Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 30, 1974
The Second Epistle of John is another little book in God's Word with a big message. It's a message of a big command. Second John is the only book in the Bible addressed to a woman.
"To the elect lady and her children" (2 John 1b).
This bothers some people, so they say that John didn't write this to a lady. Rather, he wrote it to a church and refers to that church as a "her," much like we refer to a ship as a "her." They say that in verse 13 when John says, "The children of your elect sister greet you," he is referring to a sister church.
I tried to determine whether there is any evidence for this view and the only thing that I found is in 3 John.
"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us" (3 John 9).
They say that the church to whom John wrote and refers to here is the letter of 2 John. But I don't see anything that supports this point of view. So it seems that, in fact, 2 John is written to a woman.
Evidently, a godly woman in the first century received a letter from the great Apostle John. What an honor! What a privilege it was for her. And God saw fit to preserve that letter and incorporate it into the canon of Scripture.
We don't know what this woman's name was, but so we can refer to her easily in this message and know who we're talking about, let's give her a name. We'll call her "Mrs. Electa," based on the fact that John calls her "the elect lady." Mrs. Electa and her children received this letter from John.
We don't know much about Mrs. Electa except that she knew Jesus Christ as her Savior. She was an elect one and she knew the truth. And John loves this woman.
"To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth" (2 John 1b).
Now I realize that when we read something like that in this culture, we immediately think of a romantic love. But that's not what John is referring to at all. John recognized that he was to love all believers in whom the truth dwelled--the truth being not only the written Word of God but also Jesus Himself, who said, "I am the truth" (John 14:6). This woman knew Jesus Christ and was in the truth, and John loved her as a sister in Jesus Christ.
John wasn't the only one who loved her in the truth.
"And not only I, but also all those who have known the truth" (2 John 1b).
Mrs. Electa was loved by the whole church. I find that all believers are not always loved by the church, though they should be. But some believers are just difficult to love and not everyone loves them. We met the unlovable slave named Onesimus last week--he was unlovable after what he did to Philemon. We ought to love unlovable people. But maybe those people also ought to learn to become more lovable. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we can become rather obnoxious. Sometimes people are unlovable because of their background and upbringing, they hold other people off at arm's length. They make it hard for other people to love them.
Now there may be someone here like that, or someone listening to (or reading) this message. I don't know. But I have good news for you: God loves you. And though we don't always show it as we should, we love you. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you're in the truth, and we love you in the truth. God's love is in your heart if you know Jesus Christ because He Himself is love. You can accept His love enjoy His love and respond to His love, and as you do that, you'll find that you'll love other people more and other people will love you. You'll be able to stop holding them off at arm's length and enjoy their love. What I'm saying is that some people don't know how to receive love, but we can through the power of the Holy Spirit whom God has given us.
In verse 2, John tells us why he wrote this book:
"Because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever" (2 John 2).
Truth needs defending sometimes because people attack the truth. We need to stand up for God's truth and they needed to stand up for it, but there was some question about what was God's truth in the circle in which Mrs. Electa was moving, and so John writes this book for the truth's sake, or "because of the truth."
Now here's the meaning of true saving faith: it's the truth that dwells in us. I'm afraid that a lot of people who have given intellectual assent to facts the Gospel. They know the facts of the truth. They know that Christ died for our sins. They know He was the Son of God. They know He lived and died and rose again. They know that salvation is by trust in Him but they have never personally appropriated the truth to their own lives. They have never received the truth and put their personal faith in it. It's more than understanding. It's a personal involvement with the truth. It's receiving the truth.
The truth dwelled in Mrs. Electa. It settled down and was at home in her life. She embraced it and accepted it as her own. She put her confidence in the truth--she took Jesus Christ at His word, as her only hope of eternal salvation. She was born again. The truth dwelled in her as it did in John. She had an eternal relationship with truth. John says the truth "will be with us forever."
If you know the Lord Jesus, the truth of God lives in you and always shall. There is some question about that in some circles. When we get over to the little book of Jude we're going to see that when we receive the truth, when we're born into the family of God through Jesus Christ, that's a permanent relationship. The truth shall be with us forever. This is really saving faith when the truth settles down and is at home in our lives.
Now here is the blessing in verse 3:
"Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love" (2 John 3).
Three words: grace, mercy, peace. Do you know what they mean? Let's have a little doctrine lesson.
Grace is unmerited favor. It's given to us what we do not deserve. You and I do not deserve to be forgiven. God gave it to us because Jesus Christ paid for it. That's grace. Undeserved favor.
Mercy is holding back what we do deserve. Not only do we not deserve eternal salvation but we do deserve eternal punishment. We deserve to be separated from God forever. But God said, "My Son paid the penalty for your sin so I'm not going to give you what you deserve." And therefore, He holds back that judgment because Jesus died in our place. That's mercy.
Peace is what we get when we are the recipient of God's grace and God's mercy. Peace is the cessation of all hostilities with God. You're no longer His enemy; you've been reconciled to Him. And then you have His settled tranquility in your heart as a result. In every situation in life you can know that God is with you and is allowing only the best for you so you can enjoy peace.
"Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father" (2 John 3a).
Notice how carefully John uses this doctrinal language. Don't overlook that; we're going to come back to it in a bit. "The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father."
And all these blessings come wrapped up in a package of truth and love. "Grace, mercy, and peace be with you...in truth and love."
When we come to know Jesus Christ, we enter a new realm. We leave the realm of error and enter the realm of truth. We leave the realm of hostility and hatred, and enter the realm of love. In truth and love.
Now we come to the heart of the book in verses 4-11. There is a command to believers in verses 4-6 and a caution to believers in verses 7-11.
1. The Command to Believers
(2 John 4-6)
These three verses (4, 5, and 6) are hard to understand. Sometimes it sounds like John is talking in circles. But let's look at them. These verses are a great summary of the Christian life.
"I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth," and that's no surprise because that's what they were commanded to do. And that's not a new commandment, it's the same "as we received commandment from the Father...that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments" (2 John 4-6a).
Now that sounds like double-talk. They obey, and that's not a new thing because obedience is love, and that's not a new thing because love is obedience. That sounds like we're going in a circle, doesn't it? Well it is. It's the circle of the Christian life. This is what it's all about, Christians. These three verses tell us how God wants us to live. So let's look at them in a bit more detail.
The occasion for John writing the letter is that he met some of Mrs. Electa's children. He probably met them in the home of her sister in another city; that's what he says down in verse 13: "The children of your elect sister greet you." He says, "I've met some of your children here. What a joy to find them walking in truth."
That's quite a good commentary on Mrs. Electa's home life and the training she gave her children, and the environment and atmosphere in her home. And now they were out of her jurisdiction. Mama wasn't there to watch over them and make sure they were doing the right thing, but they were living like they had been taught. They knew the truth--praise the Lord! But there's more than that: They were living in accord with it. They were obeying the truth.
Someday, young people, you're going to be out from under your mother and father's jurisdiction. They aren't going to be watching you. If they have taught you the truth, it's your responsibility to walk in it and obey it.
You know, I think there's another application here and I can't pass over it because I think it's very, very important. Truth is not only to be known; it is to be lived and walked in. We need to know the truth. We must know the doctrine of the Scriptures. We must study the content of the Bible. You can't walk in something you don't know. You can't live in accord with something you don't understand. But I think there's a real danger in learning the doctrine and the content of the Scriptures and not putting them to practice. I know some churches where they preach doctrine, doctrine, doctrine and they haven't even begun to teach people to live in the light of that doctrine. So they have a lot of people walking doctrinal computers but their lives are bringing reproach to the name of Jesus Christ. God wants us to know the doctrine of the Scripture, but He wants us to put it into practice.
God didn't give us the Bible just so we could learn a lot of doctrine and memorize a lot of Scripture. We ought to do both of those things, but God has given us His Word to change our way of living. He wants us to be new creations in all that we do so that old things pass away and things become new in all things that we do.
We bring our children and young people to church, we teach them the doctrine of Scriptures and the content of the Word of God. They hear what God says and they go home, and sometimes they don't see it lived. It's no surprise that they're not living it if they don't see us living it. If doctrine is not practiced, it's pretty worthless, really, because God gave it to change our lives.
Let me give you an illustration. Turn to Ephesians, which is a great book to illustrate what I'm trying to say to you. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, we have a great deal of doctrine. We talked about some of it last week--some of the things God has done for us in Christ. Our position in Christ, our calling. We've been accepted; we've been redeemed; we've been forgiven. We have access into His presence. We receive an inheritance in Jesus Christ. We who were far off are now made near. We can approach God's throne on the basis of Christ's shed blood. The wall that once separated us has now been broken down and we are one in Jesus Christ. Great doctrinal truths--we ought to know those truths. There is no way we can live godly without knowing the doctrine of the Scriptures. But if we know it, that's not the end. God now wants you to translate it into light.
That's why when we get to chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul says, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called" (Ephesians 4:1).
We have a great calling. "Let's live like it," Paul says. Then he goes on to explain what he means.
"Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice" (Ephesians 4:31).
I know a lot of people who know a lot about this who haven't put all bitterness away, or all wrath away, or all anger away.
"And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
There are a lot of Christians who know a lot about this but they haven't learned to forgive or how to speak kindly to people, or how to be tenderhearted and sympathetic to the needs of others. You see, what we're saying is: God's truth demands our response. And that's the way Mrs. Electa's children were living. They were walking in the truth as they received commandment from the Father (see 2 John 4).
Now I'm not depreciating doctrine or Bible content. I've dedicated my life to teaching the central truths of the Word of God. This church is in existence to teach the doctrine of the Scriptures, to fill the vacuum left by some other churches whose members know all about their church but don't know anything about the Bible. That's why we're here. But having learned the truth, we need to translate it into life. We need to live in the light of God's truth.
Now verse 5. Is this commandment to walk in truth something new? No, not at all. "And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another" (2 John 5).
Walking in the truth is really loving one another. It's the same commandment. Love is that which lives for the one loved. It seeks the good of the one loved. We love God so we're going to live to please Him. That's walking in the truth. If we love God, we're going to live like He says in relationship to other Christians. We're going to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving toward other believers. That's walking in the truth.
If we love God, we're going to live to please Him in regards to a lost world. Let's share Jesus Christ with them. That's walking in the truth. Loving a lost world because God tells us to. Walking in the truth is love. Love sums it all up. Paul tells us that love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8-10). Love is the one big command--the all-encompassing exhortation to the believer that fulfills almost every other responsibility.
And what is love?
"This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it" (2 John 6).
This is love: obeying the Word of God.
Now we're back to obedience. We've come full-circle. Walking in the truth is love, and love is that you obey His commandments. So we've got three big words in this command now: Truth. Love. Obedience. We saw the first two in the introduction, and now we're adding "obedience." We need the truth. That's where it all begins, and it's found right here in God's Word.
We need truth. But truth without love is hard, irritable, cold. It doesn't reach people. You've got to have love with the truth. And truth without obedience is nothing as we've already learned. Faith without works is dead, James tells us (James 2:17). It's the same idea: Truth without obedience is dead. That's where we get the term "dead orthodoxy." A lot of people who know the truth aren't living the truth--that's dead. So we need the truth but we need love and obedience with it.
The second word is "love." God wants us to love one another but love without truth is sentimental slush. There are a lot of churches that say it doesn't matter what you believe just so you love one another, but that's not what God's Word teaches at all. We can't really love one another unless we know the truth. Love without truth is sentimentalism. But love without obedience is impossible because love is that which motivates us to obey. Love is that which seeks the greatest good for the one loved and that means obedience--obedience to God and obedience with relationship to one another.
Then take the third word: "obedience." God wants us to obey but we have to have truth to obey. And we will not obey without love to motivate and to govern our obedience.
So there they are, all meshed together. Truth. Love. Obedience. They're all vital and part of the well-balanced Christian life. This is the big command of 2 John: Walk in the truth; love one another.
2. The Caution to Believers
(2 John 7-11)
When we get to verse 7 there is a caution. "Watch out for what is contrary to the truth," John says.
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (2 John 7).
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world." I've met many Christians who don't accept that. They say that if someone claims to be a Christian we ought to just accept that he's a Christian. But John is saying that even in the church where Mrs. Electa attends, there are deceivers who call themselves Christians but don't even know Jesus Christ. Watch out for them.
Now Paul was particularly concerned about one man named Cerises. Having just completed our study on Colossians a couple months ago, we know what Gnosticism is. Cerises was one of the early Gnostics. He believed, as Gnostics did, that matter is evil. Therefore, God couldn't have created the world since it's matter and God couldn't create anything evil, so some lesser god created the world. Furthermore, Jesus could not have been born of a human woman because He would have been filled with evil matter. Therefore, Jesus was not the son of Mary and did not have a human body. These men believed that Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph but that the Spirit of the Christ--the spirit of the divine--came upon Him at His baptism and left again before the cross. He was just a man upon whom the Spirit of the Messiah rested. That's what Cerises was teaching. And John was afraid that Mrs. Electa would be taken in by his error so John warns, "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" (2 John 7a).
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father. He was with the Father, one with the Father. He became flesh so that He could take our place and die for our sins. But Cerises was saying He didn't do that; Jesus Christ didn't come in the flesh. The Spirit of the Christ came.
What does John say about that? "This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (2 John 7b).
There were antichrists in John's day and there are antichrists today. There is one great Antichrist coming but Scripture teaches that there are many antichrists in the world today. Watch out for them. They are deceivers.
"Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward" (2 John 8).
John is saying you can lose your reward. You might live a godly life in Christ and then get off on some heretical tangent and lose the reward you've earned. Watch out for that. Look out for yourselves. Now God wants us to be careful because these things are happening today as happened in John's day.
"Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God" (2 John 9a).
Transgresses. The word means "to go beyond." "Whoever goes beyond and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ"--by which he means the Eternal Son who became flesh--"does not have God."
I talked to someone who said, "I used to believe that but I've grown beyond that." That's exactly what John means. Whoever goes beyond and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ... "Yeah, yeah. I used to believe that when I was a child but now I'm grown and I'm much more intelligent now and I don't accept that anymore." They consider that progress but John says it's not progress at all. God says through the Apostle John that if you go beyond and don't abide in the doctrine of Christ, you don't even know God. And the implication is that you never did.
"He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9b).
That's the real revelation of whether you know God: It's whether you abide in the doctrine of Christ. That's the heart and soul of Christianity.
There are many people teaching that Jesus wasn't born of a virgin and that He wasn't born in the flesh. Some are even saying what the Gnostics said, that He was only a human man upon whom the Spirit of God came. They may even call themselves Christians but they don't know Him.
You say, "Oh that sounds so exclusivist, and bigoted and intolerant." Well, I didn't write that. That's what God says.
And there is something else in this warning...
"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him" (2 John 10).
Let me explain what John is talking about. Before the Word of God was completed, there were itinerant apostles and prophets and teachers who traveled to different places to teach believers the Word of God. They couldn't stay in the inns of the day because they were vile and immoral places, so they stayed in homes. Many Christians built in their homes what they called a "prophet chamber" for visiting Bible teachers to stay in. The only problem was that when these heretics came to town and came to teach in Christian churches, they wanted to stay in the in the prophet chambers of the dedicated Christian people, too. John says, "Don't let them in. If you do, then you're as responsible as they are for the heresy they preach."
Now John isn't saying not to talk to unbelievers or not to have anything to do with them. How are you going to share your faith with them; how are you going to witness to them if you don't talk to them? Rather, he's saying not to become part and parcel in the propagation of their error.
That's the principle and we need to watch for it today. It's easy to become part of a ministry that propagates error. Sometimes I become very much distressed over believers who send money to radio preachers who do not believe the doctrine of Christ. They do not believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the Father who became flesh to die for our sins. They don't believe that. But they write magazines and literature that Christian people buy and those Christians send money to their radio broadcast. There are some Christians who know the Lord Jesus intimately, who know His truth and walk in the truth, but they're still associated with churches where these truths are denied. They give their money in support of programs that absolutely destroy the truth of the doctrine of Christ.
Now that's becoming responsible in the same degree they are. That's what John is warning us about doing.
"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him" (2 John 10). Don't help him propagate error.
The issue here, friends, is what do you think of Jesus Christ? That's the crucial thing. If you put your trust in Him as the Son of the Father who became flesh to die for our sins, you're born again. You know God. Praise God for that! If you haven't done that, maybe this is the time to do it.
John has many more things to write (verse 12) but he's not going to take the time to do that. This is the crucial thing. This is what couldn't wait: Watch out for error; learn the truth of God's Word. Walk in the truth and live in love toward one another. And God will make us fruitful, vital, productive Christians that bring glory to His name.
Is the truth of God abiding in you? If you're not sure that you've been saved because you never have admitted your sinfulness and have never acknowledged that the only way you can become acceptable to God is by putting your faith in Jesus Christ, won't you do that now? We'd like to invite you to open your heart to the Savior. Let's bow together for prayer.
Father, thank You for capturing us with the truth of Your Word, and not letting us depart from these crucial issues. Lord, we know there are many minor issues--things in the Word about which Christians disagree. Help us to be loving and gracious even in our disagreements in those areas. But God, help us never to depart from the central truth of the Scripture. We pray that we may be found not only knowing the truth but walking in the truth and loving one another.
Lord, we are concerned about those who may not have the truth abiding in them--they never really received Jesus Christ as their Savior. Now we ask You to convict them of their sin. Bring them to the acknowledgment of their own guilt, then give them the grace to open their hearts to the Savior right now.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now right in the middle of this prayer let me pause. While your heads are bowed and your eyes are closed, and you're thinking--and I trust, praying--may I give you an opportunity to open your heart to the Lord Jesus? Maybe you're not sure that the truth abides in you. The reason being: you've never personally invited Jesus Christ to be your Savior. Maybe you've never understood that He is the only way to get to heaven. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). Will you come His way now? Accept Him as your Savior and enter the realm of truth. The Truth will remain with you forever. That's the promise of God's Word.
Don't you want that right now? Why not talk to God in the quietness of your own heart and say something like this:
"Lord, I know I'm a sinner. I believe You died in my place and paid for my sin. Come into my heart and save me."
Father, we pray that some may be brought into the realm of life and truth, the realm of love and blessing, alive in Christ. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Continue to LB-3B: 3 John: The Big Contrast