We did a lot of walking last week... about 32 miles of walking in 5 days. Just for a point of reference, that is like walking from the church to Henry Horton State Park where we have our annual retreats.
Walking through life with God is a bit like hiking. Sometimes it is wonderful and thrilling! Sometimes it’s difficult. And someday our walk will end as it ended this past week for our dear brother Thurman. We too will come to that place and so it’s important to look at how we are walking with God now. Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the last two letters written by John. We look at them because they have something important to teach us about doctrinal soundness, how the good news of Jesus Christ is spread and also how we are to live and walk through life with God. Let’s read 2 John 1-6.
I. The Elder and the Lady
The letter begins by simply stating “The elder.” Who is this elder? Most likely the elder was the Apostle John, the same disciple who also wrote John’s gospel. He refers to himself at “the elder” because he was in a position of leadership in the early church. Perhaps he was an overseer of several churches in the larger Asia Minor region. Yet John is familiar to them for he does not need to even use his name. It would similar if I sent an email to everyone and simply signed it as “your pastor.” You would know, aside from the email address, who was sending you the message.
The letter was sent to “the chosen lady and her children.” Some have said that this refers to a specific woman in that church. Most likely, however, is that this is a way for John to describe a local church in Asia Minor. This church is a “lady,” a title of honor and respect. Moreover, she is also “chosen” or “elect.” This is another reminder that it is God who chooses his people. The church is God’s chosen people; not people who decided on their own to believe. Now given this, the children then refer to the individual members of that church. At any rate, the lady and children are a church likely in Asia Minor.
The relationship between the church and John is characterized by “love.” John states that he loves them with “agape” love. This is the love that God loves his people with. It is love that seeks to the needs of others rather than love of self, but it is not just love alone. This is also love that is “in the truth,” but what does that mean? Think of Jesus’ words: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The “truth” is the pivotal event in the Bible: Jesus Christ coming as God himself.
He says that this is something they all have in common. They all share the fact of faith, of belief in Jesus Christ. And because of that faith, they also share the same love for each other. And this truth is not just temporary; it is a truth and resulting love that will endure forever and will bind them together forever. There is a legend that has been handed down to us from the early church history that tells us that when John, in his very late years, would visit the churches, he would shout out to the church, “Brethren, love one another!”
II. Let’s look next at the Elder’s rich greeting is seen in verse 3.
This greeting is an adaptation of a typical greeting often found in Paul’s writing as well. Note that it includes the familiar term “grace.” This is the love and favor shown by God to people who are completely undeserving. If a child rejects his parents’ love, deliberately disobeys, runs from home, stealing the car and a bunch of money, it is grace on the part of the parents that allows him to return to the family. Mercy is God’s loving and faithful action to those who are helpless. The key element here is that people are helpless to do anything about their rebellion and sin. If that same child runs away and gets hopelessly addicted to meth, he becomes helpless. The parents then, in love, help him out of his addiction and restore him; that is mercy. Peace describes the totality of all the blessings given by God to us in grace and mercy. It describes the beautiful life with God after he in grace and mercy restores us. It makes life meaningful and beautiful now and in the future.
The greeting continues on to describe from whom these beautiful things come from. These come from God our Father. God is occasionally alluded to as Father in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it takes on a whole new meaning. Now God is not the distant and removed Father; now he is Abba, Father – close and personal. And these things come from Jesus, the Son of the Father. Here John calls him the Son of the Father because the false teachers he will be dealing with in verses 7-13 deny that Jesus is God. He emphasizes already in the greeting that Jesus is the Son of God and we will see the importance of that next week.
Then notice at the conclusion of the greeting, there is again the reference to “truth and love.” This greeting from John is not only a wish where he wishes that these things may be true for them. He is saying, “You will experience God’s grace, mercy and peace because of truth and love.” It is only through the truth of the gospel that we will experience God’s gracious salvation. And it is only through the love God shows to us in Jesus that we do walk with God. And this hope is powerful and life altering.
III. What is the reason for the Elder’s joy?
John says, “Some of your children are walking in the truth.” Now who is he talking about here? He likely is referring to those with whom he had some personal contact with in a local church. Perhaps they had visited him and from the visits it became perfectly obvious that these members were walking in the truth and he was very pleased with that! John had been preaching and teaching the truth. He had been teaching the gospel and about the life that must come about as a result of this. And now there were some who not only accepted it, but they were living it!
But what does John mean when he says, “Walking in the truth?” To walk in the truth means that one’s whole life is saturated by his or her belief in Jesus. It is to know the Bible and its teachings and doctrines. To walk in the truth is to let God’s commands fill your life so fully that you live it and walk it. For us to walk in the truth is reflected in some real way in how we shop for food, for clothes and for places to live. It is seen in our work and the quality of work that we do. The truth of Christ, his birth, his death and his resurrection affects every part of our lives. This is an area that we all need to work on in our own lives. It is easy to agree with the beliefs, but God calls us to do more than just agree with teachings. We must study the Word, learn about Jesus and then we walk in it and live it. That is what John concludes with in verses 5-6.
He says that there is nothing new here, but rather an old command. The command he is referring to is from Jesus who gave it some 30 years prior to this. The Christians had very likely heard it many times before. Now the command to “love one another” had become very familiar and acceptable, but John says that it is still important even though it is an “old” command. And so he insists on repeating it because they still were not doing it as God desires! We still have a ways to go in loving one another in some respects. The fact is that we need to keep on hearing the constant reminder to love one another. We need to be called again and again to love each other because it is difficult to do.
Paul E. Miller, in his book Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus writes: “You’re late getting out of work, so you call ahead and ask your husband to start the laundry, your son to do his homework and your daughter to throw the casserole in the oven. When you walk in the door, your husband is plopped on the sofa, watching TV, and the laundry basket is sitting where you left it; your son is glued to the computer as his bookbag sits in the corner, unopened; and your daughter is on the phone as the frozen casserole sits on the counter. No one looks up as you come in. You want to scream. Love is the farthest thing from your mind. You think, ‘When is someone going to love me and anticipate my needs?’” Miller concludes, “The hardest part of love is not, ‘How do I love?” It’s wanting to love in the first place, and then having the energy to do it. It takes energy to love, energy that we don’t often have.”
The command love one another means to get involved with him or her and give of yourself to that other person, even if you find it terribly hard. We show our love to God by obeying him and his commands. When we obey his commands by honoring our parents, being truthful with others, not stealing and the like, we are actively loving others.
To walk in obedience to God’s commands is to walk in love, but how can we do that specifically? Pray for others. Don’t just pray this morning for the needs mentioned and then forget about it. Pray for them throughout the week and follow up and ask the person how things are going.
Forgive others when they irritate or hurt you. It happens in every family; someone says or does something that hurts or offends you. Be ready and actually do forgive and then treat that person as though it never happened. From somewhere in Indiana, Sha-ling Mei writes this meditation in the Upper Room magazine on the rape of his daughter and its impact on their family:
This morning when I read the passage about forgiveness, I thought of the two men who had raped my 3-year-old daughter. How can I ever forgive them? They do not deserve to be forgiven, I thought. I could find no room in my heart to forgive such a heinous crime. My innocent, delicate little girl. How dare they do such a thing? I have cried many nights, and every time I think of their cruelty, my heart simply rebels. A small, new thought came to me today. Forgiveness sees, not the enormity of the deed, but the enormity of the need to be forgiven. We should never say, “That sin is too big to be forgiven.” Rather we should say, “That sin needs more than ever to be forgiven.”
When a child comes in from play with a dirty face and hands, we do not say, “You are too dirty to be washed.” We say, “You need more than anything to be washed!” Then we take the child and gently wash off all the smudges. I'm not sure if this will help others to forgive what seems like the unforgivable, but somehow it helped me. Even as the tears run down my face while I write, my heart says. Lord, forgive those men. Forgiving others in love is very hard, but it is what God calls us to do.
Involve yourself in the lives of others. Eat together and do things with others. Talk with, help with food and encourage those who are sick or those who are grieving. Consciously hear and obey God’s law not just to keep yourself from feeling guilty but use the law as a guide to help others. Finally and most important, let God’s love, the love he shown us in his Son Jesus Christ, live and grow and thrive in your heart. If you do that, that love will spill over into the lives of others.