Our culture force-feeds us a false notion of love. Tolerance and diversity are its defining features. Meanwhile, truth is generally held in high suspicion—if not treated with outright contempt. An unyielding commitment to truth is often viewed as unloving. As a result, truth is regularly sacrificed in the name of love.
But the symbiotic relationship between love and truth is essential. Authentic love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). Love without truth has no character. Truth without love has no power.
When separated from one another, either virtue is nothing more than mere pretense. Love deprived of truth deteriorates into self-love. Truth divorced from love breeds self-righteousness.
Love and Truth Complete One Another
Love and truth are key words in John’s second letter. The central theme throughout is the interdependence of these two qualities of Christ-likeness.
John is the right person to write on this theme. Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James “Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder” because of their fiery zeal for the truth (Mark 3:17). At first, their passion was not always tempered with love. We see a glimpse of this in Luke 9:54, when they wanted to call down fire from heaven upon a village of Samaritans who had rebuffed Christ.
In later years, however, John distinguished himself as the apostle of love—highlighting the theme of love in his gospel and in all three of his letters.
As we see in all his letters, John never lost his zeal for the truth. But he connected it to Christ-like love. In his second letter, where he has some hard things to say in defense of the truth, he is careful to give first place to love. Before getting into the main issue—how to deal with supposed Christian teachers who deny truth—he accents the supreme importance of obedience to Jesus’ command “that we love one another” (v. 5; compare John 13:34–35).
John writes about two essential features of a worthy walk:
We must walk in truth by displaying love (vv. 1–5).
- Truth is the foundation of love (vv. 1–3).
- Love is the fulfillment of truth (vv. 4–5).
We must walk in love by devoting ourselves to truth (vv. 6–13).
- We must know the truth (vv. 6–9).
- We must guard the truth (vv. 10–12).
In all likelihood, the recipient(s) of John’s letter had read his warning: “That antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18; compare 2:22; 4:3). John made it clear that such men were “false prophets”—teachers who claimed to be believers but whose doctrine undermined the faith. And many of them had already gone out all over the known world (4:1).
For someone whose ministry entailed showing kindness to strangers, those were unsettling words. What was the loving response to someone who claimed to be a brother in Christ but taught the doctrine of antichrist?
The Importance of Love
Verses 1–5 describe the relationship between love and truth. “All who [genuinely] know the truth” do love. Love itself is at the heart of all truth, because love is just what the truth demands. Love is the perfect fulfillment of God’s commandments (compare Rom 13:10; Gal 5:14). John does not want the recipient(s) of this letter to think that anything else he is about to say denigrates the importance of love.
But then, between verses 6 and 7, the tone and thrust of the letter take a dramatic turn. John reiterates the necessity of being on guard against deceivers and antichrists. In verse 9, he gives a thumbnail description of how to distinguish such people from authentic believers.
What are the distinguishing marks of someone who “goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ” (v. 9)? John’s answer to that question can be found in 1 John, where he expounded on the marks of authentic faith and the characteristics of false faith.
Loving the Truth
Verses 10–11 contain the main point John wants to address in this letter:
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”
John warns against those who come in Christ’s name but deny Christ’s essential teaching. He isn’t talking about simple matters of disagreement between believers in Christ. He is prescribing what to do with someone who is on a mission to undermine the foundations of the faith. He expects his readers to distinguish between essential and inconsequential errors.
John wants us to learn what it means to ground love in the truth. We shouldn’t succumb to the pressures of our age to spurn or subjugate Christ’s truth to a false and foggy notion of love.
All biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).