2 John 1-6 – How Truth Expresses Itself
The Purpose and Content of 2 John
John’s purpose is to exhort his readers (the elect lady, her children, and perhaps an assembly that met at her home) to “walk in truth, just as we have received commandment.” This truth cannot be separated from Christian love. Love is based on truth; truth spawns love. Without one of these factors, the other has no reality.
So, John begins and ends with his burden for and joy in God’s people. In the central part of his epistle, he exhorts along two main lines: (1) obedience to God’s commandment to walk in the truth, (2) abiding in God’s truth despite false teachers.
To understand this book is to unify our view of love and truth, not as if they were two opposing realities but as if they are one and inseparable. To pursue truth is to pursue God’s people and vice versa. We must protect each other; we must protect the truth. We must be together in these things, being cautious in our fellowship and passionate in our obedience.
An Outline of 2 John
- v. 1-3 – Greeting (Loving in Truth)
- v. 4-6 – Walking in Truth
- v. 7-11 – Abiding in the Truth
- v. 12-13 – Salutation (Communicating the Truth)
The Greeting: Loving in the Truth (v. 1-3)
John’s burden in this passage is to establish the place that truth holds in the Christian community. Typical of his being a man of the heart, he emphasizes the beauty of truth before emphasizing the jeopardy of the truth in light of false teachers. The lesson is this: a grip of the truth must begin with a love for its positive effects. When we love something, we defend it.
Truth is the Basis of Christian Love (v. 1-2).
The elder [that is, John as an aged mentor] to the chosen lady [a literal lady, one “chosen by God.”] and her children [her actual children, perhaps encompassing all who entrusted themselves to her care, both physically and spiritually], whom I love in truth; [Truth is the sphere of Christian love.] and not only I, but also all who know the truth [Christian love is not based on preference, but on objective realities.], for the sake of the truth [Truth demands Christian love.] which abides in us [Therefore, it unites us all.] and will be with us forever: [Therefore, Christian love as a permanent basis and is something to invest in.]
John writes here as an elder. He identifies himself as such to combine the thought of tenderness with mature authority. His message is solemn and from a concerned heart. This is God’s goal in maturing men to preach the truth. They must do it boldly, yes, but they will devastate their ministry if they do it without a shepherd’s heart, a heart of maturity.
His recipients are Christians, genuine Christians, as shown by the emphasis of this lady’s election and her consistency with truth. This applies to her children as well. The lesson is that identity will always correspond to actuality in the Christian life. Simply put, it was not good enough that she was “chosen,” but her life reflected the truth. She was real in God’s eyes and in man’s. This is a vital balance.
Is the “chosen lady” literal or metaphorical? The difficulty is that there are valid points for two positions: (a) that she is a real lady with real children, (b) that “lady” represents a local assembly. While there is good logic behind the latter idea (that she is an assembly), there is no reason to necessitate it. However, with the former view (that she is a person), this is not only logical but the natural reading of the text. By good interpretive principles, we should take this as a real lady with real children (spiritual or physical). It makes sense and does not demand any other reading; so, we must stand by it.
So then, he describes the relation of truth to Christian fellowship. Notice the breadth of his treatment. What he says here establishes both his command in verses 4-6 and his warning in verses 7-11. When we understand truth, it motivates both love and defence. There is no such thing as real love without truth and vice versa.
- Truth is the sphere of Christian fellowship, for John loved “in the truth.” He was not concerned with frivolous expressions of love; his love, though internal, was rooted in something sure and stable. Considering the rest of his epistle, we learn that superficial unity within the professing Church is not the goal; the goal is real love that is truth-based.
- Truth is the objective standard of all Christian fellowship, for John’s love was the same as all who knew the truth. In other words, Christian love is not personal affection only; it is a reality that should be established outside of one’s self. I love for the same reason other believers love; the standard is the same. This is the only way unity can be achieved.
- Truth is the motivator of Christian fellowship. It was for the truth’s sake that John loved. Biblical truth is a positive force that demands a response. One does not really possess the truth if he does not respond to it. Cold theology is not theology, and unity of creed is not unity. Truth cannot be separated from living organisms. Thus, it motivates a person to love truly.
- Truth is the uniting factor in Christian fellowship, for it abides in all who are saved. Fellowship must involve sharing, and we cannot share something we do not both possess. Christian love starts with the premise that all believers possess something in common; it then expresses itself when we share in it. A unified assembly loves the truth together.
- Truth is the permanent factor in Christian fellowship, for it abides forever. Fellowship and love will fail if rooted in anything but truth. Personalities and preferences change. Truth is perpetual. Do you want a unified assembly? Start teaching. Start loving.
There is Confidence God’s Blessing on His People (v. 3).
Grace, mercy and peace [origin, means, and result] will be with us [not a wish, but a confident assurance], from God the Father and from Jesus Christ [the origin and the embodiment of the three above virtues], the Son of the Father [initial emphasis of the theme he will take up in the body of his epistle], in truth and love [God operates on the same principles on which He calls us to operate.].
John is complete in his benediction. He assures of grace, mercy, and peace: grace being the expressed favour of God, mercy being the experienced blessing of God in our frailty, and peace being the satisfied result of both. God cannot be more good than He is.
Throughout the apostolic period, the traditional greeting was, “Grace and peace be with you.” How touching that here at the end we find the aged apostle leaving no doubt, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us.” He had experienced the goodness of God, and therefore he affirmed it more strongly. Experience will never discount the goodness of God; it will only emphasize it further.
John is sure to emphasize both the Father and the Son. He emphasizes the Son’s humanity by calling Him “Jesus Christ.” He emphasizes Christ’s deity by calling Him “the Son of the Father.” These are both emphases in this letter, for the false teachers denied Christ’s coming into flesh (v. 7) and Christ’s unity with the Father (v. 9). We cannot lose this truth, for not only is our understanding of God at stake but so is our blessing. If grace, mercy, and peace flow from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, then to misunderstand the Being of God is to reject blessing. All of God’s blessings culminate in His Son. All the Son’s blessedness reflects the heart of the Father.
This is all in truth and love because God operates on the same principle on which He calls us to operate. God’s love is real, faithful, and stable; God’s truth is positive, blessed, and kind. All His grace, mercy, and peace flows from an immovable heart of love.
Walking in the Truth (v. 4-6)
In this section, John emphasizes the ideas of walking, loving, and obeying. He aims for consistency when he speaks about the walk. He aims for seriousness when he emphasizes God’s commandment. He aims for faithfulness when he reminds us that God’s way is from the beginning, something we have received and not designed for ourselves. All this dwells in the sphere of love, and all of love dwells in the sphere of faithfulness.
John Rejoiced to See Obedience to the Father’s Commandment (v. 4).
I was very glad [or, “I rejoiced greatly”] to find some of your children [In an age of departure any positive is worthy of joy. He does not indicate specific knowledge of departure but rejoices in what he does know of the company.] walking in truth [a lifestyle that thinks in the concepts which God’s truth provides and acts in line with what God’s truth demands], just as we have received commandment to do from the Father [generally speaking, through the apostolic message].
By addressing the lady’s children, he probably referred to any under her care (this is not uncommon usage for John), whether children of her womb, children of her faith, or children of her hospitality. (The assembly may have met in her home, which is why she was entrusted with this letter).
Just as he began with sentiments of unity through truth, so he enters into the theme of walking in truth by emphasizing the positive first. In his age of departure when men forgot the apostolic doctrine, his heart rejoiced to find God’s people clinging to and living by truth. This does not mean he had specific “children” in mind who departed (he could have), but rather he was emphasizing the positive while leaving room for the negative.
We would do well to emphasize the positive in any age. Yes, polemics has its place (John partakes in it), but to be only negative is to induce pride and bitterness. We must love God’s faithful ones just as much as we hate error. To focus entirely on correcting error is to forget the blessedness of truth.
He emphasizes the fact that it was commanded by the Father. Faced with heretics that clung to the Father but not the Son, John wanted to emphasize that his teaching was consistent with God. John was not protecting a personal agenda; he was standing for the authority of the Father.
Love is Inseparable from Walking According to God’s Commandments (v. 5-6).
Now I ask you [an elder’s gentle pleading], lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment [cf. Jn. 13:34; 1 Jn. 2:7-8], but the one which we have had from the beginning, [of Christian testimony, generally speaking] that we love one another [one of two fundamental commandments for all believers]. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments [Note the plural. Really walking in truth cannot be separated from love (see v. 1-2); therefore, love is to obey.]. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it [Its origin contains its credibility and binding authority].
John is not writing as an apostle, so to speak, but he is pleading by objective facts to prove that his opponents had no true foundation. So he says in verse 4 that the commandment was “from the Father.” He “asks” the lady; he does not command her because the reality was compelling enough. And he emphasizes the origin of the commandment; he does not restate it authoritatively. Essentially, his logic is, “Look, I am not propagating something you don’t know. It has been from the beginning of Christian testimony. That you should love one another, walk in truth, and obey God’s commandments is clear from your experience. I am simply asking you to be faithful in that.” On a practical note, if our position is stronger than our logic, we have a problem.
So John emphasizes this theme of love. It is foundational to Christianity in that it was from the beginning. And it is necessary to truth because it is defined by walking “according to His commandments.” The deceivers had no interest in God’s people, for God’s people are only benefited by truth and obedience.
There are two principles here: (1) There is no circumstance in which disobedience to God is an act of love toward man. (2) False teaching never has true love at its base; therefore, we should not even entrust ourselves to the heart of false teachers, let alone their teaching.
John summarizes his motivation at the end of verse 6. He restated the commandment to remind them, not to inform them, so they would be faithful to it. One half of Christianity is learning; the other half is remembering and applying what we have learned. If we are learning foundational things decades into our Christian experience, something is wrong.