Honesty and Speaking the Truth in Love (2 John 1-11)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

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.[1] 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.[2]

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![3]

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 https://kiros.org/category/ed-moy/.