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2nd John: Back to the basics of Christianity

The message of Second John closely parallels First John’s theme of a “recall to the fundamentals of the faith” or “back to the basics of Christianity” (verses 4–6). For John, the basics of Christianity are summarized by adherence to the truth (verse 4), love (verse 5), and obedience (verse 6). The apostle, however, conveys an additional but related theme in Second John: “the biblical guidelines for hospitality.” During the first century traveling evangelists relied on the hospitality of church members. Because inns were few and unsafe, believers would take such people into their homes and then give them provisions for their journey. Since Gnostic teachers also relied on hospitality, John warned his readers against taking such people into their homes lest they participate in spreading heresy.

Date: Between A.D. 85-95: This second letter of John is one of the shortest letters in the New Testament. The five shortest books of the Bible, calculated by words in the original languages. Third John (219 words), Second John (245 words), Philemon (335 words), Obadiah (440 words). Jude (461 words).

Verse 1a: “The Elder” There are two main usages of the word “elder” in the New Testament: 1) an older person (Acts 2:17) and 2) someone who holds the office or rank of leadership in the local church (Acts 20:17,18; Titus 1:5,7). The “elder” here is the apostle John who holds rank in the cause of Christ.

“John the apostle, who was now a very old man, generally supposed to be about ninety, and therefore uses the term presbyter or elder, not as the name of an office, but as designated his advanced age. He is allowed to have been the oldest of all the apostles, and to have been the only one who died a natural death.” (Clarke)

Early Christians received the second epistle of John from the aged apostle in the latter part of the first century. He referred to himself as “the elder” and is certainly the last apostle living at the time. You can imagine the esteem with which the early Christians would have viewed the last surviving apostle; one who had actually walked and talked with the Lord. Even among the rest of the early Christians, the number of those who had actually seen Jesus was dwindling down to only a few, and it would not be long until no one would be left from the generation which had witnessed the Savior

Verse 1b: “to the elect lady and her children…”

This is unique with this Second Epistle of John, that it alone of all the New Testament letters is directly addressed to a woman, and not only to her, but also to her children. There are two possibilities: 1) John appears to have been writing to a Christian woman and her family. 2) The congregation to which he is writing is designated metaphorically as the chosen lady and her children; we would say "the church and its members."

“The phrase is, however, more likely to be a personification than a person, not the church at large but some local church over which the elder's jurisdiction was recognized, her children being the church's individual members.” (John Stott)

“This appears to have been some noted person, whom both her singular piety, and rank in the world, made eminent, and capable of having great influence for the support of the Christian interest.” (Poole)

Verse 1c: “whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth…”

Whomever the elect lady was, she was loved by all who have known the truth. If we know and love the truth, we will love those who also know and love the truth - the truth which abides in us also lives in others who know the truth.

Truth gives people an inner desire to love. They loved because of the truth that they shared. Biblical love goes far beyond sentiment and human sympathy. Knowledge of the person and work of Christ cannot do anything else but affect the way we think of others. Five times in the first four verses the Greek word aletheia, meaning “truth” appears.

I came from a large family, there were 10 of us, 8 boys and 2 girls. I loved them very much. They are all deceased now, I am the only one living. I have fond memories of them all, but through the years I have come to love my spiritual family, my brothers and sisters in Christ as I loved my physical family. Why? Because of truth! My brothers and sisters, for the most part did not know the truth. They didn’t know Jesus who is “the Truth” (John 14:6). It’s good to get together with family and talk about old times, it’s even better to get together with our spiritual family to talk about truth!

John was very focused on the truth, as he was in all of his writings. He used the word truth some thirty-seven times in his New Testament writings. What binds Christians together is not social compatibility or political compatibility or class compatibility. What binds us together is truth. This is why truth is so important to Christians.

We live in a world where people see truth as relative. But Jesus said, “I am…the Truth…” (John 14:6). Some people have a hard time accepting absolute truth. Jesus says, "Sanctify them by Your Truth, Your Word is Truth" (John 17:17). “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Free from having never known the truth. “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth…” (Ephesians 6:14). “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Verse 2: “because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever…”

The reason for their love was that the “truth” lives in them. Jesus is the “Truth” (John14:6). So to abide in “Truth” is to abide in Jesus. The truth gives people an inner desire to love. They loved each other because of the truth that they shared. Truth is more than what we know. Love comes from the truth of God’s Word. Truth lives in us and changes us. Truth becomes part of us and it will be in us always. The truth is that we knew the Lord Jesus Christ. We trust in Him for our salvation. We share the life that the Lord gives. He gives it to those who believe the Gospel. This truth is part of us, it lives in us. This is the truth, those who accept the Lord Jesus have eternal life, and live that truth.

Verse 3: “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. Walk in Christ’s Commandments.”

“The permanent nature of their true faith results from God’s grace, mercy and peace, which will keep them in truth and love, and from the grace, mercy and truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, also coming in truth and love. So truth and love are to be the foundation on which they are established, and this by the grace, mercy and peace of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. Note the great stress on Jesus’ true Sonship in His close connection with the Father.” –Peter Pett

“Grace…” “be with you…” The Greek is literally, “Grace shall be with us,” “us” includes you and me. “Grace” covers people’s sin; “mercy,” their miseries. Grace must first do away with a person’s guilt before his misery can be relieved by mercy. Therefore grace stands before mercy. Peace is the result of both, and therefore stands third in order. Casting all our care on the Lord, with thanksgiving, maintains this peace. (1 Peter 5:7).

“In truth and love.” The element or sphere in which grace, mercy, and peace, operate. He mentions truth in 2 John 1:4; love, in 2 John 1:5. Paul uses faith and love; for faith and truth are closely related.

We don’t deserve anything from the Lord. But God will do good things for us, his people. He will show His kindness toward us, “So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7 NLT). He loves us and he will help us in all our troubles, “He comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is ready to forgive us for our sins (1 John 1:9). God will make our hearts calm even when we have troubles. We will have a good relationship with God.

I don’t want what I deserve! I deserve God’s wrath because of my sin, Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” Ephesians 2:4,5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…” God gave everything He had so might have everything He has! “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” ( 2 Peter 1:3).

God the Father and his Son will bless us. There is only one God. The Father and the Son are equal persons in the Trinity with the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father. This shows the unity that there is between them. The Father and the Son are two persons in the one God. The false teachers taught that Jesus was less than God. But John shows that Jesus is the Christ. He is God the Son.

Verse 4: “I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.”

I can attest with John that it causes great rejoicing to hear that someone upon whom we had some spiritual influence is still keeping the faith. As a pastor for 50 years, I still rejoice to hear about or from those whom we have had some spiritual influence in our ministry. Social media is a blessing in that regard. It’s amazing how many friends that we have found through Facebook. Some whom I once led to Christ or was their pastor, or those whom I had the opportunity to reach through youth camps and our youth ministry. What a blessing!

Our rejoicing is not just because they claim to know the Bible, or even that they go to church, but that they are walking in truth. True Christianity is not a speculative science, but the practice of holy living; and the most exalted knowledge is insufficient for salvation, without a suitable and correspondent practice; therefore, John says, I rejoiced greatly to find of thy children, not barely professing of the truth, but “walking in truth.”

Verses 5, 6: “And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.”

This was the new commandment. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34), but he emphasizes that it is not new in the sense of recent, for it was given by Jesus Christ and known by them from the beginning of their Christian lives. This is no novelty such as the false prophets were presenting. It is based soundly in the words of Jesus Christ.

“This is love, that we walk according to His commandments” (2 John 6). We are to walk in Christ’s commandments. These were centered in the reality of love, for they were to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, One of Israel’s leaders asked Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?” “Jesus answered him, (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5-6, ‘The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28-31) Those who did such things would live in them, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:5; Ezekiel 20:11). –Adapted form Peter Pett, 1610–1672

“Let the Reader observe, with me, how sweetly a life of grace in Jesus, leads to a life of holiness in Jesus. ‘As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him, rooted and built up in him’ (Colossians 2:6-7). It is impossible to be otherwise. Where Christ is, there must be fruitfulness in Christ. Exhortations here are all sweet, and in season. But to exhort the unawakened and unregenerate, is like the rain upon the sands and deserts, which can produce nothing! –Robert Hawker, 1753–1827

Verse 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”

“Deceivers” in Greek is planos an adjective, signifying wandering, or leading astray, seducing, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Used as a noun, it denotes an impostor of the vagabond type, and so any kind of deceiver or corrupter.

There is no love which is not based on truth: the love which keeps the commandments keeps the doctrinal as well as the ethical commandments.

John has spoken of these before, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1). “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22,23). These appear to have been Gnostics, for they denied that Jesus was come in the flesh. And this doctrine, so essential to salvation, none could deny but a deceiver and an antichrist.

Galatians 1:8 says “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” And in 1 Peter 2:1, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.”

As spiritual adultery increases in the church, false prophets will flourish as highly sought after speakers, and as Christians accept more of these false teachings indiscriminately, many will fall away, believing in a phony "faith". Since we have been warned, it might be wise to seek insight into how to discern false prophecy--what are false prophets likely to say? What are they like? Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

Verse 8: “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.

God says to watch out! They are to look to themselves so that they retain the truth and live in it, lest they lose what the faithful preachers of the truth have wrought in them. Not that he feared that they would. He knew that God was at work in them “to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). But he wanted them to ensure that they worked it out with greatest care (Philippians 2:13), for he did not want them to lose their full reward.

David Smith paraphrased the meaning thus: “See that you do not forfeit the reward of your labor; get a full wage. Be not like the workmen who toward the close of the day, do their work badly and get less than a full day's pay.”

Verse 9: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.”

Going on in a general way is not enough, they must abide in the true teaching concerning Christ, otherwise it will be evidence that they do not have God. That is, it will mean that they do not know the truth about Him and do not have Him abiding in them. For they cannot have the Father without the Son. Those who do abide in His teaching receive and enjoy both Father and Son. It is not possible to have the One without the other.–Adapted from Peter Pett

“The false teachers evidently considered themselves advanced thinkers, progressing beyond the teaching of Christ; but the apostle here denied the pretensions of such men. Whoever advances beyond the New Testament, has advanced right out of Christianity. Our aim should be not to be advanced, but to abide in the doctrine of Christ.” –James Burton Coffman, 1905- 2006

“The person who either neglects to teach any part of the doctrine of Christ, or who teaches what is not the doctrine of Christ, is culpable, and does not acknowledge God.”–James MacKnight

Verses 10,11: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.”

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8,9).

The problem of false teachers has become so serious that those who are clearly deceivers and do not teach this truth, must not be invited into their house. He must not be welcomed in the church as a brother. He must not be greeted as a brother. To do either would be to be participants with such in their evil behavior. The emphasis here is on not welcoming false teachers in such a way as to give some the impression that they are of the truth. By doing so they would be assisting their deception. “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them” (Titus 3:10).

“The man who comes to undermine men’s faith in Christ is on an evil errand. His work is an evil work. Let no false motives of courtesy or toleration lead you to give any assistance or encouragement to such. Let not your tolerance to men have for its other side indifference to Christ. A tremendous responsibility rests upon us today. Christ is the sole remaining hope of the world. For the sake of our own souls, and all the souls around us, and for all that are coming to be born into this world, let us be faithful. Polycarp, said Dr. Duncan, would have stood a bad chance in an examination by John Owen; but he was a famous man to burn. He was offered his life if he would just say, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and fling a few grains of incense on the altar. No; life at that price was too dear. He could not afford to live at such a cost. Would he swear, then? Revile Christ by a word? No. ‘Eighty and six years,’ said the old man, ‘have I served Him, and He hath done me no wrong. How, then, can I speak evil of my King?’ And then they put him in the fire. He was but a simple, commonplace, pious old man. But he burned well. He has left no system of theology. That was his theology--to burn for Christ, to be ‘faithful unto death.’ God give us to be equally faithful under different and less arduous circumstances, that at the last we too may receive the ‘crown of life.’” –J. M. Gibbon

“When a man is known to suffer from a sadly contagious disease none of his friends will come near the house. There is little need to warn them off: they are all too alarmed to come near. Why is it men are not as much afraid of the contagion of vice? How dare they run risks for themselves and children by allowing evil companions to frequent their house? Sin is as infectious and far more deadly than the smallpox or fever.” –C. H. Spurgeon

Verses 12,13: John’s Farewell Greeting: “Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.”

There is nothing here that needs any further comment. This shows the the affectionate mind of the Apostle John, in watching over the Church. He has had to address the heresies that had sprung up among the people. It must have ben very painful for this old apostle, the one who referred to himself as “the apostle whom Jesus loved” (John 13;23), the one who had leaned on Jesus at the last supper, to live long enough to see men arise who dared to deny that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh.

The Apostle very kindly closes his letter the with the greetings from one branch of the Lord's chosen family to another!

The concluding word, “Amen,” speaks of his sincerity in what he had written to them, and his hearty wishes for the happiness and welfare of them.

**NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**

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