So far as the mere words go the Apostle Paul writes of the gospel and the church almost equally; that is, he attributed an equal importance to each. If he were the minister of the gospel so was he that of the church (Col. 1:23-25). If he presented Christ as the theme of gospel, saying (in Rom. 1:2) that it is “concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” so he teaches that He is “made head over all things to the church which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). To him the Lord Jesus fills, in varied glories and characters, each of these separate but closely connected spheres. Were there no gospel there could be no church; and there can be no correct apprehension of the church unless its due place be given to the gospel. This flows from the nature of God, while that is the purpose of His grace, and for the display of His “manifold wisdom” (Eph. 3:10). The two are interdependent and essential to one another. Hence the equal insistence on them by that Apostle who was, after all, the only inspired servant of Christ who treated of the church as such.
Strange to say, the Apostle John never uses the word “gospel” or “church” anywhere, though he writes of churches—assemblies—of Christians frequently (Rev. 2-3); nor does any inspired writer dwell more richly on the love of God as the spring and fountain-head of the gospel.
The great subject, in the three epistles of John, is the exhibition of divine, eternal life in the children of God. “Fellowship with the Father and the Son” (wonderful thought truly) was the conscious privilege and enjoyment of the apostles, and John’s primary desire was that the children of God might have fellowship with them in that sacred privilege. There are two essential elements in this fellowship (subsequent, of course, on our being “born of God”) and these are light and love. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” This fellowship were impossible otherwise.
And again: “He that says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness.” His assertion is utterly false, for love to his brother is as incumbent as is the profession to walk in the light. Such a one, whatever his assumption or knowledge of truth, “walks in darkness and knows not whither he goes.” Solemn statement!
Now, it is remarkable that if Paul should use the words gospel and church with almost equal frequency, so does John use, in these three epistles, the words truth and love.
Have regard to the fact that the subject is exceedingly practical; that it is rather in the nature of exhortation than doctrine or revelation; that it is a question of fellowship between the children of God, and that after the pattern of “fellowship with the Father and His Son,” as known in the happy experience of the apostles, and at once the line of truth will be seen and appreciated.
Truth and love balance each other in these inspired letters and should equally, and in similar measure, affect us, as saints, in our mutual fellowship.
Truth should not outweigh love, nor should love dispense with one particle of truth; for while truth, like salt, preserves, love, like heat, cements and knits together. Omit truth and corruption follows. Fail to love and the nature of God is no longer seen; for “he that loves not knows not God, for God is love.” “We love because He first loved us” (N.Tr.).
“What is truth?” said Pilate. Must we ask the same question? The Answer Himself stood, in lowly, gracious form before the Roman judge, silent, but how easily read, how perfectly intelligible to a willing heart!
The answer to our question is the same, it is Christ, the Son, manifested, heard, seen, contemplated, handled. And so the doctrine of Christ becomes the standard and touchstone here. It is the great test of true Christian fellowship. Not to bring this doctrine means no divine fellowship whatever.
But this is a qualification quite sufficient, if Paul indeed should add another in 1 Corinthians 5; but woe to the Diotrephes who dares to refuse the bearers of “this doctrine”—the personal glory of Christ! Clearly something else than truth and love are at work where this is done, some human test, or “Shibboleth,” that is unknown to Scripture, and therefore to be rejected.
“Beloved, if God so loved us we ought to love one another.” May we obey and walk in the truth, but, by no means, fail in love.