In the previous post I introduced the ancient biblical letter of 2nd John by looking at some ways that people express themselves when they are in love. Behind it all is the question, “What is love?” Though it is such a commonly used word and concept, is it possible that we might not understand it? I think most people generally understand it, but what we need to investigate, as we read this letter, is how the writer, John, used the word “love.”
What is John talking about in verse 1 when he says, “Whom I love in the truth?” The “truth” is his way of talking about the family of Christian faith. As we’ll see, in both short letters of 2nd and 3rd John, John regularly mentions truth. He continues talking about it in 2nd John verse 1 when he refers to those “who know the truth” and in verse 2 when he says the truth lives in us. So before we answer the question, “What is love?” it seems we need to answer, “What is truth?”
Truth is an important concept that I will address more fully next week when we study 3rd John, but as we consider how John starts his letter in verses 1 and 2, because he mentions truth three times in the first two verses (get ready, because he’ll mention in verse 3 and 4 and well!), it is vital that we say a few words about truth. John is not talking about a concept or idea of truth, so much as he is talking about the fact that Jesus is the embodiment of truth. I know that he doesn’t spell that out here in 2nd John, so how do we know this? Because of what John has written in other places, the most famous example of which is John 14:6, in his Gospel, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” This was and still is a fairly surprising way to think of truth. Truth is a person. Jesus is truth. John says, therefore, that there is an amazing reality that this truth lives in us and is with us forever. How in the world does a person live in us? We’ll talk more about that in a post later in this series. Hold that thought.
As we move on to verse 3, we read John’s greeting of grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son, who will be with us in truth and love. There’s that idea of truth again, and that the truth is in us. But now John has expanded the idea to include grace, mercy and peace and the idea that Jesus is with us in truth and love. Clearly, what God is communicating to us is amazing. God wants you to know grace. God wants you to know mercy. God wants you to know peace. All through Jesus living with us and in us, Jesus who is truth and love.
Following John’s flow of thought into verse 4, we read him convey an encouraging word to the church, saying that it has given him great joy to find some of her children walking in the truth. Walking is another idea that John will repeat. As is specifically “walking in truth,” which we will focus on next week. For now, he is overjoyed to find that some in the church are living out the truth of Jesus.
Let’s continue, because John is about to reveal the specific purpose for writing, and we see the beginning of that in verse 5 when he says he has not a new command, but one we had from the beginning, “love one another.”
There was a time when people asked Jesus “What is the greatest command of the law?” You can read this in Matthew 22. He said, “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and the second greatest, Jesus said, is “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus wasn’t making these commands up. Both of these commands were originally given way, way back in the Old Testament Law. Leviticus 19:18 for example says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s where Jesus got it from. So these are not new commands, as John says.
It is interesting, then, to consider that Jesus, in John 13:34-35, calls “love one another” a new command. There he was teaching his disciples just hours before he was about to be arrested and put in trial and crucified. He says to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
How is this a new command? Wasn’t it actually a really, really old command? Yes, perhaps a couple thousand years old by that point! And Jesus clearly knew it was an old command. So why would he call it a new command? I suspect what Jesus was getting at was the fact that he expressed it in a new way. He says to his disciples not, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but “love one another, as I loved you.” Do you see the difference that makes this a new command?
Our standard for loving other people is not how we would love ourselves, our standard for loving other people is how Jesus loves us! Do you see what Jesus did there? He took a command from the Old Law, a very good and important command, but he put his new spin on it, and in so doing, took it to a whole new level.
No longer are we the standard for loving others, he is the standard. That means we need to have a clear understanding of how Jesus loved. In another place, John 15:13, John records Jesus as teaching, “There is no greater love than this, then a man lay down his life for his friends.” That’s the kind of love Jesus gave when he went to the cross.
Remember that phrase WWJD? What would Jesus do? We could specify it a bit to: HWJL? How would Jesus love? You could make that into a bracelet and wear it, and that bracelet could become a reminder to you all day long to love like Jesus loved. Not a bad thing. We need reminders to love like Jesus loved. We can often behave in our normal patterns or habits that might not be the same patterns or habits that Jesus used for loving people. Reminders can help us break out of our old ways and follow the new ways of Jesus.
Here’s the problem though. What if we don’t know how Jesus would love? We might think, “Of course I know how Jesus would love.” But do we? We would do better to ask the question: how can I learn to love like Jesus loved?
Now there’s a question to answer! In the next post in this series, we’ll investigate Jesus’ kind of love a bit further.
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