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At first glance, 2 John might seem to be warmed-over leftovers from 1 John, but appearances are very deceiving in this case. In John’s First Letter, he had addressed three major themes: Regeneration, Truth, and Love. John’s Second Letter is vital to the health of Christ’s Church today not because he ventures into new territory, but because he shows us that same territory again from new vistas.

2 John’s unique contribution to the canon of Scripture is to illustrate the connection between truth and love. In 1 John, the main connection John demonstrated was that our becoming children of God (regeneration) is the cause of our faith in the truth and our ability to love the brethren. Because we have become the children of God, we now believe the truth about Jesus (1 John 5:1, 4-5) and love our brothers (1 John 3:10).

But in his Second Letter, John doesn’t focus much on regeneration, but only wants us to see that truth and love are not two unrelated virtues, but rather two sides of the very same coin.

This is the message of 2 John: You cannot genuinely love someone except in truth, and you cannot genuinely embrace the truth except in love.

Even the spiritual blessings (grace, mercy, and peace) that we receive from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son come to us “in truth and love” (v. 3). You cannot separate them; if you try to cling only to one and exclude the other, you end up losing both.

Seeing this connection between truth and love in 2 John is kind of like the point at which Emma discovers that Frank Churchill had, all this time, been secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax–certain unexplained details suddenly make sense (e.g., Jane’s mysterious piano gift), but the discovery also raises new questions (e.g., How could Frank have been so misleadingly friendly with Emma? Are the Frank and Jane actually a better match than Frank and Emma would have been?).

So, we now know why John had spent so much time talking about Truth and Love in 1 John (they were secretly engaged!), but how could these two possibly form a harmonious match? Truth demands nothing less than precise, unbending, uncompromising facts; but Love constantly overlooks flaws, failures, and shortcomings. Should Love transform Truth, or should Truth transform Love?

Each should transform the other.

John first addresses how Love has her way with Truth:

[1:1] 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, [2] because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
[3] Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
[4] I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. [5] And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. [6] And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. (2 John 1:1-6)

Love demands that Truth never content himself to be cold, hard, and calculating–in short, Truth is forbidden from remaining merely cerebral. Rather, Truth should be given to warmth, affection, and delight in others from the heart.

Accordingly, John writes that he (the “elder”) loves the elect lady and her children (symbolic for a church and the church’s members) in truth. Even more, John says that “all who love the truth” love the elect lady and her children in truth.

Why? Because Truth unites people eternally: “the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.” The children of God, who have been reborn to faith in the truth that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, are not merely members of the same club (but different chapters), nor citizens of the same city (but different suburbs); rather, we are intimately bound to one another because of our common relationship to the truth.

Truth cannot stand alone, but must be joined and moved and prompted by Love.

And therefore, when John sees the lady’s children walking in truth, his heart rejoices in love for his fellow brothers and sisters. Desirous of their continuing in the truth, John gently encourages them to keep walking in the commandment, which is that we love one another.

Love will have her way with Truth, her beloved, forcing him to embrace those genuinely united to him.

This is, of course, the gospel. Truth could not remain aloof as an absolute being, somewhere out there in the universe, content to wait for someone righteous enough to enter his presence; he was compelled by Love to pursue his own no matter what it would cost him. In fact, Love and Truth are the same person, our Lord Jesus Christ. In him, Love and Truth come together gloriously, so that our Savior did not stand apart from us with a take-me-or-depart-from-me attitude; his love for us drove him even to die on a cross in order to bring us into his truth.

But Truth will also have his way with Love. More on that tomorrow.

Post Series on 2 John:

  1. Loving One Another in Truth
  2. In Jesus, Truth Wins Too

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