In our Bible reading this morning we were directed to the second letter of John. It’s one of those books we know about and have probably read once or twice, but to which we don’t pay much attention. Much of what it says can be found in John’s first letter and in the upper-room teaching in John’s gospel.
There are those who say we must be harsh on sin and intolerant of those who fail to obey God. “You can’t just preach good news,” they tell me. “You have to tell people how they must live, point out their sin, and warn them against hell.”
I see things differently, and will comment again in my next post. But for now, Second John. John writes to the church (“Dear Lady”), “Let us all love one another. This is no new command I am writing to you; it is the command we have had from the beginning. This love I speak of means that we must live in obedience to God’s commands.” (vv 5-6)
“Ah, you see,” say those who think the gospel is too soft. “John says that loving God means obeying him. So we must teach people to obey God, and condemn those who fail to obey God.”
The problem is that what obeying God means is not clearly defined. It usually means doing what I and my group, or my Christian culture has decided God wants us to do. The reality is that on almost every major (and minor) issue of the day, including gay rights, abortion, and the financial crisis (even the riots in London) Christians, even evangelical Christians, will be found on opposing sides. Each will claim to be obeying God while believing, preaching, and practicing, very different things.
But let’s get back to John. Having said, “This love I speak of means that we must live in obedience to God’s commands”, he defines that command: “The command, as you have all heard from the beginning, is that you must all live in love.” That is it. This is the greatest command; this is what we should be focused on. What distinguishes us as Christians and the body of Christ from other religions, and from political, non-profit, and self-help organisations, is that we love each other. If we don’t stand out on this one, we have failed our mission.
The rest of John’s letter speaks harshly against those who teach something different. He tells us to close our doors to those who do not bring this teaching (who do not teach love) and not even greet them with a “peace be with you”.
I honestly don’t know the answer to the gay debate; I don’t know what Christians should do about abortion or the financial crisis; but I do know that we have to start with love. I have to learn to love you, whatever I might think of your practices or lifestyle; however abhorrent they may be to my understanding of God’s way. I have to learn to love you and to put that love into practice. I have to do that before I engage in debate; before I assume that I can tell you how to live.
Having brought 2 John to our attention, and having told us that “Love is the most important thing,” the writer of the study notes Jen and I read, falls into the usual trap. He writes, “Love is the most important thing…. But here John stresses that love must not come at the expense of truth. Travelling teachers were coming and going…preaching a message that departed from the apostle’s sound teaching”, and against such teachers “John warns them to keep the door bolted.”
But the “truth” John wants protected and preached is not something separate from love; it is love. John’s message is that this is the command that must be preached, and if anyone fails to preach that love is the most important thing, he or she should be locked out.
The writer goes on to ask, “Are there times when we seek to excuse or overlook people’s sin because we don’t want to appear harsh or indifferent?” Again, that is not what John is telling us. There may be other passages to quote in support of such an approach, but not 2 John. John doesn’t tell us to keep the door bolted against sinners, or even against their sin. (Particularly not when it is merely what we have come to define as sin.) It is false teaching that John is concerned about here, not other sin. John says love is the first and most important command, and until we have learnt what that means, we really have nothing else to teach.
- Bible In 90 Days 63: 2 JOHN (kevmill.wordpress.com)