THE SECOND EPISTLE OF JOHN, CALLED
O U T L I N E
Overview of the Epistle. The second epistle of John is a short pastoral letter to a sister in Christ. The subject matter follows that of the first epistle very naturally, and therefore is considered a supplement or appendix to the first epistle. The first epistle rises above individual personalities and addresses the whole family comprehensively. The second and third epistles bring out the application of the same profound truths in the case of specific individuals. In 1 John we find that we have a nature that loves. In 2 John and 3 John we find the divine nature loves “in truth”. Both epistles have to do with receiving or fellowship. In 2 John the emphasis is on “receive not” in connection with false teachers. In 3 John the emphasis is on “receive”, which gives more the positive aspect of fellowship. There was a matter that was known to John, and he wrote a very brief letter to warn this dear sister, adding that he would have a fuller discussion when they met face to face. The Apostle John encourages the “elect lady” to walk according to the Word of God and to reject those who come with evil doctrine concerning the Person of Christ. The elect lady really typifies the place of the Church; not to teach, but to hold fast to what she has been taught. The second and third epistles of John give us various ways in which the truth of the first epistle is applied or handled. The second epistle centers around the negative side: rejecting those who teach evil. The third epistle centers around the positive side: receiving and helping those who are faithful to the Word of God. It is remarkable that in 2 John a sister, who might be naturally prone to nurture, is warned to “receive not”, whereas in 3 John a brother, naturally prone to be harsh, is exhorted to “receive”. In this way the two epistles complement each other!
Carefulness concerning evil doctrine. In 1 Cor. 15:33 we have a very solemn statement: "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners." Paul gives a principle: that corrupt doctrine (“conversations” or “communications”) leads to a corrupt walk (“manners”). How often doctrine is dismissed as unimportant, and impractical. The very opposite is true. Practice flows from doctrine. He says “be not deceived” because there is a human tendency to be deceived on this point. The two epistles that deal primarily with warnings against evil doctrine are 2 John and Galatians. In the former the danger is evil doctrine concerning the Person of Christ, and in the latter it is evil doctrine concerning the work of Christ. In both cases, the language employed is among the strongest in scripture.
The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge. The word is used by historians to describe a school of thought. Gnosticism arose from a group of evil workers who claimed to have higher light, special spiritual knowledge, or “secret wisdom”. This movement began in the days of the apostles, and continued into the 5th century. Before John died, the seeds of Gnosticism had been sown; perhaps even before Paul's death (1 Tim. 6:20). John’s epistles are written to defend against the inroads of Gnosticism (2 John 1:7,9). Peter warns of their false teaching, and Jude warns of its moral effect on the Christian testimony. Gnosticism is responsible for not just one heresy, but seven or eight. What is it? In this mystical system, the spiritual world was good, and material world was evil. They rejected the incarnation, because it connects the human with the divine. The Gnostics would try to separate “Jesus” from “Christ”, by making Christ an emanation (a shining out from a source) from God that never truly became flesh, or else was united to a mere man named Jesus at his baptism, but returned to God before Jesus’ death on the cross. In doing so, this evil system annulled the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection. The New Testament anticipates this irreverent and wicked system of doctrine by stating the simple truth of Christ's Person and work. Read more…
1 The elder [‘presbuteros’] to the elect lady and her children, whom “I” love in truth, and not “I” only but also all who have known the truth, 2 for the truth’s sake which abides in us and shall be with us to eternity. vv.1-2 Writer, Recipient, Motivation. The writer does not give his name, although we believe it to be John, judging it by the style and content of the epistle. He calls himself “the elder”, in keeping with the pastoral character of the epistle. John never speaks of himself as an apostle, although we know he was one from the synoptic gospels. He does not write from the side of apostolic authority, but with the voice of wisdom and pastoral care, as an elder. When you have the word ‘presbuteros’ it generally refers to older ones, but when you have the word ‘episcapos’ is refers to one in a position of oversight. The letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children”. The word “lady” is used, rather than “sister” (v.13). Lady is the feminine form of ‘lord’, and carries with it a certain dignity. This is the only epistle addressed to a woman! This lady had children in the home with her, although we read nothing of a husband. Perhaps he had died, or was an unbeliever. The love of John for this lady and her children was the love of the Christian family; “whom I love in truth, and not I only but also all who have known the truth”. This is the first motivation for the epistle: love for the elect lady and her children. But that love was “in truth”, putting a guard on that love. It is a love that cannot be separated from truth. The second reason follows: “for the truth’s sake”. The same truth that came by Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, and in the Word of God which is truth, made good to us by the Spirit of truth indwelling us, “which abides in us and shall be with us to eternity”. Truth is worth fighting for.
3 Grace shall be with you, mercy, peace from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. v.3 Salutation. The apostle had confidence that three things would be with these dear saints. “Grace” is enabling and sustaining power to walk as God would have us here in this world. “Mercy” is God’s intervention and deliverance on the part of His people. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual, because the saints collectively are never looked at as an object of mercy, but of grace. “Peace” refers to settled peace with God (Rom. 5:1), not only with regard to our standing, but also with regard to our circumstances. Grace, mercy, and peace are from “God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ”. Something very interesting is added, which connects very closely with John’s gospel and first epistle, and gives a setting for the rest of the epistle: “the Son of the Father”. The tender expression is only found here in 2 John. So we have in the very introduction of the epistle the twofold truth that antichrists deny: (1) that Jesus is the Christ, and (2) that He is the Son of the Father. These relationships that we enjoy are characterized by “truth and love”, which are also to characterize our walk as Christians (vv.4-6). Truth and love need to be coupled together. To set aside truth on the pretext of love results in corruption.
Walking in Truth and Love (vv.4-6)
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received commandment from the Father. v.4 Walking in Truth. The apostle could rejoice that the elect lady’s children were “walking in truth”, at least some of them (as the word “of” may indicate). There is no mention of a husband or father. Perhaps she was a widow, or had an unbelieving husband. The influence of a mother is profound! No doubt the sister had raised these children in the Lord. The work of a godly Christian mother is so important, and vital to the Christian testimony. The Lord values that service, and delights to see children walking in the truth. Knowing the truth is important, but there is no substitute for walking in the truth.
5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as writing to thee a new commandment, but that which we have had from the beginning, that we should love one another. v.5 Love One Another. Now we come to the first exhortation: the commandment which they had from the beginning, to love one another. It is “from the beginning” because it is that which Christ patterned for the disciples. He manifested eternal life on earth, and it culminated in the “new commandment” of John 13, which was to “love one another”. But now as John wrote, the commandment in John 13 was no longer new! See 1 John 2:7-8. “Love one another” goes beyond our neighbor to encompass the whole family of faith. Such practical, unchanging love is foreign to this world. By showing the same love that Jesus showed His disciples to one another, we show the world that we are Jesus’ disciples. This exhortation comes up time and time again in John’s writings. Repetition is good (Phil. 3:1).
6 And this is love, that we should walk according to his commandments. This is the commandment, according as ye have heard from the beginning, that ye might walk in it. v.6 Love Coupled with Obedience. Love is always coupled with obedience; “this is love, that we should walk according to his commandments”. True love is obedient to God. If affection is shown, but coupled with a path of disobedience, the love is invalidated. The reason is that true love toward our brethren is motivated by a deeper of God (1 Jn. 5:1-2). If we do not obey God’s commands, we cannot really love Him, and if we do not love God, our love for one another is not Divine love.
Detecting and Rejecting False Teachers (vv.7-11)
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh — this is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 See to yourselves, that we may not lose what we have wrought, but may receive full wages. 9 Whosoever goes forward and abides not in the doctrine of the Christ has not God. He that abides in the doctrine, “he” has both the Father and the Son. vv.7-9 The Deceiver and the Antichrist. Now the elder comes to his burden: the danger to this dear sister and her children by false teachers. This was why John wrote. What John was warning of later developed into Gnosticism, which involved a number of serious errors, but ultimately it was a denial of the doctrine of the Person of Christ. The Gnostics taught that the material world was evil, and therefore they rejected the incarnation, because it connects the human with the divine. The Gnostics would try to separate “Jesus” from “Christ”, by making Christ an emanation from God (a shining out from a source) that never truly became flesh. John says “they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh — this is the deceiver and the antichrist”. To “come” in flesh, the Son had to exist beforehand, establishing His deity. His manhood is established by “in flesh”. This “antichrist” (lowercase ‘A’) obviously does not refer to the Antichrist (uppercase ‘A’) as in the man of sin (2 Thess. 2), because Paul shows that the man of sin does not appear until after the Church is gathered to Christ, while these deceivers had already gone out into the world. However, the spirit or “power of antichrist” (1 John 4:3) is already here. Morally, that spirit is just as wicked in the false teachers today as when the full blown result is seen. The exhortation to the elect lady and her children is to “See to yourselves”. We have the responsibility to be careful about false teachers, and those who would corrupt the doctrine of Christ. What is on the line? The believer’s life can be turned to shipwreck if they get caught up in false teaching, and children can be swept into a system of error. Thankfully, the saved soul is secure forever, but a life can be lost. Hence, John as an elder would suffer loss if this lady was not careful about false teachers; “that we may not lose what we have wrought, but may receive full wages.” John gets a little more technical in v.9, describing the form of anti-Christian doctrine. These are ones who “go forward” and “abide not” in the doctrine of Christ. They seek to add something to the Word of God, and in so doing take away from it. This is always the case with the thoughts that arise from the mind of man. One who teaches false doctrine concerning the Person of Christ “has not God”; i.e. they are not saved. But on the contrary, those who do abide in the doctrine have “both the Father and the Son”, implying relationships enjoyed as well as security.
10 If any one come to you and bring not this doctrine, do not receive him into the house, and greet him not; 11 for he who greets him partakes in his wicked works. vv.10-11 Treatment of False Teachers. The deceivers were apparently approaching the lady in her home, looking to make an entrance through her! This is consistent with the tactics that Paul warned Timothy of in 2 Tim. 3:6-7. Those who seek to corrupt the Christian testimony do so first by “getting into houses… leading captive silly women”. They error is spread through deception and subtilty. Notice that the deceivers approach women first with their error, as Satan did with Eve. Satan tried to draw the “weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7), out of her place to open her up to deception. A wife or mother has a profound effect on the direction of her household, and it could be for this reason that the enemy targets Christian women with error; “…who subvert whole houses” (Tit. 1:11). However, the godly woman will be preserved if she lives in the fear of God. We need wise women (Prov. 14:1), such as the elect lady John was writing to. She was not to receive such a person into the house. In order to detect false teachergs, godly women need to be grounded in the Word of God. It isn’t our priority to discern if they bring false doctrine, but if they “bring not this doctrine”. The elect lady was not even to greet one of these false teachers, because to greet them is to show fellowship with them; “for he who greets him partakes in his wicked works”.
12 Having many things to write to you, I would not with paper and ink; but hope to come to you, and to speak mouth to mouth, that our joy may be full. v.12 Desire to Visit. The epistle was a needed warning and encouragement to the elect lady and her children, but there were many other things that John wanted to say, and he hoped to do so in person. How much better face to face communication is! When saints are together in person, their a bond of fellowship formed that brings a deep joy; “that our joy may be full”.
13 The children of thine elect sister greet thee. v.13 Greetings. John would pass on greetings from children of the elect lady, called here “thine elect sister”. In other words, these were the nieces and/or nephews of the elect lady. It could be that the “elect sister” was the wife of John, similar to how Peter speaks of “she that is elected with you in Babylon” (1 Pet. 5:13), although in both cases it is uncertain.