Sermon: 2 John
Pentecost 6 – July 1, 2018 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Every Christian, especially those who preach and teach the word, want to strike a balance in their lives between knowing the truths of biblical teaching and doctrine and also applying those truths with Christian love and concern for others. For example, a person might know correct scriptural doctrine and teaching and hold to it very strictly but at the same time have little love or concern in dealing with other people. On the other hand another Christian may be very generous in showing love to other people but be very weak and careless in the knowledge of biblical teaching.
The ideal is that a Christian is learning over the course of his or her lifetime as a child of God to hold strictly to the truths of scripture and at the same time be able to demonstrate genuine Christian love to others. The Apostle John, the fourth of the disciples that we’re considering in our sermon series, was one such person who learned to have that balance in his life. By the end of his long life his gospel and his letters are filled with words about God’s love and our responsibility to love one another. But John wasn’t always that way. He was a staunch defender of God’s word and truth. Love was something he had to learn from his Savior.
In addition to his gospel John also wrote three short letters. The second of those three letters, which we have as our text today, demonstrates quite clearly to us that John was a bold defender of the doctrine of Jesus’ deity, but also an adamant encourager to love one another. Today we’re going to consider
JOHN, THE DISCIPLE WHO LEARNED TO LOVE
John was a fisherman by trade along with his brother James and also Peter and Andrew. All four of them became Jesus’ disciples. But we also know that John was a religious man serious about knowing the scriptures and being a faithful child of God. He had already become a disciple of John the Baptist and soon answered Jesus’ call to follow him as a fisher of men.
John was a lot like any seminary student graduating with a very good knowledge of biblical doctrine. Seminary students who graduate from a seminary that holds strictly to certain doctrinal teaching and standards will tell you that they begin with a burning desire to defend the truth of scripture, and that’s good. But after a number of years and the guidance of God that burning desire is tempered with a need to apply the truths of scripture with patience and love.
John had been a disciple of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ. You couldn’t get any better seminary professors! He learned the truth of scripture. He believed the truth. He defended the truth. But at the same time remember he, along with his brother James, asked Jesus to allow them to be the two most important men in his kingdom, more important that the other ten disciples or anyone else for that matter. John had a problem with pride. Or remember John’s solution to those Samaritans who didn’t want to welcome Jesus and his word into their village. “Call down fire from heaven and burn them up!” John needed to learn something about patience and love.
We don’t want to criticize John for knowing doctrine and staunchly defending biblical truth. John particularly defended the truth of Jesus’ deity, the fact that Jesus is God who had come to this world as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Consider how he begins his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
All four of the gospels teach that Jesus was God, but John’s gospel written about 30 years after the other three has a clear emphasis on Jesus’ deity. John is the one who records Jesus’ first miracle, changing water into wine. John records Jesus’ bread of life sermon in which he tells his listeners that he is the bread who has come down from heaven. John records Jesus’ answer to the disciples when Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” In other words Philip was asking, “Let us see God. We want to know God completely.” Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” And it’s John who recorded the testimony of Jesus in his blistering arguments with the Pharisees about his deity: “Before Abraham was born, I am!” and “I and the Father are one.”
John had a particular reason for so boldly defending Jesus’ deity. He wrote his gospel around 85 or 90 A.D. He wrote his letters perhaps around 95 A.D. That’s about 60 years after Jesus had ascended into heaven. A whole generation had grown up who were not eyewitnesses of Jesus. And as always happens there were those who rose up in the church who began to teach that Jesus was not really true God. One in particular who was a real nemesis to John and to the church was a man named Cerinthus. He taught that the Son of God only inhabited the body of the man Jesus from his baptism up to the time of his death. Therefore the Son of God didn’t really die for our sins or rise from the dead.
John’s 2nd letter clearly was written to counter such falsehood about Jesus. Note what he writes, “Many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is a deceiver and the antichrist.” . . . Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
We can be thankful that John so clearly defended the truth of Jesus’ deity. He understood so well that if you didn’t continue in the truth about Jesus Christ you didn’t really have God. If you didn’t know Jesus Christ you didn’t really know God. That’s how important the truth about Jesus Christ is.
And John wrote with that kind of urgency and clarity. There was no compromise with him in the truth. As a matter of fact John mentions the word truth 25 times in his gospel and 20 more times in his letters. There was no gray area for John when it came to the truth. The truth was black or white. He recorded the words of Jesus, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That was it. There was no other way.
We know and believe the truth about Jesus Christ partly because John wrote so clearly about him. We know that Jesus is God. We know he, the Son of God, gave his life on the cross to atone for our sins. We know that Jesus rose again from the dead. We know that Jesus will come again to take us to be with him in heaven. We know these truths partly because John wrote, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
In a world that has no time for the truth about Jesus Christ, in a time when too many professing Christians are learning too little about the Bible and defending it even less, we want to cherish the uncompromising truth with which John wrote about Jesus Christ.
And let’s also be thankful that John learned to love and encouraged us to love one another as well. In his 2nd letter he wrote, “I ask that we love one another. 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.”
John wrote about love just as much as he wrote about truth. His first letter is filled with exhortations to love one another. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves been born of God and knows God. . . . God is love. . . . We love because he first loved us.
In his gospel John recorded these words of Jesus: “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 did John learn to show love? More important, how do we learn to show love? John learned what love is by learning how much God loved him. He wrote, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Learning to love one another is not like learning how to do a math problem. It’s not like learning how to drive a car. Learning to love one another is taught to us over time by the Holy Spirit as we learn more and more the truth about Jesus Christ. We learn about Jesus Christ and the love he had for us, and we learn to be like Jesus to others. When we learn the love of Jesus who sacrificed himself on the cross for us, then we will learn to temper our pride and vengeful spirits. When we learn that God so loved us that he sent his Son to save us, we will learn to love others and desire their salvation too.
John learned that kind of love. Jesus planted that love in him and knew that he would continue to grow in that love. It was to John’s care, remember, that Jesus committed his mother as he was dying on the cross. John took her into his home and cared for her.
History tells us that John stayed sometime in Jerusalem, but later moved to Ephesus in present day Turkey where he became the pastor of the large church there and oversaw the many other congregations that arose around Ephesus. Late in life under the persecutions of Roman Emperor Domitian, John was exiled off the coast of Turkey as a prisoner on the little island of Patmos. It was there that God gave him the visions recorded in the book of revelation.
He later was allowed to return to Ephesus where he lived to be perhaps 100 years old. History and tradition tell us that John was the only disciple who did not die a martyr’s death. But regardless, John endured persecution. And note carefully that John, the older and wiser John, didn’t call upon God to send down fire on his enemies any longer. He had learned the truth and love of Jesus Christ. Rather the phrase that was constantly on his lips for the members of his congregation will the day he died was, “My little children, love one another.” Amen.