12 Ordinary Men, Week 10


Balancing Love and Truth

John was committed to the truth, there is no doubt about that. From the beginning we see him as a spiritually aware man who sought to know and follow the truth. When we first encounter John, both he and Andrew are disciples of John the Baptist. But like Andrew, John without hesitation began following Jesus as soon as John the Baptist singled Him out as the true Messiah.
John 1:35–37 ESV
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
John did not see this as an issue or disloyalty as John recognized his position in relation to Jesus.
John 3:30 ESV
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John’s love of truth is evident in all his writings. He uses the Greek word for truth twenty-five times in his Gospel and twenty more times in his epistles. He had a deep sense of joy when others followed Christ.
3 John 4 ESV
4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
But he also was not slack in condemning those who SAID they knew Jesus but did not follow Him.
1 John 2:4 ESV
4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
1 John 1:6 ESV
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
1 John 1:8 ESV
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
But sometimes in his younger years, John’s zeal for truth was lacking in love and compassion for people. He needed to learn the balance. As we discussed last week, John chastised the man for trying to cast out demons in Jesus’ name just because he was not in the “inner circle” with Jesus. This is the one place in the synoptic Gospels where John acts and speaks alone, so it is an important insight into his character. Here we see a rare glimpse of John without James and without Peter, speaking for himself. This is pure John.
Mark 9:39–41 ESV
39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
Luke 9:50 ESV
50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
In both cases, John is displaying an appalling intolerance, elitism, and a lack of genuine love for people. In the incident with the Samaritans, James and John showed a lack of love for unbelievers. Here John is guilty of a similar kind of unloving spirit toward a fellow believer. He forbade the man to minister in Jesus’ name “because he does not follow us”—because he was not officially a member of the group.
It makes one wonder was this outburst out of frustration or possibly John thinking he was better/higher ranking than others??? It does seem to have fueled the debate about who was the greatest. Later in the chapter, Mark says they came to Capernaum. “And when He was in the house He asked them, ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’ ” (Mark 9:33). Jesus did not ask because He needed the information; He was looking for a confession. He knew exactly what they were talking about.
But they were embarrassed. So “they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest” (v. 34). It’s not hard to understand how the argument began. Peter, James, and John, brimming with confidence after their mountaintop experience, surely felt that now they had the inside track. They had seen things so wonderful that they were not permitted even to speak of them. And each one now was probably looking for some sign that he was the greatest of the three—possibly arguing among themselves about things like which one was standing closer to Jesus when He was trans-figured, reminding Peter that he was rebuked by a voice from heaven, and so on. They realized they were wrong to debate these things.
Of course, Jesus knew. And He seized the opportunity to teach them once again. “He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’ Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me’ ”
They had it backward. If they wanted to be first in the kingdom, they needed to be servants. If they wanted to be truly great, they needed to be more childlike. Instead of arguing and fighting with each other, instead of putting each other down, instead of rejecting each other and exalting themselves, they needed to take the role of a servant.
This was simply a lesson about love.
1 Corinthians 13:4–5 ESV
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
Love is shown through service to others, not having a position...
This apparently cut John to the heart. It was a serious rebuke, and John obviously got the message. This is where we find the only time John speaks in the synoptic (all together) Gospels: “Now John answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us’ ” (v. 38). This was sectarianism—rebuking a man for ministering in Jesus’ name just because he didn’t belong to the group. This shows the intolerance of John, a Son of Thunder. This was the narrowness, the ambition, the desire to have the status all for himself and not share it with anybody else—all of which too often characterized John in his younger years.
Here we see clearly that John was not a passive personality. He was aggressive. He was competitive. He condemned a man who was ministering in the name of Jesus, just because the man wasn’t part of the group. John had actually stepped in and tried to shut down this man’s ministry for no other reason than that.
Now, was this a brag of the rebuke? Or, was it a confession from a heartbroken follower? Something in John was beginning to change, and he was beginning to see his own lack of love as undesirable. The fact that John made this confession was indicative of the transformation that was taking place in him. His conscience was bothering him. He was being tenderized. He had always been zealous and passionate for the truth, but now the Lord was teaching him to love. This is a major turning point in his life and thinking. He was beginning to understand the necessary equilibrium between love and truth.
The kingdom needs men who have courage, ambition, drive, passion, boldness, and a zeal for the truth. John certainly had all of those things. But to reach his full potential, he needed to balance those things with love. John was always committed to truth, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it is not enough. Zeal for the truth must be balanced by love for people. Truth without love has no decency; it’s just brutality. On the other hand, love without truth has no character; it’s just hypocrisy.
Many people are just as imbalanced as John was, only in the other direction. They place too much emphasis on the love side of the fulcrum. Some are merely ignorant; others are deceived; still others simply do not care about what is true. In each case, truth is missing, and all they are left with is error, clothed in a shallow, tolerant sentimentality. It is a poor substitute for genuine love. They talk a lot about love and tolerance, but they utterly lack any concern for the truth. Therefore even the “love” they speak of is a tainted love. Real love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth”
1 Corinthians 13:6 ESV
6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
On the other hand, there are many who have all their theological ducks in a row and know their doctrine but are unloving and self-exalting. They are left with truth as cold facts, stifling and unattractive. Their lack of love cripples the power of the truth they profess to revere. The truly godly person must cultivate both virtues in equal proportions. If you could wish for anything in your sanctification, wish for that. If you pursue anything in the spiritual realm, pursue a perfect balance of truth and love. Know the truth, and uphold it in love.
Lets look at how Paul balances this in Ephesians 4:1-7
Ephesians 4:1–7 ESV
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Here, the apostle Paul describes this balance of truth and love as the very pinnacle of spiritual maturity. He is speaking about full maturity, perfect Christlikeness. This is how he epitomizes the goal for which we ought to strive. This is what it means to share Christ’s likeness. He is the perfect expression of truth and the perfect expression of love. He is our model.
As a mature apostle, John learned the lesson well. His brief second epistle offers vivid proof of how well he balanced the twin virtues of truth and love. Look at the mature heart of John in 1 John 2:
1 John 2 ESV
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. 28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
John repeatedly couples the concepts of love and truth. No longer is he calling down fire from heaven against the enemies of truth, but he cautions to not go too for to the other extreme, either, by opening our homes or blessing people LIVING TWISTED LIVES AND OPPOSING THE TRUTH. Now, let that sink in...
Of course, the apostle is not urging this woman to be unkind or abusive to anyone. We are commanded to do good to those who persecute us, be kind to those who hate us, bless those who oppose us, and pray for those who despitefully use us (Luke 6:27–28). But our blessing on our enemies must stop short of encouraging or assisting a false teacher who is corrupting the gospel.
Love and truth must be maintained in perfect balance. Truth is never to be abandoned in the name of love. But love is not to be deposed in the name of truth. That is what John learned from Christ, and it gave him the balance he so desperately needed.
MacArthur, John F., Jr. 2002. Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You. Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group.
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