Walk in Love and Truth
Postcard Epistles–2 John
Welcome. Hey, grab your Bible and grab your notes. We are looking at 2 John today. This is the beginning of a new sermon series called, “The Postcard Epistles,” four of the shortest letters in the New Testament. Over the next few weeks, Pat Levis, Shawn Farrell, John Pleasnick and I get to jump into some of the most interesting, petite letters of the Bible.
Chris is taking a break from pulpit duties–partly to take time out with his grandkids, and partly to do some ministry in other churches. So please be praying for Chris and Jean as they travel. We love them heaps and miss them big time when they are away.
For today, I want to talk about how to walk in love and in truth. Some of you are known for your love. You’re gushy. You’re sympathetic. It’s like you wear the t-shirt that says, “Free hugs here”. Some of you are known for your commitment to truth. You have no fear whatsoever–you’ll walk up to a perfect stranger on the street and say, “Listen dude, you have a BO problem and you need to get some deodorant.” Such is your commitment to truth. But I wonder if you’ve really studied, from Scripture, what it looks like to be 100% committed to both love and truth.
In 2 John, we are introduced to a Christian lady in a church. This lady was the sweetest, nicest, old lady you could come across. She was a widow. She had grown children who were walking with Christ. She had a great testimony. She had a large home. She had a reputation for being hospitable. And she didn’t just host people from her own little clique. She showed gracious hospitality, even to total strangers. You might say this lady was the most loving person in the church.
But she had a problem. She had a big problem–because she was not walking according to the truth. She wasn’t walking according to the commandments of God. And therefore, even though she thought she was walking according to love, she wasn’t loving at all. John needed to tell this hospitable lady to stop being so hospitable. I mean, how do you do that? John’s job is really hard, because he’s telling her to stop doing something she loved to do.
It would be like asking Pat Levis to stop bouncing around when he leads worship. He loves to bounce. It would be like asking Dojo Aguilar to stop smiling. That’s what he’s known for. It would be like asking Chris Mueller to stop hating on all the cats. He loves to hate on them. This lady in 2 John loves to host strangers, and John is going to ask her to stop it. That’s a tough job.
This short letter is the apostle’s attempt to show her that she needed to change her ways. Today, I want to show you that love and truth must go hand-in-hand. You cannot be a loving person without being truthful. And you cannot be a truthful person without being loving in your approach. And so I want to show you this morning four ways to walk in love and truth. I’m going to walk through this letter. It’s gonna be fast, so buckle up. Are you ready? Four ways to walk in love and in truth.
1. Pursue RELATIONSHIPS in love and truth Verses 1 to 3
First, we need to pursue relationships in love and truth. Look at verse 1 with me. John says, “The elder . . .”–that’s him. He’s the disciple, John. He’s the apostle, John. He calls himself the elder in 3 John and he calls himself the elder here in 2 John–why? Because he’s old. At the time of writing this letter, John is the oldest living apostle–around 90 years old.
Look at verse 1 again, “The elder to the elect lady and her children.” Who’s that? Who is this elect lady? Well some people think the lady is a term for the Church, the Bride of Christ. Some say John is writing to a local congregation and is referring to them as a chosen lady, or bride–and that could work. But frankly, it seems most normal and most natural to take this term literally. It works best for the rest of the letter to see this lady as an actual woman, an esteemed widow in a local church who John plans to visit real soon. So let’s take it that way.
Read again verse 1. “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth.” John identifies himself as the author. He identifies the recipient of the letter, and then he says he loves her and her family. Everyone else who also loves the truth, also loves her.
Why is he writing? Look at verse 2. He’s writing, “for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” His letter writing is motivated by one thing—truth. He loves the truth. He loves this lady for sure, but he is writing this letter for the sake of the truth. And this is what he says in his greeting.
Verse 3, “Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” That is John’s introduction. That is his greeting. Just three verses. But already, we start to get a feel for what the theme of this letter is. You can see it because of the repetition of carefully selected words. I have underlined them for you in your outline.
Already, in just three short verses, John has mentioned love twice, with more to come. And he has referred to truth four times, with more to come in the following verses. The theme then is starting to emerge already. But all that to say this–the basis of John’s relationship with this sweet woman is love and truth. That is how we are to pursue relationships. That’s how we should approach fellowship. It’s not just in love. It’s not just in truth. We are to pursue Christian relationships in love and truth.
2. Practice OBEDIENCE in love and truth Verses 4 to 6
Second, we are to practice obedience in love in truth. Look at verse 4. John says to this lady, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in truth.” That’s encouraging. Apparently, in John’s travels, he came across some of this lady’s grown kids and they were living their lives according to truth. That’s great! You say, “What does that mean?” John explains. He says, they are walking in truth. Verse 4, “Just as we received commandment from the Father.”
So the Father gave a commandment and her grown children are walking according to that commandment. What was His commandment? It’s way back in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 27:10 says, “You shall obey the Lord your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.” So John says, “Lady, be encouraged. Your children are doing great! They are examples of obedience and walking faithfully according to the truth of God.”
But then look at what John does next. He turns his attention back to this nice old lady, and he says in verse 5, “Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.” He asks this lady to love people. He says to her, “We need to love one another!”
Now time out. Put yourself in her shoes. This woman is the most gracious, kind, hospitable, and loving person in the church–and John is writing to her, saying, “Lady, I’m asking you now to love others.” And she’s like, “Wait a second. John, what are you saying!? I am the most hospitable person here. I open my home to strangers. I host travelers all the time. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m known for. What do you mean, John, that I need to love people? That’s all I ever do, is to love people.”
But you see, her problem was that her definition of love was way off. She thought she was loving, but look at verse 6. He says, “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” What is love? Walking according to God’s commandments. What is real love? It’s obedience to God. And John repeats to the lady in verse 6, “This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.”
Now let’s rewind just a second. This lady thinks she is walking according to love. But John the apostle knows better. He is calling her to start loving. She’s got to be thinking, “What on earth, John!? What on earth are you talking about?” And he uses a fantastic motivation. He says, “Your children are doing it. I ran into them. They are walking in truth. And now you, lady, you need to do the same!” I wonder if she was confused at this point. I wonder if she was flummoxed by this whole letter so far.
But John is going to give more context. And wait for it, because his line of argument is just brilliant. This will all become clear in just a few more verses. But for now, all John is saying is this–our obedience must be practiced in love and truth, otherwise it’s not obedience. Love and obedience go hand-in-hand.
Jesus Himself said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love and walking according to the truth always go hand-in-hand. They are the same thing. We have to practice our obedience in love and in truth. Now if you’re not tracking yet, just hold on, because it will all become clear in a minute. Let’s go on to the third way to walk in love and truth.
3. Perform DISCERNMENT in love and truth Verses 7 to 11
John says to this lady, you need to perform discernment in love and truth. In all your loving, you need to apply truth. He says, “Lady, you got to learn to be discerning.” Look at his explanation in verse 7. This is where John gives us his reasons why. He says, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
Whoa! This is huge! There were heretics, false teachers, imposters who were traveling around the churches, pretending to be official teachers of the churches–and they were spreading the lie that Jesus Christ was not God in the flesh. They denied the incarnation. They denied an essential tenet of Christian doctrine. They were deceivers and antichrists who were attacking the foundational truths of the Gospel.
These itinerant preachers came into town and they expected to be put up by local believers. They expected financial aid from the local church. But they were Gnostics who denied the clear teaching of the Old and New Testaments, which clearly state that God became a man in order to be the perfect substitute, the perfect sacrifice for sinners.
John had already warned about these false preachers. In 1 John 2:22 to 23 he said, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” And later in that same letter he said, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1 to 3a).
So John is warning this chosen lady to be careful. She’s the kind of person who loves everyone. She hosts anyone. But there are certain people who should never be welcomed into her home. And he gives four reasons for her to be careful.
In verse 8 he says, “See to yourselves, that you do not lose what we accomplished.” In other words, you might lose all the great progress of the Gospel. The good news had transformed so many people’s lives, and churches had sprung up everywhere–but if these heretics are allowed to infiltrate Christian homes and Christian churches, the fruit of the Gospel will be lost.
Second, he says he wants her to receive a full reward. Yea, this lady’s eternal reward was at stake. He’s saying to her, “Lady, think about your eternal future. You could have great, full reward in Heaven, or have it removed–make your choice. Which do you prefer?” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Yes, her eternal reward in Heaven will be determined by her own actions today. She cannot afford to host these visiting teachers anymore—otherwise, she will lose that reward.
And then look at verse 9. John warns her, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.” Whoa–salvation is at stake. These Gnostics who reject the incarnation do not have God. They are not Christians! And lady, you better be careful that you too don’t buy into their lies! Because, if you allow yourself to be influenced by these antichrists, if you too believe their heresy–you also will prove not to be a Christian. The consequences are huge!
But instead, verse 9, “The one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” This is the ultimate test of genuine Christianity, isn’t it? Genuine believers acknowledge both the Father and the Son. They believe in the deity and humanity of Christ. They are satisfied with the simple truths of Scripture. They don’t need to add anything else. They don’t need to go beyond the clear teaching of the Bible.
They aren’t interested in advanced, super-secret knowledge. They don’t care about new visions, new revelations, new prophecies, new information, new dreams, new trips to Heaven, newly discovered truths that no one has ever seen before. They simply believe the words of Scripture. Jesus is God in human flesh and they believe it by faith. That is genuine Christianity.
Then John gives his final warning. Look at verse 10, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house.” Well, this is where the lady was getting it wrong—”do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting, 11for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
This is the crux of the letter. This is what John has been building up to. This is the whole point of this postcard epistle. He’s saying, “Be careful lady. You’ve got to be more discerning, because if you keep entertaining these false teachers in your home, you will be guilty of aiding and abetting heresy. You will be participating in evil deeds.”
Now for clarity’s sake, there’s no doubt that Scripture teaches us to be hospitable. Peter says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9). And Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” But there is a limit to this. Hospitality has to come with discernment. Discrimination is needed in certain cases. Caution must be applied. Why?
Paul says it in Titus 1:10 to 11, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.” So this lady has to be really careful–if she doesn’t change her ways, she and others in her church are in big trouble.
Here’s the summary of John’s warnings. He says to this kind old lady, “Woman, you better be devoted to the truth, you better learn to be more discerning, or else . . .
1. You will lose the fruit the Gospel has brought Verse 8
2. You will lose your eternal reward Verse 8
3. You will prove yourself not to be saved Verse 9
4. You will aid and abet the spread of heresy Verses 10 to 11
Those are some serious warnings! There are eternal consequences. So both this lady, and we, better figure out how to show discernment. We need to perform discernment in love and truth. Okay, so we need to pursue relationships in love and truth, practice obedience in love and truth, perform discernment in love and truth.
4. Plan FELLOWSHIP in love and truth Verses 12 to 13
Lastly, look at this. John finishes his letter with final greetings. In these last two verses, he shows us how to plan fellowship in love and truth. Look at verse 12. John says to her, “Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face.”
There’s so much more that John wants to say to this lady. But it requires a face-to-face. He’s promising to come to her. He’s planning a visit in which he will pass on even more important truths. And he explains his goal in coming. He says he’s coming, “so that your joy may be made complete.” He knows that real joy comes in total obedience to God, as she walks in love and truth. And so he plans this visit to seal the deal. He will check in to make sure she follows through.
And then finally he passes on a greeting in verse 13. He says, “The children of your elect sister greet you.” These are her nieces and nephews. John already mentioned her own children, and now he adds the extended family as motivation to maintain real fellowship in love and truth.
Okay, that’s John’s letter. It’s one of the shortest in the New Testament–but as you can see, it’s packed with really important principles for all of us. So what I want to do is spend the rest of our time together summarizing the principles. And I want to do it in a way that we can all relate to here in SoCal in 2021. How does this apply to Faith Bible Church? How does this apply to you? Here we go. Turn your notes over. I’ve got nine practical implications for you.
1. Faithful shepherds must WARN the sheep about wolves
The Bible is clear. It is the responsibility of pastors and elders to keep the sheep safe from predators–that’s our job. That’s what John was doing with this lady. Some people today think that pastors should only be nice guys who smile a lot, and never offend anyone, and never step on anyone’s toes, and always accept and accommodate every idea, and every person, and every philosophy. But that is just not what God says. The Lord wants shepherds to protect the sheep.
You want to see it from God’s perspective? Way back in Ezekiel 34:8, God said this, “’As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock;’ 10thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep’” (Ezekiel 34:8, 10).
That’s a scary passage for pastors, because there is judgement for shepherds who do not protect Christians under their care. Paul was so committed to this, that he used to call out the false teachers by name. That is what a faithful shepherd must do. And that’s what John was doing for this elect lady–warning her.
2. Evangelize the lost, but don’t SUPPORT false teachers
Some people read books like 2 John and they conclude that it is wrong to bring unbelievers into their homes. Some even use it to argue that they should never engage with the Saturday morning Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness door-knocker. But that’s not what John is saying–that’s not his point at all. John’s concern was that this lady was supporting the efforts of false teachers–she was helping them. And these false teachers weren’t members of an outside cult, they were pretending to be Christians from within the church.
Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5:13. He said, “We don’t need to be judging outsiders. But boy, we better get serious about judging those who are within the church.” Listen, you can invite your Muslim neighbor over for dinner. In fact, you should do that. Engage in Gospel conversation with your Hindu friend. Take your Mormon friend out for coffee for the purpose of evangelism. And if you have family who belong to some other false religion, have them over for Thanksgiving, and Easter, and Christmas, and present Christ to them.
John is not telling us to stop doing evangelism. He is telling us to stop aiding and abetting false teachers who have infiltrated the Church. The issue is one of “funding”. Christians cannot financially support false teachers–that’s his point. Don’t watch the so-called Christian TV shows, or purchase the DVD’s of so-called Christian preachers. Don’t send them checks. Don’t read their blogs. Don’t increase their ratings. Don’t buy so-called Christian books from the so-called Christian bookstore when you know they aren’t faithful to the truth. Don’t buy so-called Christian music from the so-called Christian artists when you know they aren’t faithful to the Scriptures.
When you do these things, you are giving them your money. You are participating in their evil deeds and you are helping them to continue–don’t do that. Instead, give your money to a church or a ministry that holds firmly to sound doctrine. How do you do that? That’s number three . . .
3. Discern what are ESSENTIAL doctrines and what are not
You should support ministries, support churches, support preachers who get the essentials right. You say, “What are the essential doctrines?” They are not the secondary and tertiary debates of Scripture. Those can be discussed in other forums. It’s amazing to think that John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul could never agree on subjects like baptism, and end times, and church government, and as a result they could never be members in the same local church. But they loved each other and considered each other great friends.
We do not cease fellowship over the non-essentials, but cannot support those who deny the essentials. The essentials are things like . . .
The character of God: He is holy, Creator, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, self-sufficient, sovereign, worthy of all worship, righteous, loving, and just. The nature of Scripture: it is inerrant, complete, authoritative, God-breathed, sufficient, God’s very words, living and powerful.
The nature of man: he was created in the image of God, fell into sin, unable to save himself, male and female roles as assigned by God, created for God’s glory and not his own.
The deity of Jesus Christ: He is 100% God and 100% man, perfect in humanity, spotless and blameless as a sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of His Father, died on the cross to pay for our sin, resurrected from the dead on the third day
The Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
The Gospel: only one way to be saved through Jesus Christ, by faith and not works, salvation is a gift for those who trust in Christ and receive His righteousness
These are the essentials. If someone claims to be a Christian, but rejects any of these, they are not a Christian. Don’t support them. Get into the practice of checking out their doctrinal statement before you mail your check.
4. It is UNLOVING to avoid the truth
If you don’t tell your friend that they have food stuck between their front teeth, that’s just mean. You let them walk around in public with that black spot wedged between their teeth. That is so unloving. But if you love your friend, you will tell them the truth. John told the elect lady the truth. He loved her so much, he told her the truth.
Someone said to me recently, “I need you, Nigel, to stop teaching me and start loving me instead.” What do you do with that? How do you respond? The response is, love and truth go hand-in-hand. In fact, if I love you, I will speak according to the truth. Real love means you tell the truth, so as to encourage and stimulate obedience.
Our own Abraham Diaz posted on FaceBook last week–this is what he said, “If your entire theology is ‘God is Love’ and ‘Do not Judge’, then you don’t have Christianity; you have Oprah.” That’s true. Oprah and Ellen, and any number of self-improvement gurus tell us, “We can be loving, or we can be truthful, but we can’t be both.” That’s a lie, folks. That’s a lie from the pit of Hell. The Bible says real love demands truth. The Bible says truth is the result of genuine love.
5. Don’t buy into the secular worldview that says, “Truth is RELATIVE”
Today, the reigning secular worldview says there is no singular truth. They say truth is relative. No one can claim to be right. No one is allowed to stand strong on their convictions. Each person ought to be able to live however they want. No one is allowed to state what is universally right and what is universally wrong. What’s true for you might not be true for me.
It’s in politics. It pervades society. This liberal anti-truth movement is in movies. It’s in TV. It’s in the news. It’s in music. It’s in universities. It’s in high schools. It’s in jr. high schools. It’s in elementary schools. It’s everywhere. Don’t buy into that nonsense. Anyone who says, “There is no ultimate truth,” has just themselves made an ultimate truth claim. Anyone who says, “You can’t judge me!”, has just judged you. They’ve broken their own rule. Anyone who says, “Moral judgements are wrong,” has just made a moral judgement. Anyone who says, “You cannot make absolute rules,” has just made an absolute rule. These people are hypocrites–don’t fall for that ridiculous stuff.
Jesus said, “Take care of the splinter in your own eye, and then help the people with logs in theirs.” Judgment is absolutely necessary. Judge yourself rightly. Judge yourself truthfully, and then help others to do the same. Discernment is totally needed in our world. John showed this lady his commitment to truth, and she needed to do the same.
6. Truth isn’t DIVISIVE! Truth UNIFIES!
There are churches that say, “If we preach the truth, we will split the church.” Or, “If we preach the Bible without some softening or compromise, people will be offended, and they will leave. The church will never grow.” But the reality is that, truth is not divisive for those who want to hear it. The problem is that there are some people who don’t want to hear it.
Paul warned us, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4). Fake believers who don’t want to hear the truth–they will run a mile. But genuine believers, genuine Christians–they love the truth. They will be unified by that truth.
Jesus prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). It’s in the truth that we are sanctified. It’s in the truth that we get on the same page. It’s in the truth that we find comradery, and agreement, and unity, and love for one another. So let’s get in the truth, and then genuine love will flow. Now talking about love . . .
7. Love is not an EMOTION
The Bible says nothing about falling in and out of love. Love is not whimsical. It’s not an emotion that comes and goes. Love is not warm, fuzzy feelings on Sunday morning. Love is not the 60’s peace movement. Love is not a chick-flick. Love is not Mills & Boon. Love is gritty, self-sacrificing, obedience to God, seven days a week. Love plays itself out in real-world obedience. The essence of love is to keep God’s commandments.
A wife says, “I love my husband, but I just can’t live with him”–that’s not love. A father says, “I love my kids, but I just can’t afford the time to discipline them and train them”–that’s not love. A student says, “I love my youth group, but don’t ask me to serve”–that’s not love. A church attender says, “Wow, I love this church!”–but they’re always late, they’re not plugged into a small group, they don’t give, they don’t pray for church members, they don’t serve. That is not love!
Real Christians, who really love God, obey Him–that’s love. If you’re a new Christian, one of the first things you must do to speed along your sanctification, is to properly define love. If you do that, you’ll be well on the way to further obedience and personal growth. You’ll grow like crazy.
8. Good INTENTIONS do not make your actions right
This nice old lady in 2 John–she had the best of intentions. She desired to shower grace upon her visitors. She wanted to treat them without prejudice. Maybe these false teachers had been rejected elsewhere (as they should have been). She wanted to be different and kind. She said she wanted to love on them, but she wasn’t walking in love at all–because love is not an emotion. Her intentions seemed to be good, but she was still in sin.
Listen, you can have the best of intentions in the world, but if they’re not played out according to biblical commandments, then your best intentions are nothing more than sin. Husbands–you can tell your wife you didn’t mean to hurt her. You didn’t intend to upset her. You didn’t do it deliberately. But that doesn’t change the fact that you still sinned against her. Good intentions do not make your actions right. So husbands, wives, students–stop harping on about your good intentions, because it hardly matters what you planned to do. It only matters what you actually did, and how you did it.
9. Speaking the truth does not give you license to be mean
No one listens to a nasty Christian. No one respects a belly-aching believer. If you really want to love someone, tell them the truth. But if you really want someone to receive the truth, tell them lovingly. Be winsome, because no one warms up to a cranky Christian. No one wants to listen to a hypocrite. If you’re not lovingly walking in obedience yourself, why should anyone listen to you? If you are sinning right in the midst of speaking truth, you void your whole message by your actions. See how John corrected this lady? His approach is wonderful.
a. He affirms her election Verse 1
b. He affirms his love for her Verse 1
c. He rejoices in her children’s example Verse 4
d. He reminds her of her existing convictions Verse 5
e. He appeals to God’s Word as the authority Verse 6
f. He explains terms to avoid confusion Verse 6
g. He explains the reasons for his warnings Verses 8 to 11
h. He gives clear instruction Verse 10.
i. And he promises to come visit Verse 12
John lovingly walks through his instruction. He is never mean. Listen, some of you are heavy-handed with people. Some of you are unkind in your correction. Some of you treat your husband or your wife with contempt. And you justify yourselves saying, “Well, I’m just speaking the truth.” Phooey on you. Learn to tell the truth with love. Learn to tell the truth while being obedient to it yourself.
Hey, next week Pat Levis comes to expand this same message out of 3 John. Would you read ahead? Would you get ready for 3 John? It’s gonna be really helpful. In the meantime, challenge yourself to walk in love and truth. Evaluate which doctrines are essential and need defending. Determine to not support false teachers. Stand for Bible truth with sincere love. May God help us all. Let’s pray.