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Last week we closed the book on John’s first letter. One would think that everything that needed to be covered was covered. But John felt the need to send another letter, probably fairly soon after the first. We don’t know the exact date, but it was sometime around 90 A.D. This is a short letter, just 13 verses and is referred to as a postcard letter, likely written on just one page of papyrus. Did John really write this letter and if so, who did he write to this time and why did he write it? Great questions. We’ll answer these and more as we look at John’s second letter.
I’d like you to read all of 2 John to get a feeling for the context.
Look at the strange greeting. The writer calls himself the Elder. Why not just say his name? This term gives us the idea of the author’s relationship and position with his readers. When I send an email to my kids, I sign it “Dad.” There are millions of dads in the world so how do they know it’s really from me? Context! They know it’s from me without giving my name because of what is in the email. The idea here is that the recipients of the letter would know who it is simply because he calls himself the elder. For the people he’s writing to, his position is more important than his name. Elder gives us the idea of someone that is old or aged. In the church, the word elder carries more significance. It gives us the idea of authority and leadership, of someone that is an example of Christian character and maturity. Peter says that elders are examples to the flock in 1 Pet. 5:3. In Scripture the word is typically plural and refers to a group of men that are in authority in a local assembly of Christians. At the time of this letter, the elder is at the end of his life and there isn’t a need for him to identify himself. His readers know who it is and by the context of the letter, there is little doubt that it is the Apostle John, the last living apostle. So who is John writing to? He’s writing, “To the chosen lady and her children.” This is a strange way to address the letter, but think about the way you have written letters or sent cards. You might write a letter beginning with, “To my dearest wife [husband].” If Kari gets a letter that says, “To my dearest wife,” I guarantee she’ll know who it’s from. So this letter is, “To the chosen lady and her children.” Look how John describes them. Of the recipients of the letter John says, “Whom I love in the 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.” If we think back to 1 John, we know he wrote to the church. He described the church as having fellowship with John and his colleagues because they have fellowship with the Father and His Son. Now here in 2 John, look at the key words that pop out. Love, truth, know, and abide. All were key words in 1 John. He mentions truth four times in the first three verses.
It’s personal for John. Of the people he’s writing to he says, “I love in the truth.” There is an intimate, personal relationship between the author and the recipients. He wants them to know he loves them – present tense. His love for them should motivate them to listen to what he is saying – to what he is about to say. His love for them would pull at their heart strings. When you know someone loves you, you should have a desire to listen to them even when what is said is difficult to hear. The overarching attribute is love. That should be the caveat. If I have to talk to you about something, you should be thinking, I know that Pastor Ian loves me. But how does John love? He loves them in truth. Love means telling people not what they want to hear, but what the truth is. In Eph. 4:15 Paul said, “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” Truth is part of our spiritual growth. There were a lot of things John wrote in his first letter that was hard to hear. We need to look at the evidence rather than what we want to believe and that is often difficult. That’s how we grow in Christ. Remember that John said, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 Jo. 3:18)
You cannot separate love and truth. Truth is the foundation of love. Truth defines love. Truth matters and it really mattered to John. Remember the great words of Jesus in Jo.14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Truth is the cornerstone of our salvation. It is truth that makes us free in Jo. 8:32. It is God our Savior who, “Desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4) Even a small untruth in the church can cause devastating results. Truth is not relative. Truth is not dependant on the individual or the situation. Truth is truth. There are people that try to deceive, that try to challenge the truth, that seek to derail and destroy you. Peter warned that “False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” (2 Pet. 2:1) Paul cautioned the Romans by saying, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” (Rom. 16:17) Paul told Timothy to, “Remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.” (1 Tim.1:3) As long as there are people, there will be error. The only way to combat that error is to know the truth. Not only does John love them, “But also all who know the truth.” This gives some additional insight into who John is writing to. In his first letter, John said that the words he proclaimed was so that the people he was writing to could have fellowship with John and his colleagues because their fellowship was with the Father and His Son. (1 Jo. 1:3) “All who know the truth.” You’re not born with truth though. Remember that John said he and his colleagues had, “Come to know the truth.” (1 Jo. 2:3) Those that know the truth are the ones that keep God’s commandments. “All who know the truth” would be lumped together in what we call the universal church. People all across the world and across time that have recognized the truth that is found in the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ love the people John is writing to. Remember one of the distinguishing marks of a Christian is the ability to love.
So what? The so what is found in v. 2. It is, “For the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” There are two things that are really significant in this verse. First, the truth abides in us. As an authentic child of God, the truth lives in you, lives in me. Since the truth is in us, we must be devoted to God the Father and to His Son Jesus Christ. That should mean something. That abiding presence provides for our transformation because we are renewing our mind with the truth. As we live in Christ each day, we equip ourselves with the tools necessary to fight off the false teachers and deceivers that are sure to come. Second, the truth will be us forever. Forever is a long time. That truth is unchanging because its source is God who is unchanging.
A stern warning is found in Jude 17-23. The truth is able to save, able to transform. The truth makes a difference. John closes out his greeting in v. 3. Notice that he says, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us.” I don’t want you to lose the importance of this simple, yet profound greeting. This is the Christian Triple Crown. Grace – giving us what we do not deserve. Mercy – not giving us what we deserve. Peace – giving us what we need based on His grace and mercy. The word order is significant. God’s grace is always first. Mercy and peace flow out of His grace. “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us.” John is confident because grace, mercy, and peace come, “from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.” God and Jesus are on equal footing. They are the same and have the ability to offer the same things yet John distinguishes between the two. Blessings flow equally from the Father and the Son. What you receive from the Father, you can receive from the Son. What you receive from the Son, you can receive from the Father. They are the same, yet separate. Any theological premise that does not include the God the Father being equal yet separate with God the Son is faulty. One final piece of importance in this verse. Notice the key words truth and love at the end. They’re at the end indicating the importance. Truth and love cannot be separated. You cannot have one without the other. John is preparing us for what is to come.
If we are to be the church God intends us to be, we must be unwavering in the truth. If this is to be the case, then love must surely follow. Truth should bring unity. Truth is the only way to fight against the falsehood that is so prevalent today – even in Christian circles. So our journey into this short letter has begun.