Jottings from John’s Second Epistle (Paper 2)
Dennis Williamson, Belfast
One can well remember as a child, attempting to form a mentai picture of the scene suggested by the chorus "If Jesus came to your house, I wonder what you'd do". With the passing of years the house has changed, some of the occupants are different, but those wholesome reflections remain; not producing dread now but a desire to order things for His pleasure. Enoch 'before his translation had this testimony, that he pleased God", Heb. 11.5. The Lord Jesus said "I do always those things that please Him' that is, the Father, John 8. 29. Somehow I feel this same spirit must have been reproduced in this "elect lady' . How does one rear a family for God in the midst of a scene of deception, disregard for God's standards and denial of God's Son? How may our homes be guarded and our children preserved against rampant ideologies and philosophies of men which surreptitiously seek to undermine the Word of God and thereby destabilize believers' confidence? Surely, the aged apostle provides the answer in this personal letter to a godly sister and her children, which the Holy Spirit records for our learning. Appreciating the truth. Verses 1-4. "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies"", so said the wise King Solomon when inspired of God. "Her children arise up and tail her blessed", Prov. 31. 10,28. The Elder here seems to have found the New Testament answer! He is a man of immense spiritual experience and stature. His words will have import as he delineates for us in lucid terms those traits of character for which we should be looking and which we could be appreciating as mirrored in this lady and her children. Lessons regarding children, courtesy, correspondence, conviction and self-control lie beneath the surface in the little epistle, almost begging for detailed attention. They relate to many different spheres e.g. in the home v. 1, outside the home v. 1, above the home v. 3, away from home v. 4, coming to the home v.v. 10, 12, and await another time to expound more fully. Yet, are their themes not current? Do we see that while times and culture may have changed, principles remain inflexible, immutable; calling upon us to acknowledge the Infinite? Is not the apostle, before our very gaze revealing his desire, yea his intention, to weld together these unerring principles to the practice of everyday life by projecting unto the page of Holy Writ a Spirit inspired example of a lady and her children moving for divine pleasure? What is filtering through to us, as we read the text, is that the writer means us to grasp that in spite of current trends and changes we ought to reason things out from the Father's standpoint, and so emulate Him who is uniquely and singularly called in this passage "the Son of the Father", v. 3.
"The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth", v. 1. Scarcely has he lifted his pen than he raises the standards. This is so characteristic of the apostle we have come to know and love through his writings. He writes to this sister and her children, using a language which indicates clearly the spiritual quality of his described appreciation. This type of appreciation will think firstly of Divine Sovereignty, she is "elect". Whatever her station in life, a spiritual man values a work of God. Secondly, his love for her and her children will come from a Divine Source. Here the verb used for love indicates divine love. Thirdly, he will view them in relation to a Divine Sphere, "in truth". In other words, his focus will be controlled by the word of God. Moreover the writer admits that he is not alone in this, there is a company described as "all they that have known the truth", that is, they have come to know it and are at present rejoicing in that knowledge. These have the same love, for it is derived from the same source.
By ordering her life after God, in the sphere of truth, this lady and her children have earned the heartfelt respect of the apostle, like-minded believers., even heaven itself and found a notable place on the page of inspiration. Today much is discussed as to sisters' ministry. Here is one area, packed with potential for God and influence for good, yet having a wholesome and perhaps lasting bearing upon assembly life, without infringement of any principle of God's Word, indeed quite the reverse. Whatever others may have thought, it was God's standards which weighed heavily with this sister. The prayers, sighs, perhaps tears of earlier life (for she was subject to like passions as we are) had borne fruit as she saw a pathway leading from her door and her children walking in it, a testimony of obedience to the Lord. What are the world's values when compared with these?
The encouragement given by the apostle in verse 2 is delightful. Has this lady aligned herself with the truth; then she shall know blessing which is permanent, "For the truth's sake which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever." Thus emphasizing and developing the word in the Gospel of John 14. 17 regarding the Spirit of Truth, so contrary to the world, yet Himself comforting to the believer. Whatever and whoever may fail, the truth shall remain and retain its inherent majesty and purity. There are also other things that shall remain, "Grace mercy and peace", v. 3. Hence the permanent character of the word of God and the wealth of God is highlighted. Again verse 3 reminds us of the fount of these blessings, they are "from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father". The double use of the preposition "from" is significant. It is the Greek para not apo and implies the interest and intimacy of the Persons in the blessings which are bestowed. The fact that it is used twice here serves to remind us of the distinction of Persons within the Godhead while maintaining the emphasis on the oneness of purpose which is revealed. The title "Lord" is not present in some texts.
How beautiful to discern John's appreciation of the truth. He has been observing it in the life of this lady and her children and indicating something of their appreciation of it also as manifest in conduct. Now he appears to gather up all that he has been trying to convey about truth, obedience and relationships, and by using an expression found here only in the New Testament, he focuses our absolute attention upon the Person of Christ. He is supremely, uniquely, eternally, characteristically and obediently "the Son of the Father". Only here does the truth find perfect expression. From the Father, from Himself, all that comes to us, comes "in truth and love". The wealth and warmth of the Godhead is ours to enjoy.
"I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth", v. 4. Many broken hearts have been caused by children once they leave the comparative shelter of the home sphere. All too often the sense of release has given way to tremors of rebellion already under the surface, with devastating results for all concerned. Where did these children learn true values? Why did they act so differently? Was it because of the faith, truth and love first witnessed in their own home sphere? Something was inculcated into the life of Moses and of Timothy that all the glamour and godlessness of this world could not stifle or destroy. They had come individually to embrace a faith already observed within the confines of the home. Thus it had been with the children in our text so that when away from home the apostle "rejoiced greatly" to find them "walking in truth". Note then the Manner of obedience, "walking in truth". The verb used indicates that this walk was not occasional (e.g. when under the eye of the apostle), their whole life was regulated by it. Then "as we have received commandment", the Measure of obedience. It was complete and unreserved. Compare the force of "even as", as John uses it, 1 John 2. 6, 27; 3. 3, 7, 23; 4. 17. This commandment was "from (again incidentally, it is the Greek para) the Father". Here is the Motive for obedience. It came from the One to whose spiritual family they belonged.
Well might John rejoice, parents rejoice, the assembly rejoice that the truth was indeed appreciated in its Purity-"whom I love in the truth"; by its People-"all they that have known the truth", v. 1; because of its Permanence-"shall be with us forever", v. 3; and here in verse four, in its Practice-"walking in truth". This family would be an asset to any company of believers.