How to walk in truth (and find out if you aren’t) – 3rd John, Part 3

18 Sep
Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

If you created an anonymous online survey asking your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to describe your pattern of life, what would they say? What tendencies do you have? What comes to mind when they think about you? What impressions do the choices of your life make on the people around you? How do you come across?

In this series of posts, we’re studying an ancient letter a guy named John wrote to his friend Gaius, and in that letter John tells Gaius how he comes across. If you want, read the letter, called 3rd John in your Bible or Bible app, and catch up with these posts with Part 1 and Part 2. In Part 2 we learned that John prayed for Gaius, that it would be going well with his soul. As we continue in verses 3-4, John further describes what it means for things to be going well with Gaius’ body and soul when he expresses the great joy he had when he heard that Gaius was faithful to the truth and walking in the truth. So this “walking in the truth,” whatever it is, is really important to John!

In our previous series when we studied the letter called 2nd John, he also mentioned “walking in the truth” 2nd John verse 4.  In fact, while I think it is coincidental, compare the verse fours in both 2nd and 3rd John, and notice how similar they are!  The significance to this, I sense, is that “walking in the truth” was on John’s mind and clearly important to him, so let’s take time to try to understand it.

John calls it a “walk,” or “walking.”  Walking most obviously gives us the image of a person putting one foot in front of the other.  But John is not talking about the physical act moving yourself by the motion of walking.  John is using walking in a figurative way. 

Walking here is defined as “to live or behave in a customary manner, with possible focus upon continuity of action”[1]  You see what that means?  John is talking about a way of life.  In 2nd John, when we focused on “walking in love,” we learned that John wanted the people to have a way of life based on love.  Here in 3rd John, he is talking about a way of life based on truth.  Your walk is your way of life that refers to your behavior, your choices, your actions, and it is not a one-time event but the ongoing pattern of your life. It is habitual.  It is what characterizes you because you do it over and over and over again.  John says that is your walk.  And he says, it should be a walk in the truth. 

So, then, what is the truth?  This is the Greek word alethia which is used as a female name in English, and it means “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 in verses 1-4, so how do we know this?  Because of what John has written in other places, the most famous of which is John 14:6, in John’s account of Jesus’ life, 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.  Last week we read John saying that there is an amazing reality that this truth lives in us and is with us forever.  Now this week we are focusing on what it means to walk in that truth.  It means that our pattern of life should be based on Jesus’ pattern of life, in agreement with or consistent with Jesus’ way of life. 

Our guide, our example, for the way to live life, is Jesus, and how he lived.  He is the truth, and we walk in his way.   Walking truth is not just telling the truth.   It surely includes telling the truth, but it is much more than that.  Walking in the truth occurs when we strive to apply the ways and habits of Jesus to our lives. 

As we continue studying the letter, let’s be alert to learn if John has anything further to say about walking in truth.  In verse 5, for example, he encourages Gaius because Gaius has been faithful in what he has done for the brothers, even those who were strangers to him.  This is a somewhat vague sentence, so perhaps if we keep reading John will explain it for us.  In verse 6 these brothers have told the church about Gaius’ love.  So clearly there are Christian people who Gaius helped in some way, and those Christian people shared the news about Gaius’ generosity to John’s church. Sounds like John is describing that Gaius was walking in the truth!

Can it be said of you that you are walking in the truth? What does the pattern of your life tell about you? Do you want to know? How would the people around you describe your walk? Ask them. You might need to make it anonymous, so you get the truth.

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 504.

3 ways to pray for your friends – 3rd John, Part 2

17 Sep
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

How should you pray for your friends?

As we continuing studying the letter called 3rd John, after greeting his friend Gaius, instead of conveying a blessing from God, as so often happens in the biblical letters, John next describes how he prays for his friend.  It’s a great prayer, too, one that you can use a model for your prayers for your loved ones.  John says he prays for Gaius to enjoy good health, that all may go well with him, even as his soul is getting along well. 

That is an interesting prayer.  The good health part?  I get it.  Very normal.  We pray for good health frequently.  In fact, my guess is if you tallied up all the prayer requests mentioned in churches in each week the majority would be for health concerns.  It’s not wrong to pray for good health.  John does it right here.  But he has some other concerns too.  That means we should avoid getting fixated on praying for good health.  When we pray for ourselves and others, we should think holistically, meaning, thinking of the whole person, as John does.  John prays for health, but what else does he pray for?

The next prayer request is “that all may go well with you.”  I get that one too.  It’s a great thing to pray for your loved ones.  Whether it is their job, family, finances, relationships, you name it, pray that all will go well with them.  Of course in this life, we know that all will not always go well, right?

That’s where John’s third and final prayer request for Gaius is so interesting: “Even as your soul is getting along well.”  He prays for Gaius’ soul!  We should be praying for our loved ones’ souls.  Do you pray for that?

What is this soul, John is talking about?  Is he just praying that Gaius would accept Jesus as his savior so his soul would be saved?  In other words, is John thinking about eternal destiny? About life after death? Notice that John doesn’t say anything like that, does he?  He simply says he wants Gaius’ soul to be getting along well.  What does John mean by this? 

We sometimes think of our soul as the immaterial part of us.  Similar to heart, soul, spirit, mind.  But these terms can be confusing.  Are they real?  Do they refer to different parts of us? 

Christian philosopher JP Moreland, in his book Finding Quiet, explains the soul like this: think of a cup of water. The water represents an inanimate human body, like a corpse, with no life in it.  Then think of a cup of salt. The salt represents our soul.  When the salt is dissolved in the water, it now represents a body that is alive, with a soul.  Our soul, Moreland says, is completely intermingled with our body.  When we are alive, a human is a body with a soul.  It is who we truly are. This is why our evangelical forefathers had a question that they would ask on a regular basis when they got together: “How goes it with your soul?”  It is a deeper way to ask “How are you doing?”  John is approaching prayer holistically.  He doesn’t want his friends to be doing well only in their health, which is a body concern.  He wants all elements of who they are to be going well.  His is a concern for their spiritual, emotional and bodily health.  John is showing us, then, great way for us to think about how we are praying for the people in our lives.

This also relates to John’s idea of a walk, which we’ll look at more in the next post in this series.

Can we say “I love you” non-romantically? 3rd John, Part 1

16 Sep
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

I recently heard the true story of a boss who was very controlling, difficult and demanding.  As a result was a very stressful person to work for.  His employees always felt like they were on thin ice around him.  One day one of the boss’ employees was meeting new people at a dinner party, and as they talked they asked each other the normal questions people ask when they’re meeting each other for the first time: “Where are you from?” and “Do you have family?” and “What do you do for a living?”  As they answered these questions, they realized they had a common connection in the guy who was the boss.  Here’s the thing, though.  The other people at the dinner party didn’t know the guy as a boss. They went to church with him, and they talked about him glowingly, that he was a great caring guy.  As you can imagine, the employee was shocked to hear his boss went to church.  And he could not conceive of his boss as being a caring guy.

Have you known anyone like that?  Some people would call that a hypocrite.  Or inconsistent.  Would people say that of you and me? I ask this because we’re going to be studying a letter in this week’s series of posts that talks about that kind of life.

This summer we’ve been reading other people’s mail.  Ancient letters.  We read a couple letters that a guy named Paul wrote.  One to a friend named Titus, and another to a friend named Philemon.  Then last week we met another letter writer, a guy named John.  He wrote three letters that are in the Bible.  Last week we studied his letter commonly called 2nd John, and today we’ll see that his next letter, 3rd John, has many similarities with 2nd John.  The writer of these letters, John, was one of the disciples of Jesus. John is sometimes called the Dr. Seuss of the New Testament because in all his writings he uses a few words and he repeats concepts over and over again. 

For example, John loves to talk about walking.  In 2nd John he talked about walking in truth and walking in love, so you might remember that I said last week were we were going to focus on walking in love, which is the feature of 2nd John, and this week we’re going to focus on walking in truth, which is the feature of 3rd John.

So go ahead and read 3rd John before we continue, and see if you can understand what John means by “walking in truth” and what it might have to do with the mean boss who was a nice guy at church. After you’ve read the letter, continue below.

Verse 1 starts just like 2nd John did with John, the writer, identifying himself as “the elder.”  We believe at the time John wrote this, he was probably the only one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples still alive, very much in old age, having served many years in ministry.  It could be that by this point, as the only one of the 12 remaining, he held a position of great respect among the churches, so he was “the elder”.

Next John tells us he is writing to someone named Gaius.  Last week he wrote to “the chosen lady” which we think was a metaphor for a local congregation.  3rd John seems to be a letter specifically to one person,  Gaius.  Why would John write a letter specifically to him?  Let’s try to uncover the reason.

To start, take note of how he refers to Gaius, as a “dear friend,” and one whom John loves in the truth.  That means John considers his relationship with Gaius to be close; he is important to John.  When John says that he loves Gaius in the truth, that should stick out to you.  Why?  Because we don’t talk like that!  Have you ever said to anyone, “I love you in the truth”?  I highly doubt it. 

We might say, “I love you a lot” or “I love you so much.”  But “I love you in the truth?” Uh… No.  What does that even mean?  Well, you might actually have heard people say a phrase very similar to what I think this means.  Have you ever heard Christian people say, “I love you in the Lord”?  Or “I love you as a brother or sister in Christ”?  We don’t use those phrases a whole lot either, but sometimes in a church family, we talk like that because we want to specify the kind of love that we’re communicating.  We don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea!

In our culture, it has become somewhat more normal, I think, for people to say “I love you.” Just a plain old “I love you,” without meaning it romantically.  Sometimes they say it humorously like, “I love you, man!”  But more and more, I’m hearing people say “I love you,” to their friends, non-romantically, and I think that’s a good thing, meaning that perhaps we’re becoming freer to express sentiments of love that way.  But there are still times when we want to express loving-kindness and we don’t want it to be confused with a romantic expression of love, so we add a few words on the end.  In a church family we might say, “I love you in the Lord,” or “I love you as a brother or sister in Christ.”  I think that is what John is doing when he says to Gauis, “I love you in the truth.”  When he says, “he loves him in the truth,” John is describing the deep familial bond that he has with Gaius as a fellow follower of Jesus.  For John, “the way of Jesus” is the one true way of life, and when he says, “I love you in the truth,” John is simply saying to Gaius that they are a part of the Christian family, and John really cares for him.   

So we can, and should, say “I love you” non-romantically to those we care about. We might need to add a word or two to clear up what kind of love we’re expressing. But maybe not.

What does this have to do with the difficult boss? Nothing just yet. But John is getting there. For now, all we have covered is his greeting to his friend. Check back in to Part 2 of this series to see where John goes next.

How to love deceivers and other difficult people – 2nd John, Part 5

13 Sep
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

In the previous post, John warned the Christians in the church about deceivers in their midst. But who was he talking about? Open a Bible or read online in 2nd John verses 10-11 to see how John describes them. Some scholars believe that he is talking about itinerant teachers who believed false doctrine.  There were many traveling preachers in that day.  It could be that John is only prohibiting people from investing in the work of those who were heretics, but John would have been okay with Christians in the church conversing with the false teachers and trying to win them over to faithfulness.  It is hard to know how much John covers through the words “do not take him into your house and welcome him.” 

What we see for certain is a healthy caution, a guardedness, a yellow alert of sorts.  In his epistle in 1 John 4:1, he talks about this as well when he says “test the spirits”.  Testing the spirits means that we ask the question of them: are they teaching true doctrine about Jesus?  Just like the false traveling preachers, we have people in our day and age who have all kinds of views about God.  While we have a caution and do the work of “testing the spirits,” we don’t have to overreact in fear. Instead we choose to love them. Loving them doesn’t mean buying in to what they are teaching. In fact loving them means we treat them how God would want us treat them, and if their teaching is false, that means seeking to help them see the truth.

John then concludes his letter in verses 12-13 with some greetings, mentioning that he looks forward to visiting with them.

So what have seen in this letter called 2nd John?  John teaches the principle of walking in love, which we is not by feelings or emotions, but by obeying God no matter how it affects you. 

God calls us to obey him out of love.  He doesn’t want force us to obey him like a drill sergeant does.  Instead he wants us to choose to love him.  Risky of God, isn’t it?  And yet wonderful because he wants us to have real relationship with him! 

Christians, therefore, consider how they are walking in love.

It could be a spouse that gives their life to many years of caring for a debilitated spouse. 

Or a couple that is dating and one partner develops cancer and rather than break-up, the other partner sticks with them, gets engaged and married, even knowing they might only have months or a couple years together married. 

It is a movement from selfishness to selflessness that is very similar to dating.  Dating starts with “what do I like,” “what is attractive to me” and moves to “how will I give care to the other?”  This same attitude can and should happen among people in a church family. Christians should be that loving community with one another.

I’m convinced that this is what Christians need to focus on in our post-Christian world.  We need to be known as the most loving people around, first and foremost to each other.

That means getting to know new people.  Investing quality time in them.

It means looking for people every single Sunday morning in a church’s gathering who might seem disconnected or new and reaching out to them. 

It means pushing past your own insecurities or weaknesses and connecting with people.

It means sharing your resources with those in need. 

It means a willingness to be inconvenienced for them. 

And it is rooted in Jesus, who is the embodiment of love.  Start there, with Jesus, whose Spirit lives in you, who loves you, and get to know his love, and then show your love for him by obeying his commands, one of which is to love those around you, even those who are difficult to love.

Walk in love.

How to respond to deceivers in a church – 2nd John, Part 4

12 Sep
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

How much should Christians interact with the secular world? I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is known for our Amish community, a Christian sect that practices a form of separation from the world. As I type this, I can look out my kitchen window and see my Amish neighbors wearing their traditional clothing and riding in a horse and buggy. They can look out their kitchen window and see me and my family wearing our contemporary fashions and driving cars. But we would both call ourselves followers of Jesus. I can tell you, living in this community for decades, that it works. I’m not saying that Lancaster is utopia, but for the most part, though we have a fairly diverse Christian population, we get along, allowing people the latitude to practice their faith in their unique ways, even if we might disagree.

I’ve often wondered, though, what would happen if we tried to actively convince each other that our way is right, and their way is wrong. What if we started attending each other’s worship services and gatherings trying to preach and teach them that they need to change and become like us? How would we handle that? The reality is that this very situation has happened in the past, and still does today. Not with the Amish, though! They’re not big on that kind of evangelism. Instead think of times when people might try to teach false doctrine in a church, or when a so-called cult group knocks at your door. How should you respond?

John continues teaching in the letter we call 2nd John, and he has a warning for people teaching false doctrine.  In verse 4, he wrote that he was thrilled that there were many in the church who were walking in truth, but now in verse 7 he warns them about another group, a dangerous group in the church. John calls them deceivers, those who are not in the truth, who do not practice love by obedience.

How did the deceivers deceive?  He says they did not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh.  In other words, these deceivers were teaching false views about Jesus.  John and the apostles who walked with Jesus, who actually knew Jesus, taught that Jesus was human and God.  These teachers were saying something different. 

So John calls them “antichrist”?  What does he mean?  John is not talking about a concept of THE Antichrist, who is considered to be a future world leader. Instead John is referring to a person who teaches something that is against or anti- true teaching about Jesus.  Jesus and his disciples, including John, taught that Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, while these deceivers said something else.  John comes strongly against them. 

So in verses 8-9, John has a further warning for the church about losing what they have worked for.  He calls it “running ahead,” and “not continuing in the teaching.”  What does all this mean?  To continue in the teaching is the idea of remaining faithful to the true teaching about Jesus.  If you remain faithful, or continue in the teaching, John says in verse 8 that there is a reward.  Running ahead, then, is the opposite of continuing. The deceivers were “running ahead” when they taught false concepts about Jesus.

This is another reminder, as we have seen many times in the short letters of the New Testament, that faith is not merely assent but allegiance.  Faith does not stop at belief, but absolutely must work itself out in obedience.  This is what John already said in verse 6, “this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.”  If you do not have obedience to Jesus, therefore, you do not have faith.  He goes on to clarify this in verse 9 when he writes that the person who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ, “does not have God.”

As he continues in verses 10-11, John answers the question, “What should we do about the deceivers who bring false teaching about Jesus?  Further, what should we do about about people in the church who do not obey the teaching of Jesus?”  His response is, “Do not welcome them in your home.”

Can you feel the tension in this?  I feel it. We want to guard ourselves from false teaching for sure, but aren’t Christians supposed to be welcoming? Why would John say that we shouldn’t welcome people? Maybe if we built a relationship with them, we could earn the right to talk honestly with them? But if we just deny them, it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to connect with them.

On one hand, in Psalm 1 we have a teaching that is very similar to what John says about being separate from those who call themselves people of faith but who are living a sinful live or teaching false doctrine.  On the other hand, we see Jesus himself interacting with sinners, talking with them, spending time in their homes and attending their parties.  

There are numerous examples where Jesus does this.  He attends parties with sinners.  He talks with the woman caught in adultery. He purposefully reaches out to the Samaritan woman at the well, and it is clear that her lifestyle was far from the straight and narrow.   What do we see in every one of these situations?  Jesus indulging in sin?  Of course not.  What we learn is that he called them out of a sinful lifestyle.  “Repent and sin no more.” 

Also take note that clearly Jesus did not have the attitude of “Well, I’m the savior of the world, so I don’t go to parties.”  Or “I don’t talk with people who sin.”  He did go to the parties and the places where sinners congregated. He is our example, and that means we can and should reach out as he did. He also confronted false teaching wherever he heard it, whether from the religious leaders or from his own disciples. So John’s teaching in 2nd John is in line with Jesus. While we can and should have genuine relationships with people, we shouldn’t accept false teaching into the church or our homes. When we hear it, we would be wise to graciously and lovingly respond, asking the person to consider changing their view. If they will not, we can just as lovingly agree to disagree. If a person is malicious in their attempt to push their teaching, then a church leadership team can and should respond to that person, even to the point of denying them access to the congregation.

But this requires sensitivity and self-awareness.  As we interact with people like Jesus did, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I being pulled down in the midst of those relationships?  Or am I able to maintain my faithfulness in Christ amidst the pressures and temptation, such that I can have an ability to lift people up?” We need to have honest people around us who we invite to speak into our lives, people who will confront us if we struggling with temptation.  So have a humble mindset, don’t think of yourself as a Christian superhero that rescues sinners.  Trust in God.

Love is practice? 2nd John, Part 3

11 Sep
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Are you a good lover? Many of us when we hear that question, jump in our minds to an erotic understanding of “lover,” but that is not the kind of love I’m referring to. Are you good at being loving? The problem with answering this second question (“Are you good at being loving?”), is illustrated by the confusion we can have with first question (“Are you a good lover?”). What I mean is that we so often we think we know what love is, but what if we don’t? Is it possible that we assume love is one thing, but it is actually another? In our study this week on the ancient letter in the Bible commonly called 2nd John, we’re learning what it means to walk in love. But what is love? To answer that question, we turn to Jesus as our teacher and guide.

In the previous post I suggested that rather than ask “What would Jesus do?” we should ask the question: how can I learn to love like Jesus loved? 

So let’s investigate a Jesus kind of love for a bit. 

The love that Jesus taught and lived is not emotion or feeling.  What we normally think of when we think of love is a feeling or simply an opinion, saying, “I like this or that!” but saying it very emphatically, “I love it!”  The reality is that opinions can change, even about things for which we have said, “I love that!” It is okay if our opinions change about them.  There is nothing wrong with changing your opinion.  You might like something very passionately one year, but grow bored with it another year.   Last week my brother texted me asking if I could bring some baseball cards to our family Labor Day gathering.  A couple of his sons have really been getting into baseball, and he wanted them to see our cards.  I say, “our” cards, because my brother and I collected together.  In approximately 1986-1990, when we were in upper elementary school, middle school, and into my early years of high school we blew a lot of money on baseball cards.  At that age our ability to earn money to spend on cards was fairly limited, but we still ended up with around 10,000 cards.  At the time, I would have said that I loved collecting baseball cards.  Now I look at the boxes of cards taking up space in my closet and think, “That was fun.  I really hope they’re increasing in value! But I’m not passionate about them anymore.”  I don’t like collecting baseball cards anymore. It was an opinion that changed.

Love is different from an opinion. The word John uses for “love” is “agape,” and when Jesus teaches and show us love, he, too, is using the word “agape” to depict a love that is different from opinions and feelings and emotions.  Love is a choice, a conviction, and it does not change.  Agape love is an other-focused way of life in which we care for the other person. It is what you should do, which is not always what you want to do.  It means you love enemies.  It means you love those who cannot return or repay your love.

In many contemporary societies, love is often equated with feelings and eroticism, which is not what John is talking about.  But our society’s view of love is not all bad, as it also conceives of love as commitment, which is very similar to where John goes next in his unique description of love.

Both Jesus and John do something interesting with their idea of love.  Look at verse 6.  They describe love as obedience.  “Walk in obedience to his commands.”  And at the end of verse 6, “walk in love.”  To walk in love, therefore, is to live a life of obedience to Jesus’ commands.  That’s a very different way of thinking about love.  We show our love for Jesus by how we live.  

It seems this is a theme in John’s writings because in the Gospel of John, he mentions the foundation for seeing love as obedience, when Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  (John 14:15)

So if love is obedience to Jesus’ commands, that presupposes that we must know what his commands actually are.  And we shouldn’t assume that we just know the teaching of Jesus. 

So back to the illustration of WWJD.  That’s great, but what if we don’t know what Jesus would do?  We need to learn what Jesus would do.  We need to learn his commands.  We need to learn his way of life. 

Make it a priority to get to know Jesus.  Read the Gospels.  Spend time with him.

This takes us back to verse 2 and 3, where John said that the truth lives in us and is with us forever.  I encourage you to read John’s Gospel, chapters 14 and 15.  In those chapters we probably have the clearest teaching of the idea that Jesus lives with us.  He says things like “when people show their love for me by obeying my commands, my father and I will come and make our home with them.”  That’s pretty amazing, right?  This is the theological concept called Union with Christ.  It means that Jesus is with us. He goes on in John 14 and 15 to say a good bit more about it.  First, he says that it is through his Spirit that he is with us.  The Spirit of Jesus lives within us.  And what’s more, in John 15, Jesus says that apart from abiding in him (which is sometimes called remaining in him or depending on him), we can do nothing.  That concept of abiding in him can work itself out in many different applications, but one is that we show our love for him, or we walk in love, by obeying his commands.  And when we obey his commands, when we walk in love, Jesus says, we will have the empowerment of his Spirit to bear fruit for his Kingdom.

But here’s the key: We still have a choice.  Jesus doesn’t turn us into robots who love and obey him.  We have choice.  I often wish I was a robot for Jesus, and had no choice but to obey him.  This raises a question: Which comes first, love or obedience?  Do we obey him first, and then we grow in love for him?  Or does our love for him motivate us to obey?  If love is not emotion, then it seems best to answer that we must first choose to obey.  We might say that our love is expressed in our willful choice to obey.  And there are plenty of times when we are willing ourselves to obey, not because we want to, but because we know it is the right thing to do.  Those battles of the will are difficult.  But they are real, and we can win, especially as we practice.  So much of obedience is practice.  Can we say the love is practice?  I think we can.  We practice what we care about, right?  We’re willing to work at it.  We’re willing to struggle.  That image of love as practice is not enticing.  And yet it is perhaps the foundation of love.

How Jesus redefines “love” and “truth” – 2nd John, Part 2

10 Sep

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.