June 8, 2008
The apostle John, in a letter addressing a congregation in his care, responded with joy over those walking in the truth. As Alistair Begg walks us through John’s request that Christ’s followers continue in love, we are also reminded of the role of obedience to God’s commands. Although acceptance in Christ is not secured by obedience, a life of obedience out of love reflects the preeminence of God’s reign in a heart.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to 2 John once again. Now, 2 John, and we’re going to simply read the first six verses. I had, this morning, planned to work all the way through the first six verses, but we never got beyond the greeting, which was 1–3. So we’ll deal with the rest now.
“To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth—and not … only [myself], but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:
“Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.
“It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I[’m] not writing you a new command but one we[’ve] had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”
Now just a prayer:
Father, what we know not, teach us; what we have not, give us; what we are not, make us. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
Well, we began this morning by, first of all, noticing the identity of the writer—namely, John, the one who wrote the Gospel—and the recipient of the letter, a congregation in the area of Ephesus personified under the nomenclature “the chosen lady and her children.” We then paid attention to John’s emphasis on truth under the heading “The Priority of Truth,” and then we ended in verse 3 by paying attention to the security of grace. All of that is by way of his introductory greeting. It takes until verse 4 before he comes to his purpose in writing the letter. And so we have in verses 4–6 his reason for writing, part one. Verse 7 and following will be his reason for writing, part two. But we only need to deal with part one just now.
If you have your Bibles open in front of you, you will notice that before he alerts his flock to the threat that they face, which comes in verse 7 and on, John first of all assures them of the thrill that he enjoys as a result of the news that has reached him. So let me summarize his verses here first of all by noticing his response. His response: “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth,” or “I was overjoyed to find that some of your children are diligent in living out the truth.” The verb here “to find” is the verb eurēka. Eurēka. And some people only know one Greek word, and that’s it. And there you are—you’ve found it right here in 2 John. “It has given me great joy to find”—eureka, to make the discovery—that “some of your children are walking in the truth.”
Every pastor, elder, church leader can surely identify with this. I’ve alluded to it even in having these young people before us tonight. One of the great joys of pastoral ministry and growing older in pastoral ministry and enjoying length and tenure in pastoral ministry is to find oneself in the position where generations are born, and grow, and go on, and marry, and have children of their own. And in all of that, it is no surprise that John expresses well the thrill and the joy and the encouragement that falls to all who are involved in pastoral leadership in relationship to their children—physically, emotionally, their children by birth and their children by new birth—who are walking on with God. The pastor’s privilege, said Archbishop Coggan some years ago, can be summarized as follows: his responsibility is to give consistent advice to the puzzled, warm encouragement to the promising, and compassion to the perplexed. And when all of that is taking place and the news reaches the person who’s enjoyed that privilege, then it is no surprise that the response is as noted here by John.
The news has reached him that “some of” their children are “walking in the truth.” Whether it means that all of those about whom he has heard are walking in the truth or whether what he’s saying is “some of your children but not all of your children,” it’s impossible, actually, to tell from the syntax here. The fact is that it is the happy-sad element of pastoral ministry that usually it isn’t all, but we can be glad when it is at least some. Some still on the path, some staying the course, some living the life, some ordering their footsteps in accordance with the gospel—all of this, says John, gives to him great joy.
Now, when you think about the call to stay on the path, to do things properly, you don’t have to stay just in the New Testament. You find that on a number of occasions, especially in death and dying scenes in the Old Testament, you have a father urging his physical child in this way. You needn’t turn to it, but let me quote to you the beginning of David’s charge to Solomon:
When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.
“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.”
And, of course, David is the one who writes the entry to all of the wonderful book of Psalms. The entire Psalter is prefaced by this same notion, isn’t it?
Blessed is the man
who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers,
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He—that man—shall be like a tree
planted by rivers of water
that brings forth its fruit in its season,
and whatsoever he does prospers.
But the wicked are not so.
They are like the chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
So surely, given such deep conviction, as he faces his demise, he would bring his son to him and lay that charge upon him, because he longs for his son to walk in the truth. There is, can be, no greater joy. And what a tragedy when you read Solomon’s story and how foreign wives turn his heart away from the very foundations laid by his godly father. God’s promises remain, and we hold on to them, don’t we, with both of our hands? We long to have this kind of joy.
I recently read a series of—really, it was a Festschrift written in adulation of the actress Judi Dench, and a number of her friends had written a chapter concerning their admiration and affection for her. And none struck me more forcibly than the one written by a Scotsman by the name of Billy Connolly. And I can’t quote exactly his final sentence, but it went something like this: “Whenever I think of you now, Judi, it feels like I’m having a wee party in my heart.” And I thought, “What a strange and tender and endearing thing to say.” “When I think of you, my heart is in celebration.” John writes to these people under his care, and that’s his response: “It has given me great joy to [discover that] some of your children are walking in the truth.”
Then, in verse 5, from his response to his request: “And now, dear lady, I[’m] not writing you a new command but one we have heard from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.”
You’ll notice, if you’re paying attention, that “command” comes again and again now, and set within the context of a call to love, it ought to jog our attention and cause us to sit up and think. The command has come from a higher authority. The command has come from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It had once been a new command. John had recorded it himself in John chapter 13, where Jesus had said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give [to] you, That [you] love one another.” But now John, as an elderly man writing this letter, no longer sees it as a new command. It’s as old as the gospel itself. Many who were the recipients of this letter would be able to identify the same. They had known this command from the beginning of their Christian lives.
And I think you will notice how carefully he puts this: “I[’m] not writing … a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask”—notice—“that we love one another.” He could justifiably have said, “And I ask that you love one another.” That would be a legitimate call, an exhortation on behalf of the elderly pastor for his flock: “Come on now! I want you all to love one another.” We see how wise and how humble and how right is his approach: “This is my polite request. I am requesting that we all love each other.” Brooke says, “The Elder who has the right to command merely grounds a personal request, as between equals, on the old command laid on both alike by the Master.”
And I’m not going to go back over the territory of this morning, but let me remind you, in the words of John himself in his first letter, concerning the nature of this love to which he refers when he writes in 1 John 4:7,
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. [And] this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
His response is one of joy, his request is for love, and finally, in verse 6, he gives to them a reminder: “And this is love”—colon in English. “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you[’ve] heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”
Let me say to you again, you will notice “commanded” in verse 4; “a new command,” verse 5a; “command,” 6a; “command,” 6b. Now, this ought to help us and guide us, especially in relationship to the silly idea that to walk in love is about warm feelings and hugs. There may be warm feelings and hugs, but that’s not what he’s talking about here. This love may be experienced and engendered without those expressions—not that one would argue, necessarily, for it, but I need you to notice that when he speaks in terms of love, and when he defines it, he defines it in terms of our wills, not in terms of our emotions. He defines it in terms of our obedience, and our obedience to God’s command.
And this is the command that we’ve had from the beginning. In other words, he says, “This is old news, but it’s good news, and it’s necessary news.” He’s setting his stage for what he’s about to say in 7 and following concerning the “advance” teaching, or the call to advance, on the part of these false teachers. They were going to come amongst the people and say, “You know, you’ve got that material, but what you really need is the ‘advance’ course. And let us tell you some new material. Let us take you on from here.” And John, recognizing that he’s going to tackle that, says, “I want you to know that,” if you like, “the oldies are the goodies. Don’t think for a moment,” he says, “that love may be set in contrast to obedience.”
And, of course, in his Gospel, he’s made this perfectly clear, recording the words of Jesus—again in John 14, which is a key chapter that we need our finger in when we’re studying the Johannine Epistles. John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command”; verse 21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he[’s] the one who loves me”; 15:10, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
So let’s just note this, and this can be the last point that we note: that walking in love is directly tied to obeying God’s commands—the commands of God that are given to us in the Decalogue, the commands of God that are reinforced for us in the Scriptures when we read them. So, for example, when Paul writes in Romans 13 concerning submission to authorities, he says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” And then he enumerates this: “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
It is a mistake to see Christian freedom, Christian liberty, disengaged from God’s law. Many of us have a difficult time with this because of where we’ve been brought up and because of the kind of phraseology that we have bandied around without fully understanding what we’re saying—or, if we understand what we’re saying, not realizing the implications of what we’re saying. The Christian believer is not under law in that their salvation doesn’t depend upon their obedience to the law. But that does not relieve the Christian believer from the obligation of keeping the law. The law of God shows us our sin and sends us to Jesus as the only solution to our sin. Jesus returns us to God’s law not as the dynamic of our sanctification, not as the means of our justification, but as the framework for the work of God within our lives. So when people say, for example, “Well, of course, there’s nothing we need to obey, there’s nothing now we need to do, because we’re not under law; we’re under grace,” they’re just talking out of the top of their hats. They are declaring the fact that they have never understood the Bible.
Now, let me just give you a couple of quotes, and then we’re through. Let me read to you what has been said concerning this.
There are “those who reject the permanent validity of the Law[,] often bas[ing] their objection on the idea that Love replaces Law in the living of the Christian life.” Listen carefully, because this may be what you actually have been saying:
The Christian, they say, is ruled by the spirit of Love and so is free from the Law as a rule of life. They reject the idea of the believer being guided and taught by the Spirit to display his love for God by keeping the commandments. Instead, they say, he lives not by rules, but according to the judgments of his own heart as constrained by love alone.
Thomas Taylor challenges those who say … we must not live by any rules but simply in response to the “spiritual” promptings of the moment: “To say, we obey God by the spirit without a law or a commandment, is a mere pretence: for is [there] any obedience without a law? What can be more ridiculous than for a subject to profess obedience to his Prince, but yet will not be under any law?”
To substitute the judgments of our own hearts for the Law was, wrote Anthony Burgess in 1646, “to have the sun follow the clock.”
The Puritans spoke about the believer keeping the law from an “evangelical ability[,]” [understanding] that it[’s] possible to “keep” the law externally and fastidiously in a form of moralism. In direct contrast, they realized that God has, if you like, fashioned the believer’s heart in the shape of [the] Law so that he keeps the law not by natural endeavor but as a result of the energizing power of the Holy Spirit. He is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling NOT in order that BUT because, “it is God who works in [them] … according to his will and his [own] good purpose” ….
The Westminster Confession puts it in this way: “The Spirit of Christ [subdues] and [enables] the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires to be done” …. This is not to be bound and restricted but to live in the freedom that the psalmist declared: “I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have [obeyed] your precepts” ….
“I will walk about in freedom, for I have [obeyed] your precepts.”
So when John writes as he writes here, tying the expressions of Christian love to obedience to God’s command, he sets himself apart from the tyranny of legalism on the one hand, which seeks to make obedience the key to acceptance, and antinomianism on the other hand, which seeks to negate the demands and the commands of the instruction of the Bible, instead determining that all we need to do is just follow the dictates of our loving hearts.
Do you know how many people I have had to counsel in thirty-three years of pastoral ministry who have come to me to tell me that they are just following the dictates of love? And what they’re actually doing is violating the very commands of Scripture, thereby proving that what they’re doing has nothing to do with Christian love at all. It may have something to do with physical and earthly lust, but it cannot be the love of which John writes: “[For] this is love: that we [live] in obedience to [God’s] commands.”
Well, may God help us to this so that we might learn to walk in his truth.
Let us pray together:
Our God and our Father, we thank you that John writes so clearly and so convincingly, challenging our endeavors to wiggle out from underneath your commands and commending us for the joy that is found when, by your enabling grace, we are found on the pathway of obedient faith. We pray that you will help us to be those who enjoy the promise of Jesus: “If a man loves me, he will keep my commands, and I too will love him, and I will show myself to him.” Lord, we pray that you will come and show yourself to us, that you will make yourself known to us as we walk in the truth, as we walk in love, as we seek to distance ourselves from a harsh and judgmental legalism and from a dreadful, sloppy, and silly antinomianism and instead to fasten ourselves to Christ alone.
We thank you that all of our acceptance before your throne is on account of the completed work of Jesus, and we rejoice to come around his Table with his cry ringing in our ears: Tetelestai!, “Finished”—all paid for, record settled and complete. Grant, then, that we might enter wholeheartedly into this time of fellowship and Communion on the basis of the work of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 1 Kings 2:1–3 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 1:1–5 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Kings 11:1–8.
 John 13:34 (KJV).
 A. E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1912), 173.
 Romans 13:8–10 (NIV 1984).
 Alistair Begg, Pathway to Freedom: How God’s Laws Guide Our Lives (Chicago: Moody, 2003), 40–41.
 John 14:21, 23 (paraphrased).
 See John 19:30.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.