Chapter 1

God is not brutal or contemptuous.


As a writer, I enjoy studying the “rules” of the craft. One of my favorites was articulated by famous author Stephen King: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Another good one I try to keep in mind is never to say in 27 words what may be said in 12. And, of course, authors are always concerned with the “flow” of their writing. Several things may affect this, such as your sentences being too long (or too short) or using the same word repeatedly in a short space.

So, when I read 2 John, it immediately occurred to me that, in the first six verses, John used two words over and over again: “To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (vs 1-6)

It sure didn't take John very much space to repeat truth and love multiple times. Either he had a somewhat limited vocabulary or, more likely, he understood that there is a dissoluble bond between these two vital components of God’s kingdom.

A friend of mine recently said that love without truth is tenderhearted contempt. And to that, I would add that truth without love is enlightened brutality. You may not separate the two without great loss.

For centuries, it seems the Christian church practiced the “truth without love” method. Because of that, the word crusade still conjures up images of horrific torture and mass slaughter conducted in God’s name by “believers.” And while those crusaders may have thought they were spreading truth, in the absence of love, it was nothing more than enlightened brutality.

Nowadays, most Christians have moved beyond the awful methods of “truth without love.” However, especially in our Western culture which prefers a “whatever works for you” approach to truth, there is an increasing call to espouse a “love without truth” sort of evangelism. The problem with that is, while we may think that this sort of “compassionate” approach would be more winsome, in the end, it is only tenderhearted contempt.

Here’s an example. I love my daughter with all my heart, and that love includes a desire to help her understand the truth about all sorts of things. If I purposely raise her in an environment that is not in touch with reality or if I answer all her questions in a dishonest way, how can that be consistent with my love for her?

Love must include truth, or it isn't love. In the same way, truth must include love, or it isn’t truth. You can’t have one without the other.

So, if love without truth is tenderhearted contempt, we can definitely say that God is not contemptuous. He loves us enough to tell us the truth—even when it’s painful or uncomfortable. And if truth without love is enlightened brutality, we can definitely say that God is not brutal. He always treats us with love—especially when revealing reality to us.