Introduction to the Second Epistle of John
In this second epistle we find that the author is one again writing about love. Certainly believers are called to “love one another” (v. 5). But what does it actually mean to ‘love one another’? Does this mean that I just let my love and generosity overflow toward anybody I encounter? Are there any limits to this love? Am I supposed to feel something emotional? What about truth? Just how far does a believer go toward loving others? How about non-Christians?
Many first century believers struggled with these same questions that Christians do today. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, John wrote to a lady not only about what love is, but also about how to love in truth. If the church paid more attention to 2 and 3 John we would avoid many of the problems that exist in the church today.
The historical evidence is a little weaker since we have no clear name given for the elder. While Irenaeus believed that John wrote the epistle, he also felt that it was really an extension of the first epistle (MacDonald 1145). Not only do Clement and Dionysius of Alexandria attest to Johannan authorship, but also soon after these early church fathers most people accepted the Apostle John as the author.
There are two definite possibilities as to why the author omitted his name. First, the language and the style of the epistle are easily recognizable. Thus, the omission of his name indicates that he had a very close relationship with this lady. Another possibility is that “2 John may have come in a bundle of letters to the church where the address was unnecessary. Perhaps, too, John wanted to protect himself and his readers from persecution should the letter fall into the wrong hands (Matlack 98).” Either case, there is very little dispute today over the authorship of this letter.
Unlike the historical evidence, the textual evidence is very strong. Based on the text the elder could have been referring to either the author’s age or his position in the church. Even though John does not openly disclose his name as in the Gospel or in his first Epistle, both the style of writing and the vocabulary leave very little room for dispute. Truth, love, joy and doctrine are just a few of things that are always found in his writings.
See the Gospel of John for a biography of the author.
Date and Destination
Most commentators feel that both second and third John were written in a very early period (60’s) or later in John’s life (85-90). If the letters were written in the earlier period, then it could have been written while John was in Jerusalem. However, many commentators feel that a later date was more likely. Swindoll explained it this way:
“The writer of this letter identified himself in the very first verse ‘the elder’. More than likely this was a reference to the writer’s age rather than to his official position…at the time of the writing of this letter (about A.D. 90), The apostle John was one of the last living witnesses who had literally walked with Jesus. By now most of the other disciples had been martyred” (1377).
Since this position is more likely, the epistles were penned around A.D. 85-90.
Throughout the church age there have been two views as to whom the epistle was written. Some fine biblical scholars feel that this epistle was written to a local church.
“The letter is addressed to the elect lady (eklekte kuria, ‘the lady chosen of God,’ NEB) and her children. Two interpretations have made proper names out of the Greek and thus refer it to an individual: (a) Electa, the Beloved, and (b) the elect Kuria. The more probable meaning is that the elect lady has reference to a local church; her children (cf. 4) would then refer to her church members” (Blaney 408).
In addition to this commentator, many scholars believe that this was, in fact, a local congregation.
While many fine theologians believe that the “lady” is a symbolic representation of a specific church, it would be unusual for John to refer to some of her children (members or other congregations?) walking in the truth or her sister (another congregation?) sending her greetings. As Blaney pointed out in the quotation above, the literal Greek meaning of the elect lady (eklekte kuria) is “the lady chosen of God”. As the saying goes, “when common sense makes good sense, seek no other sense”. Therefore, unlike many of the epistles in the New Testament, this letter is not written to a general audience, but rather to a specific lady in a specific congregation with children and a sister.
John did not write this letter as a formal written church document. He addresses this epistle to a lady whom he “loves in the truth” (v. 1). He not only loves her but also wishes her God’s grace, mercy and peace in truth and love (v. 3). He also calls her “dear lady” (v. 5 NIV). This wonderful lady was a woman that John cared deeply about. Since we are a part of the body of Christ and members of one another (1 Cor 12:27), we are able to care more deeply for brothers and sisters in Christ than even our own blood relatives.
As in his Gospel and other epistles, John chooses to repeat key terms and words to further develop his point. Truth (vv. 1-3), joy (vv. 4, 12), love (vv. 5-6), doctrine (vv. 7, 10, 11) are just a few of the words that John repeatedly uses to enforce his position. One could actually find out what the apostle John considered important in his written works by looking at his use of vocabulary. His written style has always been built around key terms.
Love One Another in Truth
Like his other written works, John reminds the lady that we are to “love one another” (v. 5). Believers need to walk in love. Like a river, we need to let our love flow. Even though many believers are hesitant to demonstrate their love, the Bible is very clear. We are to love one another and fulfill the law (Rom 13:8).
But how exactly do Christians love one another? John states in verse 6 that to love one another a disciple must “walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, that, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it”. To love one another is to obey the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). This is done through obedience to God’s word, which is truth (John 17:17). Thus, as believers we are not to “love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). True love will always be based in truth.
Love is a lot like a river. Just as a beautiful river flows with water and life, a Christian’s love should flow from his life. As long as a believer exercises caution and discernment in loving others, his love will graciously flow into the lives of other people. Christians demonstrate God’s love when they love in truth. However, destruction and tragedy occurs when a river overflows its banks. Just as a flood can devastate an entire region, love that does not flow between the banks of both truth and discernment will cause severe damage not only to the believer, but also to the cause of Christ.
This is precisely the problem that John addresses. At the end of the first century the church had was experiencing doctrinal issues. Since most of the apostles were martyred there was a lack of direction. In addition, the canon of scripture was not yet completed; as a result, the church lacked a solid foundation. Therefore, itinerant ministers would travel from congregation to congregation instructing believers in the truth of God. These men of God would receive hospitality, food and even money for serving the local body. It was an opportune time for false teachers to infiltrate the church. Like today, people figured out that they could presume upon the hospitality of these precious believers, some living the easy life while others would propagate the false doctrines of Gnosticism. Like the sects and cults of today, these men easily penetrated the church.
In this letter John was trying to warn the lady of the tragic consequences of indiscriminate love. She was very warm and hospitable, welcoming everybody into her house, regardless of their beliefs or intentions. While the lady is to be commended for her willingness to open up her home, she did not exercise sound judgment. She willingly allowed anybody to stay in her home. Thus, John does not discourage her hospitality, but rather exhorts her to be discerning in her love. He exhorts her to examine what these traveling ministers believe. If what they believe and teach does not match with the teaching of Christ, then she is to refuse assistance.
But how is a follower of Jesus Christ able to recognize a deceiver? A deceiver is anyone that does not confess, “that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (v. 7). These people “transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ” (v. 9). Thus, deceivers are people that deny the incarnation as well as his teachings about who he was and his commandments. Furthermore, many deceivers deny the substitutionary atonement and resurrection.
There is good news, however. “He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (v. 9). A true believer will always know and continue in the doctrine of Christ. By studying and meditating on the word of God, all of Christ’s disciples will easily recognize all false teachers and deceivers. Then and only then we discern to whom we give assistance. Therefore, the central theme to this epistle is that “we should give no cooperation whatever to a person who is spreading error regarding the person of our Lord” (MacDonald 1145).
Structure of the Epistle
In the beginning of this epistle John expresses his deep feelings for the lady and her children. Since the love is based on truth, it is pure and proper. The only way that people can truly be blessed is through truth and love. They are inextricably tied together. In verse 3 he desires that be blessed with “grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Would to God that each Christian depend on His grace and mercy to see us through every circumstance! Then we would experience the peace of God which “passeth all understanding” (Phil 4:7).
In verse 4 John speaks about the joy of seeing this lady’s children walking in the truth. The apostle continues in verse 5 by reminding this lady not only to continue to love others, but also to love others “according to his commandments” (i.e. in truth). (v. 6). Biblical love with never contradict the commandments of Scripture (Rom 13:8-10). “True love never compromises its standards. Never consents to sin. Rather, it leads us and those we care about closer to Christ” (Matlack 102).
The author quickly gets to the point in this brief epistle. He is clearly warning her about the deceivers. As mentioned earlier, even though these false teachers (Gnostics) outwardly demonstrated respect for the Messiah, their aberrant teachings mislead many well-meaning Christians. They would mix the truth of Christ with many false doctrines, which diluted the potency of His words and Scripture. By practically assisting these false teachers in the name of love, she was inadvertently showing support for their cause; thus, participating indirectly with their evil deeds. The point of this epistle is that believers are to stand firm in the truth. This does not mean that they are to be rude to every person who knocks on their door teaching false doctrine, but rather they are to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Finally in verses 12-13 John affirms his desire to visit the lady face to face. The point of this epistle is that we are to love on another within the bounds of truth and discernment; stand up for what is right no matter the cost. May God grant that each believer love not “in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
1. Salutation (1-3)
2. Exhortation (4-6)
3. Teaching (7-11)
4. Closing (12-13)
Blaney, Harvey S. The Second Epistle of John. Vol. 10 of Beacons Bible Commentary. 10 vols. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964.
Gire, Ken and Bryce Klabunde. New Testament Postcards. Anaheim: Insight for Living, 1996.
MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary: New Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc., 1990.
Matlack, Gary, and Bryce Klabunde. 2 Thessalonians through Revelation. Vol. 5 of God’s Masterwork: A concerto in Sixty-Six Movements. 5 vols. Anaheim: Sinclair Printing Company, 1997.
Swindoll, Charles R., ed. The Living Insights Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.
Vine, W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.
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