2 JOHN 1:1-13
The Second and Third Epistles of John are the shortest documents of the New Testament. They are shorter even than the Epistle to Philemon and the Epistle to Jude, which are the only other New Testament Epistles consisting of one chapter each. Each of John’s Second and Third Epistles contains less than 300 Greek words and was no doubt written on a single sheet of papyrus. The same themes which John has dealt with in the First Epistle recur in brief in the Second and Third Epistles. Nevertheless, both Epistles take a form that is less a treatise than a letter. The subject that John treats is hospitality to traveling missionaries. The establishment and consolidation of the Roman Empire made travel throughout the world much easier and safer than it had ever been before. This was facilitated by the great roads, which the Romans built and the Pax Romana, which their legions maintained as well as by a commonly understood language. The rapid spread of the gospel in the first century A. D. owed much to these advantages.
V.1. The introduction consists of both an address (1, 2) and greeting (v. 3). In accordance with Greek epistolary custom, the author begins his letter by introducing himself. He does not use his personal name, but uses his title, the elder. Here the term elder does not describe age per se, but official position. It is evident that John was known to his readers. He had no doubt that they would immediately identify him by this title, which bears witness to his recognized authority. His letter is addressed to the chosen or elect lady. Scholars differ as to whether the term chosen, or elect lady describes an individual person, or it is the personification of a church. I think it is the personification of a church rather than the name of a person.
Why? Because of the truth which abides in them and will be with them forever. What truth is he talking about? It is the truth concerning Jesus Christ as opposed to the lies of the false teachers (1 John 2:21-23). This is the truth of the Gospel, the revelation of God in Christ. The word of God says that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came from Jesus Christ. In this letter love and truth are bound together. As Christians you and I are to love our neighbors and even our enemies; but we are bound to our fellow Christians by the special bond of truth. Truth is the ground of reciprocal Christian love. We love one another as Christians not because we have compatible temperament, but because of the truth we share. Not only have you and I come to know the truth objectively, but it also abides within us as a present indwelling force and it will remain with us forever. Heretics and false teachers may leave us and go into the world (1 John 2:19), but in the Christian society the truth shall remain secure. So long as the truth endures in us and with us, so long shall our mutual love also endure. If this is so, and it is, then Christian love is founded upon Christian truth. Therefore, you and I shall never increase the love that exists between us by diminishing the truth which we hold in common. In the contemporary movement towards church unity, you and I must beware of compromising the very truth on which alone true love and unity depends. I hear some of the lay people say, why don’t all the African churches in the Metroplex come together and form one large church? That is a noble idea, but it is not as all that easy or simple as it sounds. Love and unity are noble virtues, but you cannot unite at the expense of truth. There are some salient biblical truths that cannot be compromised for the sake of love and unity. This is one of the reasons we have different churches and denominations. The style of worship is a minor issue. There are some embedded theological issues involved in the formation of churches and denominations. For instance, I believe in the security of the believer. In other words when you are saved Christ will keep you for eternity. However, if another minister or church believes otherwise, how can I unite with such a church? I believe that there should be discipline in a church. To put it in another way, you cannot claim to be a Christian and live any way you want. If a church or minister believes that a Christian can live and do whatever he/she wants, I cannot unite with such a church because it has compromised the truth of the word of God. I do not believe that every Christian should speak in tongues. If a church or pastor believes otherwise, how can I unite with such a church? You see, love if it is not held in check by truth becomes a license to sin. On the other hand, if truth is not also held in check by love, it becomes legalism. Therefore, we must balance love with truth and vice versa.
In verse 3, John extends his greetings to the church. This was a common practice in the first century. You find such greetings in Paul’s letters and the Epistle of James. The only difference here is that in this letter the greeting is neither a prayer nor a wish, but a confident affirmation. Taking the background and the circumstance of the day into consideration, John in his greeting is giving confident affirmation to the church that their future is secure. In other words, the God who saved and chose them will take care of them no matter what. God is always with His people. He never abandons His children. Sometimes you may feel that God is far removed from you, but it is just a feeling. In reality, He is always close at hand. His peace in your heart is the assurance that He is with you. Grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s love to you and me who are His children. God gives grace to the guilty and undeserving. He also gives mercy to the needy and helpless. Peace is the restoration of harmony with God, others, and self, which we call “salvation.” Put together, peace indicates the character of salvation, mercy our need of it, and grace God’s free provision of it in Christ.
II. ENCOURAGEMENT TO LOVE AND OBEDIENCE VV. 4-6
The Apostle John had come across some of the elect lady’s children during his travels and had been favorably impressed by their conduct. It is rewarding to a teacher to see some of his students in higher places of service. That alone becomes an encouragement and satisfying news to him that his labors have not been in vain. I remember the last time I visited Ghana. I attended Sunday school at our mother church, and I saw some of the Christians that I taught in Sunday school and Bible study who were still strong in the faith. Some of them have become Sunday school teachers and other leaders serving the Lord in various capacities. That was the way John felt about these Christians he met. John was very impressed with their conduct. John says that he was very glad to find some of the members of this church walking in the truth. Walking in truth means that they are living by the truth. They are putting the truth into practice. They have believed the truth concerning Jesus Christ and have conformed their life to His teaching. The truth of the gospel dwells in them. It is one thing to say that you believe the gospel; it is another to walk in it. It is one thing to say that you believe in Christ. It is another to live for Him. Here the truth is likened to a path along which you walk, by which you keep course, and from which you should not deviate.
Today it is easy to deviate from Christ. Today it is easy to deviate from the true gospel. Today the message of the cross is not popular. Some who claim to be Christians say that we should drop the word “cross” from our Christian vocabulary. Since when did you hear a powerful message on the cross on Christian TV? Except maybe you watched Dr. Billy Graham and some few others. Today a message on the resurrection is rare. Today many pastors and evangelists are preaching what people want to hear and not what they need to hear. Many are preaching on felt needs and not a call to come to the cross of Christ. Some churches here in the United States have removed songs and hymns that mention the blood of Christ from all their songs because they say they do not want to offend people. Didn’t the Bible predict that Jesus would become a stumbling block; the stone that the builders rejected? Felt needs are to be preached, but until preachers bring people to the foot of the cross; until we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are not preaching the gospel. You can preach on self-esteem, self-worth, felt needs, and social justice as much as you want, but until you point people to the cross, they will still feel empty on the inside. John was glad because he realized that their labor in Christ, their investment in this church had not been in vain. Every spiritual leader wants to see members of his congregation growing numerically, and above all spiritually.
God has not revealed His truth in such a way as to leave us free at our pleasure to believe or disbelieve it, to obey or disobey it. Revelation carries with it responsibility, and the clearer the revelation, the greater the responsibility to believe and obey it (Amos 3:2). But the commandment to walk in truth is not the Father’s only commandment. To the commandment to believe is added the commandment to love one another. Love for Christ and love for one another is the central message of the New Testament. John then says that the commandment to love is not something new. As a matter of fact, it is as old as the Old Testament itself. It is woven into the fabric of the law. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD (Lev. 19:18). Faith and love are signs of the new birth (1 John 5:1; 4:7). They are not only signs of the new birth but also commandments. They are not suggestions; they are commandments of God.
You and I can show love in many ways. We can show love by avoiding prejudice and discrimination. We can show love by accepting people unconditionally. We can demonstrate love by listening, helping, giving, serving, and refusing to judge. It is not enough to know God’s commandment. It is not enough to memorize God’s commandments. You must put them into practice. The Christian life is not an academic exercise. The Christian life is not a matter of memorizing Scripture and quoting it verbatim. The Christian life is practicing what you learn. The practical aspect of the Christian life is what proves that you are real and not fake. The Christian faith is an obedient response to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. This revelation has a moral content. If men hate the light, it is because their deeds are evil (John 3:19, 21). They do not believe in Christ the Son because they are resolved not to obey Him. In verse 6 John says that love has to do with our obedience to God. It is without a doubt that love is expressed in obedience to God. Jesus says that the law hangs on love. In other words, the total of the Ten Commandments is love; love for God and love for one another. Why does John deal so much with truth and love? His answer is found in verse 7.
III. WARNING AGAINST FALSE DOCTRINE VV. 7-9
Who are the deceivers? They are those who lead others astray and cause them to wander from the truth. Here the reference is to the Gnostic teachers. They are those whose messages are sprinkled with half truths about Jesus. They are those who preach Jesus plus something else equals salvation. They are those who preach that there are many ways that lead to God the Father. The deceivers are those who reject the supremacy, the sufficiency, and the finality of Christ.
In John’s day many false teachers taught that the spirit was good, but matter was evil. In view of this, they reasoned that Jesus could not have been both God and man. In strong terms John warned against this kind of teaching. There are still many false teachers who promote an understanding of Jesus that is not biblical. For example, the Mormons declare, “As man now is, God was as God now is, man may become.” The Mormons believe in the brotherhood of Jesus and Lucifer. Ladies and gentlemen, man is a created being, but God is the Creator. Man will never become God. This is the old lie that the devil told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He pre-existed before the foundation of the world. Lucifer was a created being who rebelled against God. Lucifer in no way was a brother of Jesus. There are some people who claim to be Christians but have a fussy idea of Jesus and they are more dangerous. They are dangerous because they twist the truth and undermine the foundations of the Christian faith. They may use the right words but change the meanings. The way your teacher lives shows much about what she/he believes about Christ. Such persons oppose Christ and deceive people. John warns you and I that we must watch ourselves that we may not lose what we have accomplished, but that we may receive a full reward. John is saying do not throw away all the labor that has been spent on you. The verb “watch” is an imperative. It is the same word that Jesus used in Mark 13:23, “But take heed; behold I have told you everything in advance.” Jesus was also warning the disciples about false teachers. This false teaching is subtle and insidious. You and I cannot afford to relax our vigilance. The thought is not of their winning or losing their salvation, which is a gift from God, but their reward for faithful service. The metaphor seems to be taken from the payment of labor, since reward is a workman’s wage. When you yield to false teaching as a believer, you do not lose your salvation, but you will lose your rewards. All the sacrifices and the hard work you may have done for the cause of Christ would be in vain. John’s warning about false teachers was not an exaggeration, then, and it is not an exaggeration today. It is a fact and verse 9 shows its gravity. I like what Dr. Ravi Zacharias says. He says that when you ask a Hindi, do you believe in God? His response would be which of them? But if you ask him/her do you believe in Jesus Christ, then you are in a different ball game.
In verse 9, John says, “Anyone who goes too far ahead.” The phrase, “goes too far ahead” literally means “goes on ahead.” It refers to everyone who goes beyond the truth (the gospel). The opponents of John, the Gnostics thought of themselves as “progressive,” and as “advanced” thinkers. These people had indeed gone ahead. They had advanced so far that they had left God behind them. He who denies Christ thereby forfeits God. Such a person does not have God; that is, he cannot enjoy fellowship with Him. All those who have embraced religions instead of relationship with Christ are fellowshipping with something or somebody other than the true God. On the other hand, you who abide in the teaching of Christ have both the Father and the Son. Ladies and gentlemen your loyalty to Christ and your labors for His cause will never be in vain. Amen. They will be rewarded when we see Christ face to face. The message of John regarding the sufficiency of Jesus is valid today as it was in the day of the apostle. Many today want God without Jesus Christ. They say they believe in God but see no necessity for Christ.
There are some too, who want to bring other religions to the level of Christianity as alternative roads to God, but you and I must resist such errors. Christ has no equal. “God who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The founders of Mormonism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and others have all died and their graves are there, but if you go to the burial place of Jesus, the tomb is empty, because Christ is risen never to die again. In fact, He holds the key to death in His hand.
IV. WARNING AGAINST PROMOTING FALSE TEACHERS VV. 10-11
John warned the believers not to give hospitality to false teachers. In fact, if you know a church to be teaching false doctrine and you patronize them you would have to answer to Christ. John is saying that do not invite those whose teaching opposes Christ to your house. He is saying, “do not court their friendship.” This is the caution. He is not saying that do not show hospitality to anyone who believes different than you do. If you do that how can you witness to others? Rather he is saying that do not show hospitality to false teachers or false missionaries who worm their way into your house. A church should not allow any false teacher to preach from its pulpit. This is a serious warning to the church today. One of the dangerous outcomes is that a false teacher can split a church. Those who are babes in Christ can easily be swept away by a person’s charisma and not the truth of the gospel. But there is a difference between charisma and preaching the truth from the word of God. Another danger is that if you entertain a false teacher, God will hold you responsible, because you have become a participant in his/her evil.