By Ron Halbrook
1, 2, and 3 John are a cluster of spiritual diamonds small in size but full of value and beauty. The second letter consists of a salutation (vv. 1-3), counsel and warning (vv. 4-11), and a conclusion (vv. 12-13). Truth, love, obedience, and the teaching of Christ are presented in perfect union. If these lessons are written upon our heart, we have both the Father and the Son. Whoever transgresses or refuses to abide in that teaching is cut off from God. The Holy Spirit emphasizes this warning in 2 John.
Salutation (vv. 1-3)
John writes as “the elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth.” He is the aged or last – living Apostle. Besides an elect lady and her children, he mentions her sister and nephews in the letter. These are family terms to be taken literally in the absence of any compelling reason to regard them as figurative. John’s use of plural pronouns is considered evidence by some writers that a local church is addressed figuratively. The pronouns are as easily understood if they refer to a lady and her remaining children at home or other people standing with her for the truth. Why is the letter addressed to the lady rather than her husband? Among first century saints, as today, many widows were serving God and many women whose husbands did not serve Him. These women are elect or chosen unto God through the gospel which He gave, which they have obeyed, and in which they stand (1 Cor. 15:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:13-15).
Legion are the numbers of such Christians through the centuries, unknown by name in recorded history and, therefore, unknown to us. These who are passed by as nothing in the esteem of this world are the very elect of God (1 Cor. 1:26-29). John’s letter reminds us that our lives and the choices we make are recorded in heaven. If we look to eternity and seek the esteem of God, our lives have meaning and purpose which pale the annals of history written by and about a humanity shrouded in darkness.
John’s love was without alloy, corruption, hypocrisy, or sinister motives. He did not love the lady as seeking to use her for his own lust or greed but loved her “for the truth’s sake.” All who “know the truth” know this love toward all of the elect of God. Here is a life and love which find all their object and meaning in the truth. It – the truth – is both in use and with us, both for time and eternity, so long as we are faithful to it, truly living our lives “for the truth’s sake.”
John wishes and pronounces with confidence a three-fold blessing. Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor, from which all blessings flow, especially those of His merciful compassion and forgiveness in reconciliation for the sinner. This bounty comes “from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.” This identifies Jesus Christ as Deity, sharing the nature of Godhood. He is the unique Son of God, not in the sense that one’s sonship can be used to express the beginning of His existence but rather in the sense that one’s sonship guarantees the nature of His identity. Jesus Christ is “the Son of the Father,” guaranteeing that the Father and the Son share the one nature of Deity. In the Godhead, truth and love are united. They are cords inseparably intertwined. So it is to be among men who serve God. The Holy Spirit makes “‘truth and love” major themes of John’s letter. Grace, mercy, and peace from God dwell only in the realm of truth and love.
Counsel And Warning (vv. 4-11)
John rejoiced greatly to have found in his travel some of the lady’s children who were “walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.” This denotes truly living the pattern of conduct commanded by God. God’s truth, love, and law are Divine in origin; therefore they are exalted beyond all powers of human experience or imagination (as to origin). Yet this Divine truth, love, and law is given to and for man. They are perfectly adapted to his need and ability. The gospel for the high, low, mighty, weak, wise, and uneducated is also for both old and young. John found some children of a godly mother who were giving the strength of their youth to God. We still find them today, a marvelous testimony to the simplicity of the gospel. Christ belongs to all of humanity suffering under the crushing weight of sin. If only men will hear Him and have Him, He is the answer to their deepest needs. He is adequate, more than adequate, all-sufficient!
The life of truth and love is embraced by means of God’s commandment. God has revealed truth for our belief, provided the example of love for our imitation, and spoken His law for our obedience. All this – truth, love, and law – is found in the person of Jesus Christ. In Him, God gave and we find the fulness of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14-18). “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (14:6). The truth “is identical with Christ’s message (Jn. 1:17), and with Christ’s Person (Jn. 14:7)” (B.F. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, p. 225). All of- truth prepared for man. is given by God through Christ and summed up in Him. W.E. Vine’s Epistles of John comments on 2 John 4,
Love, truth and obedience are connected. Love without obedience is mere sentiment, and lacks reality. Obedience without love is mere servility. Love and obedience must be founded on, and directed by, truth. Truth finds its expression and activity in love; they form together (and they are found together here only in the N.T.) a doctrinal and a moral harmony (p. 115).
The perfect harmony of love, truth, and obedience are perfectly manifested in life, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ.
Love Obeys, Obedience Loves (vv. 5-6)
John appeals to the lady to continue in the love which Jesus originally taught the Apostles and which John originally taught her. The defense of apostolic authority appears here as throughout the letter. John admonishes all who are with his Christian friend to continue in the truth of love and the love of truth, without wavering, in keeping with apostolic instruction. Beyond this teaching are found no truth and no love.
The command to love began when God first made man. Yet, in the person and work of Jesus Christ a new and higher standard of love is revealed. With the fulness of grace and truth came also the fulness of love. The Master said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn. 13:34-35). It is this love which causes one to give of himself for the good of someone else. Jesus gave until there was nothing left He gave His life!
This is the love which John had preached and the lady had “heard from the beginning,” that “ye should walk in it.” The love which Christ manifested summarizes the love which God commands. “The commandment” is love, for this encompasses all else that God asks. Therefore, the realization of this commandment (singular) involves our walking “after his commandments” (plural). “Love strives to realize in detail every separate expression of the will of God” (Westcott, p. 228). “The plural expresses the attitude of love in general; it consists in the fulfillment of all God’s will” (Vine, p. 115). But all of God’s will is summarized in the unselfish, sacrificial love of Christ. If we will but surrender arrogant love of self for an unselfish love of God and fellow man, our obedience will be easy and our duty in all things delightful.
All of our service to and life in God is realized as we walk in love, as did His Son. It is not optional. Neither is it drudgery. This love so fully characterizes God that it may be said, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Never are we closer to God, never so satisfied in fulfilling the purpose of our existence, never so truly blessed and happy, than when walking in this love which gladly embraces and gladly obeys every command of God.
A Deceiver and An Antichrist (vv. 7-8)
Since our love for God is inseparably intertwined with truth and obedience, this love perfectly protects us from the subtle maneuvers of error. Therefore, John moves easily from admonitions on love to warnings against error. Not a few, but many deceivers have gone out from the Apostles and their adherents, as though representing the great cause of truth. In particular, John names those teachers who confess not – whether by positive denial or by studied omission – the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Historians tell of various theories popular in the first and second centuries which considered all matter and, therefore, human flesh as evil in essence. In view of this theory, God had not actually come in flesh nor could He ever so come. Man’s goal must be to transcend and escape life in the flesh. Christians by keen intellectual insights can reach levels of spiritual development which free man from the taint of the fleshly body, from the restraints against sin in the body, and from the limits of apostolic teaching. It must be stressed that the false teachers specified by John believed in God, the Bible, the life of Jesus, the church, and other matters taught by the Apostles. Why, then, the problem? Why not emphasize agreements and build bridges? The same men differed as to the content of teaching on the above themes and failed to see that the gospel is emasculated by the deviation. These are the same deceivers discussed in I John who argued that man can walk in the light of God will continuing to practice sin in the body.
The false teacher rarely sees the destructive implication and effects of his fond theories, and so usually protests that his opponents see dangers which do not exist. He cries that he is misunderstood, misquoted, and mistreated. What the false teacher whom John opposed did not see is that the deviation invalidated the atonement, human redemption, the mediation of Jesus Christ, the meaning of His example, to us, His position as man’s sympathetic Savior, and much more. “If Christ be not truly human, the chasm which parted earth and heaven has not been bridged over. God, as before the Incarnation, is still awful, remote, inaccessible” (quoted in Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22: The Second Epistle of John, p. 10). The same may be said of the modern theories denying the Deity of Jesus Christ. If Jesus be not truly Divine, the chasm still exists and we are utterly without any certain knowledge of God’s will and of His purpose for us in life.
The theories of men in departing from apostolic truth oppose both man and God. “In the capacity of `the deceiver’ the evil teacher acts against men; in his capacity as ‘the antichrist’ he acts against God” (Vine, p. 117). As can be seen in the case with which John dealt, man destroys himself when he opposes the truth revealed by God.
In the face of error’s subtle appeal and destructive force, the elect lady and those with her are cautioned to examine themselves. Eternal vigilance is the price of truth and freedom from Satan’s snares. Apostolic teaching had produced fruit in the form of adherents. Brethren who wished to receive the final and full reward must maintain their stand for apostolic truth. By neglect, indifference, and compromise, the labor’s of John could be nullified or lost. Accompanying the loss to John of his labor’s fruit would be the greater loss to his brethren who were seduced – the loss of their eternal reward.
Whosoever Transgresseth (vv. 9-11)
The danger of losing the eternal reward is not confined to any one person, one group, one sin, or one false doctrine. It is “whosoever” transgresses, goes onward, or pushes forward. “Whosoever” means everyone and anyone. The transgression or forward march is parallel to abiding not in the doctrine of Christ. The key idea is the violation of set limits. Invariably, the false teacher regards his movement beyond the limits of New Testament teaching as exciting discovery, progress, advance, greater knowledge, deeper experience of truth, liberation from enclosure, and the sweet secrets of super spirituality. The simply faith and practice of the New Testament, along with those adhering to these, are regarded with a mixture of contempt and condescension. The spirit is accompanied by pious professions of humility with both pity and consternation for the opponents labeled “traditionalists,” “legalists,” “antis,” “religious detectives,” “spiritual cannibals,” “political brokers,” “brotherhood watchdogs,” and the like.
The boundary lines for truth, love, and obedience are laid down by the teaching of Jesus Christ. To go beyond what Christ taught (both in person and through His Apostles; Heb. 2:1-4; Jude 3) is to go beyond God, that is, to leave Him and lose Him. Why? Because “God” is “both the Father and the Son.” To leave one is to leave the other, and to lose either is to lose God. “Both the Father and the Son” are one in nature, will, purpose, and teaching. As to persons or the individuality of personality, it is “both .the Father and the Son” – two. But as to the nature of Deity, it is one nature – the nature of “God.” Therefore, the man who abides in the teaching from Jesus Christ, has the Father as well as the Son. – The gospel reveals that it is utterly inconceivable and impossible to have God, except through the teaching of Jesus Christ. When He promised to guide the Apostles into “all truth” (“the truth in all its parts”), He affirmed, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father except by me” (see Jn. 14:6, 16-17, 26; 16:13). All our knowledge of the teaching of Christ is through His Apostles. All our knowledge of the teaching of God is through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We must, therefore, abide in this teaching!
When the false teacher comes to us for aid and comfort, hoping to utilize our name, influence, and facilities to advance his cause, what are we to do? He is not to be received into the house. Do not invite Satan to make your house his workshop, hotel, base of operation, and classroom. Shut the door. Send the man on his way. Let him go elsewhere. Do not wish him well in his work. To give aid and comfort to the enemies of God in their destructive cause is to share to some degree in their destructive work. If we share their work, we must share their reward. Thus, we number ourselves with those who have not God. The elect lady is to make her home a bastion for truth, a bastion against error – closed up tightly against every advance of its advocates. Their siren calls for sympathy and for help to their cause, though sung with bewitching sweetness, are to be utterly rejected. Let the Trojan horse stand outside the gates until it decides to move on or else rots in the weather.
Conclusion (vv. 12-13)
John’s heart is all full of admonition, warning, and encouragement, but he says that his brief letter must suffice until he can come for a personal visit. He seeks only the lady’s good and that her joy may be full. Her nephews send greetings. So the letter ends with this tender human touch. This letter shines brilliantly with love for God and for truth, and love for the brethren. Let us catch the gleam in our own hearts and lives that we, too, may send it on.
- To whom did John write? What are some things we can learn about this person’s family, circumstances, and influence?
- Discuss the nature of John’s love for this person.
- How does John introduce the nature of the Godhead, and what blessings come from God?
- What may we learn from the lady’s children living as God commanded?
- Does John teach love without obedience, or obedience without love? Discuss.
- How is Jesus Christ the perfect standard of love?
- What are some dangerous implications and consequences of not confessing Jesus Christ is come in the flesh?
- Discuss the difference between how the false teacher views himself and how the Holy Spirit teaches us in 2 Jn. 9 to view the false teacher.
- Why must we abide in the teaching of Christ and not abide in the violation of that doctrine?
- What must we do when the false teacher comes seeking our aid to advance his cause?
Guardian of Truth XXV: 15, pp. 230-233
April 9, 1981