The Second Epistle of John
Paul Young, Maesteg, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
It is generally believed that the apostle John wrote this letter to an anonymous, yet influential Christian lady. The message of this short Epistle is that believers must not show Christian love indiscriminately, for in so doing they can encourage the work of the evil one. The message is of lasting influence and instruction.
The letter was written in the first century A.D., at the height of the Roman Empire, and generally there was ease and safety in travel for Christian missionaries and preachers who moved from place to place with the message of salvation. There was very little in the way of channelled funds for their work, so they received food and other necessities at the homes of believers on the way, and in such a manner they were fortified for the next leg of their journey. So Christian hospitality was essential for the spread of the Gospel.
On the other hand anti-Christian teachers also needed such support to continue their Satanic work. Unwittingly, some believers, in the mistaken belief that this was Christian love, had shown these false teachers hospitality, and so had encouraged them in their work against Christ. The elect lady to whom John writes had, it seems, made this mistake.
The letter can be divided thus: Salutation, vv. 1-3; Commendation, v. 4; Message, vv. 5-11; and Conclusion, vv. 12-13. The key words which are linked with each other are: truth (mentioned 5 times), love (mentioned 4 times) and commandment(s) (mentioned 4 times).
Salutation. Verse 1: "The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth". The writer thus describes himself as "The elder". This may mean a person of advanced years (see "Paul the aged", Philem. 9) or a person with spiritual responsibilities in the local church (see Titus 1.5, "elders in every city"), but what a lesson in humility that he fails to give his name. The recipient also remains unnamed, but the spiritual affection ("love in the truth") they had for each other is clearly expressed. Believers should love each other in a deep way, not sensually but in a Christlike manner; "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you", John 15. 12.
The lady's repute was such that all Christians who knew her loved her and her children. The "truth" is stressed in this verse because true Christian love stems from a heart steeped in the truth of God. The exercise of love must be always governed by the truth. Also the truth in Christ is in contrast to the false teaching of the deceivers whom John condemns later in this Epistle.
Verse 2: "For the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever". We learn in these verses three things about truth: it can be known, v. 1; it dwells in us, v.2; and it remains with us for ever, v.2. Jesus said, "I am ... the truth", John 14. 6. It is assuring to know that as we know Him as Saviour, so He dwells in us by His Spirit and He will be with us for ever. The elect lady was loved for the truth's sake, that is, it seems that she radiated Christ in her life, and was beloved of all who came into contact with her.
Verse 3: "Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love". This greeting has an assurance about it. This is neither a wish nor a prayer, but a statement that grace, mercy and peace shall certainly be with her in the future. Grace is God's favour towards undeserving sinners; mercy is His compassion for their misery, and peace is the result. Grace must go before mercy and peace for only the forgiven may be blessed and know fellowship with God. Such blessings come from both the Father and the Lord Jesus, and this expresses their equality, "I and my Father are one", John 10. 30. To emphasize the deity of Christ and to help counter the teaching of those who denied it, an extra title is added, namely, "the Son of the Father".
The blessings of grace, mercy and peace are received in the context of love and truth. The Epistle revolves around these two words: love and truth. They cannot be separated, for the proof that Christians know and follow the truth is in their love for each other. Likewise, the indiscriminate use of love, untempered by truth, will often aid wickedness and not the Lord's work, as this Epistle reveals.
Commendation. Verse 4 "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father". Other Christians always rejoice and are warmed in heart by the godly life of a fellow-believer. John, it seems, had met in his travels some of this lady's children, and was pleased to report that they were "walking in truth"; in other words they were living the Christian life in obedience to God's Word. No doubt this lady's heart was moved with pleasure as she read this commendation from the elder, for all Christian parents rejoice when they know that their own children are following the Lord in faithfulness. John goes on to say that to live such a life is not an optional extra for the Christian, but is a "commandment from the Father". The Lord expects us as Christians to live in an exemplary fashion.
Message. Verse 5. "And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another." John does not exercise his authority as an elder by commandment, but rather he beseeches. He makes a plea as between equals, and this was an exercise of true love on his part. Those of us who today are in positions of oversight in assemblies can learn from this. Our rule is not that of domination from above, but of service, guidance and leadership among the Lord's people.
John's plea is to be obedient to an old commandment that love be exercised among believers. This is not emotion of the moment, and is certainly not sensual in character. It is a habitual caring for the saints of God. "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren", 1 John 3. 16. This is the extent of such love, and it is surely not conjured-up human love. Such love is the love of Christ flowing through and radiating out of the obedient believer who has enthroned Christ as Lord of his life.
Verse 6: "And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it". Genuine love leads to obedience. This is an obedience to all of Gods commandments, and the motivation for this obedience is not fearful consequences of breaking the law, but a real sense of love. Love for each other means that we will not deceive, or steal from, each other. Yet the commandment is to exercise Christian love. So when Christian love is being demonstrated, that in itself is obedience, but this love is only exercised by being obedient to the commandments of God. If the Lord is obeyed and we love one another, then this will be revealed in obedience to His commandments.
Verse 7: "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist". In view of the need for Christians to engender genuine love, how should they react towards deceivers? John clearly states that love between Christians should be cultivated because ("for", v.7) of the many deceivers that were trying to undermine and destroy the true Christian faith. If it was true in John's day that there were "many deceivers" in the world, then clearly it is even more of a problem today. Like the deceivers of old, there are still those who deny "that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh". Thus they deny that the Son of God could take on Manhood and yet remain completely God. So they denied the incarnation. This is grave heresy, and those who propound such views are condemned by John as "deceivers" and "antichrists". These are strong words of condemnation, and reveal the source of these false doctrines, namely in the heart of the enemy of souls: Satan.
Verse 8: "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward." Here John warns the elect lady and her children to watch out for these false teachers. He says, in effect, that she must not allow herself to be influenced by them, or the full rewards she would gain may not be her portion at the judgment seat of Christ, 2 Cor. 5. 10.
Verse 9: "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son". In mentioning the "doctrine of Christ", John refers to teaching about Christ, not what He said. He is talking about the incarnation, v.7. Those who accepted this doctrine had eternal life through knowing "both the Father and the Son". Those who denied this doctrine had transgressed. In other words they had developed this teaching, and seemed to feel that they had progressed from the primitive teaching of the incarnation. Instead they had regressed, and their teaching worked against God. Someone has said that there is an advance which involves deserting first principles; and such an advance is not progress but apostasy
Verse 10: "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed". Such false teachers must not be given hospitality, as this helped them in their work. John insists that this lady and her children must stop their practice of showing hospitality to any and everyone. Any who deny that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God must not be supported nor bidden Godspeed. Godspeed is an expression of hope that God will bless that person's mission. In no way must purveyors of false teaching be encouraged in their waywardness and sin.
Verse 11: "For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds". Here John gives the reason for not wishing false teachers a prosperous journey or showing them hospitality. To do so would be to identify oneself with their false teaching. By identifying with such falsehoods, they would weaken their own testimony and make stronger the power of false doctrine.
Conclusion. Verse 12: "Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full". In spite of the many things John wants to write, he has only touched upon the most urgent. Face to face conversation is so much more clearly understood that John would leave other matters until he saw them. He confidently predicts that when they do meet, their fellowship will produce real Christian joy. This is the joy which is always encouraged through fellowship among the Lord's people. Verse 13: "The children of thy elect sister greet thee". Perhaps this sister was now deceased, as John does not send any greetings from her. It certainly seems that he was closely associated with the extended family. He may even have written this Epistle from their house, and these children may have informed him of the situation that gave rise to this letter.