Abiding Truth

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 14 Dec 2012


“For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever” (2 John 2).

The second inspired epistle of John is the shortest book in the New Testament. We know very little about its background. And its background contributes very little to the understanding of the letter. But from the content of the letter, we know that one of the purposes of this letter must be to warn against an early heresy known as Docetism. John specifically refers to the Docetists in verse 7—

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

Docetism insists that Christ only appeared to be human and so there was no real incarnation. The person who suffered and died on the cross is a phantom, not the God-Man. We know historically, that Docetism began to appear in the church towards the end of the 1st Century. If this is correct, then this letter would have been written towards the end of the first century when John was already a very aged man.

Who is this letter written to? It is written to “the elect lady and her children” (v. 1). But who is this ‘elect lady’?

Some believe that she was an influential woman in the early church whose identity had to be concealed. I am not sure about that. I think the alternate view that John is referring to the church or more specifically to a particular congregation receiving the letter is probably correct.

Firstly, the church is often referred to as a woman or bride in the Scriptures (Eph 5:25; 2 Cor 11:2).

Secondly, notice that John uses mostly the 2nd person singular pronouns at the beginning of the letter, but he switches to the 2nd person plural from verse 6 onwards. In verse 1, he speaks of ‘her’; in verse 4, ‘thy’ and in verse 5, ‘thee.’ But from verse 6 onwards it is the plural ‘you’ and ‘ye’, except the last verse where he switches back to the singular. This contrasts sharply with his third letter, where John uses the singular pronoun consistently throughout the letter.

Of course, it is possible that John is at points addressing the woman and at points addressing the whole family. But I think it is much more likely that he is simply speaking to the church throughout. The church can be spoken of as singular and plural at the same time.

And it would make sense for John to address the Church as the Elect Lady for the church was suffering persecution at the time. Were the letter intercepted somehow, it would appear to be a private letter addressed to a particular lady; and the existence of a congregation worshipping together in the vicinity would not be exposed.

We have little doubt, therefore, that the ‘elect lady’ refers to a local congregation of the church of Christ. Her children would refer to the members in the church. And likewise her ‘elect sister’ mentioned in verse 13 would refer to the congregation that John was ministering in at that time.

But now, we are continuing in our series on the great and precious promises in the Word of God. There is only one statement of promise in this letter. It is a promise, I believe, that should bring comfort to everyone who loves their alma mater, the elect lady, the church of Christ, even the pillar and ground of truth. I am referring to the promise of abiding truth in verse 2 which reads—

      For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.

Let’s consider this promise under two heads. First, let’s consider what exactly is this promise? And secondly, how should we respond to this promise?

1. What is the Promise?

John says: “For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.

The promise, you will realise, is that the truth which dwells in us will be with us forever. Of course, the truth must here refer to the truth of God or the truth surrounding the gospel.

John is saying that as soon as the truth enters into our heart, it takes permanent residence and will never leave, nor can ever be evicted for any reason. Spurgeon puts it beautifully when he says:

Once let the truth of God obtain an entrance into the human heart and subdue the whole man unto itself, no power human or infernal can dislodge it. We entertain it not as a guest but as the master of the house—this is a Christian necessity, he is no Christian who doth not thus believe.

Now, this is a rather strong statement. Spurgeon is saying that all true believers will believe this promise to be true—that the truth of God will abide in them forever.

But why? The answer is really quite simple, for remember that the truth of God is never learned in the same way as the facts of this world. Remember that we are by nature dead in trespasses and sin; and spiritual things can only understood by those who are spiritually alive. The apostle Paul says:

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they [i.e. spiritual things] are spiritually discerned.”

So we can grasp history, geography, mathematics and science by nature because the Fall did not destroy our capacity to think and to reason. So we can even grasp the most complex concepts such super-string theory and quantum physics. But in the case of spiritual things it is different. The natural mind cannot sufficiently apprehend the truth.

The only way that the truth can be discerned is if the Holy Spirit first quickens our heart. But as soon as that is done, the heart, which is now spiritually alive, responds to the truth and begins to be transformed by it. Truth, in other words, takes over our heart. He is no longer a guest in our heart. He becomes, if you like, a master steward in the house who has taken up permanent residency and appointed the management of everything in our heart. We don’t grow tired of Him or to dislike any aspect of Him. We don’t tire of having Him to tell us His story or to give us advice.

When He first comes to reside in our heart, He tells us of how we are sinners and deserve God’s wrath and curse. He continues to tell us the same. We do not rebuke Him because we know in our heart that we are still falling short of God’s glory, and we need to be humbled that we may be shut up to Christ.

Truth told us that Christ, the Son of God came for sinners and will not cast away any who go to Him in contrition and sincerity. Truth continues to tell us the same, but we never tire of hearing Him, for His voice sweetened by the Spirit of Christ is our comfort and hope.

Truth teaches us the will of God and the way of the Lord. He reminds us often, but we tire not of His reminders for we know that except we take heed to His words, our old man will lead us back to the ways of pain and sorrows. So we gladly let the truth stay and to speak. Indeed, we gladly submit to the truth as we submit to our Lord and Master.


 
All other information remains as guests in our heart. They can be evicted. They can come and go. The can be forgotten or forsaken. But the most vital aspects of the truth of God will always remain with us. They cannot leave us, and we cannot forget about them without ceasing to be believers. And did not the Lord Jesus say concerning His sheep and lambs:

“… they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.”

Thus, one who is not truly a disciple of Christ will fall away or begin to reject the truth or deny the truth. On the other hand, the child of God can take hold of this promise that the truth will abide with us forever. We may grow old and become senile; we may be persecuted for the truth; or someone may attempt to brainwash us, but nothing shall dislodge the truth from our heart. He has become too much an important part of our heart.

2. How should we Respond?

First, let us rejoice in the promise, for as Spurgeon remarks—

What a thousand mercies are wrapped up in the assurance that the truth will be with us for ever; will be our living support, our dying comfort, our rising song, our eternal glory; this is Christian privilege, without it our faith were little worth.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes worry that I may lose my memory and mental capacity one day. How frightening and frustrating that will be! But thank God that we can take comfort in the fact that whatever happens, the truth will remain in us.

Secondly, let us love those who have the truth. John speaks of his love for the elect lady on account of the truth abiding in him and in her. Therefore let us learn to exercise love where ever the truth may be found. Let us seek not to focus on differences, but on the truth. Let us seek to love those who have the truth in their heart even if on some of the more minor areas we may differ. Of course, we must not allow the excuse of love to silence the voice of truth—whether in our conscience or in our lips. Remember that love rejoices in the truth. So part of loving is to correct falsehood. But let us begin by recognising those who have the truth wherever truth is found, and thank God for them!

Thirdly, let us spread the truth. If truth has made our life truly abundant and meaningful by taking up residence in our heart, then shall we not seek to share the truth? Shall we not do so even among those who strongly oppose the truth for we need not fear that truth may be dislodged as we interact with the heretic.

Conclusion

For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us forever.

May the Lord grant us a firm conviction that this promise is true. But most of all, may we experience the reality that is promised so that we are day by day transformed by the renewing of our mind through the application of the truth in our hearts and lives by the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

—JJ Lim