Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 2 John: 2–4
Joy at Practicing the Truth in Love
Following up on last week's introductory summary of Second John, which highlights the fact that truth and love are inseparable, today we'll realize exactly how connected both are. It's in the truth that the elder loves the elect lady. And it's because of the truth that he loves and writes this personal, loving letter to the church. John says that he can love the church in truth, "because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: . . ." That's the "Christian truth" that makes it possible for the elect lady and her children, and the church and its members, to truly love one another.
It's because of the indwelt Holy Spirit that Christians know the truth about all that Jesus Christ is in our lives. In John's gospel, we learn that it's this Spirit of Truth who guides us and enables us to understand and accept all truth (John 16:13). But we must dig deeply into God's word to enable the Spirit of Truth to instruct and guide us, to rebuke and convict us, and continually strengthen us. We must be able to distinguish good from evil and not be tossed about by every doctrinal wind we read or hear.
However, so long as dishonesty and deception reared their ugly heads in John's church [and ours], love could never thrive. Both traits can be dangerous to the church. Because of the lies and deception that the Gnostics, Docetists, and others had perpetrated, the elder felt the need to write this second letter. So, he wasn't writing only to an "elect lady," but also to all those in the church who knew Christian truth and were to live according to it.
The church to which John addressed this letter had experienced significant difficulties that caused a heart-rending, congregation-splitting schism. This split had been occasioned by specific false teachers who were denying and calling into question certain key, primary elements of what the apostles had taught about who Jesus was. The deceivers also questioned biblical testimony as to his divinity, humanity, and Messianic lordship while distorting the doctrine of the person and work of Christ.
Can you appreciate how incredibly discouraging this church split would've been? It's in that context that John wrote all three epistles. First John sets out his concerns very clearly while deliberately and repeatedly returning to the theme of a true Christian needing to believe what the Bible teaches about the person and work of Jesus. Second John adds to that by emphasizing what the Bible teaches about Jesus. He shows in all three letters that he loves his church's children because they're his brothers and sisters in Christ.
John has already told us that Christian truth obligates us to love. In First John 4:7–10, he brought to our attention the suffering, sacrificing, and incredibly generous love of God. He followed by saying in v. 11, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." Accordingly, Christians are to love others because God continues to love us. We must not gossip or lie to anyone while enjoying true Christian love in our fellowship with our Lord. Neither can we accept God's love without expressing our love to everyone who God loves, which, according to John 3:16a, we know is "the world." Because God loves us, we must love others with an equally bountiful amount of sacrificial love.
John’s Greeting and Salutation (2 John, v. 2)
Let's start our study of today's passage, beginning with v. 2, remembering that John urged believers in his first epistle to exercise good judgment by not supporting deceptive heretical propagandists by greeting, recognizing, or exercising hospitality on them in their church and their homes. So, as he greeted a well-known lady or church in Asia Minor, to whom he ministered and guided, he commended that church body for its commitment to living by and according to the truth about who Jesus was in their lives.
John expresses his love for the elect lady through his love of Christ and because everyone who truly believes in Christ knows the truth about him. Only those who are born again can know such truth, thereafter allowing the Spirit of Jesus to lead them into all truth.
. . . because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: . . . (Second John, v. 2).
Here we find John's reminder that Christian love is rooted in the truth: the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ. To be assured of what's true, we must test all the world's teachings by examining the Scriptures “because of the truth.” Test your experience by God's Word but never test the Word of God by your experience!
John assures us in today's opening verse that, when we know and love the truth, we become able, even obligated or commanded to love those who also know, love, and walk in the the truth. It's the same truth dwelling in us that dwells in other believers. It's not a like-mindedness that draws and unites Christians together. No, it's a universal truth in whom we believe. In other words, the “truth” that the elder is speaking of in v. 2 is a manifestation of the Spirit of Truth himself; as such, truth remains permanently and actively within the believer, just as the Spirit of Truth does.
John has also emphasized in v. 2 that Christian love is rooted in Christian truth — the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ. He doesn't stop reminding the church body of their belovedness; he goes on to remind them that Christian love is rooted in biblical truth about Jesus. And he stresses that he loves them in truth. By that he doesn't mean to say, I truly love you. Instead he means that it's that Christian truth, which he shares with them — the truth of God's love in Jesus Christ — that makes him love them.
We learn two more things in v. 2b that the truth about Jesus: (1) It's inalterable, so it never changes; (2) it will last forever, while living in this world and throughout our time with him in heaven's eternal abode.
John's Benediction on All Who Embrace Jesus (2 John, v. 3)
Following v. 2's greeting, it's interesting to see what John feels is a natural follow-up; it's a very unusual declaration that can easily be viewed as his benediction to the elect lady and her community or congregation. They're his words of blessing on all those who embrace Jesus. As you read v. 3, notice from where that blessing comes. It doesn't come from John; it doesn't come from the church. And he didn’t simply wish these blessings; he confidently bestowed them by saying . . .
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love (Second John, v. 3).
He says, "Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us." In every other New Testament letter, the authors' greeting comes in the form of a wish or a prayer. For example: Paul usually says, "Grace and peace to you" (Romans 1:7); Peter says, "Grace and peace be yours in abundance" (1 Peter 1:2); Jude says, "Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance" (Jude 2); and John says, "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Revelation 1:4). But the elder's greeting in this second epistle reads as a declaration. John is so sure about God's gift of grace through Jesus Christ that he doesn't request or pray that his friends will receive them; instead, he boldly declares that they'll receive them. Through his strong faith, he doesn't doubt the promises of God about the truth of Jesus Christ.
Looking more closely at "Grace, mercy, and peace," it's worth noting not only the order in which the elder lists these gifts but these facts: "Grace" embodies man's sins while "mercy" embraces sin's resulting miseries. Grace must first eliminate man's guilt before his misery can be relieved through God's mercy. Therefore grace comes before mercy. The end result of "grace" and "mercy" is "peace," which therefore comes third in order. When we believers prioritize care for Father God and his Son, Jesus, through our obedience to his commands, and our thankfulness for his freely giving us essential provisions, we receive requisite peace, thanks to him and his grace and mercy.
While John's greeting v. 2 is filled with personal assurance, so also does his text in v. 3 contain an abundance of reassurance for his readers, which would have certainly been needed, given the serious challenge represented by the secessionist opponents and their teaching that denied the truth about Christ Jesus; men were teaching derogatory things concerning our Lord. Rest assured knowing that the end result of God's grace and mercy, which he freely and faithfully imparts to us, is peace and the harmoniousness that comes as a result of grace and mercy!
Grace, mercy, and peace come from Father God through Lord Jesus his Son. The apostle intentionally added "Jesus Christ, the Father's Son" to underscore Jesus' miraculous conception, which the Gnostics absolutely denied. God the Father is the source of this grace while the Son is its channel; note the significance of John having represented the Father and the Son as One in the same. Unquestionably, grace and mercy and peace come from God our heavenly Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ.
We ought to have already seen in our studies how often Elder John has written his two fave essentials — truth and love — in his first two letters' passages. The grace, mercy, and peace that God provides to us are derived from Christian truth and love. Apart from God’s truth and love, we can never receive and appreciate grace, mercy, and peace.
The Cause for John’s Rejoicing (2 John, v. 4)
John has begun this brief letter by commending and encouraging the church body for their love for one another. Such outpouring of love was to be in accord with the truth of Jesus' gospel, which we'll delve into next week when we cover vv. 5–7. But for now, let's find out in v. 4 exactly what caused John to rejoice greatly.
It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us (Second John, v. 4).
It gave great joy to the apostle to see children treading in their parents' steps. It's by their "walking in the truth," "living according to the truth," or "living out the truth" that Father God sustains them [and us] forever. Because they'd grown in grace and were living the faith, John rejoiced. For us today, when we see a church body, no matter its size, that exhibits the grace and faith of its worshipers of Jesus, who devotedly walk in the truth, we ought to be most appreciative of that church's belovedness, beauty, blessedness, and obedience.
Interestingly, having been the last remaining apostle, John had likely done a lot of traveling, probably visiting a number of house churches in Asia Minor. When he saw in those churches believers who were "walking in the truth," the way that Father God had "commanded" them, his heart rejoiced. So we need to understand the applicability of v. 4b's "commanded" to appreciate John's intent. He'd used the word “commanded” (Greek entolēn) repeatedly throughout First John (2:7, 8; 3:23; 4:21) and he'll use it three more times in vv. 5 and 6, which we'll examine closely in next week's study found in Week 22's summary.
The Greek verb peripatew (literally "walk") refers to conduct, behavior, or way of life (lifestyle). Here it refers to how an individual conducts himself or herself when "truth" dwells within. The reference to an internalized "truth" may allude to the indwelling Spirit of Truth, as mentioned in v. 2. The term "walking in the truth" (NIV, ESV, KJV, NKJV, NASB) might be better interpreted in other versions as "living according to the truth" (NLT) and "living out the truth" (The Message). No matter the version, it refers to true Christians who are "commanded" to follow devotedly what they read, learn, and see, regarding who Jesus is, despite the challenge to doctrine caused by the church's secessionist opponents. Although the news that some children were "living according to the truth" brought John joy, he doesn't specify how he learned of this; possibly it was something he expected them to already know, without being told.
The truth that John speaks of isn't simply something that one verbally professes; it's something that's lived out. It's also critical to realize that this Christian truth comes from above; it's all the truth in and about Christ Jesus. We're commanded to walk in Christian truth and live according to it, not just admire it. Only then will we be able to effectively and continually "love one another" (v. 5). Great joy will be found in children who obediently follow God's commands and walk in Christian truth.
- Q. 1 How well are you doing today at following God's command to walk in the truth of Jesus?
- Q. 2 Assuming that you're "walking according to Christian truth," what do you include in your walk?
2 John, vv. 2–4