In the second and third epistles of John we see the apostle condensing what he taught in his first epistle into bit-sized manageable pieces. Not that we can’t discern the truth from 1 John, we of course can by the power of the Holy Spirit as He reveals His Word to us. But these two epistles were written to give instructions to two beloved individuals. In them he emphasizes the necessity of truth and love and how they are tied irrevocably to our knowledge of Jesus Christ. In 2 John he warns against false teachers using doctrine. In 3 John he warns against false teachers using their ungodly behavior. It is good to compare them side-by-side to expound upon the sound doctrine of God’s holy, infallible, inerrant, inspired Word.
God, through the apostle John, ties love to truth in the opening verses of 2 John:
The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, in truth and love. 2 John 1-3
So we see truth and love bound together as a doctrine from the hand of God. You can’t have one without the other. Love without truth is a misguided monstrosity, and truth without love is a malicious misnomer. Even the graces that we receive through our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and love of God the Father are realized through the avenues of love and truth.
The Elder, to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. 3 John 1-3
Here we see that love expresses concern and desire for what is best for those who are loved. It rejoices when those who are beloved are walking in the truth; believing and obeying the Word of God. When by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we live by the light of Jesus Christ and His Word the Bible, we walk in love and truth.
John contrasts this walk of love and truth in both 2 John and 3 John. I 2 John he uses doctrine and in 3 John he contrasts sinful and godly behavior.
I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 2 John 4-8
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have born witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. 3 John 4-8
So John warns the beloved lady to obey the commandment of God to love one another by being obedient to God’s commandments. When we walk in commandment to God’s word we will reject those who are false and not receive them as if they were brethren. We can know deceivers because they will reject the truth about Jesus Christ. In contrast to this exhortation through doctrine, John applauds Gaius for walking in the truth and helping those who are committed to sharing the gospel with the lost. Gaius love for the truth motivated him to become a fellow worker for the truth. In contrast we will see that the beloved lady needed reprimanding for not distinguishing between the true and the false. We will also see John warn Gaius about one who opposed the work of the truth.
The beloved lady was being fuzzy about the truth and that was impacting her love for the church. We can see this very thing occurring today within the visible church on a massive scale so that Paul’s prophecy about the church in the end times is fulfilled right before our eyes.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanders, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying it power. And from such turn away! 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Even so, John had to give the same warning and commandment to the beloved lady in 2 John.
Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. 2 John 8-11
The beloved lady had to reject those who brought a false doctrine, any false doctrine, about Jesus Christ and not have anything to do with them. Those who do not abide in the doctrine of Jesus Christ do not have God. They are false professors. Even greeting them meant being a partaker of their evil deeds. The reward that was hers for some of her children walking in the truth was in jeopardy because she wasn’t using godly discernment when receiving and helping others who were false. Keeping this commandment would keep her walking in truth and love, and also keep her from losing her rewards for the times she was walking in truth and love. In contrast John warns Gaius about a false professor who proved himself false by his evil actions. Gaius was encouraged to reject this false professor and his evil behavior.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious word. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. 3 John 9-11
Perhaps Gaius needed this timely reminder so that he wouldn’t consider Diotrephes a genuine believer even though he was in charge of a church. Much like today, these two beloved friends of John needed his encouragement to reject false doctrine and evil behavior. They needed a reminder that the walk of faith is a walk in truth and love. False doctrine negates truth and evil behavior negates love.
John was so concerned about the beloved lady that he wanted to speak to her face to face, encourage her with truth and love, and join in rejoicing together.
Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen. 2 John 12-13
John graciously closed his epistle with a reminder of their mutual faith in the Savior, and loving fellowship with other believers. After writing about a godly man who loved the Lord Jesus Christ and so had a good testimony, John also expresses his sincere desire to see Gaius in person.
Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true. I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name. 3 John 12-4
Those who are genuine born-again believers will bear witness to that fact by their behavior. They will agree with the truth, the Bible, and live according to its commandments as they follow Jesus Christ by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. At the close of this epistle, again John encourages Gaius with their mutual faith in the Savior and the fellowship of believers. These two short but powerful epistles by the apostle John bear witness to the requisite command that we walk in truth and love. We can’t have one without the other, and both are impossible without saving faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Are you walking in love and truth through faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and belief in the gospel, or are you following the downward course of this fallen world whose destination is eternity in hell?