An Exposition of the Second Letter of John – Part 2
Sacred Salutation (vs. 1-2)
As we unpack the contents of Second John, the writer begins by identifying himself as the elder. This term can refer to an older person or a church leader. In John’s case the elder serves both purposes. John as the elder is an older man who is wise, humble, and experienced in life. The elder is also an appellation that points to his position of dignity and authority in the church.
The elder serves as an official title for the apostle. John was the last surviving original apostle of the Lord. As a long time bond-servant of the Lord Jesus, John was both well known and highly respected in the Christian churches. Everyone knew who this particular elder was.
John, following the customary form of letter writing, next addresses his recipients. He writes to the chosen (elect) lady and her children. Commentators are about equally divided as to who this chosen lady is.
Some believe she is a well known Christian woman. The homes of the early Christians were important places which served two purposes. The homes of some believers provided havens for basic hospitality offered to traveling teachers. Homes also served as meeting places for worship and prayer. With inns not having the best of reputations and the absence of church buildings, Christians opened their hearts and homes for the service of the gospel. Thus the ‘house-church’ was born. Some of the hosts we read about in the New Testament were Mary, the mother of John Mark, Nympha, Lydia, Philemon, and Pricilla and Aquila.
Others see the chosen lady as a veiled reference to a local church. Peter does this in his first letter where he writes, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings […]” (1 Peter 5:13). She refers to the church at Rome (Babylon). In Scripture the church is likened to a woman. Paul refers to the church in Ephesians 5 as “her”. In Revelation 21, the angel showed John the glorified church which is called “the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” John saw and told of “her brilliance […]”.
It is unusual for John not to mention a proper name since he doesn’t hesitate to name individuals like Giaus, Diotrephes, and Demitrius in his third letter. Perhaps the letter was penned during a period of persecution as was 1 Peter and the need to protect the congregation. Lastly, John closed his letter with a greeting from the children of her chosen sister. Again, no proper name is used by the apostle. I tend to lean towards the view that John is writing to a local church.
Whether the chosen lady and her children is a Christian woman and her believing children or a specific congregation of believers, we note that John loves them in truth. This is a love marked by sincerity. It is a genuine and true love shared not only by the aged apostle but by all believers who John says, “know the truth.” This reference for truth means the truth of the gospel. Here we see the first indication of the premise we considered in our introduction that ‘truth stands at the cross roads linking of love and obedience’.
We make the following observations. All who are the true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ share the common bond of love for one another. We may not all agree on certain matters such as church government, the proper subjects and administration of Christian Baptism, or the meaning of the millennium. These differences must not stand in the way of manifesting the love of Christ to one another. Sincere love that is real and deep should be pinned as a badge on the heart of every believer.
We must exercise kindness toward those who may differ with us on certain points of the faith and do so in love. All too often Christians forget the many things they have in common. When they don’t see eye to eye, they can they resort to unwarranted name calling and bitter criticism. This should not happen among God’s people.
George Whitfield and John Wesley were two of the great Christian leaders of the 18th century. Both were mightily used by God to bring revival to a spiritually barren England. These men had divergent views on several significant points of doctrine. Yet Whitfield and Wesley never were found to bad mouth one another as it is tempting to do when we have differences in doctrine. Each man held the other in the highest regard as a fellow worker for the gospel. Consider the controversy over the Calvinistic and Armenian positions concerning salvation. When the issue came to a head both Whitfield (holding to the former) and Wesley (holding to the later) conducted their part in the debate in a gracious spirit. They disputed with one another not as enemies but as brothers in Christ. Despite their disagreements (there were several others), was their love for one another as brothers in the Lord sincere? Yes it was.
Whitfield chose Wesley to preach his funeral sermon. When Whitfield passed on into glory, Wesley preached a very loving eulogy. Wesley sincerely valued and loved that mighty preacher.
One day an opponent of Wesley asked George Whitfield if he thought they would see John Wesley in heaven. Whitfield said he didn’t think so. The other fellow thought this meant Whitfield shared his bitterness of Wesley because of his contrary views. But Whitfield’s next remark stopped this brother right in his tracks. Whitfield said the reason they wouldn’t see Wesley in heaven was because he would be so close to the throne of God and they so far back, Wesley would be lost in the brightness of his Savior’s presence.
Going back further in the records of church history consider the great early church theologian, Augustine of Hippo (died 430). He wrote against Pelagius who taught unbiblical views about original sin and human nature. Note Augustine refuted the wrong views of Pelagius who was eventually excommunicated by the church. Not long after there followed the view of the semi-Pelagians. They put forth a modified version of Pelagius’s view. They agreed with Augustine that the entire human race was fallen in Adam. It was only by God’s grace that a person can become saved and do any spiritual good. They went on to teach that although a sinner could not save himself, yet the sinner had the ability to cry out to God for saving grace. Augustine was not with them on this last point. Man did not have the ability (as the Scripture’s clearly teach) in and of himself to turn to God. Despite the error, Augustine sought to refute their mistake and treated them not as enemies but as erring brothers in Christ.
Christians will make mistakes and can harbor error on this side of eternity. When errors arise what do we do? We must in the words of the apostle use gentleness in correcting those who are in opposition (2 Timothy 2:25) and to malign no one (Titus 3:2). Do they love the Lord evidenced by their words and deeds? Do they serve Him with a whole heart? Are they desirous to honor and glorify the Lord? If so, then let us be careful not to assassinate the character of anyone who may differ with us. We must always go to the Scriptures to determine the truth of a doctrine or practice that comes into question. Let us study, mediate, and pray over the Scriptures as we seek to arrive at truth. Let us seek grace to speak the truth in love and not cast aspersions on the character of a brother or sister who may differ with us.
However, more needs to be said. It is imperative that in matters of disagreement we are not found compromising the foundational truths of the Christian Faith. This is the crux of the matter in Second John where the crucial truth of the Person of Christ is addressed in verse seven. It would be spiritual shipwreck to compromise and spiritual suicide to deny such an essential truth. On the foundational tenets of the Faith such as the Person of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, His bodily resurrection, salvation by grace alone through faith, the infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible, and the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit we must not flinch.
Again it is crucial that we contest, overcome, and correct error by depending on the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We must depend on the Him, the Author of Scripture, as we diligently study the precious Word of the Living God. We must seek grace to be sure we are “accurately handling the word of truth” (see Acts 17:11, 19:9, 2 Timothy 2:25).
My former pastor and I had differing views of the meaning of Revelation 20:4 (the 1,000 years). This is probably the most disputed verse in the Bible. We discussed the issue from time to time in a lively and friendly matter. Yet our different views never stood in the way of our relationship to one another as brothers in Christ. It never stood in the way of our working together for the cause of the gospel. It is a shame that some Christians become so adamant concerning their particular position that they put unjust labels on and/or cast aspersions on the character of fellow Christians with whom they disagree. It is more honoring to the Lord to stop the name calling and work and witness together to build Christ’s kingdom. On the foundational truths of Christianity there must be a united front. On the lesser points of disagreement there must be charity. On heresy there must be no tolerance of the error.
The sincere love of John and all believers for the chosen lady and her children rests firmly on the truth of the gospel. Truth stands shoulder to shoulder with love in identifying true Christians. In His high priestly prayer Jesus declared, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus is the truth (see John 14:6). Our Lord is clear that, “By this all men [people] will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The apostle Paul adds that “Love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).
I rejoice over many of the brethren in the Lord I have met in my Christian life. I am encouraged by their sincere love for the truth and one another. I urge everyone who follows the Lord to adhere at all times to the truth of the gospel. Be careful that the Word of God is your final authority in what you believe and how you live. Make the Scriptures your constant companion. The days are evil and full of “other voices” that challenge the absolute truth of God’s Word. Be sure to have the spirit of the Bereans of old (Acts 17:11) who searched the Scriptures daily to confirm the truth of what they were being taught. Pray the Holy Spirit to shed His illuminating light upon the written Word as you read, mediate, and study it.
Pray for your pastors and teachers that God will give them the much needed wisdom, clarity, and earnestness in handling accurately the Word of Truth in their teaching and preaching (1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:1-2).
I urge you as Paul urged the Thessalonians to excel in your love for one another. This will assure that love’s selfless power will positively influence not just our fellow Christians but our unsaved family members, co-workers, and neighbors. Love is our broach. Wear it at all times.
Having a sincere love in word and deed are evidence we are true disciples of the Lord. This will attract the attention of those who don’t know the Lord. Showing the love of Christ in speech and conduct will bring many opportunities to give our testimony. Pray God will be pleased to open blind eyes and soften hard hearts.
Do not underestimate the power of the truth of the gospel. It is the very power of God to bring changed lives and newness of life. Such change is not simply a moral reformation. No matter how much help a person receives from someone trained to deal with problems such as marriage, anger issues, eating disorders, subsistence abuse, fiscal irresponsibility, and so forth; they have no power to free that person from the bondage to sin.
Such helps are good and proper but still have no power to effectively deal with the weakness and spiritual inability of people which is the result of sin. At best they can help remove the unsightly weed. Yet the entrenched root of sin which is the source of such trouble remains. Only the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word can affect a radical inward renewal and dig out the root of sin. His power breaks the bondage to sin. His power deals effectively with our weakness and spiritual inability. His power moves us to confess and forsake sin. His power is at work within us which conforms us to the image of Christ. The gospel is the very power of God which saves the entire person (Romans 1:16).
John continues in verse 2 to show the basis for their love for one another. He writes, “for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” Truth is the unifying element in the lives of Christians. Truth is the foundation upon which love is built. Truth and love go hand in hand. They are the brand marks of the Christian. Truth abides in us and will remain in us because it is absolute, definite, and central to all who belong to Christ in the bonds of saving faith. An old saying reminds us that truth is the best buckler. Carry truth with you, on you, and within you.
May the words of the Psalmist bring amen to our lips and joy to our hearts, “The sum of Thy word is truth […] (Psalm 119:160). God help us to be fellow workers for the truth. Amen.