In the midst of pastoral work here at the church one of the things that often gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list is yard work.
I know some of you enjoy such work and look forward to cultivating a wonderful looking lawn and landscape on the weekends. For some reason that joy is not present in my disposition, so when the time comes to cut the grass or pull weeds or do this or that in the yard, I must admit that I begin doing it looking forward to the time when I’ll stop doing it. I’m not sure what it is about yard work that I don’t like, it was my first job in 6th grade and I’ve been doing ever since, and I’ve never grown to enjoy it. I simply don’t like it. Well, as I was studying the text this week I remembered a particularly busy week last year. It was the middle of summer and our grass was getting taller and taller and I was having trouble finding time and energy to mow it. So I set my mind to do it, and planned to mow after work one day, but when I came home I found something amazing. Holly had already cut it! As I pulled up and saw this, I rejoiced greatly and gladly walked through the door to thank her. You may not think this is a big deal, you may think I’m foolish to not enjoy yard work…but to me, on a busy week to not have to do that…made my day!
We are currently in a series on the Church in the small letter of 2 John. We began this series called ‘The Elect Lady’ last week and will Lord willing finish next week. But I share this story because in our passage today John expresses a similar happiness and joy when he hears something specific about this church.
As we approach 2 John 4-6, I want to first cover John’s happy boast over this church and humble request of this church. Then as we see each of those I’d like to become a spokesman for the elders and make our own happy boast over you and make a similar request of you. Let’s get into these things now.
Our Happy Boast (v4)
In v4 John begins to unfold the purpose of his small letter and when he does so we find a happy apostle. John says he is not only rejoicing but that he is rejoicing greatly. For us to see such great joy in John is not a new thing for us. John is a very happy man and he shows it in everything he writes. His gospel is full of joy and pleasure and delight in the cosmic Christ who became flesh and tabernacled among us. In 1:4 of his first letter, 1 John, he states the reason why he wrote 1 John, “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” He didn’t write that their joy may be complete, or even that his joy would be complete, he wrote aiming at a collective and communal delight, our joy. In 2 John he says the same thing, he doesn’t write a long letter to this church because in v12 he says he desires to come see this church face to face so that “…our joy may be complete.” This happiness is present in 3 John too, in v3-4 when he learns of the faithful obedience of his beloved friend and fellow elder Gaius. And how could John not be fantastically happy as he is receiving and writing the glorious apocalypse we know as the book of Revelation? To John, joy is no small thing or side dish in the Christian life. It is something he knows deeply and feels greatly. But his joy is never just warm feelings or a general disposition to be chipper that he was born with. No, his great and exceeding joy that he deeply knows and greatly feels is a joy that is rooted in the truth.
So look at 2 John 4 and ask the question, ‘Why is John, here in this context, making such a happy boast over this congregation?’ Answer: he is rejoicing over certain news that has come his way. News, that some people in this church not only know the truth, but are walking in the truth. News, that some in this church not only believe the right doctrine but obey it as their duty and delight. News, that some in this church not only know the right creed, but work hard at making the content of that creed their true conduct. Now, it is interesting to note that John says only ‘some’ of this church is walking in the truth. It is probably the case that he is glad to find some walking in truth because he knows others were not.
This church in view is as all churches are, a mixed bag with sheep and goats – wheat and tares, making up the membership. He’ll spend time addressing those who are not walking in the truth in v7-11 as well as those false teachers who are leading them astray, but for now to introduce the main purpose of his letter his focus is those who are walking in the truth. And for John, being one of the elders of this congregation who holds a pastoral oversight over them, to hear this news brings his heart deep happiness. Why does it bring him a deep happiness? The rest of v4 tells us, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.” So ultimately John’s happy boast is that some of those within this church know God’s commands, are obeying those commands, and by obeying them they are pleasing God. This pleases John, makes Him very happy, and is itself the reason and foundation of his happy boast in v4.
See here a neglected teaching in our time, pleasing God by our obedience. This is likely a neglected teaching today because by saying we can please God by our obedience seems to give us the uneasy feeling that we’re turning our backs on justification by faith alone. There is true beauty and glory to be seen in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. For God has, by His own redemptive work in Christ, saved us from death and out of our old way of life. But by not speaking of how our obedience brings God pleasure we rob ourselves of seeing the kind of lives God is now calling us into. For example…
Ephesians 5:10, “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Colossians 1:10, “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1, “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as your are doing, that you do so more and more.”
Hebrews 13:16, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
1 John 3:22, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.”
And finally we must be reminded this is all really just an imitation of Christ, who as John 8:29 tells us, always does what pleases God.
So from seeing this obedience John is happy and he tells them as much. Now I must pause and take a moment and make another happy boast as well. Much of what John is happy about here in v4 is also why we as your elders at SonRise are happy men too. We see you doing much hard work to not only know Christ rightly, we see you also seeking to live for Christ faithfully. For much of you, your doctrine has become your duty and delight…your creed fills out the content of your conduct…your beliefs have become the foundation of your behavior. So as John will say later in 3 John 4 we as your elders can truthfully say of you, “We have no greater joy than to hear that our children are walking in the truth.”
This is our happy boast.
Our Humble Request (v5-6)
But continue on with me into the rest of our passage. We see John not only making a happy boast, we see John making a humble request as well. v5-6, “And now I ask you, dear lady – not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning – that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.”
John, being an apostle and being the beloved disciple, could’ve employed his apostolic authority by commanding them but the language he employs here is softer, like the language a husband would use toward his wife, or a father would use toward his children. It is the language of a humble request. So he asks them, nothing new but reminds them of what Christ has taught them from the beginning. What is the request? “…that we love one another.” We could jump to all kinds of conclusions here of what this ‘love’ means, what this ‘love’ entails, and what this kind of ‘love’ looks like. But before we do we must remember what John has said before in v1-3 and what he says after in v6. Or in other words, we must remember the context.
John has already told us before in v1-3 that love cannot be defined in any kind of biblical way apart from the reality of truth. He told us there exists a unity, a bond, a deep and inseparable connection between love and truth, so much so that we cannot define one of them apart from the other. John says he loves this congregation and her members in truth, he says all else who know the truth loves this congregation in truth, and he calls them to a life of discerning love toward one another anchored in the certainty of God’s truth that’s fixed forever. That’s what he said before, now let’s look at what John says after the command to love one another in v5.
In 1993 the German-Trinidad musician Haddaway asked us “What is Love?” Thankfully when we come to v5 and read this request to ‘love one another’ we don’t have to define what love is because John defines it for us in v6. “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments…” In one sense we must remember God’s love is expressed toward undeserving sinners like us in giving us commands for our benefit, but in another sense, the sense John leans into here, our love for God is expressed in our living according to His commands, and how we live according to His commands is seen in how we walk through life with one another. So John’s argument is intentionally circular, “The test of love is obedience to God’s commands, and the test of obedience is whether one walks in love.” Notice, John asks this church to do the very thing they’re already doing in v4. He asks that all of them would do what some of them are already doing, walking in discerning love with one another. This is not new, they’ve had it from the beginning. This is his humble request.
So, because our obedience to God’s commands is the very means by which we love another among the elect lady of God, among the church, do you see that transformation is always the inevitable result of belief in the gospel? John often uses the imagery of walking in 2 John to describe how we live in this life. Do you see that how you walk, how you live this life, changes when we believe gospel? In Paul’s letter to Titus, he mentions our former state of unbelief is one characterized by hating God and hating others. Then he says once the gospel breaks upon the heart by the power of the Spirit as water breaks upon a rock, our eyes are opened to see how God has reconciled us to Himself through the gospel…and then our eyes are opened to the reality that the gospel didn’t just change how I relate to God, it changes how I relate to everyone else around me. I once hated God and hated others, now because of the gospel (to use John’s language) I am called to walk differently. Now, I am called to love God by walking in obedience to God aiming at pleasing Him fully, and I am called to display that Godward love to others by extending the same gospel discerning love to them.
John’s happiness in their conduct with one another leads him to make this humble request of them. And once again, I must pause and take a moment and make another request as the spokesman for the elders. All of what John is requesting here in v5-6 of them is what we, as your elders at SonRise, would like to request of you today. Much of you are already doing it, and we praise God for that! Today we want to ask that all of you begin doing what most of you are already doing, that you love one another by obeying God’s command to love one another with a discerning love. As this elect lady is, so are we: sovereignly elected children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ, united in love by the Spirit of truth. We ask that you walk like this, with one another, through this life. This isn’t a new request but one repeated many times throughout Scripture and even in our church covenant, love one another with more than feelings and sentimentality. Love one another toward not only the right creed but toward the right conduct. Love one another toward not only the right belief but toward the right behavior.
This is our humble request.
Do any of you know the story of Narcissus? As the legends of Greek mythology go Narcissus was a hunter, known for much more than his hunting. He was said to be beautiful and proud of it. He got the attention of the goddess Nemesis but he was so enamored with his own beauty he cared little for her. So Nemesis, led him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He loved gazing at his own reflection so much that it captivated him and consumed him and one day after gazing at himself for hours he fell into this pool and drowned.
Of course from this legend we get the word narcissistic meaning: vain, self-absorbed, or egotistical. One way of viewing narcissism is to describe it as being so enamored with oneself that one begins to turn in on oneself and ceases to see others in any meaningful way. Perhaps this hits closer to home when we realize that recent studies tell us we now live in a world where we check our smartphones every 4.3 minutes to find out who liked/viewed/followed our latest social media post or picture of ourselves. In a world like this, do you see the kind of life God calls us to together in the Church? Not one where were turned in on ourselves and using one another for our own social media image management or any other vain purposes, but one where we’re turned out from ourselves toward each other in gospel discerning love.
You’ve heard us as your elders today make a happy boast over you and make a humble request of you. By God’s grace and the power of His Spirit, may you continue to be less turned in yourself and more turned toward one another in an obedient discerning love.
 Gary Derickson, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary – 1-3 John, accessed via Logos Bible software on 1/3/18.
 Stephen Smalley, Word Biblical Commentary – 1, 2, 3, John, accessed via Logos Bible software on 1/3/18.
 For a wonderful overview of this theme see Wayne Grudem’s chapter called Pleasing God by Our Obedience: A Neglected New Testament Teaching in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, page 272-292.
 Derickson, accessed via Logos Bible software on 1/3/18.
 Barker, quoted in Derickson, accessed via Logos Bible software on 1/3/18.
 Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes on 2 John 4-6, page 1715.
 See Titus 3:1-8.
 Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Reformed Expository Commentary – 1-3 John, page 175.