And This is Love: A Brief Study of 2 John
As a writer, John’s presence in the New Testament is a blessing. He begins with what is probably the most profound paragraph in all of Scripture (John 1:1-5). He established Jesus as the Word, God and the Savior in the flesh all at the same time (cf. John 1:14).
His masterful Gospel goes beyond an autobiographical sketch into an apologetic document proving Jesus was God in the flesh. Through the astounding “I Am” statements, John finalizes his proof with the exclamation of Thomas (John 20:28).
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:7), defended Christ against false teachers who claimed He did not come in the flesh. John frames love in its spiritual context and separates it completely from the typical human emotion. In Christ, love is much deeper.
When John sat down to write his epistles, the same themes he explored in his Gospel came to the forefront. He began with another profound introduction to the deity of Christ in 1 John 1:1-3. In everything that we have recorded from his pen, this theme is on his mind.
When he comes to the second epistle and begins discussing the truth, we return to what we know of John and are quickly on familiar ground. John’s persistence was heart-warming and edifying.
Not much can be said by way of introduction to 2 John. Most all conservative scholars see the epistle as authentic (Woods, 332). There isn’t a consensus as to when it was written. However, John composed this epistle to battle false doctrine and situations specific to the audience addressed.
John wrote “just the number of words which could conveniently be written on one sheet of a papyrus” (Tenney, 439).
“By the time of Ireneus (c. A.D. 180), at least the first and second epistles are explicitly attributed to John (Carson, 447).
“The external evidence for 2 and 3 John is not as strong as for 1 John, partly owing to the fact that they are so brief and somewhat less theologically focused, and thus they would be unlikely to be quoted so often” (Carson, 450).
The most popular origination is Ephesus. “The evidence that John the son of Zebedee moved to Ephesus at the time of the Jewish War is not overwhelming, but it is consistent” and depends on the testimony of Polycrates and Irenaeus (Caton).
2 JOHN 1-3
John calls himself “The Elder” which most likely refers to his advanced age. The Vulgate has “the ancient” instead of “the Elder” and the term “is used originally of seniority in age” (Vincent).
There are two basic views concerning the elect lady and her children.
First, the elect lady and her children should be taken literally. For those who hold this belief, her name is Cyria or Kyria. “Cyria is the English spelling of the Greek kuria, and, etymologically, means lady” (Woods, 337).
Second, the elect lady refers to a congregation.
“Although some scholars still think that an actual family is thus addressed, there can be little doubt that this is a cryptic manner of addressing a church (cf. 1 Peter 5:13), and the whole manner of address is perhaps intended to baffle any hostile persons who might intercept the letter” (Marshall, 2:1095).
“The terminology here suggests that this was a congregation that John did not found. This prevents him from using the image of the father and children, which Paul uses for his relation to the churches founded by him” (Foerster, 3:1095).
The problem arises when we look closer at the text. Who would be the children? “The church has no existence apart from those who constitute its membership” (Woods, 338).
John says, “and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth” (2 John 1:1) (KJV). The New King James Version says, “…but all those who have known the truth” (2 John 1:1).
The church is referred to as a bride (Eph. 5:22-32; Rev. 19:7-9). The Church is Christ’s body (Eph. 1:22-23) and we are added to that body when we are immersed into Christ (Acts 2:47; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-4). Nothing righteous exists outside of the Lord’s Church in the Christian era (Eph. 1:3).
“It is inconceivable that any prominent woman in the early church was known to ‘all who know the truth,’ i.e., every Christian on earth, although such an expression is understandable as a reference to a prominent congregation” (Coffman).
Yet, that would not be necessary. All of the Christians of a certain area could know of her and John’s words could be true. There are ambiguities about the identity of the lady and the situation, as a whole, so we are left with speculation.
We do know that for John, “the fellowship of love is as wide as the fellowship of faith” (Woods, 339). He loved his brethren and understood the church as family (Eph. 2:19).
John is passionate about the Christ, as evidenced by his prologues in John 1 and 1 John 1. John records Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). This was one of the centerpieces of John’s argument in his gospel.
Those who accept the truth of the gospel will “overcome the world” (1 John 5:4-5).
“And B.F. Westcott makes the following distinction: ‘Grace’ points to the absolute freedom of God’s love in relation to man’s helplessness to win it; and ‘mercy’ to His tenderness toward man’s misery. Peace stands for harmony, trust, rest, safety, and freedom; it is God’s gift to man” (Kistemaker, 375).
2 JOHN 4
Our understanding of this verse comes from our interpretation of verse one. Who are the children? Why are only “certain” of the children faithful? We can speculate from the scant information given but we cannot know with certainty what John means.
The phrase “I have found” is taken from a Greek word that brings us “eureka, (Vincent), which means an exciting discovery. John was immensely joyful to know that these brethren were faithful to Christ.
It seems likely or certainly possible that this means that some of her children were not faithful. As we know, “good parents have not always good children” (Gill). Anyone with any experience knows the truth of that statement. However is that what John meant?
“This conclusion, however, does not necessarily follow, and appears to be opposed to the great joy which the apostle expressed. Had he been aware that other children of this faithful sister were ungodly, this would have tempered the joy which he felt at the faithfulness of others. We are justified in assuming no more than what appears on the surface of the text” (Woods, 341).
The word “walking” “conveys the idea of a believer who confesses the truth of God’s Word and who lives in harmony with that Word” (Kistemaker, 377).
2 John 5-6
Paul turns serious and warns her to be very diligent to be faithful in love. Love is a defense that is mentioned throughout God’s Word (John15:12,17). When we love God, His Word and His children, we are stronger than we can ever be against Satan’s attacks.
“The exhortation is earnest. The reason for this was, the fear and anxiety entertained by the apostle that, as false teachers were abroad, danger menaced the lady and her family, and to guard them against all possible influences that might arise, he here shows his great solicitude” (Caton).
Obedience to God’s Word is exhibited in love (John 14:15) because it means we hold His Word to be truth. To reject His Words, we have rejected Him and the One who sent Him (Heb. 11:6). The temerity of such an attitude cannot sustain us in Christ because it is darkness and from the domain of Satan (1 John 1:5).
“Where love does not exist, the keeping of God’s commandments is irksome and hard. To the faithful, the keeping of his commandments is not grievous, because love makes them light” (Woods, 344).
2 JOHN 7-11
The New Testament is very clear about the reality of false teachers (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:13, et al). We must arm ourselves with the gospel so we can withstand Satan’s ferocity (Eph. 6:10-17). Satan is the master liar and only the truth of God can withstand his assaults (John 8:44; Jam. 4:7).
“The word ‘deceivers’ suggests the idea of wanderers, rovers, moving about for the purpose of seducing and leading astray those whom they induce to accept their teachings. These deceivers had gone forth as roving bands, their motive being to deceive, delude, lead the saints away from the faith” (Woods, 345).
“He who denies Christ’s coming in the flesh, denies the possibility of the incarnation; he who denies that he has come, denies its actuality. They denied the possibility of a Messiah’s appearing, or coming, in the flesh” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown).
God did not allow us the possibility of seeing Christ as a mere good teacher. We accept Him as Christ, the Anointed or we reject Him as a liar. He did not intend to give us other options. Those who stand against God are anti-Christ.
Christianity is not a passing fancy or a hobby. It is deadly serious. Satan is constantly out to destroy us so we must always remain vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). John impresses his readers with the solemnity of the task at hand. Faithfulness is a battle with many deceivers around us. However, in Christ we can remain strong.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1).
In Christ, we will be safe and protected from the spiritual wars. In the Word, we walk in the light and Christ goes with us. Abiding in the Word means that we are spiritually minded, with Christ as the King of our lives and we are joyous with Him. To progress beyond His Word is to become disobedient and endangered (1 Cor. 4:6).
In Christ, the Word of God is supreme and the only voice to be heard. When someone speaks a doctrine that is contrary to Scripture, it is sin and must be banished (Gal. 1:6-9).
Christian hospitality was expected of God’s people (Rom. 12:13). “In the first century, accommodations were few, and the means to obtain them often non-existent on the part of the teachers and preachers of the word” (Woods, 349). They would stay with Christians in the various cities.
Clearly, the elect lady was financially able to entertain visitors. However, she must be wary with those whom she gives board. Teachers who propagated false doctrine were to be sent away, so as to protect her home and the souls and reputation of those to whom these teachers would share their poison.
2 JOHN 12-13
We reach the end of this brief epistle with a personal note from the author. He wished to speak to her and everyone else in person, when he could get there. Woods notes that “‘face to face’ is literally ‘mouth to mouth, a phrase also occurring in 3 John 14, and indicating personal presence and communication” (Woods, 350).
John the Apostle is a great man who faithfully served the greatest of all. Known as the Apostle of Love, his legacy is found in the deep, passionate, persuasive words of Scripture.
Love is not a concept for John, but a life. His theology of love is deeper than words can convey. An entire book could be written on his use of love in his writings. It is the thread that runs through everything he says.
History tells us that when he was old and feeble, he would be brought before the people so he could talk about love. We need to spend a lifetime getting to know these his teachings, so we can exhibit this kind of love toward the Lord, our brethren and the lost.
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2. Caton, N.T. Commentary on the Minor Epistles. e-Sword.
3. Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude. e-Sword.
4. Foerster, Werner, (1965). Kurios. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Volume 3. Editor, Gerhard Kittel. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
5. Gill, John. Exposition of the Entire Bible. e-Sword.
6. Holy Bible. King James Version. All Scripture references are from this version unless otherwise indicated.
7. Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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9. Kistemaker, Simon J., (1996), James, Epistles of John, Peter and Jude. Grand Rapids: Baker.
10. Marshall, I. Howard. Epistles of John. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Volume 2. Editor, Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
11. Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Pictorial Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
12. Vincent, Marvin R. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament. e-Sword.
13. Woods, Guy N. (1966). A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John and Jude. Nashville: Gospel Advocate.