The Second Letter of John fits into the overall framework of the General Epistles, while offering its own insights about life and work in Christ. It is short, but full of practical instruction.
Truth and Love at Work (2 John 1–6)
Each of John’s letters is notable for bringing the concepts “truth” and “love” together into a single idea (1 John 3:18; 2 John 1, 3; 3 John 3). Here in 2 John, we find the most extended development of this idea.
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love. I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. (2 John 3–5)
According to John, love plus truth equals an environment in which “grace, mercy and peace will be with us.”
Regrettably, we often act as though grace, mercy, and peace depend on love minus truth. We may hide or shade uncomfortable truths in our communications with others at work in the misguided belief that telling the truth would not be loving. Or we may fear that telling the truth will lead to conflict or ill will, rather than grace or peace. Thinking we are being merciful, we fail to tell the truth.
But love must always begin with the truth. Love comes to us through Christ, and Christ is the perfect embodiment of the truth of God. That is to say, God knows the way things really are, and he wraps his knowledge in love and brings it to us through his Son. So if we are ever to love as God loves, we must begin with the truth, not with falsity, evasion, or fairytales. It is true that telling the truth may lead to conflict or upset feel-ings—ours or others’. But genuine grace, mercy, and peace come from facing reality and working through difficulties to genuine resolutions.
Jack Welch, a former CEO of General Electric (USA), was a controversial figure due in part to his practice of giving truthful, candid performance reviews. He let employees know on a monthly basis how well they were meeting expectations. Once a year he told them whether they were top performers, middle performers who needed to improve in specific areas, or bottom performers who were in danger of losing their jobs. Some may regard this as harsh, but Welch regarded it as loving:
I’ve come to learn that the worst kind of manager is the one who practices false kindness. I tell people, You think you’re a nice manager, that you’re a kind manager? Well, guess what? You won’t be there someday. You’ll be promoted. Or you’ll retire. And a new manager will come in and look at the employee and say, “Hey, you’re not that good.” And all of a sudden, this employee is now fifty-three or fifty-five, with many fewer options in life. And now you’re gonna tell him, “Go home”? How is that kind? You’re the cruelest kind of manager.
The Cost of Truthfulness (2 John 7–11)
“Many deceivers have gone out into the world,” John reminds us (2 John 7), and telling the truth can bring us into conflict with those who benefit from deception. Do we choose to tell the truth despite opposition, or do we participate in the deception? If we choose deception, we had better at least admit that we are no longer honest people. (See “You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor” in Deuteronomy 5:20; Exodus 20:16 at www.theologyofwork.org for more on this topic.)
Ed Moy, later to become the head of the U.S. Mint, tells the story of his first job out of college. When he started the job, he had to fill out an expense report for his use of the company car, identifying his personal use of the car and separating this from his company use. The practice in the office had been had been to list personal use only for the travel from home to work, claiming the rest as company use even if the purpose of the trip was personal. When Ed honestly broke out his personal use, his boss almost fired him, explaining, “We are underpaid, and this is our way to gain more income. Your report will make the rest of us look bad.” Ed respectfully said, “You can fire me if that is what you need to do. But would you really want someone working for you who would lie over such a small thing? How could you trust that person when the stakes were higher?” Ed kept his job, though the transition was a bit difficult!
What are we to do about relationships with deceitful people and false teachers? Ed’s example suggests that breaking off contact is not necessarily the best solution. We may be able to do more for the cause of truth and love by remaining engaged and telling the truth in the midst of deception than by leaving the scene. Besides, if we broke contact with everyone who ever practiced deception, would anyone be left, even ourselves?
“Should I Rank My Employees?” Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2009, http://guides.wsj.com/management/recruiting-hiring-and-firing/should-i-rank-my-employees.
Jack Welch, in “What I’ve Learned: Jack Welch” Esquire, December 31, 2006, www.esquire.com/news-politics/interviews/a2380/wil0104jackwelch/#ixzz2nkRA41TP.
Ed Moy, “Faith and Work: Spiritual Insights from a Career in Business & Public Service,” at Kiros, Seattle, October 11, 2013. Audio recording available at http://kiros.btexpo.ws/media.
John ends the letter by saying that he wants to continue the conversation in person. “Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face” (2 John 12). Perhaps he realizes that whatever else he has to communicate could be misunderstood if presented in the impersonal medium of writing a letter. This gives us a valuable insight about sensitive communications—some things are better said in person, even if distance makes it difficult to see one another face to face.
In twenty-first-century workplaces we find even more complex challenges to personal communication. Remote communication choices today include video conferencing, telephone, texting, letter, e-mail, social media, and many other variations. But effective communication still requires matching the medium to the nature of the message. E-mail might be the most effective medium for placing an order, for example, but probably not for communicating a performance review. The more complicated or emotionally challenging the message, the more immediate and personal the medium needs to be. Pat Gelsinger, former senior vice president at Intel Corporation, says,
I have a personal rule. If I go back and forth with somebody in email more than four or five times on the same topic, I stop. No more. We get on the phone, or we get together face to face. I have learned that if you don’t resolve something quickly, by the time you get together one of you is mad at the other person. You think they are incompetent since they could not understand the most straightforward thing that you were describing. But it is because of the medium, and it is important to account for this.
The wrong medium for a particular communication can easily lead to misunderstanding, which is failure to transmit the truth. And the wrong medium can also get in the way of showing love. So choosing the right medium for communication is an essential aspect of communicating truth and showing love to people with whom we work. We need to communicate with respect and compassion, even in difficult conversations, and especially when we communicate with people we don’t like very much. Sometimes this means meeting face to face, even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.
Pat Gelsinger, “Faster Chips, More Opportunity?” interview in Ethix 57 (January/February 2008), ethix.org/2008/02/01/faster-chips-more-opportunity.