The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


'I rejoiced greatly to see some of your children following the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. And now I beg you, 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 follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love' (2 John 4-6).

We have seen that truth and love are key words in verses 1-3. They are still key words in these verses and so we need to consider them more closely.

a. Following the truth.

The greatest joy in the heart of 'the elder' as he wrote to 'the elect lady' was to know of those of her children who were 'following the truth'. As we have seen in reading 1 John, the times in which these letters were written were times of great difficulty. Christians were tempted to turn aside from the truth that they had. Some people were teaching what was not the truth about Jesus, denying that He was the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour needed by all men and women. Yet there were those who did not turn from the right way, but kept 'following the truth'. When we think and speak about 'the truth' we may have in our minds such Christian 'truths' as we confess when we say a creed or agree to some statement of Christian beliefs. Above all, however, the truth is a Person. We follow the truth when we follow Him who said 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life' (John 14:6). When we keep confessing Him as Lord and Saviour, serving and obeying Him in our lives, we keep following the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father' (verse 4).

b. Loving one another.

Because Christ is the Truth, to follow the truth is to live in love for others. This is so because the whole of His life and His dying for us was love. 'To walk in the same way in which He walked' (1 John 2:6) is to live in love. His greatest command to His disciples was to live in love. As it was put in 1 John 2:7, this is an old commandment and yet a new one (see also John 13:34). It is old because just as love for God summed up the first four of the Ten Commandments; and everything else that the Old Testament law said about our duty to God, so love for one another sums up the last six of the Ten Commandments and everything else that the Old Testament said about our duty to other people.

If we say that we follow Him, we should show it by the way that 'we follow his commandments'. Love means obedience, as we have seen in 1 John 2:5 (see also John 14:15, 21, 23 and 15:10). But obedience, as we have seen, means that we 'follow love'. The New International Version translates verse 6, 'As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you live a life of love'. 'By this all men will know that you are my disciples,' Jesus said (in John 13:35), 'if you have love for one another'. So love and truth stand together; and love and obeying God's commandments also stand together. We need to think a little further about this.

c. Love and law.

There are wrong ways and there is a right way for Christians to think about law, about commandments and rules. Some people say, 'I keep all God's commandments. God will surely accept me and bless me'. This is what the rich young ruler (of whom we read in Luke 18:18-23) said to Jesus about the Ten Commandments, 'All these have I observed from youth'. This is what the apostle Paul thought before he became a Christian, that he was 'blameless' in his keeping the law (Philippians 3:6). Later he realized that neither he nor anyone else could do that. We have all failed to keep God's laws. We can be accepted only through His forgiving us and in His utter goodness and love making us His children. Then some people think of the Christian life itself as obeying a great many different commandments, rules for every situation in life (see Colossians 2:20-23). But this is to miss the spirit of the Christian life, which is to live in the service of Jesus Christ, guided and strengthened by His Spirit. God's commandments are like signposts, showing us the right way to travel through life (see Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13, 14). The Christian will want to obey God's commandments, but he will do it because of the love of God in his heart - love for God and love for others.


Lord God Almighty, fill my heart, I pray, with Your Love and with great thankfulness to You. So may I gladly obey You with all my strength and serve other people for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ who loved me and gave Himself for me. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

1. What do you think that the apostle Paul meant by 'the law of Christ' in Galatians 6:2? How did he link the law and love in his own under standing and living? See Galatians 5:13-26.

2. What kind of laws or rules do you think that the Christian church should have today? In what way should determine how its services should be conducted and who its pastors, ministers or elders should do?