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John: The Apostle of Uncompromised Love

Peter, James and John’s private viewing of Christ’s glorious transfiguration on the mountaintop seems to have fuelled a simmering rivalry among them that also brought out John’s lack of love. When they subsequently arrived in Capernaum, Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33). Jesus did not ask because He needed the information; He was looking for a confession. He knew exactly what they were talking about.

But they were embarrassed. So “they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest” (Mark 9:34). They realized they were wrong to debate these things. Their own consciences obviously were smiting them. That is why they couldn’t bear to admit what all the fuss was about.

Of course, Jesus knew. And He seized the opportunity to teach them once again: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). It was a lesson about love. “Love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13.4–5″ data-version=”nasb95″>1 Corinthians 13:4–5). Love is manifested in service to one another, not by lording it over each other.

The kingdom needs men who have courage, ambition, drive, passion, boldness and a zeal for the truth. John certainly had all of those things. But to reach his full potential, he needed to balance those things with love. I think this episode was a critical rebuke that started to move him toward becoming the apostle of love he ultimately became.

John was always committed to truth but that was not enough. Zeal for the truth must be balanced by love for people. Truth without love has no decency; it’s just brutality. On the other hand, love without truth has no character; it’s just hypocrisy.

Many people are just as imbalanced as John was, only in the other direction. They place too much emphasis on the love side of the fulcrum. Some are merely ignorant; others are deceived; still others simply do not care about what is true. In each case, truth is missing, and all they are left with is error, clothed in a shallow, tolerant sentimentality. It is a poor substitute for genuine love. They talk a lot about love and tolerance, but they utterly lack any concern for the truth. Therefore even the “love” they speak of is a tainted love. Real love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).

On the other hand, there are many who have all their theological ducks in a row and know their doctrine but are unloving and self-exalting. They are left with truth as cold facts, stifling and unattractive. Their lack of love cripples the power of the truth they profess to revere.

The truly godly person must cultivate both virtues in equal proportions. If you could wish for anything in your sanctification, wish for that. If you pursue anything in the spiritual realm, pursue a perfect balance of truth and love. Know the truth, and uphold it in love.

In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul describes this balance of truth and love as the very pinnacle of spiritual maturity. He writes of “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This is what it means to share Christ’s likeness. He is the perfect expression of truth and the perfect expression of love. He is our model.

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John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and president and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. He has written nearly 400 books and study guides, including The MacArthur Study Bible.