A common refrain in Christian circles today is that Christians should just love one another. They need to set differences aside. We are told we should love everybody. If that’s the case, then we should especially love fellow believers. It is seen as a disgrace that there are differences among Christians that keep them from loving one another as they should. Most often, this view includes the claim that doctrine can get in the way of love if we allow it to.
Such an outlook says that truth should take a backseat to the call for love. We can disagree about what is true as long as we love one another.
Second John is a small book, but its opening is particularly relevant to this discussion. In the first four verses, John mentions truth five times. Two of the five times, John combines truth with love. He writes to a church and its members (“elect lady and her children”). He says that he loves them in truth (v 1). He comments that he is not the only one who feels that way about them. Those who have known the truth do, as well (v 1). John mentions that the truth abides in us (v 2). Grace, mercy, and peace come from both the Father and Christ, “in truth and love” (v 3). Finally, he says that the members of that church are walking in truth (v 4).
The “truth” here is clearly the doctrine discussed in the earlier epistle of 1 John. This would include the truths that Jesus is the Christ and that in Him we have eternal life. These were some of the truths being denied by the false teachers who were threatening John’s readers.
Whatever else we can say about this truth, it was clearly important to John. He loves this church, but he loves them in this truth. What they believe and how they respond to that belief are critical. When he says that those who “have known the truth” share his views about this church, he is referring to mature believers who have come to obey what God has revealed (1 John 2:3-4, 13f). Love for other believers springs from such knowledge (I John 4:7-8).
Christians experience grace, mercy, and peace from God and Christ “in truth and love.” Do you notice that John places truth first? Not only does he say that truth and love go together; he further says that we cannot display mature Christian love without truth. No wonder John concludes his introduction by commenting that he is thrilled to know they are walking (living) in the truth.
What can we say about such things? Without a doubt, doctrine is important. Yes, we are to love everybody. That means we are to want what is best for them. But what is best for those who deny fundamental doctrine? What about those who deny the eternal security of the believer? Hand in hand with that, what about those who preach a gospel of works? Such messages deny the truth John speaks of. For those who have never understood these concepts, are we loving them if we do not point out their error? In some cases, these people formerly believed in the message of grace. Are we loving them by not pointing out their departure from the truth?
There is another element to love and truth here that is often not discussed. While Christians are called to love others, isn’t it obvious that there are different levels of love? God loves the world (John 3:16), and certainly believers, who are His children. But it is accurate to say that the way in which God loves some is greater than the way in which He loves others. In John 14:23, Jesus is speaking to the disciples a few hours before He is arrested. He tells them that if they love Him, they will keep His words (sound doctrine!). If they do, God will love them, and He will make His home with them. It is obvious that God already loved them. Jesus is saying that if they love Him and keep His word, God will love them at a greater level.
Surely that is what John is saying. He loves all believers. But this church is an obedient church. Its believers hold to the truth of God’s Word. They hold to sound doctrine. John has a special love for them because of that.
Many have expressed sentiments similar to John’s. When Free Grace people get together, it’s common to hear them say something like: “I have a special connection with these folks.” When people walk in the truth of sound doctrine—in the grace John speaks of in 1 John—there is a joy and an experience of God’s love that does not exist when around those who don’t walk in that truth.
Loving others is a noble goal. But truth—sound doctrine—is part of the equation. It is unloving to allow people, including Christians, to believe in false doctrine. When believers who believe and walk in sound doctrine get together, there is a greater experience of the love God wants to exist among His children.