August 2, 2016

Love in the Truth: [Cooperation & Separation]

Dr. Rick Flanders
Churches and their leaders ought to be interested in what the Bible says about Christian cooperation.  There is a “one-another” aspect of the Christian life that must be lived.  Believers in Jesus Christ are to associate themselves in local churches for the fulfilling of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-21, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21-23, Acts 1:8), and also some facets of Gospel work are actually done best with churches working together.  This becomes especially apparent in times of revival, when God’s people are operating on God’s program.  But when preachers and churches try to do things together, they face what can seem to be complicated ethical issues.  Some cooperation even among Christians can open us to bad influences or the unintentional implied approval of wrong things.  It is vital that Christian leaders know and follow Biblical principles of spiritual cooperation and separation. 

There are many New Testament passages that address the subject of dividing light from darkness (Genesis 1:4), and knowing with confidence when believers must decline an opportunity to work with others, and when we must say, “Yes” (such as Matthew 7:15-20, Romans 16:17-20, Second Corinthians 6:14-18, Ephesians 5:7-12, Titus 3:10-11, and Jude3-4).  But the clearest collection of teachings related to the subject in one chapter is found in the Second Epistle of John.  This little letter was written by the Apostle John in his final years on earth to a dear Christian lady who had trouble discerning when it is appropriate to help and encourage a certain ministry, and when it isn’t.  Let us read it again, and notice five principles that show the servant of God how to love the brethren while staying loyal to the truth.

1.      The truth may be known (verses 1 and 2).One of the great problems of our time is that the very existence of knowable truth is disputed. Every opinion of philosophy, religion, or politics is weighed as an unverifiable proposal, and there is no room in many minds for absolute truth.  This flawed approach to truth has even influenced the minds of Christians.  We must be reminded repeatedly it is wrong.  There is such a thing as truth, and the truth can be known.

In his second epistle included in the canon of scripture, the Apostle John identifies himself simply as “the elder” (the old man) because he was the only one of the twelve apostles still alive.  The ones to whom the letter is addressed are called “the elect lady and her children,” whom the Apostle is said to “love in the truth” (verse one).  This phrase, “love in the truth,” sums up what he is about to say.  It is stated in the first verse that Christians are “they that have known the truth” and in the second verse that the truth “dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.” It is a distinctive Christian doctrine that God has revealed absolute truth to man in the Holy Scriptures.  The Apostle Paul tells us in his First Epistle to the Corinthians that vital truths which do not come to us through observation or tradition or philosophy (“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”) have been revealed to man by God’s Spirit through the verbal inspiration of the Bible (“But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit,…not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual”—First Corinthians 2:7-13).  Jesus said it plainly in a prayer to the Father: “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).  Contrary to popular philosophy, absolute truth can be positively known.  Every idea is not purely a matter of opinion.  Some doctrines have divine authority.  The First Epistle of John emphasizes this fact (see chapter 1, verses 1-3; chapter 4, verses 1 through 6; and chapter 5, verses 13, 19, and 20).  We have the truth and always will, and we must choose to believe it, stand by it, and teach it!  By the illumination of the Spirit, divinely-inspired scripture gives us the basis of confidence in certain facts that we can affirm to be true, without a doubt.

2.      Truth and love go together (verse 3).  The salutation of the epistle emphasizes the balance and relationship between “truth and love.”  Followers of Jesus must be committed to both truth and love.  The temptation to hold to one and forget about the other will lead us astray.  Jesus did teach us, “Love one another; as I have loved you …By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).  I am to love every other true believer in Jesus Christ, even though problems arise when brethren (people we are commanded to love) veer into error in their teaching or practice. Shall we stop loving them, or just ignore the ways in which they have strayed?  This dilemma is examined and resolved in many passages of the New Testament, such as Romans 14 (where we are told to “receive” those who are “in the faith” but “weak,” while avoiding the “doubtful disputations” that can arise when you try to love an erring brother).  Second Thessalonians 3 commands us to “have no company” with a Christian whose practices are “disorderly” (read again verses 11 through 16), but warns us not to regard the erring brother “as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”  We must have discernment to maintain the balance between truth and love in fellowship with others.  But our Lord calls upon us to have that discernment.  We will not be excused from loving the brethren at the Judgment Seat because we have been exceptionally “separated” from what’s wrong. It is easier to decide that we will just love, and forget about the truth, or just stand for the truth and forget about loving the brethren, but we have the duty to love, as well as the duty to stand.  Remember what Jesus said to the Christians at Ephesus.

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.  Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”

(Revelation 2:2-4)

Followers of Jesus must have the wisdom and the consecration to maintain the balance of love and truth.  We do not have the option of picking one or the other, although some churches, some Christian families, and some preachers seem to have done that very thing.  There are “love” churches which teach very little truth, and there are “truth” churches which practice very little love.  Such churches, as well as the preachers who make them the way they are, and the dysfunctional families they produce, do not correctly represent true God.  He presents Himself as “gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon children’s children” (Exodus 34:6-7).  He is balanced between mercy and truth (remember Psalms 25:10, 57:3, 85:10, 86:15, 89:14, 98:3, 100:5, and 115:1) and Jesus is “full of grace and truth.”  When we fail to reflect that balance we distort the image of God.  God’s uncompromising truth demanded that justice be executed upon the sins of mankind, but His love sent His Son to take our punishment.  The balance of truth and love in God was the reason for Calvary!  Truth without love is not really God’s truth, and love without truth is really not God’s love.  Neither the “come as you are and leave as you were” ministries nor the cold-hearted ministries proud of their high standards meet the expectations of their Lord.  Christian love and Christian truth go together.

3.      Truth must be lived as well as believed (verse 4).  The Apostle rejoiced to find the lady’s children “walking in truth.”  This is a phrase he uses again in his third epistle (verses 3 and 4), and it teaches us that truth is not only something we believe and teach; it is something we live.  In making decisions about whether or not to do something, the servant of Christ should ask, “What will I be saying by what I will be doing?”  Now having anything at all to do with somebody else, or showing any regard or appreciation for a ministry, does not imply to sensible people that I endorse everything they do or think.  What grown-up thinks that it does?  But there are things I can do that do indicate that I approve of certain wrong things in another person’s life or preaching.  Ephesians 5:11 says that the children of light should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”  Having anything to do with an erring brother does not necessarily involve having fellowship with their sinful works, but there are clearly ways a Christian’s actions can imply approval of wrong doctrine or practice.  We must walk in truth and avoid saying the wrong thing by what we do.  This sometimes requires a preacher to refrain from working with another preacher under certain circumstances.

4.      Truth must govern our love (verses 5 and 6).  In recent years, people have been saying that “love unites but doctrine divides.”  With this adage, they have advocated that doctrine be minimized or neglected.  Actually the adage is true, but the conclusion is false.  Although truth and love go together, and balance each other, the teaching of scripture is that truth is in some sense above even Christian love.  The truth of true doctrine naturally divides people on either side of an issue.  But to avoid taking a position on a scriptural issue in order to promote some weak kind of “unity” or to express something falsely defined as “love” is actually a way of abandoning truth.  Never give up truth for love.  “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).  In Second John we read that “this is love, that we walk after his commandments.”  Apparently, real love for Christ will always call for us to comply with His truth.  Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (First Corinthians 13:6).  We must never give up truth for “love.”  Our expressions of Christian love must be guided by the limitations of Christian truth. It is not really love that motivates a preacher to say something wrong by his actions.  Love may motivate you to receive a weak and erring brother in some way and to some degree, but it is never an excuse to recognize an unbeliever as a Christian (remember what we are commanded in Second Corinthians 6:14-18 and Jude 3-4, and how the teaching of separation will apply to teachers who take the name of Christian but deny the fundamentals of the Christian faith), or through some association to give approval to a brother’s error.  The more two churches or preachers agree on doctrine, the more they can freely work together without implying unfaithfulness to the truth.  If you and I honestly disagree on what the Bible says about Christian apparel (for example), it may not be wrong for us to cooperate on some level or in some way, but it might well be wrong to cooperate on another level in a way that implies that one of us endorses the error of the other. Truth, in this way, guides and limits our expressions of Christian love.

5.      Love will insist on the truth (verses 7 through 13).  The lady addressed in the Second Epistle of John was tempted to help the ministry of “deceivers” masquerading as servants of God (wolves in sheep’s clothing—Matthew 7:15).  She missed the point that all “Christian teachers” are not the same.  They must be tested by their views regarding “the doctrine of Christ.”  False teachers must not be received as Christians or even encouraged in their work (verses 10 and 11).  Although this policy may seem “mean” to sweet ladies like the one addressed in this letter (and you have known others like her who can’t seem to keep from sending money and other help to very unworthy “ministries” or who can’t see the point of leaving the church they had always attended even when it has openly departed from the faith of its fathers), whose appreciation for Christian love clouds their discernment about false teachers, the fact is that standing for the truth is an act of love.  Nobody has a greater need for Jesus or is in deeper trouble than an apostate preacher or a cult-member.  “Receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.” To avoid challenging his errors about the deity of Christ or to give him encouragement in his religious work are not ways of exercising love for his soul.  To refuse to accept his message as the true Gospel, or acknowledge him as a true servant of Christ, is to love him.  It is to love him enough to confront him with the truth that can save him forever.

As we continue reading the Bible, we find that the Third Epistle of John encourages us (again) to “love in the truth” (verse 1), to “walk in truth” (verses 3 and 4), and to “be fellowhelpers to the truth” (verse 8).  Ours is a time when fundamentalist Christians need to learn again to work together as our spiritual forefathers did.  There is a way to love one another within the bounds of truth, to “love in the truth,” and the revival that we are asking the Father to send us will put us in the spiritual state (see Psalm 85:6-10) where we can do it successfully.  May followers of Christ think this through prayerfully, so that the day of uncompromising Christian brotherhood and cooperation may dawn again soon.

Dr. Rick Flanders
Revival Ministries

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