15 February 2011

Love and Truth: Together Forever

by Phil Johnson

The following blogpost is an excerpt adapted from an article I contributed to the current issue of Bible Study Magazine, the hard-copy periodical put out by Logos Bible Software. The full article contains an exposition of 2 John. This is just a teaser. Get the magazine.

t's not easy, especially nowadays, to keep love and truth together in a balanced way.

Our culture force-feeds us a postmodern notion of love. Tolerance, diversity, and broad-mindedness are its defining features.

Meanwhile, truth is generally held in high suspicion, if not treated with outright contempt. After all, if the very essence of love is to accept all points of view, how could it possibly be virtuous to believe that one idea is true to the exclusion of all others? Indeed, many in our culture regard emphatic truth-claims as inherently unloving. As a result, truth is regularly sacrificed in the name of love.

As Christians, we need to understand love from a biblical perspective. Authentic love "rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love and truth are perfectly symbiotic, and each virtue is essential to the other. Love without truth has no character. Truth without love has no power.

In fact, when radically separated from one another, both virtues cease to be anything more than mere pretense. Love deprived of truth quickly deteriorates into sinful self-love. Truth divorced from love always breeds sanctimonious self-righteousness.

Nowhere in Scripture is the essential connection between these two cardinal virtues more clearly highlighted than in 2 John. Love and truth are the key words in the salutation of that brief 13-verse epistle, and the central theme throughout is the unbreakable interdependence between these two essential qualities of Christlikeness.

John is the perfect apostle to write on this theme. Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James "Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17)—doubtless because of their fiery zeal for the truth. At first, their passion was not always tempered with love, and we see a glimpse of that in Luke 9:54, when they wanted to call down fire from heaven upon a village of Samaritans who had rebuffed Christ.

In later years, however, John distinguished himself as the Apostle of Love, specially highlighting the theme of love in his gospel and in all three of his epistles.

And yet, as we see in all his epistles, he never lost his zeal for the truth. He did, however, learn to keep it wedded to a proper, Christlike love. And in his short second epistle, where he has some hard things to say in defense of the truth, he is careful to give first place to love. Before getting into the main issue (how to deal with supposed Christian teachers who deny essential truth) he accents once more the supreme importance of obedience to Jesus' command "that we love one another" (v. 5; cf. John 13:34-35).

Christians today desperately need to learn how to ground love properly in the truth. We must not succumb to pressure from our culture to spurn or bury the truth of Scripture under a false and foggy notion of love.

Phil's signature


James Kubecki said...

I always cringe when I hear or see the word "balance" used to describe grace (or love) and truth, because so many Christians mean that to say "less truth, more love," like balancing scales. They forget that you can be "balanced" by having only a minimal amount of both - and this is not, of course, our biblical model. Christ was full of grace and truth, as the Son of Thunder reminds us himself.

Despite cringing initially on the word "balance," I still found this article excerpt to be a wise and biblical perspective on the issue. Thanks for a (wait for it...) balanced discussion.

James S said...

Wow. You had me stopping and clicking the 5 stars after 3 paragraphs. Exactly how I see things too.

The 'Love of the Truth' is a gift of God, something to be cherished and God to be praised for. It doesn't emanate from man.

Just the same, 'Godly Love' is a gift. Putting the two together may take a lifetime to work out, but it's well worth the trouble.
My prayer is that all we christians receive them both, and that we learn to balance them much quicker than a full lifetime.

Robert said...

This is a good reason that we also need to ensure that the love we need to have is not just wrapped up in emotions, but is the love of will and work. We have to exert the will that God provides to stay grounded in truth, and then act out of love for both our brethren in Christ and the lost. And when we look at people and the world from that perspective (biblical because the Bible is the truth), then we are equipped to love people in the correct manner.

FX Turk said...

I'm expanding my blogging empire (because it's winning me friends and making me rich), and this weekend I was talking to some of my new minions about a few things, this being one of them.

It seems to me that we Christians can't get this right in spite of the Bible's constant exortations to us about the mix here.

The problem is not truth or love: it is not either doctrine or people. It is that we should be a people for the sake of doctrine, and we ought to cling to our doctrine for the sake of people. A lot of folks will absolutely refuse one of those two statements, but those people are simply misguided.

We should be a people for the sake of doctrine means that there is something real in the whole of creation which we undersatnd and which sets us apart. We live for the sake of that thing, which can be described -- it is something, as John the Apostle says, "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands." Because there is something real which God (who is also real and not an ideal or a philosophical construct) has done, we are made into something we were not before. "Doctrine" in this case means that we can tell you what that is specifically and not merely hope our enthusiasm will rub off on you.

We ought to cling to our doctrine for the sake of people means that we don't do these things merely because it's the way the game is played -- that we can or will now obey the rules. It doesn't just mean that we now know the rules better. It means we stand there with Paul and say, "my greatest wish and my prayer to God is for these lost people (in his case: the Jews) to be saved." Somehow what we know about God has to be what we want to give people because it will save them from harm.

It's not just doctrine; it's not just people. It is both, and when we get that right we will get the Gospel declared and actually make disciples.

Chris Russell said...

I think that far too often people look at the word love and immediately think that they have to be nice. Love does not equal nice. My parents loved me and spanked me when I needed it. Not because they did not love but just the opposite. They corrected me to ensure that I would grow into a stronger person.

It seems to me that some Christians have taken the love thing and then decided that we can't correct or offend anyone. This is the opposite of love. Love is that thing that reaches out to hit someone upside the head to keep them from falling off a cliff.

Dave said...

"We ought to cling to our doctrine for the sake of people."

I agree and it is the living it out that makes a difference.

donsands said...

Excellent word and lesson.

John was at the cross, and saw His Lord crucified. He heard His Savior's voice as he was in excruciating pain. I wonder if John looked up at Jesus, and thought this is my Lord and my God, and my friend laying down His life for the sins of the world?

Dave said...

Renegade, I would often cite that argument as well. However, it can easily be abused and become a hindrance if used to excuse an unloving attitude, rudeness or pride.

Tom Chantry said...

My pastor once said this: "The person who loves you the most is the one who tells you the most truth." I wish I could claim that as my own.

(Yes, I'm a pastor now, and I've had at least a dozen or so pastors in the course of my life, but when I say "my pastor" I always mean the same guy - mainly because he said stuff like the above.)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Russell said...

Dave, great catch on that. People can always take things too far and I didn't even think about clarifying that.

Tom said...

So how are the guys at Pyro incorporating this?

Wamalo said...

Phil this is timely in my life so thanks.

In relation to Christ and the Christian walk, the other concept I have been wrestling with lately is "acceptance". I've often heard that Jesus loved and accepted everyone and never rejected anyone.

It seems that the way it is used today simply muddies the water. That the concepts of love and acceptance are often conflated.

If it's simply about acceptance then why does Jesus bring every one who comes to him to a crossroads? I'm thinking about the rich young ruler in particular. Surely if you accept someone there should be no need to present the truth, the gospel?

Is it a concept that requires a quiver full of caveats?

The other concept banded about is "God loves you unconditionally?" I can think of at least one condition - the price paid by Christ. Is this because we have divorced God's love from the truth of his justice?

FX Turk said...

Tom (not Chantry):

As we all are, TeamPyro are human being and works of God in progress. Thanks for your prayers and concerns in this matter.

Tom said...


In other words, "What elephant?"

JackW said...

From my perspective, Team Pyro does a better job of incorporating these principles than the no profile Tom, Dick and Harry’s that comment here.

Halcyon said...


Looks like someone wants to dance...again. (I swear they follow you like a plague of flies. Maybe you should change your deodorant.)

Tom Chantry said...

How to properly merge truth and lovingness in four easy steps:

1. Hang out in a TeamPyro comment thread.

2. Wait for Frank Turk to comment.

3. Pick up your You-Aren't-Loving-Enough Cudgel®.

4. Bash Frank over the head repeatedly.

I mean, c'mon, people! I've disagreed with Frank at times, and even been fairly irritated with him once or twice, but I can't imagine what this is accomplishing. Frank said this: As we all are, TeamPyro are human being and works of God in progress. Thanks for your prayers and concerns in this matter. - and there is fault to find in this? Is it not just possible that there is a bit of a predisposition to find fault here? Does he need to testify that he loves puppies and kittens, too?

Robert said...

Tom (not Chantry),

I could point you to any number of dialogues that have carried on in the comment streams here at Pyro, but you don't seem like you are looking for an honest answer. Instead, I will plead with you to read Ephesians 4:29 and meditate on it before coming back and commenting again. Are your words good for edification according to the need of the moment? Are you giving grace to those who hear? If you have a problem with a post or comment, that would be the moment with the need and any of the people here can answer accordingly at that time. But what you are doing does not seem to serve any good purpose.

Robert said...

Tom Chantry,

I think to satisfy many of his critics, Frank (or for that matter, any of the Pyros) would have to create a blog and give them access to make the posts. Of course, he would either have to give up his integrity to let many of the posts stand with his endorsement/approval or he would have a lot of editing to do before putting them out for public consumption.

Halcyon said...

Tom Chantry:

"Does he need to testify that he loves puppies and kittens, too?"

Yeah, seriously.

Although...that would be a really funny disclaimer for him to make before he makes a comment. "Before I begin, I just want to testify...."

Rachael Starke said...

Phil's post : Frank's comment on Phil's post


Greek NT : ESV

IOW, at first glance, this post seemed like it required more intense thought than my worn-out brain is capable of at this point. But I found Frank's comment and thought "Wow. That's it!" Then I went back and read Phil's post. And it wasn't nearly as tough going as I thought.

There are a few of us here who might well be known as Sons (or, ahem, Daughters) of Thunder. I'd never noticed that trajectory before - from fire and brimstone, to love, without losing the truth, by focussing on the source of truth - the Lord Jesus.

All of sudden I'm wondering why there's so much argument about how hard it is to balance. Thanks for a great insight.

FX Turk said...

Frank Turk is a menace and must be stopped.

FX Turk said...


[comment censored to prevent bad things from happening]

Anonymous said...

How to properly merge truth and lovingness in one easy step:

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

And in case anyone was wondering, I'm not Tom, either!

Karen Butler

Rachael Starke said...

"[comment censored to prevent bad things from happening]"

Well if it works, that'd be a first. ;)

Anonymous said...

All this talk of "Sons(and daughters, yes Rachael!) of Thunder"...how can I not comment? Anyways, beautiful post, Phil. Indeed, you see love and truth wedded together all throughout the Scriptures; I even noticed it today in reading through Proverbs 16("By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil." - Proverbs 16:6)

Because of John's passionate committment to the truth and fierce exhortations to love, 1 John(And 2 John...and 3rd John...and John...), I simply delight in reading these parts of the Word. John is so aware that to be abiding in the truth of Christ(including His great love for us) drives us to a greater love of our own. How can we help but love? And indeed, without knowing(and desiring to know!) more about our faith in our Lord and God Jesus Christ, our love will be a cold purposeless self-gratifying love. May it never be!

Thanks for the most encouraging words Phil - you almost convince me to buy this issue of the magazine just for this article. I wonder if they ship to the UK..

Anonymous said...

"How can we help but love? And indeed, without knowing(and desiring to know!) more about our faith in our Lord and God Jesus Christ, our love will be a cold purposeless self-gratifying love. May it never be!"

Amen, sonofthunder, may it never be!

And I would refine your comment a teensy bit, and say that unless we know not just more about our faith in Jesus, but the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus, himself, then our love will indeed be a cold one.

I have been sobered by this thought since learning of AW Tozer's coldness in family relationships @Challies, and I think that unless that love translates horizontally it is just that: self-gratifying.

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—-that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Phillipians 3:8-10)

Pressing on(because Christ has made me His own,
Karen Butler

Anonymous said...

Well, that comment reads a little icky, the horizontal translation just does not translate. I was tired when I posted.

This is more what I meant:

"Because until we know we have worshiped our God in Spirit and Truth, and then gone out from that Throne room, and Mary and Martha are no longer a dichotomy, but a startlingly beautiful creature whose one resolve is to make the ones the Master has commanded us to love the happiest people in the word, perhaps we should just be very still before the Lord. Let us cry out before Him to make the inward and the outward, the public and the private, not divided, but entirely of a whole."

From what I wrote at
Challies, and am putting into a page, "What Walking in the Spirit Look Like."

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect,
Karen Butler