2 John: The sanity of balance

Ray Stedman, in an introduction to 2 John:

The second letter of John is the only letter in the New Testament that was written to a woman. As we can gather from the letter itself, it was written to a mother with several children, perhaps a widow. It appears that she had written to the Apostle John to ask his opinion about certain problems that had come up.

Back in those days, of course, the New Testament was not available as it is to us. The leaders of the churches were dependent upon certain men, called prophets, who went from place to place, preaching the truth. Evidently some of these men had come to the home of this woman, probably in the city of Ephesus, and they had raised certain doctrinal matters which disturbed her. Not knowing quite what to do, she wrote to the Apostle John and asked for his counsel. This letter is his response to her question. As we go through this, we will see how it also answers many of the questions we have today — especially the question of how to treat people who teach wrong things.

The first six verses present the problem to us and give us John’s approach in answering it:

The elder [as John terms himself] to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever: 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 following the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. And now I beg you, 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. And this is love, the we follow his commandment; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love. {2 Jn 1:1-6 RSV}

Here John is setting the stage for the answer to this lady’s problem. He is gathering together two things that must be taken into consideration in facing a problem of this kind. Two outstanding words are used all through the text. What are they? Truth is the first, isn’t it? And love. Truth and love. Notice how he links these two in verse three:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

This ought to be the characteristic of Christians. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he says the same thing — that a Christian should learn to speak the truth in love {Eph 4:15 RSV}. The remarkable work of a Christian life is to gather these often opposing things together and keep them in balance.

Now that is our problem as well. Many of us emphasize one, at the expense of the other. We may emphasize truth and center upon doctrinal matters, insisting that the Scriptures be followed carefully, but at the expense of love. When we do this, we are rigid and cold and judgmental — sometimes even cruel in the way we say things. Even though what we say is exactly right, we are trying to defend the truth of God at the expense of love.

On the other hand, there are those of us who make the mistake of emphasizing love at the expense of truth. They feel that we should accept everyone and everything, being tolerant in all directions. This second group reminds me of the story Dr. H. A. Ironside used to tell about the man who came to church, and on the way out, as he shook hands with the pastor one Sunday morning, he said to him, “Oh Pastor, I want to tell you what a blessing you’ve been to me since you’ve been pastor of this church. Why, when I first started here, I didn’t have any regard for God, man or the devil. But since you came, I’ve learned to love all three.”

Now the problem is to keep truth and love in balance. This is what you see so beautifully in the Lord Jesus; he walked in truth and love. He could deal in tenderness with the dissolute sinner, the outcast from society who came to him. And with a blistering word, he could scorch a Pharisee until he turned red with shame, as all the rottenness in that man’s inner life was revealed. He spoke the truth and he dealt in love and he kept them in perfect balance.

John says, “When you go to handle a problem of doctrinal error, emphasize both truth and love.” A lot of people who read this letter miss these opening words; thus they miss the sanity of balance that pervades the letter.

Copyright © 2010 by Ray Stedman Ministries — This material is the sole property of Ray Stedman Ministries. It may be copied for personal non-commercial use only in its entirety free of charge. All copies must contain this copyright notice and a hyperlink to www.RayStedman.org if the copy is posted on the Internet. Please direct any questions you may have to webmaster@RayStedman.org.