Speaking the Truth in Love (1 John)
Interesting, isn’t it, that the apostle of love—the apostle John—is also the one who has several very stern passages warning believers against false teachers. I once went to a church that was going through a nasty split and that was divided into two parties: the “love party” and the “truth party.” Those in the “love party” focused on God’s love and forbearance with sinners, while the “truth party” emphasized God’s righteous demands. Silly, isn’t it? I say “silly” because both are true if held in proper balance. God is a God of love—in fact, as John tells us, God is love (1 John 4:8)—but he is also most decidedly a God of truth (e.g. John 17:17). Paul rightly said, therefore, that Christians must “speak the truth in love.”
As far as we are able to determine with regard to the background of 1 John, there had been some in the church who taught that possession of the Spirit was not enough; those “truly enlightened” must be initiated into all kinds of “secret knowledge” open only to those initiates. This created all kinds of insecurity and second-guessing among those who were no longer sure whether or not they were Christians at all—when in fact it was those self-characterized “super-Christians” who turned out not to be believers in the end. This seems to follow from 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belonged to us.”
Some people in the church might look good for a while. They are the stars, but after a brief time on the ascendancy they come crashing down like shooting stars. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why Paul cautioned his associates not to appoint new converts to positions of leadership in the church. This also is why John tells believers to “test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). So we find that John, the apostle who basked in God’s and Christ’s love more than any other New Testament writer, is also the one who stresses the need for careful discernment of truth in the church. Like Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament authors, John struck a proper balance between truth and love, unlike the above-mentioned church I visited. We, too, should speak the truth in love.