Love and Truth: A Study of Second John
Early Christians received the second epistle of John from the aged apostle in
the latter quarter 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.
John wrote to "the chosen lady." It appears that this is a personification of a church and not a literal lady. It is not unusual for the Scripture to do so (EPHESIANS 5:22f; II CORINTHIANS 11:2; etc.). The context suggests that "the elect lady" is not a single person but a group of people. For example, the use of the plural
personal pronoun in the Greek in verses 10 and 12. In our English translations the Greek words "humas", "humin" are translated "you." However, these words are more like our southern expression "you all." John refers to the "elect lady" as "you all."
There are two main points which John makes in the letter. One is that we are to walk in love and this means keeping the commandments of God. The second is a warning not to give encouragement to false teachers. Both "truth" and "love" are important. "Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father, in truth and love..." (II JOHN 3).
SALUTATION: A MATTER OF TRUTH
"The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love." (II JOHN 1-3). John uses the word "truth" no less than four times in just the salutation. There is a reason for that. The truth is being threatened by false teachers. Notice what John says concerning the "truth."
First, John says he loves the elect lady and her children. That is to say he loves the church (the elect lady) to which he is writing as a whole as well as the individual members (her children) who make it up. He loves them "in truth." This could mean one of two things: either he loves them sincerely or that he loves them as they both stand in the Lord's truth. Certainly both are true.
Second, John says all who "know the truth" would have the same love for this church as he does. When we "know the truth" of what we are as brothers and sisters in Christ; when we "know the truth" of God's great love for us; when we "know the truth" of what it is to bear God's image as His offspring, then we will love one another as God has loved us.
Third, John says that the truth "abides in us" and that it will be with us "forever." The truth dwells in the faithful Christian. It shows itself through his or her deeds, thoughts and words. If Jesus reigns on the throne of our hearts, then truth is the law of our lives. And to the enemies of truth; to those who mock it and desire it
to disappear, we have this bit of bad news; the truth will be with us forever.
Fourth, The blessings of God; His grace, mercy and peace, will be with us "in truth and love." We must follow the truth and have love for God and one another in order to receive the blessings.
WALKING IN THE TRUTH
"I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment from the Father. And now I ask you, lady, not as writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment that you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it." (II JOHN 4-6). Where the first section emphasized the word "truth," this section elaborates. John commends those who were "walking in truth" and then tells us that this means keeping God's "commandments." And notice something else, though it had been many years since Jesus had ascended back into heaven and the gospel began to be proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, the commandments were the same as when the twelve had stood up and preached the first gospel sermon proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. "Just as you have heard from the beginning" John says. It was "forever." How foolish and prideful to tamper with the truth by seeking to alter the commandments of God to fit our own cultures and fads and opinions.
In these first two sections we discover something else. Jesus is real! His word is true! Truth is objective. It is not what I wish were true or feel is true that determines what is true. It has already been determined. Today many like to say, "It does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere." as if sincerity can make a wrong belief right. It cannot!
John says, "and this is love, that we walk according to His commandments." The real test of faith and love comes in the application. If we love Him, we will keep His commandments.
WARNINGS ABOUT FALSE TEACHERS
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son." (II JOHN 7-9). The reason for the great amount of attention given to truth, the commandments and obeying them is the very real danger which existed (and exists today) of being destroyed by a false teacher. The particular false teachers of John's day were called "deceivers" and "antichrists." They have "gone out into the world" showing that they were once within the church (cf. I JOHN 2:19). They were denying that Jesus had come "in the flesh." They said that that which was divine could not become material flesh. He wasn't really here! His body was an illusion! He did not really die! These teachers were the antichrists. They lived and worked in the first century. The Bible does not use the term "antichrist" to refer to some future world leader.
John cautions "watch yourselves" because it would be possible to "lose what we have accomplished." One writer, who believes it is impossible to fall from grace, said these people were in danger of losing "part of the reward at the judgment seat of Christ." But John says nothing about losing a part of anything. He says we can lose it all or we can receive it all; a full reward!
If we go beyond the teaching, or doctrine of Christ, then we forfeit our relationship with God. This letter stresses the need to walk in the commandments of God. If we push them aside substituting our own doctrines and practices, then we do not have God. We must continue to abide in the teaching of Christ to maintain our
relationship with Him and the Father. Yes! Doctrine does matter!
DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN ANOTHER'S EVIL DEEDS
"If anyone comes to you, and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds." (II JOHN 10,11). If it is true that the "elect lady" is a church, then "house" here could be the place where the saints assemble to worship. Or perhaps Christians are being told not to allow a traveling false teacher a place to stay. At any rate, Christians are prohibited from lending encouragement to false teachers. Do not even wish them well in their work, because whatever encouragement or support we may give them will only serve to aid in the accomplishment of evil. The false teacher must be shown that his teaching is unacceptable.
Truth will be with us forever. It makes us free. We must be loyal to the way, the truth and the life.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 1.8; August, 1994