Bible Studies: 2nd John

The Key Element of Christian Unity

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
There is a tendency, especially in our postmodern time, for Christians to "love" without regard to truth. True Christian love is not blind; to "love" without regard to truth can have grievous consequences for the individual Christian and the church as a body. Christians must have a complete and well-balanced understanding of agape love.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part three of a five-part series. Read part two.

In dealing with false teachers, Christians must have a complete and well-balanced understanding of agape love. Some only focus on certain aspects of what the Bible says about love, or put it on a strictly subjective and emotional footing, and therefore develop a harmful view of what it means to truly love others in the body of Christ.

Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (2 John 9-11)

Love and Truth: Inseparable

In our first two articles in this series, we have focused on the meaning of the key word oikia ("house" in the passage above), and on the foundation that John builds for his climactic statement commanding Christians' utter rejection of false teachers. We have also begun to examine the motivation for Christians' stand against false teachers, which is agape love within the body of Christ.

John states that genuine Christian love is fundamentally coupled with truth. The Apostle Paul states the necessity of "speaking the truth in love" as a sign of Christian maturity, in contrast to those who are "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" (Ephesians 4:14).

An Urgent Matter

Because the Christian way is the narrow way, believers must recognize that they are but one step removed from falling unless they carefully maintain their hold upon sound doctrine. Jesus said,

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Citing the example of the Israelites in the wilderness who left the path of truth and became idolaters, the Apostle Paul warned, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

John, writing his second epistle with a heart of love for the saints, therefore says in verse five, "I plead with you" to follow the commandment "that we love one another" on the basis of the truth as it is found in Christ alone. The Apostle Paul uses the same word translated "plead" in Second John 5 when he appeals to the Thessalonian believers not to be deceived by false teachers who said that Christ's second coming had already taken place:

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you [more accurately, "we plead with you"], not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)

Three Great Facts About Agape Love & True Christian Unity

The necessity for Christians to think and act in love based upon truth within the body of Christ is an urgent matter. There is a tendency, especially in our postmodern time, for Christians to "love" without regard to truth. True Christian love is not blind; to "love" without regard to truth can have grievous consequences for the individual Christian and the church as a body. Scripture declares three great facts about agape love as the instrument of genuine Christian unity. We find all three in the words of the Holy Spirit given to us through John.

First, genuine Christian unity begins with God's agape love for us. In John's Gospel record, chapter 3 verse 16 tells us that "God so loved the world" - agape love, self-sacrificial love, love because even when we were lost, filthy sinners we were precious in the sight of God - "that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Secondly, genuine Christian unity involves our response to God's agape love for us. In his first epistle, John declares that "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

Thirdly, genuine Christian unity involves Christians' exhibiting that same agape love of God toward our fellow believers. In his first epistle, John says this:

Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, because He [Jesus] laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. (1 John 3:13-19)

The Necessity of a Well-Balanced View

It is very important for Christians to have this complete and well-balanced understanding of agape love. Some only focus on certain aspects of what the Bible says about love, or put it on a strictly subjective and emotional footing, and therefore they develop an unbalanced and even harmful view of what it means to love others in the body of Christ.

Genuine Christian unity is based on facts, not feelings. Emotion is not our authority, God's Word is. Yes, there is an emotional element in agape love, but those emotions are the result of love, not the basis of love. There is a great difference between emotion and emotionalism.

Biblical love is not something Christians are to practice only if and when we feel like it, or based upon any feeling we may experience, or regardless of considerations of sound doctrine. We are to love one another as God's Word commands us to do it.

Is Rejection of False Teachers "Unloving"?

Sometimes, acting in agape love toward our true fellow Christians means that we must act in a way that some would mistakenly label as "unloving" toward false teachers. But those who would make that accusation do not understand the true meaning and scope of agape love.

Such love, rooted in truth, demands that Christians act decisively to block the deadly influence of false teachers upon themselves, their homes, and their churches. That is the basis of the command we are given in verse ten, and the specifics of that command will be the focus of our next article.

Next: Do Not Let False Teachers Cross the Threshold

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