Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"Walking In Truth"
(Delivered Sunday, October 13, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
We've recently completed a study through the New Testament epistle of 1 John; and I don't believe I have ever been as sorry to see a study come to a close as I was that one. There were so many wonderful treasures in that portion of God's word that I found myself wishing that we could keep on going. Well; I took that as the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit urging us to, indeed, keep on going - and praise God, we have two more of John's letters to study together. So this morning, I'd like us to begin a study of the very neglected, but very rich, little epistle of 2 John.
Most scholars believe that John's first letter was a "circular" one; that means, it was a letter that he intended to be "circulated" around and read by many different churches. It's very possible that the first letter was delivered to several churches in Asia Minor by the hand of a believer named Demetrius. John mentions this Christian brother at the end of his third letter, as if he were introducing him to those who were personally reading that letter; "Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself" (3 John 12). Demetrius was probably sent by John to visit the various churches on his behalf. Perhaps John sent him first to share with them the content of his more general letter; and he then instructed Demetrius to give to particular, individual congregations a smaller, more personal memo. Second and Third John seem to be just such personal "memos".
Much of the material we find in the larger letter of 1 John is also repeated in the smaller letters of 2 and 3 John - but with, it seems, a much more specific application. If you read the closing of John's two final letters, you see in them a distinctively personal touch. At the end of the second letter, he writes, "Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full" (2 John 12). And He writes in a similar way at the end of the third letter: "I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" (3 John 13). Clearly, while John's first letter was intended to be read by all, his first and second letters were intended for a much more specific audience.
All three letters are very important; and we should be grateful that the Holy Spirit preserved them for us. The first letter teaches us, in great detail, what it means to walk in genuine, authentic fellowship with Jesus Christ. And important part of that fellowship is that we also love and enjoy fellowship with others who are in fellowship with Him. But how do we know who that is? These last two letters help us. The second letter shows us who to consider outside of the circle of our fellowship; and the third letter shows us how to be careful not to exclude someone from our fellowship who truly belongs in that circle.
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And, if you'll remember our study of the first letter, you recall that John dealt with three general themes - three "tests" to prove the authenticity of our fellowship with Jesus. All three of these tests - which were dealt with in great detail in his first letter - are repeated again in his tiny second letter.
The first "test" we found in the first letter was the test of "obedience" - that is, that the man or woman who is truly in fellowship with Christ will prove it by "walking" in a holy, obedient manner that is truly worthy of that claim to fellowship (1 John 1:5-7). And this same "test of obedience" is what we again find in John's second letter:
To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
The second "test" we found in John's first letter was that of "love"
- that the man or woman who is truly in fellowship with Christ will genuinely
love his brothers and sisters who are also loved by Him and are in fellowship
with Him (1 John 2:7-11). And again, we find this "test of love" in John's
second letter. He writes;
The third "test" we saw in John's first letter was the "test of belief"
- that the man or woman who is truly in fellowship with Jesus Christ will
believe all that the Father has declared to be true about Him, as that
truth was given to us through the apostles (1 John 2:18-23). And, once
again, we find this same "test of belief" in John's second letter;
And so there you have a pretty good summary of this wonderful little epistle of 2 John - all the great themes of John's magnificent first epistle in miniature; only this time in a very personal, very practical frame. It's so small that we might miss it if the pages of our Bible stuck together; but we would be very poor indeed without this tiny portion of God's word.
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Not long ago, I was a part of a group that was discussing a cooperative effort of different churches working together following 9/11. We wanted to be prepared to serve our community with the love of Jesus Christ, should our community ever be faced with an emergency. Several representatives from several local churches were there; and we were talking about how we might structure such a combined effort, and what its goals should be. During the discussion, however, two representatives from a particular church in the area suggested that we be sure to include in this effort representatives from other faiths. "We want to be inclusive," they said, "and have representatives from a diversity of religions to show that we're all truly one. We need to make this a truly inter-faith effort."
Many of the ministers in the room were very uncomfortable at the hearing of this suggestion - myself included. I was about to speak up; when another pastor chimed in and said something like this - in, I'd have to say, a much better manner than I could have - "We certainly wouldn't deny the right of any religious group or tradition of faith to serve the community however they wished. But an inter-faith effort is not what we're about. I believe it's our call to serve in the name of Jesus Christ as the only way, the only truth and the only life. He alone is the only hope for the world. Personally, I couldn't be a part of this effort if we were going to behave as if we believed otherwise." I was very grateful he said that.
We live in a day when it's offensive to claim to be rightly oriented to absolute truth. "All ways lead to God", people say. "No one group has the exclusive claim to the truth. There are many truths and many ways; and all of them are equally valid. What gives us the right to say that our way is the only way? What gives us the right to say that the things we believe are absolute truth?" We hear such talk all the time today.
And yet, at the same time, the fact is that people everywhere are desperately starved for the genuine truth from God. And the fact is that God has entrusted this truth to His church - the absolute truth proclaimed to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul called the church "the house of the living God, which is the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). He has entrusted the church of Jesus Christ with the responsibility of proclaiming this truth to a lost and dying world.
But this presents us with another problem. Many in a "post-modernist" world will not listen if we simply "proclaim" truth. They're suspicious of "truth-claims" presented to them as if "truth" were nothing more than a list of cold, hard facts. Instead, they connect with what they "see" and "experience" in a relational way. That's not entirely a bad thing, either. It's a part of what it means to be human. People are made by God to be more than mere "brains". They need to engage with the truth in the whole complex of what it means to be human - intellectually, emotionally and relationally. And so, this is simply a matter of acknowledging that we need to present the truth to people in a way that's consistent with what it means to be human. God Himself modeled this for us. He not only revealed the truth to us; but also revealing it in the Person of His Son who came in human flesh, walk in this world as a man and dwelt for a while among us in a visual, relational way.
What people really need today - and, when you get down to it, what people of this world have always really needed - is to see the truths of the gospel lived out in front of them in the context of loving relationships! They need to see the claims of Jesus Christ presented to them in a relationally authentic way. They need to see us getting up close to them and truly "walking in truth" before them in such a way that they genuinely encounter Jesus living in the fabric, not only of our words, but also of our everyday actions.
In the Bible, our "walk" is a figure of speech for our daily life-style conduct and behavior. And this "walk" is precisely what John writes about in this first part of his second letter - where he describes for us what happens when a church is found "walking in the truth".
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Notice how John starts his letter. He begins by calling himself "the Elder". The Greek word he uses is the word "presbuteros". It's the word from which the denomination "Presbyterian" gets its name. A "presbytery" is a body of church leaders; and often, such a body is said to be composed of "elders". This is one possible way John is intending this word - that is, as a way to refer to himself as a leader in the church.
But the word also has the basic meaning of an older person; a man who is to be held in some sense of esteem because he is advanced in years and experience. I tend to think that this is John's meaning here. After Jesus had risen from the dead, and had told Peter that he would one day be crucified, he pointed to John and asked the nosy question, "But Lord, what about this man?" And Jesus responded, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." John added, "Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple [that is, himself] would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, 'If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?'" (John 21:21-23).
John was the last of the original twelve apostles to live on this earth; and at the time of this writing, he was truly an old man - persecuted for his faithful preaching to the very end. Perhaps the church kept their eyes on this old man in case Jesus truly would come before he died. And perhaps, since everyone knew him lovingly as "the elder", he chose this "nickname" as a way to avoid identifying himself directly, so as not to endanger the church to which he wrote in case the letter fell into the hands of his persecutors.
Notice also to whom it was written: "to the elect lady and to her children". Many have suggested that it was to a literal female and her literal children that John wrote. But look at the last verse of the letter; "The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen" (v. 13). Most scholars believe this is a reference to the church from which John wrote; and if the "sister" is a church, it makes sense to believe that the "elect lady" is a church also. And so, it's best to see the "elect lady" as a figure of speech for a specific local church. Perhaps, again, John used this figure of speech to conceal the location of the church from potential persecutors.
Whatever the reason John had for using it, consider that wonderful nickname
- "the elect lady". The Greek word John uses doesn't merely mean "a female".
Rather, its a name that speaks of dignity and honor - a "lady" as in "a
lord and his lady". Its a name that signifies special status. And not
only is this church such a "lady", it's also the "elect" lady - particularly
chosen and precious to the Lord Jesus. And isn't that what the church
is as the Bride of Christ? Paul wrote that husbands are to love their
The church is precious to Jesus. He is Lord; and the church is His "elect lady". And incidentally, I believe that's how He feels about this local church as well. It's precious to Him. He is jealous for it; and longs for it's purity and holiness. He longs for it to behave in a manner consistent with the dignity He has given to it. He cherishes both our church and her individual "children" - that is, you and me. This church is His "elect lady". How worthy we should walk in respect to our church's true dignity! Our church should be found by Him faithfully "walking in truth".
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What exactly does it mean to be "walking" in the truth of the gospel? Notice that John first tells us that ...
1. TO WALK IN TRUTH IS TO WALK IN UNITY OF LOVE (v. 1).
John says, "The elder, to the elect lady and her children whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth ..." What a greeting that is! Wouldn't you love for our church family to have received such a greeting from the great apostle John?
If you look carefully in this passage, you find that the word "truth" is mentioned frequently - five times in four verses. And given the context of this little letter, it's quite obvious that the "truth" John speaks of is very specific and objective. It's the truth from God that is proclaimed in the message of the gospel of Jesus, as given to us in the proclamation of the apostles - the truth of who He is and what He has done for us. It's a body of doctrinal truth that can be actually, objectively "known" in an absolute way. It's a truth that we can be rightly related to and living under; and can, thereby, be said to be "in" truth.
And notice that it's on the basis of this "truth" that John loves this church and its people - not John only, but also "all those who have known the truth". John says that he, along with all those who know the truth, love this elect lady, "because of the truth" (v. 2). Those who "have known the truth" also love those who are "in truth", and do so "because of the truth". That's to be the ultimate basis for our love for one another: the truth! It isn't because we find each other particularly lovable to each other, because we often don't! Rather, we love each other because we believe the truth that Jesus Himself has loved us first. Elsewhere, John writes, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1).
I wonder if you've ever noticed how, when people want to promote love among Christians, the first thing they try to do is down-play "doctrine". This is a terrible mistake; and it's not God's way of advancing the cause of love among His people. The group I mentioned earlier was trying to promote "love" in an inter-faith effort by down-playing the absolute truth about Jesus! In reality, God's way of advancing love is by proclaiming gospel truth. "Love" separated from a faithful adherence to "truth" will only end up creating nothing more than sentimental religious feelings. "Truth" proclaimed without having the goal of advancing "love" will only end up creating divisions and factions. Both "truth" and "love" are necessary in the Body of Christ; but God's way of bringing about love is as a by-product of embracing the truth.
May God make us a church that is characterized by a strong, unifying love for one another and for other believers as a result of embracing the truth! May we love each other "because of the truth".
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Another thing we discover is that ...
2. TO WALK IN TRUTH IS TO WALK IN THAT WHICH IS ETERNAL (v. 2).
John says that he and all who know the truth love this elect lady and her children, "because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever". No wonder truth unifies in love!
Isn't it interesting how John speaks here of the truth? We usually think
of "truth" as something objective and external to ourselves. But here,
he speaks of it as something that can "abide" or "remain" in us. To speak
of truth in this way is to speak of it as something with which we can
have a deep, intimate relationship. Indeed, it's impossible to be related
to the truth without being deeply, intimately related to a Person, Jesus
Christ. He Himself is truth (John 14:6); and to say that the truth "abides"
in us is another way of saying that we believe the truth about Jesus in
such a way as to be saved by it - with Him dwelling in us, and us dwelling
in Him. In his first letter, John wrote,
And notice that this truth not only abides in us, but it will also be with us forever. It will be eternally in us, because it is the truth of the eternal Son of God. Compare this with the "truth" that the world walks in. The people of this world walk in a man-made system of "truths" that are sure to become obsolete in time. They long to find something that will last - something eternal. We walk in something eternal when we walk in truth. "Heaven and earth will pass away," Jesus said; "but My words will by no means pass away" (Matthew 24:35).
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Third, we find that ...
3. TO WALK IN TRUTH IS TO WALK IN GOD'S BLESSINGS (v. 3).
John, in his greeting, writes, "Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love."
John lists some of the blessings that come from walking in the truth. First notice from whom those blessings come - "from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. This is one important aspect of receiving God's blessings through a walk in truth: we can never receive the blessings of the Father apart from His Son Jesus Christ. The truth that we walk in is truth from God about His Son.
Second, notice the blessings themselves - "grace, mercy, and peace." "Grace" describes God's unmerited favor toward a sinner. "Mercy" describes God's willingness to meet the sinner's need. "Peace" describes the nature of God's relationship with that sinner as a result of showering His grace and mercy on him or her. You might say that grace describes how we receive salvation, mercy describes why we need salvation, and peace describes what that salvation brings about. As someone else has put it, grace removes our guilt, mercy removes our misery, and peace with God assures us of an endless supply of grace and mercy! All three of these wonderful blessings are ours only in Jesus Christ.
Third, notice the context in which these blessings thrive - "in truth and love". We cannot receive any of those blessings without two things from God: truth and love. Apart from the truth of the gospel of Jesus, "grace, mercy and peace" would be meaningless terms. There would be nothing objective or absolute to stand behind them or to give them substantial reality. They would be like "paper money" with no "gold backing". And apart from love from God through Jesus Christ, "grace, mercy and peace" would be unreachable blessings. There would be no way on our own to obtain them; because only by God looking down upon our need and condescending to meet them through the sacrifice of His own Son could those things be brought within our grasp.
You might say that God has given us a check for an unlimited supply of grace, mercy, and peace: His "truth" is the objective backing that makes the check sound; and His "love" is the personal signature that makes it possible for us to take it to the bank and draw on it.
And notice that, in all this, truth is placed before love. The world around us would put love before truth; but God places truth before love. "And this is His commandment that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment" (1 John 3:23).
* * * * * * * * * *
Finally, we notice that ...
4. TO WALK IN TRUTH IS TO WALK IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD (v. 4).
John writes, "I rejoice greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father" (v. 4).
John is speaking of the church as "the elect lady", and individual believers in that church as "her children". And he isn't suggesting that most of the believers in this church were NOT walking in truth - as if John was really happy to have at least found SOME of them who were! He's simply saying that, of those he has met, he was delighted to discover that the people in this particular church had the habit of living faithfully according to the truth of the gospel.
I had the opportunity to visit my old church recently. I had been over ten years since I had last visited; but I was happy to find that the church was doing well, and that its people are well fed. I was thrilled to find many of the same familiar faces; and to discover that these saints are still walking faithfully with the Lord. I can understand just a fraction of the "great rejoicing" John must have felt at meeting some of these believers and finding them faithfully walking in the truth.
And it wasn't simply because it was a feather in John's cap to see them walking faithfully. It caused him great rejoicing because these believers were walking in the truth "as we received commandment from the Father". John "rejoiced greatly" over their walk, because he knew that the Father rejoiced greatly over their obedience.
This teaches us yet one more thing about what it means to walk in the truth. To walk in the truth is not a matter of merely believing a set of things in an abstract manner. To walk in the truth means to actually "walk" in obedience to God. Truth isn't to be merely in our heads; it's to be in our feet, and in our hands, and on our lips.
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Dear brother or sister in Christ; the world is dependent upon us to not merely tell them the truth, but to "walk in truth" before their eyes. The people who live in a world filled with hate need to see us walk in the unity of love that comes from the truth. The people who live in a world in which nothing good last forever need to see us walk as people who are living under the influence of that which is eternal. The people who live in a world that is hopeless and discouraging need to see us walk in the light of God's blessings. And the people who live in a world of sinful rebellion against its maker need to see us walk in obedience to God's good commands.
It's the church's task to be the pillar and ground of the truth; so that the lost people of this world can hear the truth and believe and be saved. We hold it up to the world by faithfully walking in it. May God help us to be about our task of "walking in the truth."
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