Remember the Basics
I played baseball all the time growing up — we had games in the Spring, Summer, and Fall, and then in the Winter there were clinics and camps to go to — and one of the things that I was taught do year-round, for as long as I played, was to hit off the tee. It’s called tee-work. [Does everyone know what a tee is?] It’s basically a short pole (of some kind) with the top shaped to hold a baseball; you put a ball on there, and you take a bat and you practice hitting the ball into a net; and the you just do the same thing over and over. It’s called tee-work.
It’s a very basic procedure, but really important — and it’s one of the reasons I love baseball — just because of the whole principle of tee-work. See, baseball, in my opinion, is the greatest game there is. And it’s a sophisticated game. There are so many different pieces to it — from fielding positions to situational hitting to base-running and on and on. It can get complicated. But, for as complicated as it gets, you always still need to do tee-work. You always have to keep coming back to this basic part of the game — you put a ball on the tee and you practice hitting the ball with a bat. And this part fascinates me: basically, Major League players do the same thing everyday for practice that my five-year-old does in the backyard. Tee-work. They hit off a tee. And that’s baseball! For as vast and complex as it is, you can never forget the basics.
And I think the apostle John would say the same thing about living the Christian life in this world. Remember the basics. That’s what he’s getting at here, I think, in this little letter we call Second John.
His main point in the letter can be summed up like this: listen to Jesus, and love one another — and do it in a world full of opposition. That’s what John says in this letter, and that’s what we’re going to look at today. And we’re going to try to get there in three movements, looking at:
- Listen to Jesus
- Love One Another
- Listen and Love in This World
1. Listen to Jesus
John wants us to listen to Jesus, and we need to know what that means. Let’s look at 2 John 1–4,
The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.
So the “truth” matters a lot to John. He mentions it five times in these first few verses, and then he mentions it another nine times in 1 John. And by the way, 2 John is so small because, many scholars agree, it was originally the cover letter to 1 John. If you were to look at 1 John you’ll notice that it doesn’t begin with any kind of greeting, which was really uncommon for letters from this time. So many scholars think that 2 John was actually something like the preface to 1 John, and that for the first three centuries of the church both letters circulated together as one letter, and then later they were divided up and became 1 John and 2 John. Now that’s mainly a fun fact for you, but it does impact the way we read 2 John, because a lot of the things introduced in 2 John are actually expanded in 1 John. And “truth” is one of them. What exactly does John mean when he says “truth”?
“Walking in the Truth”
Well, taken all together, John uses “truth” to refer to the reality of Jesus and what he has done. That’s what John means when he says to “walk in the truth.” He says that here in verse 4: “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father” (he says it again in 3 John 4).
John wants us to walk in the truth, and one commentator explains: “walking in the truth means to live in a way consistent with the revelation Jesus Christ has brought.” It means that we pattern our lives in light of his existence — in light of who Jesus is and what he’s done, and our relationship with him because of what he’s done. In other words, basically, to walk in the truth means that we believe Jesus is real, and then we act like it. And that’s seriously what it means. Even the scholars say that.
Now it doesn’t mean we believe Jesus is real only in theory. There are a lot of Jesus theoreticals out there — Jesus as a historical figure, Jesus as a good teacher, Jesus as the uber-tolerant anti-conformist. There is enough that. Walking in the truth means to embrace the fact of Jesus — that he is who he said he is — and because he’s real, because what he said is true, our lives cannot be the same. He has a say in our lives. He has an authority and a nearness and the grace to reach into our lives and change us. Walking in the truth means we say amen to that. We want that and we welcome that. We want to live like Jesus is real. And at the most level, then, walking in the truth means we listen to Jesus. If we’re going to live in a way that adds up with his realness then it means we’re going to listen to what he says.
“Commanded by the Father”
Notice the last part of verse 4: “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.” Now that’s a pretty amazing thing to say. John wants us to walk in the truth, to listen to Jesus — and we get it — but now he says that not only does he want that, but God the Father wants that too. Which sort of intensifies his point! He says, Hey, I really want you listen to Jesus, just like God the Father commanded us to do. So this just isn’t about what makes John happy, this is about what the Father has commanded us. John says that God the Father has commanded us to listen to Jesus.
He says a similar thing in 1 John 3:23, “And this is [the Father’s] commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as [the Father] has commanded us.” And then Jesus himself says in John 6:29, “This is the work of God [the Father], that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So the Father wants us to believe Jesus. He wants us to take Jesus at his word. Now do we see this anywhere else in the Bible? Has God the Father ever commanded us to literally listen to Jesus?
There is a story in the Gospels — in Matthew, Mark, and Luke — of when Jesus was transfigured in front of his disciples. It’s called the Transfiguration. One day Jesus took aside Peter, James, and John, and he went up on a mountain, and he basically entered into a different dimension. The Gospel of Mark says that “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mk 9:3). And the disciples saw Jesus this way — they saw him talking with Moses and Elijah, and then a cloud comes over them on the mountain, and this was a really important moment. It’s one of those special places in the Bible where God the Father speaks out loud. And do you know what he said?
A voice came out of the cloud and he said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mk. 9:7).
God the Father wants us to listen to Jesus. — Do what he says. Trust what he says about himself and about me. Take him at his word. That’s what God wants, and it’s a really big deal. In fact, our listening to Jesus is actually what shows whether we have a relationship with God. That’s what John says in verse 9 of this letter:
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
Pretty straightforward here: if we don’t listen to Jesus then we don’t have God (see also 1 John 2:23). And to be really honest with you, there are a lot of spiritual and religious people who think they’re connected to God when really they’re lightyears away from him because they don’t listen to Jesus. They might believe in “a Jesus,” but they don’t take him at his word. John says that if you don’t listen to Jesus, you don’t know God. And that to me is the saddest thing about Islam — with all that religious effort, all that work, and they don’t know God because they don’t listen to Jesus.
Walk in the truth, John says — believe that Jesus is real and act like it. Listen to Jesus.
And now, what’s that look like? We’ve have to ask this question. What does listening to Jesus look like? It brings us to our second point.
2. Love One Another
Look at verse 5,
And now I ask you, dear lady … [that’s John’s name for the church; “lady” is what he calls the church as a whole, and then “children” is what he calls the members of the church] … So verse 5: And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another.
All right, so John says that we should love one another. And he says this isn’t a new commandment, but it’s actually one that we’ve had since the beginning. He means, since the church began, since Jesus came and called his disciples and started this thing, we’ve had the commandment to love one another. And he’s exactly right. Jesus is so clear about this in the Gospels. The most straightforward place is the Gospel of John, chapter 13.
In verses 34–35, Jesus says,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
So Jesus said this to us as a new commandment, which is why John says, Hey, I’m not giving you a new commandment; I’m just telling you what Jesus told us. And Jesus told us to love one another.
And there’s an important connection here. You might be seeing it. John tells us to walk in the truth, to listen to Jesus. And Jesus tells us to love one another. Which means, if we’re going to listen to Jesus then we’re going to love another.
What does it look like to listen to Jesus? It looks like us loving one another. You can’t separate them. Look at verse 6, and let’s track with what John is saying. So John has said, Okay, here’s the commandment, you’ve heard it from the beginning, love one another. And then in verse 6 he says,
And this is love … [which means, he’s about to tell us what love is] …
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments;
Okay, okay! Do you see that?! John says, this is the commandment: love one another. Then he says, this is love: listen to his commandments. This means that we listen to Jesus by loving one another; and we love one another by listening to Jesus.
Then John says in verse 6 what he says in verse 5. He says,
This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
Now I think “it” here is referring to love. [Do you see the “it” there at the end of verse 6?] — okay try this: “so that you should walk in love.” It think “it” means “love.” Or, it could mean truth — try this: “so that you should walk in truth.” We’re not sure which it is. Commentators are not sure, and some think it’s ambiguous on purpose, because guess what: they’re basically the same. That’s John whole point. You can’t walk in truth if you’re not walking in love; and you can’t walk in love if you’re not walking in truth. It’s truth and love. You can’t have one without the other.
And that is so important for us to hear. Because it explodes the polarization that we typically do in America. You have the truth people on one side. Truth, fact, reason — they want what’s right. And then you have the love people on the other side. Compassion, kindness, equality — they want everyone to be accepted. You got the truth people over there, and the love people over there — and I think both are stopgaps. Neither will work in the long run, because according to the Bible, you can’t have real truth without love and you can’t have real love without truth.
And what that means for us is that it doesn’t matter how correct you doctrine is — your intellectual understanding of Jesus might be solid — but if you are not loving other people, you’re doing it wrong. And when I say loving others I mean loving others as in giving yourselves for others, seeking the good not of yourself, but of those around you. Loving others is you being happy in the happiness of other people. If you’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter how great your doctrine is, you’re not walking in truth. Which means, for some of us, we need to push aside our theology books for a while and we need to learn how to be patient with our kids, and speak tenderly to our wives, and start a conversation with our neighbors. It’s got to be truth and love.
And then, what this means for the rest of us — for many in our society — it means that we can talk all we want about love — love, love, love, love is everywhere — but love without conviction isn’t really love. Real love has to be connected to reality, and reality is the world as God has made it. Reality is this world that Jesus will save and judge. And unless our love is connected to that, unless how we treat others is in view of that, it’s not real love. If you’re not connected to God’s reality, it doesn’t matter how sentimental and accepting you are, you’re not walking in love. It’s got to be truth and love.
Walk in the truth; walk in love. Listen to Jesus, and love one another — and do it here, in this world of opposition. And this is our last point.
3. Listen and Love in This World
So this is a world where there’s opposition against us, but what kind of opposition is it? Now, when I say opposition, something probably comes to your mind. Maybe it’s shrinking religious liberties or maybe it’s ISIS. Both would make sense. But look at verse 7:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. [Then verse 8: So watch yourselves…]
So John says that there is opposition, there’s something to beware, but it’s actually deception. It’s not attacks from secular liberals who hate the church, but it’s attacks from people of influence who operate inside in the church. The opposition is deception, and it’s more subtle than you’d think. The “deceivers” are going out, John says, and they “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Basically, the deception is saying that Jesus is not real. That’s what is going on. The deceivers are denying the reality of Jesus, and they’re denying the claims he made — they are not taking him at his word.
And the way this goes is insidious. It’s not a straightforward assault on Jesus, but it’s more of a backdoor thing. It casts doubt here and there. It leads others to second-guess Jesus and to take the Bible less seriously, and to think that we know better — and that those poor biblical authors were so limited in their knowledge of the world, and if they just knew as much as we did, if we could just stretch out their thinking along a trajectory then they’d be affirming all the same things that our mainstream culture affirms today. See how that goes? That’s how deception works. It starts small and it grows, and people fall for it.
John says its the antichrist — which might get your attention. A lot of us imagine the antichrist in some kind of apocalyptic scene, with everything going crazy. But John says that the spirit of antichrist is already in the world, and what the antichrist does is deceive people. He says this straight up in 1 John 4:3. He says, “[E]very spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
In other words, whatever leads people to not take Jesus at his word is the spirit of antichrist, and that is happening now. Which means, the spirit of antichrist doesn’t really care about European Union, but is really interested in that book club that just started the newest, hottest Christian book with love in the title. That’s the way it goes. That’s how deception happens, and that’s the world we live in.
It’s a complicated world, where everywhere is complicated. Everywhere is broken. There’s cloudy optimism and fear-mongering hopelessness; there’s the fragility of world markets and the threat of religious war; there’s unjust judgmentalism and moral non-accountability; there’s unpredictable violence at the hands of individuals and there’s the deliberate assault of the vulnerable at the hands of our government. There’s chaos out there, and there’s deception in here. This is the world we live in. It’s complicated.
And I want to suggest something: I think it’s time we do a little tee-work.
That’s what John is saying. He says in this world — the world in which we live, full of chaos and deception — in this world, John says, listen to Jesus and love one another.
He says we can’t forget the basics. We have to remember the basics. Listen to Jesus. Love one another.
It’s truth and love — and if you don’t have both, you don’t have either. And man, this is not easy. How are we supposed to do this?
Well, the good news is that Jesus has not left us stuck us here without any help. In fact, if we want to see the perfect harmony of truth and love, Jesus is that. Jesus himself is uncompromising truth and boundless love, and he shows us that on the cross.
Because you know what he was saying on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, he was saying, very clearly, that we — all of us — are sinners. That’s the hard truth of the matter. Jesus died for us because we are so broken and so sinful that there was no other way that we could be saved. His death said, in effect, that these people are so badly messed up that I have to go this far to rescue them. That’s the reality. That’s the hard truth of what Jesus shows us at the cross.
But he also shows us something else. He didn’t just show us truth — the truth of ourselves, and how broken we are — but he also shows us love.
At the cross Jesus shows us the truth — that we’re so sinful he has to die.
and at the cross Jesus shows us love — that though we’re sinful he’s willing to die.
Jesus says at the cross, that however far he has to go to rescue you, he will go that far. The way John puts it in his Gospel is that Jesus loved us “to the uttermost” (John 13:1).
That means at the cross Jesus showed us truth: You are this sinful I must die for you. And he showed us love: I love you so much that I’m willing to die for you.
Jesus is truth and love. And that is what is put before us in the Table this morning. (The servers can come get ready).
The Table is meant to symbolize the death of Jesus for us — the bread is his broken body and the drink is his blood. And when we receive this meal, spiritually, we are receiving Jesus. Which means, we are receiving truth and love. We’re saying, as we take this bread and cup, that yes, truth is, we are sinners and we cannot save ourselves. And we’re saying, yes, we’re also loved. Jesus loves me, by grace, and he has forgiven me, and he has called me righteous.
If you say that this morning, we invite you to eat and drink with us. We want you to receive Jesus today in truth and love.