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Second John

Grace, Mercy and Peace

2 John 1: 1-3

One of the neglected books of the Bible, 2 John is, like much of John’s writing, capable of bringing out great things in few words.

(2 John 1:1-3 NIV) The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth--and not I only, but also all who know the truth-- {2} because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: {3} Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love.

Background

There has recently (the last two centuries) been some controversy about this book. The arrogance of modern scholarship rejects any historical evidence from the early church, but depends instead upon word frequencies and other techniques. The testimony of the ancient church is unanimous: this book was written by the Apostle John. It is stated to be so by those who were his students and his students’ students; we shall assume they were neither blind nor deceived. John wrote it.

To whom it was addressed, however, has provoked a little more controversy. The Greek word, kyria, is the feminine form of kurios, meaning “Lord.” Various suggestions have been advanced:

  • It may simply be a lady of John’s acquaintance.
  • It may be a lady named Kyria; the word is used as a personal name, and would correspond most closely to the Hebrew we now translate as Martha.
  • It may also mean the church, either as a whole or, more likely, at a particular place (see verse 13).

“Her children,” therefore, would vary with the above suggestions. What complicates matters is the word “chosen” – “elect” in the King James. From some other passages, some scholars have concluded that this is a veiled reference to the church at Rome. We know that John went on various journeys after his exile in Patmos (again, church history). It is possible that he visited Rome.

The impact of the book, however, is undiminished by these controversies. It has always been accepted as Scripture by the church, and it reads just like John – the Apostle of Love.

Love of “the Lady”

We begin with two observations about this word:

  • First, it is the Greek word, agape. It is therefore not the romantic love nor family affection, but the unselfish love of Christ at the Cross.
  • In John’s writings, love is always coupled with action. To love “in the truth” is to love in deed as well as word.
“In the truth”

It is unfortunate – or perhaps very fortunate – that the original would have been written in uncials – all capital letters. Therefore, we don’t know if John was writing about “the truth” or “the Truth” –or if he was writing about both.

  • Is it possible to love without truth? I do not think so. Love is the deepest of personal relationships, and personal relationships are just that – personal. If you love a person, you must know them. Indeed, in love you want to know more about that person – to explore them, so to speak. It is so with all loves – they must have truth, or the relationship will eventually fall apart. If that relationship is designed to be eternal, then it must be founded upon truth.
  • This relationship in particular is impossible without The Truth – Jesus Christ. No matter how good our intentions, we are still sinners. Sinners unaided by The Truth, Jesus Christ, cannot persist eternally in love. Sin eventually will break the bond, sooner or later. Later, if we are strong in our good intentions; but eternity is still a longer time.

So we conclude that love is impossible without truth. We know this from our everyday relationships as well. Is it possible to have a successful marriage without trust? What is trust, but the sure knowledge of the truth about your partner, knowing that he or she loves you in truth?

“Not I only”

Indeed, the communion of saints itself – the church – has the same basis.

  • We are bound together in love because we have the truth. We know the facts. Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Christ, the Son of God the Father, and He is risen from the grave. Those who know – and trust – those facts are those in communion with me (and all other saints). We are united – by the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. We are united by the truth.
  • But we are also united by The Truth – as in, “the way, the truth and the life.” The source of our union is Jesus Christ himself, who prayed that we might be one. If you and I are brothers to the same person, we are obviously brothers. Christ is my brother; therefore you and I are family. This family is united by the love of God – the Truth itself.

Religions come “thick” and “clear”, said C. S. Lewis. Clear religions are analytic and factual; thick religions are mystical and impenetrable. Christianity is both.

Why I Love

Never ask your wife why she loves you. You might get the truth for an answer; it’s very disappointing to discover that you’re a cure for insomnia.

John, however, has a series of reasons for his love, and we should have the same view:

“Because of the truth”

This can have two meanings – again because of the capitalization:

  • It can mean causality. I know certain facts; I reason on them; I perform certain actions. I know that my Lord commands my love for my fellow Christians, for example – which is therefore a command to love the church.
  • It can also be imitation. I have met The Truth. He is overwhelmingly lovable and admirable; I want to be like him. I want to be as truthful as he is Truth; as loving as he is Love.
“Which lives in us”

This can mean nothing other than the Holy Spirit, for we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. What is the relationship of the Spirit to truth?

  • The Spirit is to reveal all truth to us. This begins with the inspiration of the Scripture, but also includes those times of learning in which we see a truth displayed.
  • The Spirit is to guide us into all truth. Sometimes it is not sufficient to show someone the truth; they have to be led through it. (If you don’t think so, ask your wife to explain labor pain to you.)
  • The Spirit is also there to correct us, to bring us back into the truth.

If something is alive, it moves and grows. The Spirit in us grows as we mature as Christians, and moves us ever closer to the Truth.

Forever

We are handling eternal things when we speak of love in the Christian sense.

  • If we handle eternal things, we must expect eternal consequences – for us and for those around us. If we refuse to spread the Gospel, what does that mean for someone near to us?
  • It also means that we are to expect eternal blessings – for those who act in love in time, will be blessed in love eternally.
  • In all things, therefore, we must think “like God” – we must think eternally.

Thomas à Kempis spelled out three steps to knowing the truth by knowing the Truth:

  • First, we must know ourselves. We must realize what sinners we truly are.
  • Then we must know Him – the Truth itself, in person.
  • Once we know where we are, and where we should be going, we must go on the journey, seeking one-ness with the Truth itself. We must journey to become like Him.

Grace, Mercy and Peace

(Translation note: the phrase “the Lord” is found only in the King James, and is based upon a manuscript addition of a late date. Newer translations delete that phrase.)

Progression

The order in which John places these three blessings is significant, for they must come in that order:

  • First must come grace, which is the forgiveness of God. Without his unmerited favor, nothing else would come from him, for we are sinners worthy of his condemnation. If he did not choose to pay the price of Calvary, nothing but wrath would come our way.
  • But once received, his forgiveness is just the beginning. We know that it is possible to forgive – and yet have the offender receive just punishment. Often, forgiveness clears the heart of the forgiver, but (as in our justice system) does not affect the punishment of the forgiven. Mercy does that; it is tangible sign that says the lesson has been learned and that the punishment that justice would demand has been remitted.
  • Then – and only then – comes the peace of God. Grace breaks down the wall of hostility; mercy removes the consequences and peace is the result. Not just the cessation of hostilities; God desires no armistice. He desires true peace, when the cause of war is taken completely away.
The realm

Some plants only grow in a hothouse environment; others need a harsh environment. Grace, mercy and peace need the right environment if they are to grow as well. What is that environment? Truth and love:

  • Truth – for without a sure knowledge of the truth, we begin to take God for granted. We tend to feel it’s his job to forgive, and would he please get on with it. But in knowing the truth – who we are, who He is – we are kept from this. Grace and mercy depend upon this.
  • Love – for if there is resentment, how can there be peace? If there is anger, how can there be peace? Only if there is love can we see true peace.

Summary

Picture in your mind the balance scales of justice. On one side place love; on the other place truth. We need both.

  • Without truth, what is love? It is nothing but starry-eyed dreaming. Love does not consist of denying the truth for the sake of happiness. Love is not an anesthetic; it is a cure for the pain of truth.
  • Without love, what is truth? If there is no love, then truth requires condemnation of all that is not perfect – of all that is not God. But God, who is perfect and is therefore perfect love, overcame this at the Cross.

The truth of the Cross is the love of God.

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