Aside from Luke and the apostle Paul, John wrote more of the New Testament than any other human author. We see through his Gospel how he views Christ. We observe in his epistles how he dealt with the church. And in the book of Revelation, we even see the future through the visions God gave him.
John was the younger brother of James, and although he was a frequent companion to Peter in the first twelve chapters of Acts, Peter remained in the foreground and John remained in the background.
Almost everything we observed about the personality and character of James is also true of John. John was right there with James, eager to call down fire from heaven against the Samaritans. He was also in the thick of the debates about who was the greatest. Therefore it is all the more remarkable that John has often been nicknamed “the apostle of love”. Indeed, he wrote more than any other New Testament author about the importance of love–laying particular stress on the Christian’s love for Christ, Christ’s love for His church, and the love for one another that is supposed to be the hallmark of true believers. Love was a quality he learned from Christ, not something that came naturally to him.
John’s zeal for the truth shaped the way he wrote. He uses the Greek word for truth twenty-five times in his Gospel and twenty more times in his epistles. Of all the writers of the New Testament, he is the most black and white in his thinking. He thinks and writes in absolutes. He deals with certainties. There aren’t many gray areas in his teaching. In his Gospel, he sets light against darkness, life against death, and the kingdom of God against the kingdom of the devil. The same approach carries through in his epistles. He tells us we are either walking in the light or dwelling in darkness. We are either “of God” or “of the world”. John is just that black and white.
The way John wrote was a reflection of his personality. Truth was his passion, and he spoke in absolute, certain terms. It is wonderful to have high regard for the truth, but zeal for the truth must be balanced by a love for people, or it can give way to judgmentalism, harshness, and a lack of compassion. It is fine to be hardworking and ambitious, but if ambition is not balanced with humility, it becomes sinful pride–self-promotion at the expense of others.
A person out of balance is unsteady. So it is a very dangerous thing to push any point of truth or any character quality to an undue extreme. That is what we see in the life of the younger disciple John. At various times, he behaved like an extremist who was selfishly committed to his own narrow perception of truth. But three years with Jesus began to transform a self-centered fanatic into a mature man of balance. John learned the balance of love and truth.
Sometimes in his younger years, John’s zeal for truth was lacking in love and compassion for people. He needed to learn the balance. The incident in Mark 9 where John forbade a man to cast out demons in Jesus’ name “because he does not follow us” (Mark 9: 38). 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. This episode was a critical rebuke that started to move him toward becoming the apostle of love he ultimately became. Zeal for the truth must be balanced by love for people. Truth without love has no decency; it is just brutality. On the other hand, love without truth has no character; it is just hypocrisy. The truly godly person must cultivate both virtues in equal proportions.
We noted earlier that John used the word truth some forty-five times in his Gospel and epistles. But it is interesting that he also used the word love more than eighty times. He learned to love others as the Lord had loved him. Love became the anchor and centerpiece of the truth he was most concerned with.