May 30, 2021
How in the world would you define love? I can’t imagine any topic has received more attention in songs, books and movies than love – you know, so-called love songs and love stories. Seems like we ought to have it figured out by now. Some suggest country music has the corner on good love songs. I’ve shared some of these with you before, but back by popular demand, plus the fact there is a never-ending source in Nashville, with titles like:
- How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away?
- I Fell in a Pile of You and Got Love all Over Me
- I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You
- I’m So Miserable Without You It’s Like Having You Here
- When You Leave Walk Out Backwards So I’ll Think You’re Walking In
- If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?
- I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
- The Last Word in Lonesome is Me
- Love Will Beat Your Brains Out
- I Would Have Writ You a Letter, But I Can’t Spell Yuck!
Can’t spell written either. Well, with those meaningful, and fine-sounding songs, what is love? Watch a good action movie, and someone while chasing bad guys is falling in love – at least Hollywood’s style of love. But are they? What, after all, is love? Is it what we hear in the songs – fleeting – here one day and gone the next? You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille. Is it what we see portrayed in movies as all too often just a physical act?
In my responsibilities as a pastor, a couple of things I do is marry and bury people. As I prepare people for marriage through premarital counseling, at one time I used a workbook called, Before You Say I Do. One chapter is titled, love as a basis for marriage. Listen to some descriptions of love given in that workbook:
- “Love is a feeling you feel when you get a feeling that you’ve never felt before.” Put a little twang in that and it’s a great country song.
- “Love is a perpetual state of anesthesia” – kind of like you have to be on drugs to fall in love.
- “Love is a grave mental disease.” You’ve got to be out of your mind to be in love.
- “Love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.” Now that’s actually a pretty good one.
I think we would all agree defining love can be confusing, for at least a couple of reasons. First, we speak of love in such varying terms. We say we love apple pie, basketball and Mom all at the same time. Is that to suggest I have the same feelings about or commitment to apple pie as to Mom? You see, it’s confusing because we’re not really sure who or what we love. Interesting, there was a popular Christian artist who wrote many songs you know, won Dove Awards, who left his wife and four grown kids because he was gay. He wrote a song, “Don’t Tell Me Who to Love.” In other words, all love is right, all love is true love, and love cannot be commanded. Don’t tell me who to love. We’ll come back to that.
So first, love is confusing because it’s difficult to define, and second, love is confusing because we’re not sure what causes us to love something or someone. What is it that evokes feelings of love? Further, is that the definition of love – that which evokes certain feelings? If so, then maybe love cannot be commanded. Maybe the songs and movies are right after all.
Then there is another challenge, it goes like this: “I love you, if…if you meet certain conditions.” But here’s my question: is true love, as that last definition suggests, unconditional? I would suggest much love in the world today – much of the love you’ve experienced – is not unconditional – it’s quite conditional. I’ll love you forever, if…I don’t know about this till-death-do-us-part thing. And frankly, it is much like we hear in the songs, here one day and gone the next. Because, let’s be honest, no one can possibly meet all of the expected conditions, all of the time. And much love today is like we see in the movies, very physical because it’s conditioned on how you look; or very temporary since it’s based on what you do. And when you don’t, I’m gone.
Think of it this way: it’s been said that girls often marry guys hoping they’ll change, while guys marry girls hoping they’ll never change. Sit in my office for awhile and you’ll hear just that. Girls will say, he never changes – really, you mean he’s still the guy to whom you said, “I do”? Guys will say, she’s not the girl I married – really, you mean she’s not the same girl after three children and a mortgage? That love is conditional and based on feelings. Here’s my question – is love’s foundation found somewhere else?
It doesn’t matter who you are, I can say three things about you this morning. First, you need love, both to love and to be loved. It’s the way God created you – to experience community, relationship, love. Everyone needs to belong and you long for love. That’s part of being created in God’s image, since I John says, God is love. We were created for love, whatever that is.
The second thing I can say about you is this: you can’t possibly meet all the conditions of love that someone lays down, all the time. You can’t do it. And so, you’ve felt the disappointment of failure, and as a consequence, you’ve felt the pain of losing love. Some of you can remember someone who said they loved you, who said they’d always love you, and now they don’t. And if we’re honest, we’d all say there have been times we’ve withheld love, because at times, our love is conditional.
The third thing I can say about you is that there is a love for you that is different than anything you’ve ever experienced. It is God’s love for you – and it is not something we deserve, nor for which we’ve met the conditions. And as a consequence, because of God’s faithful love to us, we can have a deep and abiding, true and faithful love for one another. That’s another way we’ve been created in the image of God – we are relational beings, and we need each other in God’s planned economy called the church. In the OT economy, it was the nation of Israel. In the NT, it is those who know Jesus Christ, who are born again into a family where we belong, where we love and are loved, called the church.
Last week, we finished I John – a letter likely written to churches in Asia Minor around Ephesus who were facing serious challenges – namely, those who had been at the church, but were not of the church. They were physically present, but not spiritually a part. And so, they had left, and in their going, they denied Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh. They had denied the necessity of obeying His commands. And they had denied loving one another – though it was the new commandment Jesus had given to His disciples.
You see, it was to be one of the distinguishing marks of being a follower of Jesus – a new command I give you, that you love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, by your love for one another. Don’t miss the one another part. Meaning, Jesus did command love, as a willful action, and even told us who to love. Further, John in these letters defines or at least describes what love – true, faithful, biblical, godly love looks like. And it isn’t, whatever we want or however we define it. How often do people say of their love, I’m just being true to myself? That may be true – true to your ungodly self. But true love is godly love. It is based in truth, that is, the character of God – in His self-revelation through His Word and His Son. So, anything less than holy love is not truly love.
This morning, we arrive at John’s second letter – we call it II John. There’s one more – a third letter, that we call III John. These two letters – II and III John – are the shortest letters or books in the NT. They are shorter than Philemon and Jude – two other books that only have one chapter. In fact, these two are less than 300 words each in the Greek. To give you some perspective, my sermons are usually about 4,000 words. I know, you’re thinking I should be more like John. Well, these are short letters, but they are filled with truth. Now, while the author is not clearly identified, there is enough similarity between them and I John and the Gospel of John that most scholars today agree they were written by the Apostle John.
Further, the subject matter is quite similar to I John – especially this command to love one another – and to demonstrate that by proper hospitality. You’ll see it again in both these books. Some have even suggested II John was a cover letter for I John – I don’t know about that, but they are very similar. So, he repeats the command, and goes a step further. He’s still dealing with false teachers – indeed, these heretics who had left the church – and I say heretics because they didn’t just deny the faith, they were teaching or spreading their new brand of heresy – seeking other followers. So, what is our relationship with them to be?
Again – they were traveling about spreading their heresy. Just like Christian teachers and missionaries, they were going from place to place sharing their heretical teaching. Now, back then, there weren’t hotels on every corner, and those which existed were typically of ill-repute, serving as brothels as well. So, it was quite common for traveling Christian teachers to be housed in the homes of brothers and sisters in Christ. This is what Peter and Paul meant by showing hospitality to one another – having others, even strangers, in your homes for the purpose of feeding and caring for them.
So, what about those who had departed the faith who were traveling about? We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, right? Isn’t that love? John writes to give a warning about showing hospitality to false teachers in II John – we’ll talk about that next week. And he writes III John to encourage showing hospitality to orthodox, faithful traveling teachers. We’ll talk about that in III John. It was a significant issue of that day – but you say – how does that apply to us today? We’ll get there – and you’ll see, I think, that it does have significant present-day application. That’s next week. But for today, let’s read the text – II John 1-6. They will sound very familiar.
In verses 1-3, we see the typical salutation – the writer-to-recipient convention of letter-writing of the day. By the way, it’s not unlike the way we write memos today. From so and so, to so and so, regarding such and such. Same idea. Then, in verses 4-6, he’ll talk about this command to love – further, to walk in the truth and love. That’s our outline:
- The Salutation (1-3)
- The Command (4-6)
It’s interesting to note that in the salutation, we see the truth abides in us, then John says, so walk in the truth. The truth is in us, so walk in the truth. You say the truth is here, so live it out.
Let’s begin by looking at the salutation in verses 1-3, where we see the writer, the recipients, and the greeting. The author identifies himself as simply, the elder. He does the same thing in III John. Lots of discussion through the centuries about who the Elder was (Papias and Eusebius). Some suggested there was the Apostle John, and the Elder John who were two different people. But again, as I mentioned earlier, when you compare I John to the Gospel of John, it’s clear they are the same writer. So also, when you compare II and III John with I John, you arrive at the same conclusion – the Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John and the letters of John.
But why does he call himself the elder? Well, it’s possible, even likely that as an apostle, he was an elder in the church of Ephesus. But also, he was elderly by now (80s or 90s AD), and yet retained apostolic authority. So he was an elder in age and in authority, and likely in position. The point is, he could write with authority, what he wrote.
He wrote to the chosen or elect lady – the eklekte kuria in the Greek – and her children. Lots of discussion about that as well. Some have suggested Elect or Eklectos was her name. Others have said Kyria, the feminine of Lord, was her name. But most agree that John was writing to a specific local church. Th chosen lady. For example, the church is called the bride of Christ. So, to the chosen lady and her children would be the church and members of the church. Don’t want to irritate anyone, but don’t miss that John called this church, elect – chosen by God.
Whom I love in truth or in the truth, John says, and not only do I love her – that is, the church – but also all who know the truth love her. In other words, all who know the truth of the gospel of Jesus love the bride of Christ – the church – and her children. And this is consistent with what he taught in I John – Christians love other Christians – who are to be found in the church.
And they love her for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever. The truth is the truth about Jesus and His gospel – something John made abundantly clear in the Gospel of John and the first letter of John. The truth of the gospel which saved us, made us His children, part of the church – we love that truth, and for the sake of the truth, we love all those in the church of Jesus Christ – because that truth will be with us forever. After all, that truth has given us eternal life. Some suggest, probably rightly, that this truth that is in us and with us forever is Christ Himself, who is the way, the truth, and the life. He will be in and with us forever, and because that is true, we love each other.
To these readers, John writes, 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. The writers of the NT took the traditional salutation of the day which typically said, greetings, and changed it to the very similar word, grace. And to these, they often added mercy and peace. John Stott writes of these three blessings:
“Grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s love, grace to the guilty and undeserving, mercy to the needy and helpless. Peace is the restoration of harmony with God, others and self which we call ‘salvation.’ Put together, peace indicates the character of salvation, mercy our need of it and grace God’s free provision of it in Christ.”
Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, namely God’s free forgiveness through the work of Christ; mercy is not getting what we do deserve, namely, the consequences of our rebellion both here an in eternity apart from God; and peace is the result of receiving grace and mercy, namely peace and reconciliation with God and with one another. It’s a sense of well-being because we have been made right.
And that comes from God the Father through the work of Jesus Christ. But notice how John says it. It’s normally, grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ – that’s Paul’s normal greeting. But John says it differently. First, it’s usually a blessing or prayer wish. Here, it’s a statement of fact – grace, mercy and peace will be with us. Period. Further, John says, these blessings come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. Why does he say it that way? Because of the false teachers who were denying that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh. In verse 7 of this letter, which we’ll see next week, he says, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” It’s a shot across the bow right at the outset of the letter.
Which brings us to the command in verses 4-6. Notice how John uses the word commandment four times in these three verses. In fact, he uses the word love four times in these first six verses; he uses the word truth five times. That gives us a clue to what he wants to talk about – namely this: the truth of God abides in you, now you walk in the truth. And what is this truth? It is that we walk in the truth of His commandments, the primary of which is to love one another.
So don’t miss it – the commandment is not a new commandment – it’s one they’ve had from the beginning. Jesus said it in the upper room at the last supper. It was a new commandment then – it’s several decades later, so it’s no longer new. It’s now two millenniums later, so it’s no longer new. John said the same thing in is first letter, “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.” The command to love one another. So, he repeats it here at the beginning of his second letter to this specific church. Love one another.
But notice how he inseparately ties the commandment to love and to the truth. Verse 4, “I was very glad to find some of your children walking in the truth.” By the way, some walking in the truth either means he only personally knows some of them; or, it means some, to his distress, had been dissuaded by the false teachers. What truth were they walking in? The truth of Jesus, and the consequent truth of the command to love one another. “Just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.”
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.”
We’ve heard this several times before. He used the word love 43 times in I John, mostly reminding us to love one another. Here, he gently requests – asks, that we love one another. But notice how he ties love to truth:
Vs 1 – to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth
Vs 2 – [We who know the truth love in the truth] for the sake of the truth
Vs 3 – Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Vs 4 – I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth…[and he’ll go on to say, following the truth of the commandment to love one another in verses 5 and 6].
Please notice the way John ties loving one another with the truth and the commandment to love. They are inseparable. He goes on in vs 6 to define love. Not the way the movies or the songs or the novels do. “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.” He goes from the plural of God’s commands, to the singular command of love. We walk according to His commandments – this is the character of love – and we love one another, the object of love. Notice again, the truth abides in us, and we are to therefore walk in the truth. And the new commandment He gave, which we’ve heard from the beginning, is that we love one another.
What does that look like? It is a loving walk according to His commandments. Plural. Our love is a godly, faithful, biblical, holy love. It does not mean a love which is opposed to the character of God or the Word of God. Love in truth is godly, faithful and biblical. This is incredibly important. People want to justify their ungodly love because of their feelings. But while true love does produce good and godly feelings – true love is always consistent with the character and nature of God and His commandments. So if you have a love that is inconsistent with the character of God – you might have feelings, you might have all kinds of things, but it is not true, godly love. True love is holy.
So how do we love one another? He told us in I John – when we see needs, we meet needs. We care for one another. We show hospitality to one another. But that’s not his primary point in this letter. His primary point is that love is to be discriminate – not indiscriminate. We do not show hospitable love to those who have rejected the faith and are seeking to ruin the faith of others. We do not have false teachers in the church, or in our homes. Again, true love in hospitality is not indiscriminate. That’s next week. The point today is this love – godly, biblical, holy love is faithful love – faithful to the truth of Christ and His gospel.