2 John: Joy at Walking in the Truth

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on April 4, 2004

The Lord’s Day

April 4, 2004

2 John 1-4
Joy at Walking in the Truth

If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to 2nd
John. We’ve been looking for a few months at 1st John, and it’s part
of a larger study of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John.
And today we come to one of the two smallest books of the New Testament, the
other being 3rd John. These are letters, letters from the Apostle
John very possibly to the church in Ephesus where he pastored in the latter days
of his life. Imagine it. This is a church that had been founded by Paul,
pastored by Paul. Timothy had labored there. And now John, in the latter years
of his life, had been the pastor.

But this was a church that had
seen some significant difficulties. Let’s remember this is a beleaguered
church. This is a church where there has been a heart-rending,
congregation-splitting schism. There’s been a division, a split in this church,
and this split has been occasioned by certain false teachers who were denying
and calling into question certain key, central elements of the apostles’
teaching about who Jesus was. They were calling into question the Bible’s
testimony as to the divinity and humanity and Messianic lordship of Jesus
Christ. They were distorting the doctrine of the person and work of Christ.
And faithful members of that congregation had held fast to John’s teaching, to
Paul’s teaching, to the apostolic teaching, to Bible teaching–but a split had
occurred nevertheless. We’re told about the division in 1st John 2,
that a whole group had left the church.

Now perhaps you could imagine how
incredibly discouraging this would’ve been. It’s in that context that John is
writing these letters. 1st John sets out his concerns and his
treaties very clearly, deliberately, repeatedly coming back to the themes of a
true Christian believing what the Bible teaches about the person and work of
Jesus Christ; a true Christian loving the brethren in the church, tangibly
caring and showing love and esteem for the brethren in the local congregation; a
true Christian living the Bible, living the commands of God in His word. And so
there is a doctrinal emphasis; there is a relational emphasis; there is a moral
emphasis. And over and over John says, ‘This is what a Christian looks like in
the congregation of local believers. He holds to what the Bible teaches about
Jesus. He loves the brethren because they are his brothers and sisters in
Christ. And he lives the Christian life in accordance with God’s word.’ And he
gives these tests, these diagnostic tests to us that we might take stock of our
own hearts.

And then in these two small
letters he picks up on themes that he’s already introduced in 1st
John, and in a very personal and pastoral and even poignant way, he drives those
themes, those truths home. So let’s attend to God’s word here in 2nd
John. We’ll read the first four verses. Before we do, let’s look to God in
prayer, asking Him to bless this reading and hearing of His word. Let’s pray.

Lord God, Your word is truth. You do not
send Your word forth to return void. In fact, it never returns void. It always
accomplishes what You would have it accomplish. Your word is inspired. It is
breathed out from You. It is inspired, inerrant and infallible. It is
profitable for our reproof and correction and training in righteousness. It is
able to equip the Christian for every good work. But, O God, we need Your Holy
Spirit not only to understand it, but to embrace it and to want to live it and
to have the gospel power to walk in the truth. And so we pray by the Holy
Spirit that You would illumine our minds and hearts, and You would mold us into
those who long to live Your word, believing it and receiving it by faith as Your
word. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of God:

1The elder to the
chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all
who know the truth, 2for the sake of the truth which abides in us
and will be with us forever: 3Grace, mercy and peace will be with
us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth
and love. 4I was very glad to find some of your children walking
in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.” Amen.

And thus ends this reading of God’s
holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our

This congregation is
beleaguered. But in this passage John also tells us that this congregation was
beloved of God, beautiful in God’s sight, blessed by God in His mercy, and
obedient to God in some measure. And in these four brief verses John has four
words of encouragement to these Christians who are under pressure and in trial.
I want you to see them and they’re in each of the four verses. In verse 1
you’ll see John’s tender words of address to these Christians. In verse 2
you’ll see John’s reminder that Christian love is rooted in the truth, the truth
of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In verse 3 you’ll see John’s word of
blessing, his benediction on all those who embrace Jesus. And in verse 4 you’ll
see John’s gladness at the report that there are some members of this
congregation who are walking in the truth. They’ve grown in grace; they’re
living the faith, and John’s excited about that. In seeing these things we’ll
see the belovedness of this church; we’ll see the beauty of this church; we’ll
see the blessedness of this church; and we’ll see the obedience of this church
together. Let’s walk through these things as we consider these words for just a
few moments together.

I. The beleaguered church
reminded of God’s and Christian love (1). [John’s tender words of address to the
First of all, look at
verse 1, this beautiful salutation. This is John’s dear church, but it’s so
much more beautiful than that, isn’t it? “The elder to the chosen lady and her
children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the
truth.” Here is John reminding a beleaguered church of God’s love for her and
of his love for her.

Can you imagine their
circumstance? You’re in Ephesus. You are a member of a church planted by
Paul! Not John Calvin, not Martin Luther, not Charles Spurgeon, not Billy
Graham–Paul is the founding pastor of your church! You are part of a people
that have given up everything for Jesus. You’ve seen friends martyred for the
faith. They loved the Lord Jesus Christ and the Roman government hauled them
away, and you never saw them again. You’ve seen mothers and fathers sent to the
salt mines in Asia because there was a prefect somewhere there in Asia minor, a
Roman governor who thought that somehow their worship meant disloyalty to the
Roman Emperor. And off they went and there were those orphans in your church to
take care of. You’ve stood against the world for professing the name of Jesus
Christ, and in God’s mercy God has upheld you.

And then something horrible has
happened: A division has occurred in the church. People have come in saying
that they have secret teachings that even the other apostles didn’t know about,
saying that they had insights into the Holy Spirit that no one had ever had
before, and they have some truths a little bit different about Jesus than they
had ever heard. They began to teach things about Jesus which were against the
words of Jesus, which were against the words of the apostles. They led some
astray. Families were fractured. Friends were divided. And eventually the
church split. You can imagine the humiliation of this. You’re in Ephesus.
You’ve been standing as a witness to Christ in the midst of these pagans. They
thought you were strange before, but now they mock you. Now they say, “Oh, yes,
you’re new creations, aren’t you? Yes, you have the love of God and the love of
Spirit in you and you cannot even get along with one another.”

And you thought church splits
were a thing in the 20th Century. My friends, can you imagine how
depressing that would be for true Christians who had stood for truth in that
congregation to be mocked by pagans? “You can’t even get along with your own
kind. How can you be the kingdom of God on earth? How can you be new
creations of the Holy Spirit? How can you say that Jesus really makes a
difference?” Perhaps they were mocked. Can you imagine how beleaguered that
church felt? And here’s John and he says, “From the elder…” And I’d love to
expand on that for just a few moments. Can you imagine an apostle simply
identifying himself not even by his name? He just says, ‘I’m the elder. I’m
your pastor. I’m your shepherd. And I’m writing to you, dear chosen lady, and
her children whom I love in truth.’

Do you see the three words of
encouragement that John gives even in his salutation? First of all, he
describes this church as the elect, as the chosen of God. “To the chosen lady,”
“To the elect lady”–she is described as “the chosen,” as “the elect” of God.
She is beleaguered. She’s persecuted from without. Heresies are rending her
asunder from within. False teachers are troubling her. Division has occurred
in the congregation. But in God’s eyes she is the bride that He chose from
the foundation of the world
. He chose her. He sought her. He bought her.
You remember how we sing it in “The Church’s One Foundation”? “The church’s one
foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. She is the new creation by water and the
word. From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride. With His own
blood He bought her and for her life He died.” And John is saying, “That’s what
you are in God’s eyes, dear, beleaguered Christians in Ephesus and dear,
beleaguered Christians here in Jackson. That’s what you are.”

Those beautiful, feminine images
of the church–they’re all through the New Testament, aren’t they? Peter can
speak of the church in Rome as “she who dwells in Babylon.” We’ve always named
things of beauty with feminine names. And so often in our hymnody we refer to
the church as a she because she’s the bride of Christ. The book of
Revelation picks up that same language again. But she’s not only chosen; she’s
a lady. Notice she’s described as “the chosen lady and her children.” She’s
beautiful to God. She may not feel like it. The troubles of this congregation
may not lend it to think of itself as beautiful, but she is beautiful in God’s
eyes. Do you remember the rest of the words to “The Church’s One Foundation”?
“Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent
asunder, by heresies distressed; yet she on earth hath union with God the Three
in One.” You see there’s this paradox that John is pointing to. Yes, she’s
disgruntled. Yes, she’s beleaguered. Yes, she’s distressed. Yes, she’s
troubled. But she is the bride, the beautiful bride of Christ. She’s the one
that Christ chose and He delights in her. What an encouragement!

And John doesn’t stop there. He
says, ‘And I want you to know this: I love you, brothers and sisters in
Christ.’ The church is described not only as chosen, not only as a lady, but
she is described as loved by John and all true fellow believers
. “Whom I
love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth.” John is
saying, ‘I want you to know, my friends, I love you.’ He’s not just saying, ‘I
love the building that you live in.’ He’s not just saying, ‘I love the
structure of the sanctuary that you worship in.’ They probably didn’t have one,
probably met in a home somewhere or in a series of homes. He’s saying, ‘I love
the people of God. I love you. And not only that, but all true
believers love you. You may feel isolated, hated by the world, divided from
within, but I love you.’ Here’s a beleaguered church reminded of the love of
God and of mutual Christian love.

And I want to say, my friends, we
have a mutual responsibility to encourage true brethren and churches in their
stand for the truth. This is a church that had been divided not because its
people were mean-spirited and narrow-minded, but because these loving Christians
were totally committed to Jesus Christ. They had said, in the words of that
glorious spiritual sung in the offertory, “You keep the world; just give me
Jesus.” And when people came to them claiming to be Christians but wanted to
take Jesus from them, they said, ‘No, thank you. We’ll take Jesus.’ And for
that they had been divided, and for that they were humiliated, for that they
were beleaguered, for that they were suffering. John is encouraging them.

And, my friends, we need to be
encouraging one another. It’s a hard place to stand for the truth in this
world. Just a couple of years ago I wrote a short letter to the editor of a
newspaper to say a word of support for our brothers and sisters in the Southern
Baptist Convention. They had taken a strong stand on something, and, boy, were
they getting it. They were getting it from the secular media. They were getting
it from Christians. They were getting it from other denominations. And I
thought, “Well, I could at least say a word of encouragement.” I thought that
what I would get was a pile of hate mail. In fact, I only got two negative
responses. But what amazed me is I got 25 or more letters from Southern Baptist
leaders around the country just saying, “Thank you for standing with us in
this.” Now it boggled my mind. Here I was, a Presbyterian pastor in Jackson,
Mississippi in a denomination of 300,000. My heavens! There are 16 million
Southern Baptists. I didn’t think that they knew what it was to feel
beleaguered. But you know what? Those brothers and sisters did. They felt
beleaguered. And some unknown Presbyterian pastor in Jackson, Mississippi
writing a word of encouragement to them in the public press, I got letters from
heads of their departments, heads of their colleges and seminaries, pastors all
over the United States. I couldn’t believe it. Those brothers and sisters felt
encouraged by a Christian standing with them in a hard time.

And now, my friends, we have an
opportunity to stand with one another every day in a hard time and encourage one
another in the reality of the love of God for us in Christ Jesus, a love which
is for all those who rest in trust in Jesus Christ as He is offered in the
gospel. And we’ve got a mutual responsibility not only to encourage one another
in this church, but to encourage other faithful churches as they stand for the
truth of God’s word.

beleaguered church reminded that real Christian love is not indifferent to the
truth (2). Christian love is rooted in truth, the truth of the person and work
of Jesus Christ.

John doesn’t just stop by reminding
them of their belovedness; he goes on to remind them that Christian love is
rooted in the truth. Christian love is not indifferent to the truth. John
stresses that he loves them in truth. By that he doesn’t mean, ‘I truly love
you.’ He means that it is the truth which he shares with them, the truth of
God’s love in Jesus Christ which he shares with them that makes him love them.

He doesn’t love them because they’re just naturally more likeable than other
people. He doesn’t love them because they look the same as he does, or talk the
same as he does, or have the same background and past as he does. He loves them
because they share the same truth, the same faith in Jesus Christ. And notice
how he puts it in verse 2, “For the sake of the truth” I love you, because that
truth “abides in us and will be with us forever.”

You know there’s never been a
Christian who took a stand for truth that wasn’t accused of being unloving. And
John is telling these Christians, ‘Friends, I want to tell you, one reason I
love you is because we share the truth.’ Love without truth is not Christian
love, and it is precisely that shared truth of the glorious story of God’s grace
in salvation in Jesus Christ that brings us together
. And so John is saying
to these Christians who have suffered beleaguerement and discouragement because
of their love of truth…he’s saying, ‘I want you to know this: I love you because
you love the same Savior. I love you because you say you love the same word of
God. I love you because you love the same truth.’ More and more today we
Christians need to be doing that with our fellow brothers and sisters who love
the same truth. Is our Christian love for them self-consciously grounded in the
truth which abides in us? That’s how John’s love was grounded.

III. A beleaguered church
blessed conjointly with God’s benediction, along with all true believers (3).
John’s benediction on all those who embrace Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the

Then, if you look at verse 3 you
see John’s word of blessing, and it’s an interesting blessing. Most blessings
in the New Testament go like this: “Grace, mercy, and peace to you.” This one’s
a little different, isn’t it? “Grace, mercy and peace will be with us.”
Now that’s an interesting benediction. Why does John speak that way? To show
us that God’s church is blessed with God’s blessing conjointly with all other
believers. God’s church is blessed with God’s blessing along with all other
true believers in Jesus Christ. “Grace, mercy and peace be with us,”
with all those who love the truth, with all those who love and worship our
common Lord Jesus Christ in whom His truth resides.

And notice where that blessing
comes. It doesn’t come from John; it doesn’t come from the church; it comes
from whence? “From God the Father and from Jesus Christ”–that’s the only way
this blessing can be had. You see, this congregation had rejected people who
had said, ‘You can find the blessing of God apart from Jesus Christ.’ And so
you know what John turns around and does? He says, ‘Blessings on you from God
the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.’ This
beleaguered church receives God’s blessing along with all true believers. He
alone can give us blessing

IV. A beleaguered church
congratulated for growing in grace and living the truth (4). John’s gladness in
the report of the members of the congregation who were living out their faith.

And finally, in verse 4 you see
John’s gladness in the report of the members of this congregation who are living
out their faith. This beleaguered church is congratulated for growing in grace,
for living the truth.

see, for John the truth is not simply something that you profess with the mouth;
it’s something you live. The truth is not only to be professed but lived out.
Doctrinal truth in the Bible implanted in our hearts by the Spirit always leads
to an affect in our lives, and a good pastor delights to see that kind of growth
in his congregation. And John’s just pausing here after his word of greeting,
after his word of blessing, now to say, ‘I just want to tell you how it
encourages me that you’re walking in the faith. You’re growing in grace. I see
the fruit of the Spirit. It makes his heart glad that there are people in this
congregation growing in the faith, living in the truth, walking in the truth.

But you know there’s a very poignant word in verse 4, isn’t
there? It’s the word some. “I was very glad to find some of
your children walking in truth.” You know, every pastor wants to find all
of God’s children walking in the truth. And the heart of
every true pastor aches if he can only say that some of God’s children are
walking in the truth. You see, by that very mention John is showing us that we
need to be congregationally burdened for others to walk in the truth. We need
to be praying for one another to walk in the truth. We need to be encouraging
one another to walk in the truth. We need to be accountable to one another to
walk in the truth. That’s why we need to be a family! Because we care that
everybody walks in the truth. We want, to borrow a phrase, no Christian left
behind. Every member walking in the truth. We should be burdened about a
mutual walking in the truth, that we might give joy to that great elder brother,
our Savior, Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

Lord and our God, bless Your word to our spiritual nourishment that we might
love the brethren, love the truth, and walk in it. We ask this in Jesus’ name.

As we prepare to come to the
Lord’s Table, let’s acknowledge God’s blessings as we stand and sing the

The Lord’s Supper

As we
come to the Lord’s Table let us attend to the words of institution spoken by our
Lord and given to the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 11:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered
to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My
body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ 25In the same
way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in
My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ 26For
as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death
until He comes. 27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup
of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of
the Lord. 28But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to
eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For he who eats and drinks,
eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.”
Amen. This is God’s word.

This Supper, the Lord’s Supper, is
a sacrament. A sacrament is a covenant sign. It serves to confirm God’s
promise to us and strengthen our faith in that promise. It’s appointed by God
as a means of grace. A means of grace means one of the
principle, God-appointed ways whereby He grows us up in Christ.
And so in the Lord’s Supper we feed on Christ by faith. That means that
the Lord’s Table is for those who are trusting in Jesus Christ. On behalf of
the Session I would invite to this Table, the Lord’s Table today, all those who
trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation as He is offered in the gospel
and who have joined themselves to the body of Christ, that is, His church. If
you are not a believer in Christ who has identified yourself with His church, I
would warn you: Don’t come to the Table. Rather, wait, think, pray, repent and
believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then come again and sup with us
as friends, brothers, and sisters in our common Lord Jesus Christ. Let us set
apart these common elements to a holy use with prayer. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the provision, the rich
provision of Jesus Christ for salvation. And we thank You for this glorious
covenant sign which is designed as a means of grace to strengthen our faith and
our assurance of your gospel promises. We acknowledge, O God, the glory of who
You are and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And as we partake of these
common elements, we ask that You would use them by Your Spirit as tangible signs
and seals of the benefits held out to us in Christ, so that our faith and
assurance is strengthened, and, O God, that we truly commune with Christ in
them. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Since the Lord’s Supper is for
professing believers in our Lord, it is appropriate that we confess our faith
together. Let us do so using the Apostles Creed. Christian, what do you

“I believe in God, the
Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only
Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He
descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended
into heavenand sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He
shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the
holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the
resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

Let us also recite
together the Ten Commandments. You’ll find a version of them on the back panel
of the bulletin. By reciting the Law directly adjacent to this gospel ordinance
of the Lord’s Supper, we are both reminded of our need for the forgiveness of
sins and the rich provision we have in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins,
but we are also reminded of that newness of life which God has begotten in us
that we might walk in it. Let us say then the Ten Commandments together.

1 You shall have
no other gods before Me. 2 You shall not make for yourself an idol.
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. 4
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 5 Honor your father and your
mother. 6 You shall not murder. 7 You shall not commit adultery.
8 You shall not steal. 9 You shall not bear false witness against
your neighbor. 10 You shall not covet.”

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