Theological Footnotes 14 - Truth and Love


Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.

Hello Reader,

We need both truth and love. The longer I live as a disciple of Jesus, the more I am convicted of how vital it is to hold these two things together. Many churches (and many of us) are imbalanced when it comes to truth and love. I've needed to remind myself of this double call lately and perhaps you need a reminder too. So below, I want to share a reflection on the second letter of John that I wrote several years ago.

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2 John: Whom I love in the truth

2 John is a short letter from someone known as “the elder” (v.1) Based upon tradition, style, word choice, and repeated themes, I think we can be confident that “the elder” is none other than the Apostle John. John writes to an unnamed woman who is most likely leading a church in her home. Her “children” are likely the other Christians in her small house church.

John writes to encourage her: “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth” (v.4). There is much to be praised in this congregation – people are walking in the ways of Jesus.

But there are also struggles. Some of them are walking in the truth, but not all of them. False teachers have entered into the community:

“Many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (v.7)

These false teachers thought they had brought the advanced teaching, but they had “run ahead” (v.9) and left the teaching of Christ. In their attempt to be advanced, to be ahead of the curve, they had lost the gospel. They denied that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and were leading some of the church astray. So John writes to this small church to remind them to cling to Christ – fully God and fully human – and therefore cling to their salvation. He says it clearly in verse 9, “whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

Some of the church had left the truth of the gospel - that Jesus has come in the flesh to save us. In doing so, John says that do not have God. They may have had love, but they didn’t know the true Christ. But others seemed to have abandoned love. John is compelled to restate a command they should already know by heard: “And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command, but one we have had since the beginning.bI ask that we love one another” (v.5) John wouldn’t have given this command, and the Holy Spirit would not have worked to bring it to us today if there wasn’t a reason for it.

Some in that church had abandoned the command of Jesus to love one another. They may have known the truth, but are violating one of the first commands Jesus gave – 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” (v.6) We show we love God by doing what he says, and what he says to do is love one another. So if we refuse to love one another, how can we say we love God? Some had left the truth, but others had abandoned love.

There are churches that have abandoned the truth of Jesus Christ and still claim to have love. There are also churches that hold fast to the truth, but have no love for those outside their walls.

For both sides, John points them to Jesus who came in the flesh. He tells them to continue in his teaching. John put it this way in John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”Jesus in the flesh, full of grace and truth. “Grace and truth” sounds a lot like truth and love. Jesus, who became flesh, shows us what it looks like to walk in truth and love. The story of 2 John is a church where some have left the truth and some have abandoned love, but all are pointed to Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth.

In his book, Crucial Conversations, Joseph Grenny observes that from as early as 3, 4, and 5 years old, we begin to believe the myth that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend. We are taught the myth from an early age that sometimes you don’t tell the truth if you want to keep your friends. We are told that honesty can kill friendships. If you tell him, it’ll hurt. Better to spare his feelings, let him live in the dark a little while longer. We believe this myth and carry it with us into our adult lives. However it is a myth. It’s not true.

Look at the opening of John’s letter, “The elder, to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth.” (v.1)Love should be in the truth. Love – of your family, of your friends, of yourself, of God — is deeply connected to truth. In the opening six verses of this letter, love shows up 5 times and truth 5 times. Twice they are paired together. We just looked at the one, and the other is in verse 3 – “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s son, will be with us in truth and love.” In truth and love.

Truth and love go together. John puts truth and love together, but so often we pull them apart. If we separate love from truth, we lose both. When I mentioned churches that separate truth and love, choosing one over the other, did you think of other churches? Could it be that we sometimes fall into this myth as well? 2 John holds up a mirror to us and says ‘walk in truth and love.’ And where we fail, we need to repent. We don’t need to choose between telling the truth and loving our neighbor. Yes, there are times when people use ‘honesty’ as an excuse to be hurtful. Yes, we need to be sensitive to the person we are in relationship with. But every time we feel forced to choose between truth and love in a relationship, 2 John should pop up like a stop sign. "The elder, to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth.” (v.1)

We need truth and love in order to forge the type of deep relationships needed in the body of Christ. Every time we sacrifice love for the truth or truth for the sake of love, we have a sin to confess to God.


The soil of our society is not particularly well-suited for growing deep roots of character and of Christian identity. How can we grow more rooted in Jesus in a mobile, digital culture?

All Things Hold Together

When the world seems to be fraying at the seams, we need to know that in Christ all things truly hold together. A Christian worldview is a way of humbly and confidently living out this belief.

Writing Updates

There is a lot going on this summer and some huge potential changes heading into the fall for us, so my writing time has been squeezed out by everything else. We spent two weeks on vacation in July, then I spent a week as a chaplain at a local Christian camp and we are hosting a day camp as I write this. Sometimes summer slows down, but this year everything has sped up.

I have still been working with Words of Hope this summer. I wrote an entire lenten series for next year that may get published as a stand alone volume with additional resources. The next round of edits on those devotions were completed this week, but I still have to work on the series title and description.

In addition to editing The Sinews of Scripture and continuing to work on the Body of Doctrine translation project, I have begun some rough sketches and outlines of a project on the shape and challenges of pastoral ministry. If this sounds interesting to you, let me know.

You can find me every weekday on Youtube as I share a short video on theology or discipleship. I still have plans for some longer form videos in the near future, but all of that will depend on whether these changes take place in the fall.

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Stephen C. Shaffer

Author, Pastor-Theologian


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Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.