Focusing on and Living in the Truth

Good morning! If you are visiting with us today, I want to welcome you once again to Grace Bible Fellowship Church. It‘s an honor to be worshiping with you today.

Today we will begin a new book of study; 2 John. Here is just a quick overview. It is the second shortest book in the New Testament. It has only 245 words in the Greek text and would have easily fit on a single piece of papyri. Several people have referred to this book and 3 John as “postcard epistles.” Although short, the message of this book is enormously important. John’s intent is to motivate the readers to action; moving from knowledge to diligence. In essence, John tells his “children” to:

  1. walk in the truth

  2. obey the commandments

  3. love one another

  4. guard the teachings of Christ so that they will not be deceived by antichrist.

John also builds this epistle around unifying key words. In these thirteen verses John repeatedly uses “truth” (5 times), “love” (4 times), “commandment” (4 times), “walk” (3 times), “teaching” (3 times), and “children” (3 times). He also utilizes a rare word, “antichrist,” which appears in Scripture only in 1 and 2 John.

In 2 John 1-4, John says….

1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. (2 John 1-4)

As I mentioned earlier, 2 and 3 John are the shortest New Testament books. Each contains fewer than 300 words in the Greek text and each could have fit easily on a single piece of papyrus.

But despite their brevity, both epistles are significant in that they stress the importance of loving in truth. Second John addresses the same basic historical events as 1 John; primarily that false teachers were assaulting the congregations under John’s care. Having left the fellowship of believers, the heretics were traveling from church to church, taking advantage of Christian hospitality as they spread their perverted message and venomous lies. The lady to whom John addressed this letter may have inadvertently or unwisely shown these false teachers hospitality. So, John cautioned her, as an example to all believers, against supporting false teachers’ by showing them hospitality and in a broader since, supporting them at all.

This letter is closely aligned with 1 John which makes it clear that it also was written by John the apostle. And, it was most likely composed at Ephesus about the same time or shortly after 1 John which places it’s writing about A.D. 90–95.

There is some debate as to whom this letter was written. Many commentators believe the phrase “the chosen lady” found in verse 1 refers metaphorically to a local church. However, the more natural understanding in the context is to take it as a reference to an actual woman and her children, whom John knew personally. The letter’s obvious similarity to 3 John, which clearly was written to an individual, favors the view that 2 John also was written to an individual. Such an elaborate metaphor of the local church is not aligned with the letter’s simplicity and the tenderness of its tone. Finally, the change from the singular form of the personal pronoun “you” in v. 5 to the plural form in v. 12 applies more naturally to a woman and her children than to a church and its members. So, let’s treat this letter as a personal letter whose principles can be applied to the broader church membership. So that was a quick overview of this book. Let’s dive into the message for today.

Let’s start by re-reading the first 4 verses of this letter.

1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. (2 John 1-4)

The message today is primarily about truth. What is truth? Pilate cynically asked, “What is truth?” in John’s gospel. Unfortunately, he reflected the view of many people today. Postmodernism views the concept of truth with great skepticism. I believe that is somewhat affected by the world we live in that views things primarily as relative. So, many people would say there are varying degrees of truths. Others, believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth or, if there is, that it cannot be known. Certainly, they would argue, there is no religious truth; religion is merely a personal preference, like someone’s personal tastes regarding art, music, or literature.

However, as believers in God’s Word, we know that there is absolute divine truth and it is the most important reality in the universe. When Martha complained that her sister was not helping her with serving, Jesus replied,

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42)

There was no higher priority than for Mary to be “seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word” of truth. We know that truth is a precious commodity, more valuable than any earthly riches and once it is found, it is to be held at all costs. Proverbs 23:23 exhorts us to,

“Buy truth, and do not sell it.” (Proverbs 23:23)

John MacArthur says, “The Bible is the Word of truth and it majors on the theme of truth.” Here are some specifics. God is the God of truth who abounds in truth and always speaks the truth. Christ is the truth, is full of truth, He revealed the truth, He spoke the truth, and He testified to the truth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. Believers are sanctified by the truth, love the truth, are set free by the truth, worship in the truth, rejoice in the truth, speak the truth, meditate on the truth, manifest the truth, obey the truth, are guided by the truth and walk in the truth.

As believers we must be committed to the truth, because we live in the world where Satan is the father of lies. Satan strives to keep sinners from understanding and believing the truth. His goal is to distort truth, hide the truth and ultimately try to defeat the truth. Second Corinthians 4:4 says he is

“the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Unlike believers, unbelievers are people of depraved mind and are deprived of the truth. They oppose the truth and turn away their ears from the truth because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Satan is the great deceiver and will stop at nothing to pervert the truth.

Living in a world of lies the church is called to be the “pillar and support of the truth” according to 1 Timothy 3:15. Paul’s metaphor would have been readily understood by the believers in Ephesus because the temple of Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was located in Ephesus. The temple of Diana had an immense roof which was supported by 127 pillars that rested on a massive foundation. Just as that temple was a monument to the lies of Satan, so the church is to be a monument to the truth of God. It is the church’s mission is to live, uphold, guard, and proclaim the truth of God’s Word. We are to proclaim the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27), not those parts that will not offend the surrounding culture. In the words of Martin Luther,

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Any “church”, that fails to be a steward of God’s truth faces His judgment. Unfortunately, many have loosely handled God’s truth. For example, the Jews failed to uphold and live the Old Testament truth God entrusted to them. However, throughout history, the true church has tenaciously held the truth despite persecution, rejection, and personal assaults from enemies inside and outside its church. There have been thousands that have suffered martyrdom rather than compromise or abandon the truth. We need to be that kind of church that is willing to stand firm in the midst of battle to defend the truth.

The final epistles of the New Testament, 2 and 3 John, emphasize the priority of the truth and the need to contend for it in the face of apostate liars. John wrote his two brief letters to stress the importance of truth. The word “truth” appears five times in this opening section of 2 John and six times in 3 John. Even though this is a personal letter to an individual, John is writing to God’s people throughout all of time. John knew that all believers would always face a world of lies and deceit. He wrote to call all of us to live in God’s truth, to love within the bounds of truth, and to be loyal to and to seek after the truth. In the opening verses John reveals four features of focusing on and living in the truth: 1) the truth unites believers, 2) the truth indwells believers, 3) the truth blesses believers, and 4) the truth controls believers. John’s first point is that…

THE TRUTH UNITES BELIEVERS

1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, (2 John 1)

By the time John wrote this epistle, he was a very old man. In fact he was the last surviving apostle. Even so, his reference to himself as “the elder” stresses not so much his age, as it does his position of spiritual oversight of the church. In the New Testament, the greek term used generally refers to the “office of elder.” John’s description of himself reinforces the point that he wrote this epistle; someone impersonating him would likely have chosen another title like “apostle,” while a writer not trying to impersonate him would not likely have called himself “the elder". John did not need to refer to himself as an apostle because his readers knew and accepted him as such, though in the experience of the church, he served them as their pastor/shepherd; their elder.

In the New Testament, churches were always taught and ruled by a plurality of elders. I have provided a long list of verses to verify and validate this but we will not cover them today;

Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; and 1 Peter 5:1, 5

Although there were other elders serving with John in Ephesus, he was the patriarchal elder, the primary teaching elder, whose authority and oversight extended well beyond Ephesus. John was both an elder and an apostle and as the last of the apostles, he was “the elder", the most distinguished of all elders; the only living elder who was chosen to be an apostle by the Lord Jesus Christ and was a member of the innermost circle of the twelve apostles; the one self-confessed as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn. 21:7). In contrast to the false teachers, John was the torchbearer of apostolic tradition and sought to uphold the truth.

As noted in my introduction to 2 John, the “chosen lady” to whom John addressed this letter was an actual woman, not a church. That her husband is not mentioned may indicate that she was a widow. Although it is not clear. In any case, she was responsible for providing hospitality in the home. Since John addressed her “children” too, they may still have been living at home with her. That view would be reasonable since, families typically shared a common house, even after the children were married.

The word “chosen” translates a form of the Greek word eklektos which means “elect,” “chosen,” or “choice.” The term describes those selected by God for eternal glory, whether Christ, the holy angels, or the redeemed. The only other time outside of this epistle that this term “eklektos” is used of an individual is in Romans 16:13, where Paul described Rufus as a “choice man in the Lord.”

John’s description of this woman, and her sister later in verse 13, as “chosen” again reflects the biblical truth that God sovereignly chooses believers for salvation. I have an additional set of verses to further support this truth but will not cover them today; Mark 13:20; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; Eph. 1:4–5, 11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; and James 2:5. There are many who are timid to speak of God’s divine sovereignty but, the New Testament writers did not hesitate to refer to believers as “the chosen.” In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself did so in Matthew 24:22: “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect (chosen) those days will be cut short.” People, including believers, struggle with the doctrine of election. I can’t claim to understand the truth of why God has chosen some and not others. However, I do know that He has because He said He does. So, I can grasp the truth of His choosing even though the why is beyond my understanding.

John’s statement “whom I love in truth” reveals his personal connection to this family. The relative pronoun “whom” is plural and encompasses both the lady and her children. John is stressing his personal, ongoing “love” for them. The phrase “in truth” explains the basis of John’s love for them. John was not merely claiming to “truly” love them, but rather, truth refers here to the embodiment of truth in the gospel. John’s expression is similar to Paul’s exhortation to Titus in Titus 3:15, “Greet those who love us in the faith” that is, in the objective truth of the gospel. It was the truth that bound “not only” John, “but also all who” knew “the truth” to this lady and her children. It is their common belief in the gospel truth that unites all believers.

John’s brief statement here in this verse encompasses the main theme of this entire epistle. What is it? That truth must always govern the exercise of love. It is our shared commitment to the truth that brings us together. In 1 John 5:1, he wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.” Believers cannot have any real communion with those who reject the truth of the gospel, since we share no common spiritual life with them. These people are outside the fellowship of believers. First Peter 1:22 says, it is only those who “have in obedience to the truth purified [their] souls” who can have “a sincere love of the brethren.”

Because salvation requires belief in the truth, it is critically important for the church to proclaim the real truth. A simple, accurate presentation of the gospel is sufficient, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, to bring about salvation. Never forget, the most carefully crafted, smoothly polished, presentation of anything less than the truth of the gospel will not save.

By John linking love and truth together shows that they are inseparably connected. According to Ephesians 4:15, we are not only to speak in love, but we are also to “speak the truth in love.” To minimize the truth in the name of love is to abandon biblical love, which is based on the truth. God’s purposes will never be accomplished by compromising His truth; love for souls is never manifested by minimizing the truth. So, we are to never compromise the truth of the gospel to attempt to make it more palatable or seemingly more acceptable. Speaking the truth in love is to speak it in a manner that is sincere, kind, passionate and compassionate and above all loving. John goes on to say that…

THE TRUTH INDWELLS BELIEVERS

2    for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:

It should be clear that John is passionate about the truth. He says he wrote this epistle “for the sake of the truth.” John’s concern was that the Christian lady to whom he wrote this letter, might compromise truth in the name of hospitality. There is no doubt that Christian love, fellowship, and hospitality are vitally important, since they are manifestations of the transforming power of the gospel. Certainly, believers share a spiritual love that flows from our common eternal bond in Christ; however, we cannot genuinely manifest that love apart from an unwavering commitment to the truth of God’s Word. This truth must saturate all aspects of the church’s individual and corporate life as a foundation to all of its preaching, evangelism, and fellowship. Truth in Love!

John continues by affirming that “the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” According to John 14:17, the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” and John 15:26 says that the Spirit of Truth lives within believers. Although we have a lifetime to understand the truth, we certainly cannot comprehend the vast depth of all biblical truth. However, all true Christians know the truth of the Scripture that saves. All who have been truly saved know that they are sinners, facing God’s just judgment, and that forgiveness comes only by divine grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we do not comprehend those facts, we would not be Christians. Understanding the truth regarding our sinfulness, God’s holiness, and Christ’s substitutionary death for us, is necessary for salvation.

In his first letter, John taught that all believers are able to discern the truth from error. First John 2:20-21, 27 says…

“You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it.… As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” (1 John 2:20-21)

As I have mentioned in the past, “abides” is one of John’s favorite terms, appearing more than sixty times in his writings. John uses it to refer to the truth that resides in believers (1 John 2:14). He also uses it to reference true believers abiding in the Word (John 8:31). John uses it to refer to the Spirit abiding in believers (John 14:17) and, most significant, to believers abiding in Christ (John 6:56). The truth of the Word, which abides in believers “forever,” gives them the transforming gift to have “the mind of Christ” according to 1 Corinthians 2:16. John moves on to his third point by saying that…

THE TRUTH BLESSES BELIEVERS

3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.(2 John 3)

“Grace, mercy and peace” only appear together in 3 different places in the New Testament; here in 2 John 3 and 1 Timothy 1:2, and 2 Timothy 1:2. These are very familiar terms that are used throughout the Bible. They are often used in the salutations of the Pauline epistles, as well as, the books of Peter, Jude and Revelation.

It’s imperative that we understand the significance of these three terms. More specifically, we need to realize that they summarize the progression of the plan of salvation. It is God’s “grace” that caused Him to grant “mercy,” which results in “peace.” Grace views sinners as guilty and undeserving but “grace abounded all the more” according to Romans 5:20. “Mercy” views sinners as needy and helpless but even in our disobedience, God poured out His mercy on us according to Romans 11:30–32. And “peace” is the result of God’s outpouring of both (Eph. 2:14; Col. 1:20).

These divine blessings of “grace, mercy and peace” come only “from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.” In fact, all blessings come from God, “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” comes down “every good thing given and every perfect gift” according to James 1:17. And through the Son, all the promises of God are poured out like a pouring rain in the Sahara desert onto those who love the truth. “Grace, mercy and peace” are present when divine “truth” dominates the mind and heart results in genuine “love.” John closes out this verse by emphasizing Christ’s identity as God’s Son because the false teachers were denying that truth. There is no disputing that Jesus Christ is “the Son of the Father.” Then John’s final point on truth is that ….

THE TRUTH CONTROLS BELIEVERS

4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. (2 John 4)

In light of his commitment to the truth, John “was very glad to find some of” this Christian lady’s “children walking in truth.” John was so excited to hear of their obedience to divine truth. He mentions only some of her children are walking in truth but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the others were not saved. John was likely referring only to those of whom he had personal knowledge.

John is emphasizing that the truth of God’s Word is to be lived as well as believed. For example, Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” The phrase “walking in truth” refers to moving through life controlled by the truth. Walking in truth is equivalent to walking in the light according to 1 John 1:7. The word “walking” is frequently used as a metaphor for living the Christian life. Here are just a few examples. Believers “walk in newness of life.” They “walk by faith, not by sight". We “walk by the Spirit” and “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which [we] have been called." We “walk in love” and “walk as children of Light,” as we “walk in wisdom.” We “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls [us] into His own kingdom and glory.” We “walk in the same manner as [Jesus] walked,” and “walk according to His commandments.” Clearly “walking” relates to our daily living a life that is grounded on the cornerstone of God’s Word based on a belief that it is absolute truth.

John’s reference to the “commandment” we have received “from the Father” to walk in the truth is not a reference to one particular command, but instead is the general mandate of Scripture to be obedient to God’s Word. In other words, obedience to God’s truth is not optional. We are not free to do as we please for we have been bought with a price that we could never pay. John Stott said,

“God has not revealed His truth in such a way as to leave us free at our pleasure to believe or disbelieve it, to obey or disobey it. Revelation carries with it responsibility, and the clearer the revelation, the greater the responsibility to believe and obey it.”

This very short letter begins with an emphatic call for Christians to live consistently with the truth they have heard and believed. But, to live the truth, you must know the truth. The foundation and consistency for unity in the church is the truth of God’s Word because it indwells, blesses, and controls the lives of all individual believers. Therefore, it is only those Christians and churches who are definitely planted on the firm foundation of God’s truth who will be able to weather the storms of persecution, temptation, and false doctrine that constantly attacks us.

John has indeed helped us to see why we are to focus on and live in the truth because;

  1. the truth unites believers

  2. the truth indwells believers

  3. the truth blesses believers

  4. and the truth controls believers

John says….

1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. (2 John 1-4)

Let’s pray.