular church at a particular time, yet it’s lessons are timeless and crucial for us as we seek to stand firm in an equally hostile world, and as we seek to nourish younger Christians in the truth and defend them from falsehood. So what does this elder statesman John say to his young charges? What does this wise old parent say to his young eager spiritual children? Well three things:
1) Keep growing in joy (V 4)
2) Keep walking in love (Vv 5-6)
3) Keep standing in truth (Vv 7-13)
1) Keep growing in joy (V 4)
And his first lesson is to keep growing in joy. And we see that in verse 4: “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.” And notice too how John puts the same truth in 3 John verses 3-4: “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Now what is striking about these verses is where the apostle’s joy springs from. Do you notice what gives him most joy? Is it his brand new toga from the posh Roman mail order catalogue. Maybe his top of the range donkey, his new kitchen? No- it is that friends of his are pressing on in the faith. It has given me great joy to find some of your children, that is some people in the church, walking in the truth. And in 3 John he says the same. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Nothing thrills him more than to hear that his young charges are keeping going as Christians. Nothing brings more happiness to him, an old man, than that.
Now what does this tell us about the apostle John? Well it shows just what his priorities were, where his focus truly was. He knows what is important. And he knows that the best thing for these young Christians is that they keep going in the faith, that they do not fall prey to false teaching, that they do not drift away like so many others. He knows what is the most important thing in life and he rejoices when it happens. So what is the most important thing for any human being to know and understand in this life. Well it is to know Jesus Christ and follow him. Whatever else happens to us in this life, that is the most important thing- because that is what we were made for. So I am sure John took great delight in many things. He would have rejoiced in the beautiful world in which he lived. No doubt he took great joy in eating and drinking nice food and having good times with friends. No doubt he enjoyed a good sleep after a hard day’s work. Perhaps he enjoyed the delights of children and grand children of his own. All those things are good things. But the best thing? Well it is to know Jesus Christ and grow in him. And when John sees those he cares for doing that, then it gives him the greatest joy. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” That is what thrills him. That is what delights him. That’s what really gets him going!
Now I for one find that very challenging. And I find it challenging because John asks me two questions. First he asks me where is your joy? What really gets me going, what do I most delight in? Is it football, is it a nice holiday, is it the joy of reading a good book, is it a beautiful view in the country or the coast? Well I delight in all those things, but I need to ask myself if my real joy is seeing spiritual growth? Of being so captivated and in love with God that nothing makes me delight as much as seeing fellow Christians grow in the faith. That’s the challenge. And my answer reveals the state of my heart. If I’m honest, then often I am more excited by other things. My heart is distracted. And I need to be brought back to see what is most important.
Just by way of example, let me tell you about a couple of weddings I have been to in recent years. Weddings are often a place where old friends gather together, perhaps after years apart. But for me weddings are a mixed experience. Because talking to old friends often reveals great joy for me and also deep sadness. Often there is great joy as I see that friends are still pressing on in the faith. They are serving the Lord and that brings great joy to my heart. I know that nothing is more important than that, that they continue to walk in the truth. But sometimes it’s very sad- I remember chatting with one girl who said that she had given virtually given up her faith and wasn’t going to church. And that filled me with sadness. You see John asks me where is my joy? What gives me greatest joy? Do I rejoice in spiritual growth in friends, or am I more joyful about other things- their children, their new job, their new car? All good things- but not the most important. And if my primary joy is not in their spiritual health, then it really shows what I am most interested in. So consider your Christian friends, or your children or your grandchildren. What gives you most joy for them? Their recent holiday, their GSCE results, their first words. All good things. But what should really thrill us is their walk with Christ. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Where is your joy, asks John.
But John also asks me a second question. And that is where is your growth? Because not only should I be rejoicing in others’ growth, I should also make sure my own growth is a cause for others’ rejoicing. You see by definition, if I am to rejoice in the growth of others, that their lives are Christ centred and that they delight in God, then my life too ought to be an encouragement to others, however hard or tough things are for me. There ought to be growth. People ought to say of me that their greatest joy is to see that I am walking in the truth. And for all of us who are believers, who are trusting in Jesus Christ, then the same truth applies. We need to ask ourselves if we are growing. Are we walking in the truth? Is there genuine progression in our Christian lives? Can we see growth as the years go by, perhaps an increase in love or joy or self control, or understanding. Perhaps not spectacular progress, but growth none the less. Because if we are not growing, then the dangers of stagnation and turning from God are all the greater. In the Christian life, treading water spiritually speaking is the same as going backwards. Each one of us needs to take care of ourselves and make sure we are all pressing on. Otherwise, as we will see a little later, we are heading for trouble.
I came across a story a while ago about a man who was invited to a fortieth anniversary reunion of his old high school. The closer the time came for the reunion, the more excited he became, thinking of all the wonderful stories he would hear about the changes and the accomplishments these old friends would tell him. Eventually the weekend came and went, and the man was picked up at the airport on the Sunday by a friend. “Well, how was the reunion?”, asked the friend. “Tim,” the man said, “it was one of the saddest experiences of my life.” “Why, what happened?” “It wasn’t so much what happened but what didn’t happen. It has been forty years, forty years—and they haven’t changed. They had simply gained weight, changed clothes, got jobs...but they hadn’t really changed. And what I experienced was maybe one of the most tragic things I could ever imagine about life. For reasons I can’t fully understand, it seems as though some people choose not to change.” There was a long silence as they walked back to the car. On the drive home, the man turned to his friend and said: “I never, never want that to be said of me, Tim. Life is too precious, too sacred, too important. If you ever see me go stagnant like that, I hope you give me a quick, swift kick where I need it—for Jesus’ sake. I hope you’ll love me enough to challenge me to keep growing.”
You see John asks us some very serious questions. He’s asking us what we most rejoice in because that reveals how our spiritual life is doing? Do we rejoice in others’ growth, because that’s the most important for thing for any Christian. And are we ourselves growing in the faith, walking in the truth, as John puts it. Because if not, then we won’t be an encouragement to others, we’ll be a discouragement. And none of us wants to discourage or disappoint. And more seriously, our own spiritual life is in danger. For stagnation can lead to a hard heart which can lead to rejecting the Lord Jesus. So John’s first challenge to us is to keep growing in joy, joy that is in others’ growth and our own.
2) Keep walking in love (Vv 5-6)
But surely we might say, it’s hard to keep growing. Is there any help? Well as always in the Bible there is help. We are not alone. And that is why John reminds us that we have each other in verses 5-6 as he challenges us to keep walking in love. So let’s see what he says in verse 5: “And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” You see the wonderful thing is we are part of a community. And that is why John says to this church and to us: “I ask that we love one another.” And he says it is not a new command, but something we have had from the beginning. They have known it from the beginning of their Christian lives, and it is something that Jesus himself taught in his ministry on earth. So do you remember these words to the disciples in the upper room? “All people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Now of course, John himself models such love. He says in verse 1 that he loves this church in the truth. That is his love for them springs from the truth of the gospel. They share something in common. They follow and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. And John loves them very deeply. He does not ask something of them that he himself is not doing already. And now says John you must love one another. Because we have come together through the good news of Jesus, we are united by that truth. So love one another. And notice too that such love is a not a wishy washy sort of thing. It’s actually obedience to Jesus. Verse 6: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” You see if you love Jesus you will do what he says. And one of the things he tells us to do is to love one another.
Now often, I fear such commands in the Bible just wash over us because we feel they are too vague and open ended. We perhaps feel able to deflect their challenge because we don’t fully understand or grasp the radical nature of the command to love another. But John places this command in the context of a letter about false teaching. This church is under direct attack from the false teachers. So how will they stand firm? Well one of the ways they will do that is by sticking together and being committed to one another in genuine love. A church needs to be strengthened from within so it can withstand assaults from without. In other words if difficulties arise for a local church, then it will be much stronger in facing up to the struggles if it is standing together as one man so to speak. And that will only occur where there is genuine commitment and love for one another. Where small, and sometimes big, differences are laid aside for the sake of the gospel and a church stands united by the gospel in love of one another ready to face whatever is thrown at it.
By way of illustration, you might be aware that this week the Simpsons film was released after years of hype and planning. Now for those not interested in the cartoon family, the Simpsons are a dysfunctional family with Homer as their head and Marge his long suffering wife. They have three children, Bart, a slightly wild and cheeky 10 year old, Lisa an 8 year old genius and Maggie a baby whose wisdom and powers defy her years. Now in the film the family are put under pressure like never before. Their hometown of Springfield is in terrible danger and only the Simpsons can save the townspeople. The problem is that the Simpsons are a divided family, mostly because of Homer’s buffoonery. So how do they survive? Is there any hope? Well the hope lies in the fact that at heart, despite their big differences, this family genuinely loves one another and their strength lies in their love and commitment to each other. At one point in the film, Homer says words to this effect: “We might be the most hated family in Springfield but at least we have each other.” And it’s only by sticking together that they are able to come through.
Now I am not saying that we here at St. John’s are like the Simpsons, though there might be more similarities than we care to think! But the principle of sticking together as a family is a Biblical one. John says: “I ask that we love one another.” Now of course there are many ways of loving one another. It might be practical help for those in need. It might prayerfully supporting another person through a crisis. It might mean giving lifts to someone to church or helping out practically on a Sunday with tea or welcoming. It might be as simple as saying hello to someone we don’t recognise. This actually can often be the benchmark for people who are visiting of a loving church. Many of us will know the sadness of visiting a church perhaps on holiday and then going away without anyone having spoken to us. We can always improve in that regard and go out of our way to make visitors welcome. Why not make it your aim to introduce yourself to one person you don’t know every week. Even if they’ve been coming fifty years, it will certainly be an encouragement to them and you.
But I want to suggest one particular application which springs from our first point about having joy in one another’s spiritual progress. Because one aspect of our love and care for another is to care for one another spiritually. That is taking the time to ask one another in a gentle and gracious way how we are doing spiritually. How are things with our Bible reading, are we finding prayer tough, what struggles are we encountering in our walk with the Lord. Now I am not suggesting that we do in depth spiritual analysis with people we don’t know well. Often these things are done best with good friends. But within our friendship groups in the church we need to be fostering that love which looks out for one another spiritually, which prays intelligently for each other. Which talks about more than the weather or the family. If we are to be a church which genuinely cares for another, then we must get to the level of caring for another spiritually. So why not start with close friends. Let’s be in the habit of praying for each other on a Sunday morning, or asking each other how things are going spiritually. Perhaps for some it will be appropriate to meet up one to one during the week for a chat to pray and encourage one another. For Christian friends don’t just look after each other practically. They care for one another spiritually too. And that is a mark of love. And that will build the church as we build up each other in the love of God. So love one another other, says John. Because that is what pleases the Lord as we obey him and it will enable us to stand firm against the battles we face alone and as a church. Keep walking in love.
3) Keep standing in truth (Vv 7-13)
But there’s a third challenge that John lays before us and that is to keep standing in the truth. Because the truth is very important to John. Notice how he begins his letter in verses 1-3: “To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth - because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love.” The truth is the message and person of Jesus. This is the truth that lives in the believer and that unites us as believers. And according to John it is vital that we keep standing in that truth and not move from it. So see what John says in verse 9: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” You see, says John, if you run ahead and move away from this teaching about Jesus you show yourself up not to be a Christian. It’s that serious. The picture John has here is of an athlete running a race. He’s supposed to keep to the track and follow the course. But if you veer off from the track or run off course, then you can no longer be considered as taking part in that race. You’ve dropped out or cheated. Rather says John stick to the race. Stick with Jesus.
But why is John so concerned that his readers stick with Jesus. Is it really possible that they would move away from Christ or stop believing in him? Well it is a possibility because it has already happening. False teaching had arisen and was threatening the church. And the sad thing about false teaching is that it is by definition a distortion of the truth. It begins with the truth but then deviates from it. So notice what John says about what this false teaching is. Verse 7: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” These false teachers or deceivers as John calls them do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. All false teaching begins with a false view of Jesus. And so it is here. Most likely these teachers said that Jesus was not really God in the flesh. He only seemed to be a man. Really he did not take on human flesh and die for our sins. And notice that John calls it deceitful and antichrist. Such teaching deceives people and it is literally antichrist, that is against Christ. In John’s first letter he talks about the Antichrist who will come and oppose God’s people before Jesus returns. But in the world now there are many who are antichrist, who oppose Jesus and his people. That’s what the teaching is.
But notice too where it comes from. Verse 7 John says that they have gone out into the world. And again in his first letter John makes it clear that they went out from his church. In other words, these false teachers began life as seeming believers in John’s church. Now we might think that extraordinary. But that is always how false teaching begins. It begins with a distortion of the truth. It begins in churches which teach the truth. And it’s around today. Many of those who peddle false teaching today about Jesus began life in good Bible teaching churches. Often I have met people who peddle false teaching and when you ask where they started out, they will say that they were brought up in a good Bible teaching church or the like. And that is very scary because it shows none of us are immune. We must be on our guard. And how is it seen today? Well the classic is something like this. People will say: “Well of course Jesus is important, but he is not the only way to God. Allah, and Krishna and Buddha all have equal and valid opinions and we should listen to them.” Or they might say: “The cross is significant. But Jesus didn’t die for sins taking the penalty for us. He died to give us a good example of how to live and love.” Now we might be tempted to say, “Well it’s just a difference of opinion, we’ll agree to differ.” But it’s much more serious than that. Because false teaching robs people of salvation and deceives people. False teaching leads people to hell and not heaven. False teaching is demonic, not of God. And the sooner we realise that the better. The truth about Jesus is what saves.
Now there are lots of things in life where the truth saves life and falsehood destroys it. Think of a bottle of poison. Oh, we might say, it’s just a matter of opinion. If you drink it, I’m sure you’ll be fine. No- if you drink it, you will die. Or think of a cliff top walk. One path leads over the cliff, the other stays safe. Just a matter of opinion. No- it’s a matter of life and death. So it is with false teaching. It’s very dangerous. So what does John tell us to do? How should we deal with it? Verses 8-9: “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and
the Son.” We should continue in the truth. Keep walking in the truth. Never veer away from the truth of the gospel but keep believing it and living it. Otherwise we stand to lose everything we have worked for- we will lose our faith. And in fact in verses 10-11 he says the shouldn’t even show hospitality to such teachers. Remember John is writing at a time when hospitality meant promoting a teachers’ ministry. So he’s not saying be nasty or ungracious. Rather he is saying don’t support their ministry. Otherwise we too will be sucked in. And there is no point saying it will never happen to us. Because it can. Christian history is littered with people who have dropped out of the race and forsaken Christ. That is why growth and pressing on are so important. And that is why stagnation is so dangerous. It can be a slippery slope to eventually denying the Lord Jesus, as these false teachers did. They started off with John in the church- but they eventually left to peddle lies.
Can you see now why encouraging each other and urging each other to press on and remain in the truth is so important. We need each other. We need the spiritual encouragement from one another. We need that practical love and support. We need to be serious about spurring one another on in the truth. Because otherwise, like sadly many before us, we will run ahead and leave the race. We’ll start to believe falsehood and even teach it, heaven forbid. But notice one final encouragement if we are to press on. It comes in verse 3: “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love.” God will never leave us or forsake us. He will keep us as we keep ourselves in the love of God. But we do need to take very seriously the warnings John gives us and to obey his lessons. We need in God’s strength to keep growing in joy, walking in love and standing in truth.
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