By Rev. M. Christopher Boyer
The tiny book of II John is the shortest in the New Testament. Only 13 verses long, it is two verses shorter than its neighbor, III John, and weighs in at 1,126 letters in the 246 words of its original Greek (III John contains 1,133 Greek letters). But despite its brevity, it addresses two great themes: love and truth.
Love is a recurring theme in the work of John. There is ancient testimony, from a writer only “three degrees” removed from Jesus, that the Epistles of John and the Gospel According to John were written by the same man: John, the son of Zebedee, one of the 12 apostles and, along with his brother James and Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ inner circle. If you’ve never read any of these works, you probably still know the most famous words of I John (“God is love”) and of John’s Gospel (John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”).
Truth was very much an issue for John as he confronted one of the first Christian heresies of Docetism. This was the teaching that Jesus was a spirit-being who only “seemed” to be a human. This, the docetists taught, was because the divine Son of God would have been “polluted” by becoming human and could not have died on the cross. But John, who had seen Jesus eat and sleep and teach and live and die, knew that this was a lie. He could not let it stand.
This book seems especially timely to me as we move deep into the election season. Political campaigns have become infamous for their tendency to play fast and loose with the truth. The campaign tool of the times and of all parties, it seems, has become “the big lie” – a falsehood repeated often enough and loudly enough that people begin to believe it. There seems to be no respect, much less love, in campaigns for either the opponent or for the electorate.
The late Dr. William L. Hendricks reflected on love and truth in his commentary on II John: “It takes both! Love without truth is sentiment only. Truth without love is unmotivated knowledge.”
My experience in life has shown me that Dr. Hendricks is right. Truth without love is not only unmotivated knowledge, it can also be cruelty. In order to be effective, some truths must be delivered with great tenderness or the recipient will crumble. That is why good teachers are gentle in correction. But love without truth permits loved ones to live in a dream world, which is equally unhealthy.
It’s a fine line to walk, the balance of truth and love. This is a truth well known by any spouse who’s ever heard those dread words, “Honey, does this outfit make my ‘x’ look too big?” I’d recommend erring on the side of love on that one, by the way.
The Rev. M. Christopher Boyer is pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood.