Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"The Walk of Love"
2 John 5-6
(Delivered Sunday, November 17, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
There's a story that's told about two great preachers from a couple of generations ago. Both Drs. Donald Barnhouse and Harold Ockenga were among the very best Bible teachers in the country; and they often held Bible conferences and speaking engagements together. But it was Dr. Ockenga's habit to prepare a unique message for the different congregations to whom they spoke; while it was Dr. Barnhouse's habit to give the same basic message over and over. Poor Dr. Ockenga, who usually spoke last, had to sit through Dr. Barnhouse's same message so many times that he soon had it memorized.
And then came a particular speaking engagement when the usual pattern was broken; and Dr. Ockenga got to speak first. He couldn't resist the temptation; and so he got up and preached Dr. Barnhouse's message, word for word, from beginning to end. As the story goes, Dr. Barnhouse appeared a little nervous at first as he sat watching what was happening; but he soon grew calm and patient - smiling and nodding approvingly as Dr. Ockenga preached all the way through his own sermon. Then, Dr. Ockenga sat down next to Dr. Barnhouse, turned to him quietly, and said, "I certainly hope you enjoyed my presentation of your sermon, brother." And Dr. Barnhouse graciously replied that he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And just before he got up to speak, Dr. Barnhouse turned to his friend and said, "But I don't think the congregation enjoyed it this time as much as they did when I preached it here last week."
I think of that story as we return this morning to our study of 2 John. I suppose the apostle John may be considered the most repetitious of all the New Testament writers. There are some very basic themes in his letters; and those themes are life-changingly profound. But as we've studied his letters together, we've often found John hammering away at these same basic themes again and again. We can almost begin to feel as if we've we've memorized John's basic sermon; and wonder why we're having to hearing the same things over and over.
But stop and think about it: With all the things that could have been said; why do you suppose the Holy Spirit would have led John to present us with such a small number of basic themes in such a repetitive way? I suggest that the Holy Spirit was very deliberate and intentional in doing this. It's because the Spirit understands us all too well; and knows that the themes John touches on are so fundamental that we can fool ourselves into thinking that we've mastered them after just a quick brush with them. And yet, from God's perspective, the truth is that we've scarcely begun to even scratch the surface of either understanding these basic themes, or of putting them into practice as we truly should.
Take, as an example, one of the most repeated themes in John's letter: the command to love one another. It would be really easy to think we've got that one pretty well covered now. We find that John once again brings this matter up in his letter; and inwardly, we think, "Oh boy; here we go again"; and we automatically tune out and start doodling on our bulletin. But if the Lord Jesus were to give us a pop-quiz on how well we really understand that command, or if He were to give us a performance review, then we'd certainly confess that we need to hear about this familiar command again and again.
As we come to John's second letter, and once again to the theme of 'loving one another', let's not tune out as if we've heard it all before. Instead, let's invite the Spirit of God make this old command into something fresh for us this morning; and let's allow Him- through His servant John - to bring us to a greater understanding of it, and a more thorough obedience to it.
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As I've suggested to you before, John's second letter can be considered a smaller, more compact version of his first letter. His first letter is about how to know whether or not we truly walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ; and in it, he expounds three basic themes over and over - the test of our "obedience" to the Father's commands, the test of "belief" in the things the Father has declared to us about Christ, and the test of "love" toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.
These same three themes are found again in John's second letter. The last time we looked at this little letter together, we found that John begins with the test of "obedience" - "walking in the truth". John writes to a church that he refers to as "the elect lady", and says,
John was a good pastor. He longed to see the people entrusted to his care - to whom he taught the truth of the gospel - faithfully conducting their daily lives in that truth. And when he saw that it was happening, he was thrilled; and it caused him to 'rejoice greatly'.
But even though he rejoiced over their faithfulness, they were not yet where they should be. And so, with the prospect of rejoicing in them even more, he urges them to become faithful in yet another area:
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I have another preacher story for you. A brand new pastor preached his first sermon before his new congregation one Sunday. They were thrilled to have such a fine preacher as their pastor, and were eager to come back again to hear the next Sunday's message. But when they came again, they were confused, and a bit disappointed, to hear him preach the same sermon that he had preached the week before. And then, when they came back again the third Sunday, they found that he preached the same sermon again. The elder/deacon board was pretty concerned. They came to him and said, "Pastor, you've preached the same sermon three times in a row. How long are you going to keep preaching it?" "I'm going to keep on preaching it," he said, "until you start living it." Now speaking personally, that sounds like a threat to me.
John, likewise, is repeating one of his own sermons again in this morning's passage. And, no doubt, they needed to hear it again because they needed to start living it. But I don't get the sense that John is being harsh or threatening in his manner toward them. Look at the spirit in which he gives this exhortation to them.
First, notice that he brings this exhortation to them in the context of joy. He has already told them, "I rejoice greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we have received commandment from the Father." He's already proud of them; and is already rejoicing in their faithfulness. And this commandment is connected to that attitude of joy. John doesn't say, "I rejoice in your faithfulness in one area; ... but now, I'm going to rebuke your unfaithfulness in another." Rather, he says, "I rejoice in your faithfulness. And now ..." In other words, they're already doing well; and he encourages them to go on to even greater levels of faithfulness.
Second, notice that he brings this exhortation to them in a spirit of respect. He "personalizes" his reference to the church, and speaks to it by a name we could translate "Dear lady". It's the same name he used for the church at the beginning of his letter (v.1). It's a name that would be used for a woman of honor and importance - much like we would say, "Dear Madam". John isn't scolding the people in this church, but is speaking to them in a respectful, honorable way - a way worthy of her identity as the bride of Christ.
Third, notice that he brings this exhortation to them in a spirit of unity. Whenever he refers to the church with the name "lady" in this letter, he uses the second person, singular pronoun. He doesn't make his appeal for love to a bunch of separate individuals (as if he said, "And now, I plead with all of you"). Rather, he makes his appeal to one group of people in unity to already be a fact; and in that context makes his appeal for love.
Fourth, notice that he brings his exhortation to them, not in the spirit of a command (although, as the great apostle John, he certainly could have issued a command to them); but rather in the form of a request. The word he uses means, "I ask you," or "I urge you," or "I beseech you." As Eugene Peterson has paraphrased it in The Message, "Permit me a reminder, friends ..." This isn't in the form of an authoritative command, but of a gentle, loving appeal.
Finally, notice that he brings his exhortation to them as if he were obligated to keep it just as much as they. He speaks of the commandment "which we have had from the beginning; that we love one another". The command he calls them to is one that he himself is called to. John doesn't put himself over them, but rather includes himself with them in the exhortation. The whole tone of this appeal is very appropriate for an exhortation to "love one another".
Dear brothers and sisters, this appeal to that ancient church is an appeal meant for us as well. Our church is a wonderful church; and we have a lot going for us. "And now," there's a need for us to mature and make progress in this all important area of love. Let's receive this gentle appeal from the Lord Himself, as passed on to us through His servant John.
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To help us understand this passage better, and the appeal it makes to us, let's ask an answer a few questions. First, let's ask ...
1. WHAT IS THE COMMANDMENT IN THIS PASSAGE?
And as we see from verse 5, it's "that we love one another". John is here reminding us of Jesus' "new commandment" - the commandment He gave to His disciples before He went to the cross. After Judas left to betray Jesus into the hands of those who would crucify Him, He said,
Look at what we learn about this commandment from Jesus' words. He tells His disciples that He is going away. They can not come with Him. The witness of His bodily presence will be taken away from this world. But He is not leaving the world without a witness; because He tells His disciples that their love for one another will testify that they belong to Him.
And notice also that He gives them a living example of the love He commands them to show to one another. "As I have loved you ..." After He washed the disciples feet, behaving as a servant to them, He told them,
Our great pattern of love toward one another is the example of love Jesus has shown to us. His command is that we love one another as He has loved us - that is, with a spirit of humble service and self-sacrificial giving.
This command from Jesus is crucial. And so, John, in his first letter, writes;
This reminds us that the love that the Lord desires to have expressed in us toward one another is not an option; it's a command. Out of all the things that He could have commanded us before going to the cross, this is the one He issued. We who call Him Lord have an undeniable obligation to obey it.
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A second question we can answer from this passage, then, is ...
2. HOW ESSENTIAL IS THIS COMMANDMENT TO OUR PROFESSION OF FAITH?
And the answer is suggest to us by the fact that it's not "a new commandment", but "that which we have had from the beginning". Twice in this passage, in fact, we're told that it is a command that is rooted in the very foundation of our faith. It's that which we "have heard from the beginning".
When John wrote this letter to this church, it was at a time in which it was having to deal with the problem of false teachers in its midst. John hints at this in the rest of the letter when he says, "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (v. 7). And look carefully at what he says in verses 9-11;
Those phrases "does not abide in the doctrine of Christ" or "does not bring this doctrine" suggests that false teachers were coming in to introduce something "new" and "ground-breaking". That's one of the great attractions of false doctrine: it promises something "new".
Dear brothers and sisters; always remember that our faith is not built on something "new"; but rather on "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Progress in the Christian faith doesn't come through discovering something new, but rather by returning to that which was from the beginning. Clinging to the basic teachings of the faith - handed down to us by the apostles and preserved for us on the pages of Scriptures - is the way to make progress in a relationship with Jesus. And as John reminds us, the old commandment our Lord and Master - "love one another" - is a commandment that we have received from the beginning. It is foundational. It is an essential aspect of that faith once delivered to the saints.
Others were trying to sell something "new" to the church; and John reminded them of that which is "from the beginning". May God help us to cling to it too.
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So; the commandment is that we love one another, and we see that it's a commandment that's essential to the faith. Next, let's ask ...
3. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE 'LOVE' THAT JESUS COMMANDS OF US?
And we find, from this passage, that it's not merely a feeling, but rather an active matter of life-style practice. Twice in this passage, John refers our life-style as a "walk"; and John make the keeping of the command to love a matter of our daily walk.
Many people are frustrated by this command to love, because they can't seem to muster up the feelings of love they believe the command demands of them. They don't even like certain people; let alone feel any love for them. But I believe it's important to understand that the nature of the command John reminds us of is such that it's a matter of "doing" as much - if not more - than a matter of feeling. "Feelings" of love are certainly important and desirable, but we are to obey the "command" to love no matter what we may feel, because it's primarily a matter of our "walk" and not of our feelings.
Again, John reflects this to us elsewhere in his first letter. He says,
Paul expresses the same idea when he writes,
Think about what it's like when you literally walk. When you walk, you are making some kind of a decision where to place your feet. You have to make perhaps hundreds of thousands of such decisions each day as you walk and move around on this earth. What John is saying is that the command of love is to govern the decisions we make in the course of the day concerning where we, as it were, "put our feet". At work, at home, in the neighborhood, at school, and at church, the command of Jesus to "love one another" is to guide the little, practical decisions that we make throughout the day. This takes the command to "love" out of the realm of mere feelings and places it in the realm of practice; but I can't help but think that, if our footsteps are governed by the command to love, our feelings will soon follow as well.
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So; what does it look like to govern our footsteps according to the command of love? This leads us to our next question ...
4. HOW DO WE PUT INTO PRACTICE THIS "WALK OF LOVE" TOWARD EACH OTHER?
And it may come as a surprise to some, but John tells us that we put Jesus' commandment into practice toward each other by walking according to His Father's commandments. In verse four, John says that he rejoiced to see the recipients of his letter "walking in truth, as we have received commandment from the Father" (v. 4). And now, he says, "This is love, that we walk according to His [that is, the Father's] commandments" (v. 6).
Many people think that "love" and God's commandments are incompatible with one another. But the reality is that love is the essence of God's commandments. The apostle Paul wrote that "all the law is fulfilled in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14). He wrote,
Consider that last sentence; "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." If I love someone - truly love them - I will not steal what belongs to them. I will not murder them in body or in reputation. I will not violate their marriage nor seek to violate my marriage with them. I will not lie to them or mislead them. I will not want what belongs to them, or grumble over the fact that God has given them something He hasn't given to me.
When I faithfully and sincerely obey God's commandments in the way I behave toward them, then I am demonstrating love to them. And so, the way to give practical definition to a walk in love toward someone is to define it as "walking in God's commandments" toward them.
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This leads us, finally, to ask ...
5. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE 'WALK' IN OBEDIENCE TO THE FATHER'S COMMANDMENTS?
And the answer should be clear by now. We find that, if we walk in the Father's commandments, we will have walked in Jesus' great commandment to love one another - as we "have heard from the beginning".
In this, we see that the argument comes around full circle. The commandment of Jesus is to love one another - which is a commandment we have had from the beginning; the commandment is concerned with our practical walk; the walk involves obeying the Father's commandments toward one another; and in obeying the Father's commandments, we discover that "this is love, that we walk according to His commandments." "By this," John says in his first letter, "We know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:2-3).
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Would you allow me share one more 'repetitious preacher' story with you? I heard about a traveling minister who had a favorite sermon that he liked to preach. But unfortunately, he didn't always keep careful records; and he failed to make note of where he had preached it before. As a result, a particular young man in a particular city heard him preach the same sermon three times. After the third time, the young man sent a note to the preacher. It said that he really liked the sermon; and that since he hoped to be a preacher himself one day, he wondered if the old preacher would be willing to sell that sermon to him as soon as he thought he might finally be through with it.
John truly does repeat this same message - "love one another". It's a message you and I have heard very often in our study of John's letters. But it will never get old if we claim it as our own through our obedience.
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