John’s second and third brief letters, while altogether different from the first Epistle are nevertheless of great importance. They bring before us guiding principles that have often been overlooked, but are needful if the people of God are to walk in a way pleasing to God.
John deals primarily, as we have seen, with truth concerning the family of God. Peter’s letters deal chiefly with the government of God. Paul’s Epistles are concerned mainly with the church of God. But in these last letters, written many years after both Peter and Paul had sealed their testimony with their blood, we get instruction regarding church fellowship that we cannot afford to ignore if our fellowship is to be real.
In 2 John a Christian lady is warned regarding false teachers. Through John’s warning we learn what our individual attitude toward all anti-Christian propagandists should be. In 3 John the message is the very opposite. We learn through the apostle’s instruction to Gaius what our behavior should be towards those who are lovers of Christ and who go forth proclaiming His truth. These Epistles are charming in their simplicity, and give us a wonderful insight into the heart of a man who speaks of himself as an elder rather than as an apostle, even though we know he was that.
In this second letter John addressed himself to “the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth” (1). There is no reason to suppose that the elect lady is the church, as some have thought, nor yet that we should read, “the Lady Electa,” as others have suggested. The elect lady was evidently a Christian woman who, with her children, had embraced the doctrine of Christ. In all probability she was one who had been blessed and helped through John’s ministry. She had evidently written to him for advice as to how she would be expected to act when imposed upon to open her home to false teachers. Would Christian charity demand that courtesy and hospitality be shown even to these, or were there other responsibilities which must first be considered? John’s letter is clearly an answer to hers. He emphasized faithfulness to the truth, “For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever” (2).
In his salutation he invoked grace, mercy, and peace “from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, [and this] in truth and love” (3). How full the title here! Men were teaching derogatory things concerning our Lord. The Spirit would give Him fullest honor and recognition.
John’s heart had been gladdened by the good report that had reached him of the ways of “the elect lady’s” household. Her children walked in the truth in accordance with the commandment received from the Father. Hers was a truly Christian home in the midst of an ungodly world. The commandment referred to in verse 4 is that which had been made known “from the beginning” (5). It is the revelation of the will of God as given by our Lord that “we love one another.” But this love is not to be confused with mere fleshly sentimentality. “This is love, that we walk after his commandments” (6). Again he emphasized the fact that he was speaking of nothing new (as is customary with deceivers), but he said, “That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”
The Christian teaching is not in the process of evolution. It is not passing from one stage to another as theologians and religious philosophers devise new systems. It is “the faith once…[for all] delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). That which is new and not “from the beginning” is a deceit and a delusion.
Many had already come to consider themselves as advanced, and gloried in being freed from the dogmas of the past. John spoke of these people when he wrote, “For many deceivers are entered into the world who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (7). He referred to those, later known as docetic gnostics, who denied the humanity of our Lord. According to them Jesus only appeared to be a man. It is this error that John combated in the opening verses of his first Epistle. All such teachers the apostle branded as deceivers and antichrists. They were opposed to the Christ of God. Their denial of His manhood marked them out as unsaved men, enemies of the truth of God. To associate with these apostates in any way was dangerous, hence the admonition: “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward” (8). Real believers cannot lose what God has bestowed in grace, but there is a grave danger that they will deprive themselves of the rewards for faithfulness if they ever tamper with the errors that are being taught by these apostates.
The primary reference, beyond all doubt, is to the gnostics of various sects, whether Cerinthian, who distinguished between the man Jesus and the divine Christ who, according to them, came to abide on and indwell Jesus at His baptism, or docetists, who denied the reality of His physical body and held that it was only an “appearance” by which the Christ revealed Himself to men. There were many widely divergent schools of thought among these false teachers, but all rejected Christ’s vicarious sacrifice for sin on the cross. All alike would rob the believer of the great foundation truths upon which the soul rests. They all boasted of progress in the revelation of divine mysteries, but the apostle condemned all such haughty claims as he solemnly declared: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (9).
John certainly is not referring to believers who may not see eye to eye with others regarding certain doctrinal subtleties. The teachers described are not Christians at all. They have therefore no claim whatever on the sympathetic cooperation of the people of God. So to this elect lady John said, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither [greet him]: For he that [greeteth him] is partaker in his evil deeds” (10-11). This instruction is clear. It positively forbids a Christian to show any fellowship whatever with a teacher of soul-destroying error. Such teachers have no right to the hospitality of believers who owe everything for eternity to the Savior whom these apostates blaspheme.
The closing verses are beautiful in their simplicity, but require no comment.