I preached on one of the shortest books in the Bible last week, 2John. For this sermon, I followed up the somewhat innocuous titles of Our Doctrine, Our Sinfulness with the ever-so-creative “Our Love.” From the very first verses, we see that John is going emphasize this connection between truth and love. He is writing to the church because he LOVES them IN TRUTH. He says ALL who know the truth LOVE this them also, because of the TRUTH is in their hearts forever. He says grace, mercy, and peace will come from God to us, IN TRUTH and LOVE.
We see then that truth and love are inseparable. In many ways, truth and love balance and qualify one another. Love and truth are both essential to any gospel-centered community. Truth without love ends up building community that is theologically strong but relationally cold, hard, and unloving toward anyone who does not know the truth. But love without truth creates a fellowship that is indiscriminate in who and how it loves. It has nothing to help people discern what is dangerous, harmful, or wrong. It is easily swayed by emotion. There have been many movements that, in an effort to have “unity”, removed the truths that offended another’s sensibilities. Compromising truth will never create true fellowship and any fellowship that fails to love is already guilty compromising the truth. Fellowship of the local church is created by truth and exhibited in love (Stott).
John speaks specifically of the love between Christian brothers. In the first half of his 2nd letter, he teaches his disciples the command given by Jesus to John and the 12 disciples in John 13. Christ’s example gives us a sense of what loving our brother, with whom we find ourselves in fellowship with, looks like–a love that is humble, sacrificial, and even intimate. Somewhat surprisingly, the 2nd half of the letter focuses on who we are NOT to fellowship with. The transition is somewhat awkward, causing me to consider why in this email-length letter John feels compelled to address both. And I came to the conviction that it’s because Christians were loving the false teachers, and their worldly “friends”, more often and better than their own brothers in their church.
In our efforts to love those outside the church, those God has called us to lovingly reach with the gospel, I wonder if we have wrongly ignored Jesus’ clear command to love those who are in the church right now. Jesus commands us to TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER,–it is not a suggestion (John 13.34-35). Yes, God has commanded us to love our neighbors, to love even our enemies, BUT in reading John 13-17, it seems clear that we are to have a bond of love with our fellow Christians that is special–especially those with whom we gather as a family locally. It is this unique love for our brothers and sisters that Jesus says is the identifying characteristic of one of his disciples–not to mention the most effective witness to those in the world (Dare I say, more effective even than “loving them”). I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I know how easily my sinful flesh will want to pervert a true understanding of my obligations to love people–believer or not.
If nothing else, it has moved me to take a serious inventory of not only how I love, but whom.