John is sometimes called the love book. But is it?
Each of the gospels was written for a reason. Matthew has a high emphasis on proving that the prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus. It’s important to Mark to demonstrate Jesus’s spiritual authority. Luke specifically states that he set out to write an accurate and orderly historical account.
I think John’s intention was to clearly convey the truth.
What’s interesting is that John was a direct, close eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus. He also didn’t write his gospel right away. He had taken a great deal of time (decades likely) to reflect before he wrote.
It’s very likely that John experienced and wrote his Revelation before he wrote his gospel. When he penned the book of John, he was working with the complete sum of his time with Jesus in the flesh, his ministry after Jesus’s ascension, and his subsequent revelations and spiritual maturation.
(Interestingly, there’s even more depth to John 1 if we consider it was written after Revelation 19.)
I believe that the historical evidence and the totality of John’s body of work supports the idea that his purpose in writing his gospel was truth. After decades of experience with Jesus, in ministry and exile, and decades of reflection, he was in a unique position to organize his narrative to make the strongest argument for the truth claims of Jesus.
There are at least four things that seemed to be really important to John to communicate to readers:
- Jesus is God.
- Faith in Jesus is the only path to salvation.
- Love is really important.
- When we’re in Christ, our lifestyle and behavior will reflect that relationship.
Yes, John is about love, for certain. But he also makes some of the boldest and most unequivocal truth claims of all of the gospel writers. He leaves no margin for error about the deity of Jesus (that He is God), or the exclusivity of the Christian path to salvation.
Especially when we consider his letters and Revelation, his case for the relationship of our lifestyle to our walk with Christ only gets stronger. When we’re in Christ, our behavior will become more Christlike. According to John, this should not be a controversial idea.
What’s interesting to me is that society wants to tell us three of these truth claims are actually unloving.
The world says it is foolish to believe Jesus was God. The world says it is conceited to suggest faith in Jesus is the only path to God. And they especially say it’s intolerant to suggest there is an objective moral standard that is best.
From a worldly perspective, there is a certain amount of logic to these objections. With so many decent people and well-informed perspectives in our pluralistic society, how can we claim to be the exclusive holders of the truth?
John actually wasn’t a stranger to this. He too lived in a pluralistic society. He was surrounded by a vast collection of pagan religions in the assembled Roman empire. Even Buddhism likely had an influence.
As the love guy, how could he make these claims? How could he be so bigoted, intolerant, exclusive?
Because he’s working from an important premise. The truth claims flow from a specific starting point: the world was broken before we showed up.
John reflected and organized his narrative to most effectively convey truth. Right in the beginning, in John 3, he establishes an important premise in back to back stories, and uses two separate witnesses to do it, operating without direct knowledge of the words of the other.
Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)
And then John the Baptist reflects the same idea. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)
Condemned already, the wrath remains…
These stories aren’t next to each other by accident. They’re placed where they are on purpose, because the truth builds from there.
When we speak truth in love, we’re not condemning anyone. They were condemned already.
Not by their behavior, their perspective, their history, or their politics. They were condemned because they were born into a sinful world. They will remain condemned unless they are brought into the light.
When we speak the truth—the whole truth, the real truth—we’re not putting something on anyone. We’re addressing what’s already there, what’s always been there.
It’s interesting that John is called the love book. I think we should call it the truth book. But maybe it doesn’t matter, because the truth is often our greatest expression of love.
As writers, we have to speak the truth. It’s in the job description. If you’re not willing to speak the truth, you can’t call yourself a Kingdom writer.
Hear me now. There is grace to grow into this.
What I want you to know is that when you speak the truth in love, the world will be offended by it. As Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light.” (John 3: 20)
But when they say that you condemn others, that’s a lie. They were condemned already. They were condemned by the sin of Adam, which was their inheritance.
You don’t have to go pick a fight. Choose your battles wisely. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where He’s given you grace to shine the light. Remember that kindness and gentleness are also fruits of the Spirit.
But when the time comes, don’t shrink back.
Remember that the love guy was also the truth guy. You really can’t do one without the other.