James is a good friend of mine, and he knows God in a way that I can only aspire to. We first met over breakfast. I could immediately feel his deep love for Jesus and his great passion for people. That doesn’t mean, however, that James wasn’t at least a little confused about love for God and neighbor. After a few minutes of conversation about the Bible, James found his opportunity (a pause in the conversation) to tell me that he thought I cared too much about doctrine. “Doctrine divides, don’t you think? We just need to love people. That’s what it’s all about!”
In a world where feelings are easily hurt and love is often superficial, James had come to see love and truth as being in extreme tension. The author of the Second Letter of John sees things very differently.
As I got to know James better, I continually went back to 2 John to help clarify my own thoughts on the relationship between love and truth, pulling from its deep wells and directly into the heart of my new friend. By God’s grace, James came to see that love and truth are two sides of the same coin, and has since grown in love by strengthening his understanding of truth.
Is it possible that you need to find a better balance between love and truth? Do you see truth and love in competition with one another? If so, I’d like to invite you to take a cursory glance at John’s second letter with me. I really believe that if you do, it will shape your thoughts on the matter in a way that is much more in line with the Bible than contemporary American culture.
Old Truth, Good Truth
There’s nothing new about what I shared with James over the next several weeks and months. When people see two ideas that seem to be in competition with one another, they oftentimes try to reconcile the issue by inventing a third way.
But love and truth being two sides of the same coin is nothing new. We’ve been called to love since the beginning (Leviticus 19:18), and to do so with all of our reasoning faculties (Deuteronomy 6:5). When John calls his readers to walk in love, he is not giving them a new command, but simply echoing that which has been since the beginning (2 John 5).
What Is Hate?
To lie about Jesus is anti-love. The world is full of people who lie about who Jesus is (2 John 7). Such a one is the anti-Christ, and is characterized by his robust commitment to deception. There is nothing loving about lying to someone about God. No, that is hate. In 2 John we see the apostle dealing with those who claim to be loving, but actually show their true colors by lying about who Jesus is (2 John 7). Lying about Jesus is unloving because it bears false witness about God (1 Corinthians 15:15) and leads us to break the first and second commandments (Exodus 20:3–4). If we worship a God that we’ve made up in our own minds, it is no different than worshiping a God that we’ve made out of wood with our own hands. Neither is real. Neither can save us, for we are merely worshiping a God of our own invention, not the God of the Bible.
John tells us to watch out for those who lie about who Jesus is because there is nothing less at stake than our very souls (2 John 8). The risk is so great that John calls us to not even give the opportunity for the watching world to think that we’re on the same team as such a person (2 John 10). To do so would be to take part in wickedness itself (2 John 11).
Over the course of our early friendship, my heart was heavy to make sure that James understood this grave reality, with all of its weighty implications. I knew after the first two minutes of our first conversation that he rightly understood the importance of love. That one’s a no brainer. After all, the one who fails to love has not God (1 John 4:8). For this very reason, many who love doctrine more than our brothers and sisters would do well to reread 1 John. Nevertheless, I couldn’t let James continue without reminding him of 2 John 9: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.”
Are love and truth in competition? Absolutely not! To love is to tell the truth about Jesus, and to talk about God with humility-driven precision is to love him and our neighbors well. Brothers, watch yourselves (2 John 8), abide in Christ’s teachings (verse 9), obey his commands (verse 6), and reject anything or anyone that says anything different (verses 10–11) so that your joy may be complete in receiving your full reward (verse 8).