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Second John

The Forgotten Aspects of Love

2 John 1: 4-7

Love, to some, is a compound of saccharine and molasses, hearts and flowers with an occasional pepperoni pizza heartburn thrown in. If your experience of love is like this, consider yourself fortunate. There is a melancholy side to love. Many older Christians know this, for they see their adult children walking in the wrong way; this causes great pain. We will examine this pain – and the forgotten aspects of love which it highlights.

(2 John 1:4-7 NIV) It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. {5} And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. {6} And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. {7} Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Some of your children

There is a sad note in this passage; it is implied in the word “some.” The Apostle clearly understands that not all of this lady’s children are walking in the faith. This may be personal to one lady, or it may represent the faithless in the church – but whichever, we can learn from it.

Why do children of “good parents” go astray?

It’s a question parents of adult children often get to ask themselves. Some have the privilege of knowing this is not their problem, but most Christian parents understand this question all too well. It’s the answer that seems to be the problem.

  • Naturalism – some of us subscribe to the theory that a child grows up as the product of nothing more than heredity and environment. If only we had raised the kid somewhat better, all would be well. The theory is common in sociology; it’s the “poverty causes crime” theory, for example. The poor child had no choice but to become a thief and drug addict, considering his environment. But what about the kid in the “good” environment?
  • Secret sin – most of us are good at laying guilt on ourselves, and often good at laying it on others. Sometimes we see our children’s ways as the revelation of our own sins. God is showing the world that we didn’t do everything the way he told us to. Because of our sins, our children have rejected our faith and gone their way, holding us to be hypocrites. We’re not really “good” after all.
  • Choices – the simplest (and I think most correct) answer is this: like us, they have the freedom to choose. We chose to follow Christ. They have that freedom as well; having that freedom means that some will choose not to follow Christ. When I was growing up, I wanted to make my own decisions. So do my children.
Our attitude –what it is

When our children make these wrong choices we have a tendency to look at the failures and ignore the successes. We’re like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son; we know what’s right and we’re going to stick with it. Often this means that we overlook the good in our other children – we are so focused on our problems. This is a serious thing, for it means that we have failed to rejoice in the truth. Did you ever wonder what that phrase meant? Surely it includes giving thanks for our children who follow the Lord, and rejoicing that we have them. If for no other reason than for the example it sets to the lost, we should do this.

Sometimes we have the tendency to “get offended.” When your children were little, you probably heard “I hate you!” screamed at the top of their little lungs. You may have replied, “Well, I love you.” (Usually followed by “and that’s why you’re going to bed right now!”) We need to carry over that attitude into adulthood. We need to remember that we still love them.

Worse, there is the tendency to simply give up. The frustration of years of trying becomes so painful that we simply stop. It is a sad thing when the pain of abandoning your child is less than the pain of trying. Perhaps we should look for help with the pain.

Our attitude – what it should be

The Apostle gives us our clue: we should rejoice about the “some” who are following the truth. Often we take our adult children in the faith for granted. We assume that this is how things should be – so we don’t give thanks for them, we do not rejoice over them. This – rather than fretting about the others – should be our main point.

But what about the ones who have gone astray? We are to walk in love; we forget the character of love:

  • It hopes all things – so let us not despair of our children.
  • It endures all things – so let us not be so offended that we perpetuate childish argument.
  • It perseveres – and so should we.
  • It rejoices in the truth – which, please God, shall come.

Balance: Love and Obedience

If you read this passage again, you will see John’s difficulty in expressing a basic truth. First he tells us to love; to love is to obey his commands; his command is to love. Has John lost track of his notes? I think not.

  • It is a difficult concept to express in any language. Love and obedience in the faith feed each other, they grow together. The closest analogy of which I know is a “feedback loop” – love provokes obedience, which provokes love, which provokes obedience, which…
  • There is also the value of repetition – the Apostle is telling us not only what to do, but that this is the most important part – for he repeats it so much.
Obedience as a result of love

Obedience is the natural result of love in a child. Why?

  • Imitation. When you were a small child, you imitated your parents. Why? Because you loved and admired them – you wanted to grow up to be just like them. The same is true for us as adults; if we love and admire our Lord, we will want to grow up just like him. So we will imitate him.
  • Illumination. Sometimes we obey simply because we understand. If we know that someone cares for us, we do not reject their suggestions out of hand, but consider them carefully. That often results in our following them. How much more should this be true of our Lord!
  • Anticipation. We know that someone who loves us will do good things for us. As children, we didn’t want to do anything to “spoil” that. It’s a pretty good principle for adults, too.
Love as the result of obedience

We don’t often think of love being the result of obedience, but it certainly is. Why?

  • Spiritual matters are cleared up by obedience. Sin no longer stands between you and the Father; when that happens, his Word gets through to you. Sin is sometimes the static on the phone line between you and God.
  • Obedience is the natural relationship of a child to its Father. We know that in raising and being raised; is it not also the case spiritually? Do things the right way the first time – it works.
  • To obey means “to follow a pattern.” That pattern can be a person, or a set of laws, or a picture, or any number of things. One thing is certain: the better the pattern, the better the result. Our pattern is perfect. The results therefore should be great ; we should imitate Him – and He is Love.

Connections

If you go back and read that passage again, you might wonder why verse 7 is included. Most commentators group it with the following verses. But read the passage again in the New American Standard, which is a little more accurate – and see the first word in verse 7:

(2 John 1:4-7 NNAS) I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. {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. {6} 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. {7} For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.

See that first word? “For” – it implies a cause and effect relationship. What John is saying is that all his words about love and obedience are caused by this problem of “deceivers” – those who deny Christ came in the flesh. We need to examine this to understand the connection. Suppose the deceivers were right – that Jesus was not really human like us, he did not come in the flesh. What difference would it make?

No atonement

The Old Testament makes it very clear: without the shedding of blood, there is no atonement for sin. That means that you and I would be unforgiven – and thus our relationship with God would be totally imaginary, for he can have nothing to do with sin. Remember that spiritual things are cleared by obedience? Obedience prevents sin. Sin is the static on the line, remember – and this would make that static a permanent condition. We could not communicate with God. And we would be lost forever.

Greater love

We know what the greatest example of love is:

(John 15:13 NIV) Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

If Jesus did not come in the flesh, then he did not lay down his life for us. He is therefore not the greatest example of love; the pattern is not perfect – and the results can’t be either.

God is the perfection of his attributes

It is worse than that, however. God is the sum of all perfections – the perfection of all good things. So it is that the Apostle can say, “God is love.” But if Christ did not come in the flesh, he did not show us the greatest possible love – to lay down his life. And therefore he would not be God; he would not be divine.

Turn it around

But Jesus did come in the flesh – and therefore he did atone for our sins; he did show us the greatest example of love; he is divine, the Son of God.

Reprise

So then, what about those adult children – the ones who are not among the “some” over whom we rejoice?

  • We must hope, persevere and endure – for our Lord did that for us. Do not give up!
  • We must continue, ourselves, to walk in love. If for no other reason than that they might see the example, we should do that. If for no other reason than that our prayers be heard, we should do that.
  • We should continue in prayer, trusting that the ultimate example of love will bring them home.
  • We should continue in hope – hope in the power of God, who is the ultimate expression and meaning of love.

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