Biblical Love Is All You Need
In his little commentary on 2 John, NT Wright says, “I was going to quote a Beatles song, but then I remembered that you have to pay a lot of money even to quote a single line. But the song is well enough known, declaring that the only thing one might need is love. It’s ironic, of course, that you have to pay through the nose to quote a song whose whole message is that love matters and money doesn't.” When John Lennon wrote the word “love” I think he had something different in mind than John the elder. Love in modern Western culture has evolved to stand as a synonym for tolerance, lust, or nostalgia. The Bible speaks of love in a different way.
In 2 John love is married to truth. Last week we saw that Jesus Christ is the truth and were encouraged to walk in truth and watch for lies. This week we’re going to explore the other side of the coin: love. Keeping in mind that truth and love cannot be separated. Truth without love is cold and lends to legalism. Love without truth is weak and lends to lawlessness. Truth and love together, well, that’s something worth considering.
The Creator of Love
If biblical love isn’t tolerance, lust, or nostalgia, then what is it? John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers that question not with a “what,” but with a “who.” Look at the truth that is packed in John’s greeting in verse 3. He says, [g[race, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. Love comes from God. This isn’t a new idea for John. He’s the one who famously declared, [f]or God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16). God loves us by showing grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. God’s love is grace because we’re offered eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we repent of our sins and transfer our trust to the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved.
God’s loves us by showing us mercy. God is merciful to us in the gospel. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. We deserve the wrath of God in a place called hell because we have sinned against the Holy Father. But he offers mercy in the good news, if we believe then Christ was pierced for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities. As we sing, “On the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied, for every sin on him was laid, here in the death of Christ I live.” Because God loves, he shows mercy.
John also says that because God loves us, there’s peace. Colossians 1.20 says that Christ made peace by the blood of his cross. We were at war with God because of our sinful rebellion. But Jesus righteous life and our sinful lives can be exchanged by faith. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved (Rom 10.9). Through repentance and faith, the shalom that was lost in the fall is restored between the creator and his image bearers. God offers grace, mercy, and peace through the gospel and it’s all because of God’s love. God is the creator of love and demonstrated the sacrificial nature of true love in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Command to Love
Then we notice something fishy. Because God is the creator of love, we’re commanded to love. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another (vs. 5). But how can we be commanded to love? Isn’t love something that you fall into? Isn’t love a feeling of free will that can’t be controlled? Turn to John 13. We need to consider 2 elements of the command: (1) that it’s from the beginning, and (2) love one another.
When John says they’ve had the command from the beginning, he’s referring to John 13.34-35. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. The command to love one another isn’t new; the Law demanded that God’s people love their neighbor as themselves (Lev 19.18). What was new was that we’re now to love one another just as Christ has loved us. Jesus’ service of others and his sacrificial death are the paradigm by which we are to measure genuine love. Love isn’t a good feeling. It’s not tolerance of whatever people think and do. Love isn’t sexual lust. Love is sacrifice for others.
That’s what it means in verse 6 when it says, [a]nd this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. Our love for God is revealed in our obedience to his commands, first and foremost, Christ’s command to love others sacrificially. That’s why it’s also loving to watch out for those who preach or practice disobedience. Would I be a loving father if I allowed Sophia to play in the street unsupervised, or if I allowed the boys to watch whatever they wanted on TV unfiltered? Would we be loving pastors if we allowed false teachers a platform, or if we didn’t confront people in their sin? Is it loving to lead you to believe that God doesn’t care about sin?
If all that’s true, then love can be commanded. Maybe a feeling can’t be commanded. Maybe lust can’t be drummed up on command. But if Christian love means self-sacrifice in the pattern of the gospel of Christ, then it makes sense that God commands it. God created love and he has every right to command it of his creatures. Because we have been sacrificially loved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are commanded now to sacrificially love each other.
The Community of Love
When God’s people obey his command in response to his grace, mercy, and peace, the church is a community of love. In verse 1 John opens the epistle by reminding this church that he loves them. John didn’t just mandate Christian love from his parishioners; he modeled Christian love for them. And this isn’t just for pastors, but also all who know the truth. Every true Christian will sacrificially love others. And when we fail to love others, we’re again shown grace, mercy, and peace through the gospel of Christ, which spurs us on to renew our love for one another.
I love the way this letter ends because John doesn’t just talk about love in the abstract. You can tell that John loved these people. He says, [t]hough I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete (vs. 12). Christian community is lived in flesh and blood relationships. John wants to be with them; a letter isn’t good enough. He wants to talk face to face. Im not an expert in Greek, but I do know a little Greek…her name is Cia Owens. The Greek phrase here in verse 12 is actually στόμα πρὸς στόμα, which is literally translated “mouth to mouth.” When I drop my boys off at school I ask them to give me a hug and a kiss, but they’re getting “too cool” to give dad a kiss in front of their friends now. That’s what John is saying. That’s the love he has for his church family. It’s a face-to-face love.
Let me encourage you this morning to take the initiative to spend time with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Facebook and texting are helpful tools, but John would rather not use paper and ink. Instead he wants to talk face to face so that his joy may be complete. Invite someone over for dinner here at church that you don’t know too well. If you haven’t considered joining a flock, let me encourage you, there is no better way to get to know brothers and sisters here than our home Bible studies. It’s our most comfortable setting for community by 100 miles. Invite someone to coffee or arrange a play date with your kids. Take one of the teenagers out for a burrito and get to know them. The Bible says that if you do so, your joy will be complete.
I know what you’re thinking, “well no one’s asked me out. Why do I have to take the initiative?” Because Jesus took the initiative when he loved you. God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Let’s sacrifice our time for one another and complete our joy here at CCC!
Christian love means self-sacrifice in the pattern of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is the creator of love who commands us to love, which creates a community of love. Remember love isn’t tolerance, lust, or nostalgia. Love means self-sacrifice. Love is rooted in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. When we recognize and accept that love from God, when we obey his command to love one another, when we cultivate a community of love in the church through self-sacrifice, when our definition of love is shaped by the cross and not the playboy bunny, then and only then can we truly say, “Love is all you need.”