Walking the line between TRUTH and LOVE can be difficult. Like when your friend asks you whether she should enter the singing competition. Except she’s TERRIBLE. Do you tell the TRUTH, or PROTECT her feelings?
Or your overseas cousin drops in to stay for a few days. One month later, and he’s STILL THERE. And not showing any signs of moving. Do you continuing the loving hospitality, or pack his bags and leave them on the front door step?
Or your best friend is making terrible decisions about relationships. Do you speak up and challenge her, and risk losing the friendship? Or keep quiet, and watch her mess up her life?
But it’s not just in private relationships. We’re seeing the same difficulty in SOCIETY TOO. Like with the same sex marriage debate. Some Christians, and churches, emphasised the TRUTH, at the expense of LOVE. And the message received was that Christians HATE gay people. OTHERS emphasised LOVE, at the expense of TRUTH. And the message received was that God doesn’t care HOW we live. That there’s no right and wrong, and no judgment.
How do you navigate between the two? Between LOVING someone – which means affirming, accepting and welcoming them. And upholding the TRUTH – which may mean DISAGREEING with someone. (Saying or doing something they won’t LIKE) And being branded as INTOLERANT, and bigoted? In today’s culture TRUTH and LOVE are like oil and water. You can’t mix them together.
In fact, the way MOST people think, there IS no absolute truth. Especially when it comes to MORALITY – what’s right and wrong. Each person makes their own meaning. They decide what’s right and wrong, and other people have no right, or no basis, to say that they’re choices are WRONG. And it’s INTOLERANT, or BIGOTED to disagree with someone’s choices. It’s UNLOVING to force YOUR truth onto someone else, as if it’s THEIR TRUTH TOO.
That’s certainly the way it’s worked with Israel Folau in the last couple of weeks. He was asked on Twitter what God’s plan was for gay people. And he answered with TRUTH. (There were probably better ways he could have EXPRESSED it. And other things he could have ADDED.) But his reply was Biblical TRUTH. That, just like ALL OF US, they were destined for hell “unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”. And he’s been abused, and threatened, and accused of being homophobic. And hating gays. Ironically, all of it using the language of DIVERSITY and INCLUSIVENESS and ACCEPTANCE and RIGHTS. While his critics won’t allow him the right to a different opinion.
So how can Christians live and relate and speak in a world like THIS? Is it possible to have a grip on the TRUTH, and to hold it with LOVE? Well, here in his second letter, John says YES. In fact, he says you CAN’T SEPARATE THEM. You can’t have LOVE without TRUTH, or TRUTH without LOVE.
Truth and love (1-6)
Look, for example, at v1-6. TRUTH is mentioned five times. And so is LOVE. And you can’t SEPARATE them. From v1. The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I LOVE in the TRUTH-and not I only, but also all who KNOW the truth- 2 BECAUSE of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:
He’s writing to the chosen lady and her children. Almost certainly, he’s writing to A CHURCH. The CHILDREN are members of the church. He’s PERSONIFYING the church – a bit like he does in Revelation where the church is A BRIDE. It makes sense of the END of the letter, v13, where John adds that THE CHILDREN OF YOUR CHOSEN SISTER send their greetings. In other words, THE MEMBERS OF ANOTHER CHURCH say hello!
So John’s writing to the people in a church somewhere. And LOVE and TRUTH are his two big themes. V1, he LOVES them /IN THE TRUTH. Which means something like he loves the church in a way that’s CONSISTENT WITH THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE, the truth about Jesus.
But not just him, v1 says all who KNOW the truth ALSO love them. Knowing TRUTH goes with LOVE.
Then v2. This all happens BECAUSE of the truth. In other words, their love is a RESULT of the truth. The truth about who Jesus is and what he expects of us is/ works itself out as Christians LOVE. And it’s truth that’s IN them all, and is WITH them all forever. It’s not a temporary or uncertain thing. That truth, like the Holy Spirit himself, will be with us – influencing and guiding us – FOREVER.
Truth and love are there together again in v3. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us IN TRUTH AND LOVE. In other words, God blesses and equips Christians as they live consistently with the TRUTH they know/ AND the LOVE they show.
Then in v4, John moves from the GENERAL to the PARTICULAR. 4 It has given me great joy to find some of your children WALKING IN THE TRUTH, just as the Father commanded us. He’s probably met some members of the church, and he’s overjoyed that they LIVE OUT the truth they know. They WALK in the truth.
And then in v5, he moves from the PAST to the PRESENT. What he wants the church to do. A command they’ve had from the beginning. The TRUTH that lives with them. “I ask that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” The truth they’re to WALK in/ is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
And then we come to v6, which I think gets to the heart of what John’s saying about love and truth. A short, clear summary of his message. “THIS IS LOVE – that we walk in obedience to his COMMANDS.” It could be love for GOD, or love for EACH OTHER. From the context – everything he’s already said – I think it’s love for EACH OTHER. You SHOW your love for someone by obeying God’s commands towards them. Or encouraging THEM to keep God’s commands.
In other words, LOVE EQUALS OBEDIENCE to the TRUTH. Love is how you LIVE OUT THE TRUTH YOU KNOW. For example, if you LOVE your neighbour, you won’t STEAL from him, or HURT him, or LIE to him, or covet what belongs to him. And you’ll encourage him to do the same, because that’s the way to live God’s BEST LIFE. The way, from v3, for his grace, mercy and peace to be on him.
Or to turn it around the OTHER WAY. You’re NOT loving the VICTIM by overlooking injustice committed against them. Keeping quiet isn’t love. And you’re not loving the VULNERABLE when you fail to protect them. Or fail to bring those who DAMAGE them to justice. And you’re not loving the ignorant if you fail to WARN them of danger.
LOVING people might mean being FIRM, speaking the TRUTH, aggressively protecting, demanding justice. Loving people might mean being INTOLERANT against things that HURT them.
Josh McDowell makes the same point in a book called “The Beauty of INtolerance”. He says it’s not loving to tolerate error, or behaviour that damages people. It’s actually loving to STAND UP FOR TRUTH, and to be INTOLERANT of error. He describes a T-shirt he’s designed: On the front it says “Intolerance is a beautiful idea” On the back it says, “Mother Theresa was intolerant of poverty. Nelson Mandela was intolerant of apartheid. Martin Luther King was intolerant of racism.” LOVE for people means speaking and acting according to God’s revealed TRUTH. You can’t separate them.
So what’s all this got to do with the church John’s writing to? Finally, in v7, he gets to the purpose of his letter. The connection between v6 and v7 is more obvious in the Greek, and in other English translations. V7 begins with a “for” or “because”. The logic goes like this: (V6) Love is walking in obedience to God’s commands, BECAUSE (v7) 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 deceivers AREN’T loving. Because they’re not walking in obedience. They’re not speaking TRUTH. And the way you DEAL with them will SHOW whether you LOVE THE BROTHERS. Perhaps he’s heard the news from the church members he’s met. Travelling preachers had visited the church. And they’d preached some form of heresy. They were, literally, “those not confessing Jesus Christ coming in flesh”.
The present tense ‘coming’ probably means coming back in the FUTURE, as well as HAS come in flesh in the PAST. It’s seems their error was believing Jesus wasn’t fully human in his earthly ministry. AND that his resurrection and ascension weren’t PHYSICAL. The incarnation is CENTRAL. Every other Christian doctrine depends on the truth that God, in Jesus, became a human being. If you deny THAT, then you end up denying EVERYTHING. There’s no SALVATION if there’s no God-man. There’s no justification, no forgiveness, no new life, no resurrection. No wonder John gives such a strong warning. V8. WATCH OUT that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
Here’s what to WATCH for. Here’s the TEST, v9. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God (that’s the FALSE teachers); whoever CONTINUES in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (that’s the TRUE teaching).
The true teaching is what he’s said back in v2 about real Christians. “All who know the truth, which lives in us, and will be with us forever.” They continue. But the false teachers have moved on to something else.
It’s the difference between WALKING and RUNNING. True Christians are walking in the truth. Staying close to what Jesus taught. What the apostles passed on. Be content with that. But the false teachers RUN AHEAD. They speculate. Try to improve, or look for a short cut or a secret path to a victorious life, or special knowledge.
So here’s the test: Ask them what they say about Jesus. Who do they say HE is? And it’s where all the cults go wrong. Whether it’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Mormons, or other smaller, less well-known cults. The nature of Jesus – that’s the test. He’s fully, eternally God AND fully man. Not less. Not an appearance of a man. And he’s STILL a resurrected man, God in flesh, at the Father’s right hand.
And John says, if they fail the test, here’s what you do. It’s where all the theology about LOVE and TRUTH gets PRACTICAL. V10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, DO NOT TAKE HIM INTO YOUR HOUSE OR WELCOME HIM. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
For the churches in that time, travelling preachers would turn up, and they’d spend time ministering and teaching there. The church would support them with money, food and accommodation. To show THAT support to false teachers is partnering them in their ERROR. It’s not living out the TRUTH. And showing them hospitality isn’t LOVE, either. It’s fellowshipping in their WICKED WORK. Because, as John’s already said in the FIRST half of his letter. Love and walking in truth can’t be separated. You show LOVE for the rest of the church when you stand up for the TRUTH of Jesus. When you’re INTOLERANT of HERESY.
John’s NOT talking about individual hospitality towards people who believe different things to you about Jesus. Jesus himself ate with people whose way of life he disapproved of! By ALL means invite Mormons inside to try to convince them about the truth. Or invite your non-Christian neighbours over for a BBQ. John’s talking about GIVING OFFICIAL APPROVAL OF, and SUPPORTING AND EQUIPPING false teaching.
And it’s not about us being intolerant about SMALLER MATTERS. Differences of opinion between Christians. There’s lots of things we can have differences of opinion about. (About how we describe how we’re saved, and how we live out the Christian life. How and when you baptise. What worship looks like. What will happen when Jesus returns).
Most of those things we can agree to disagree on. Or have respectful and loving dialogue. And still WORK TOGETHER in Christian unity and hospitality. What these false teachers taught/ meant they WEREN’T EVEN CHRISTIANS.
Here’s the sort of thing John’s thinking about. It’s not loving TO YOU for me to allow the Buddhist society to meet in our hall. Or to invite the Dalai Lama, or the local Muslim imam to speak in church. Or to include the Mormon pastor in our group of Scripture teachers at school. And don’t donate money to the Hare Khrishnas, or pay money to attend a Scientology training seminar, or support a Muslim charity.
Those are some specifics. But there are also some general principles here about how to live consistently Christian lives, keeping BOTH TRUTH and LOVE as central. The media, workplaces, universities, schools, and our sporting and community groups are, increasingly, becoming places where anti-Christian lifestyles and values are celebrated, even aggressively pushed. We need to be people who IMITATE JESUS. Jesus was full of GRACE /AND TRUTH (Jn 1:14). And Ephesians 4:15 says we are to speak the TRUTH /IN LOVE.
I think, at the moment, Christians need to be more LOVING and accepting of people. I don’t think there’s been a problem with how our TRUTH message has been received. People know what Christians think – at least ROUGHLY. But before we get the chance to clear up their misunderstandings, most of us need to work a lot harder at communicating PRACTICALLY our LOVE for our neighbours, workmates and friends. It will be TRICKY at times. Like what you do when you’re invited to a same-sex wedding. But 2 John is teaching us that THERE IS A WAY through, where LOVE and TRUTH are maintained. We need wisdom, we need prayer, we need God’s Spirit.
And we need each other – to talk through these things, to navigate a wise way through. And to support and keep each other accountable. That’s the JOY John talks about, v4, when he experiences children walking in the truth. And it’s the LONGING he has, in v12, to see them face to face and fellowship so that OUR JOY MAY BE COMPLETE.
Let me finish with part of Israel Folau’s most recent statement. I think he’s probably spoken to people, and wisely, thought about how to explain his position more fully. It’s a great example of how TRUTH and LOVE work together.
People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that. I have sinned many times in my life. I take responsibility for those sins and ask for forgiveness through repentance daily. I understand a lot of people won’t agree with some of the things I’m about to write. That’s absolutely fine. In life, you are allowed to agree to disagree. But I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life. I hope this will provide some context to the discussion that started with my reply to a question asked of me on Instagram two weeks ago.
I read the Bible every day. It gives me a sense of peace I have not been able to find in any other area of my life. It gives me direction. It answers my questions. I believe that it is a LOVING gesture to share passages from the Bible with others. I do it all the time when people ask me questions about my faith or things relating to their lives, whether that’s in-person or on my social media accounts.
Two weeks ago, I tore my hamstring quite badly in the opening minutes against the Brumbies. I was told I would be on the sidelines for a month. Finding out I would miss three or four games so early in the season was disappointing and frustrating, but I accepted the news and started looking ahead. That afternoon I put up the following Instagram post, referring to James 1: 2-4: “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.” In the comments section of that post, I was asked a question by somebody about what God’s plan is for gay people. My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for ALL sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings, specifically 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
I do not know the person who asked the question, but that didn’t matter. I believed he was looking for guidance and I answered him honestly and from the heart. I know a lot of people will find that difficult to understand, but I believe the Bible is the TRUTH and sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear. I think of it this way: you see someone who is about to walk into a hole and you have the chance to save him. He might be determined to maintain his course and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. But if you don’t tell him the TRUTH, as unpopular as it might be, he is going to fall into that hole. What do you do?