The book of Second John contains a mere 13 verses as labeled by those who divided the Bible neatly for us around 500 years ago. This short epistle manages to expose some controversy for some in the church these days. I’m not going to try to stir the pot intentionally. Instead, I prefer to read the letter as if it were written to someone John knew well and wanted to encourage. My prayer is that we learn how to lead well by recognizing those who are in the trenches in ministry doing the work Christ called them to do.
John is a senior pastor or perhaps a bishop by modern definition. He feels the burden of responsibility to preach the Gospel as he heard it from Christ first hand, and he presses into his role as a leader of churches across the land.
The commentators agree that Second John was written in light of First John. That sounds funny just writing it there, but the point they seem to make is the second letter is not only brief, but it’s also somewhat incomplete without being viewed in the context of John’s former writing. In other words, you need to read First John before reading Second John. Using this as a background, we recall the thurst of the first letter was to warn the church about those who are trying to divide it into factions that propose false doctrine. John used the term “liar” to identify those who would suggest that Jesus was not fully man and fully God. There were those in the church that were woefully misguided and were leading many astray.
It’s helpful to glance back at First John before going too far.
Now that we have some context, it’s easy enough to imagine John writing to someone who is on the frontline of a young church fighting to keep people focused. Let these words minister to those of you who are struggling to keep people focused on the Gospel message:
To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth 2 John 1:1
Two things immediately jump out to me: 1) this amazing lady and her children were chosen by God and 2) John and all of his leaders love what they’re doing.
Can you imagine getting a letter like that from someone you know is a great ministry leader? How about someone who personally knew Jesus Christ? I would be on my knees in a puddle of tears in no time. For those in leadership positions (which is just about everyone whether you know it or not), this is how we should address anyone who looks up to us. Begin by affirming God’s call in their life and reminding them they are deeply loved by the Father and by those of us who walk around in skin. You, my friend, are loved.
The word “and” here is a crucial conjunction. John doesn’t begin with laudatory words followed by “but…” Not at all. He uses the word “and.” You can dive into the Greek via Long’s concordance at this point if you like, but don’t miss the point that John’s exhortation is a positive reminder.
And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. 2 John 1:5a
What is that command? Remember how Jesus summarized the 600+ rules of Jewish law?
I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. 2 John 1:5b-6
Those of you that know me have heard me say over and over again that we should love one another with everything we’ve got. As John reminds us here, we should be known as a people that walk in love.
Why so much emphasis on love? There are a few reasons that come to mind. We could say Jesus said so, but I think it’s much deeper than that. Though many among us prefer a checklist to execute, this is a reminder that we should walk in love because that was precisely what Jesus demonstrated during His brief ministry on earth. Everywhere He went, people wanted to touch Him, to hear Him; to see Him was enough.
You may think I’m strange, but I don’t see Jesus walking around with a grin pasted on His face giving high-fives to everyone in His path. There was something about the manner with which He talked to people that oozed out the kind of love we’re supposed to emulate. It’s difficult to define, but it’s incredibly easy to see. John reminds this dear lady and all those in her house that this kind of love is required and it is a joy to embrace.
John’s warning is strong at this point. He wants her to know that many are going around misleading others.
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 2 John 1:7-8
This is why we need to read Second John after First John. I the previous letter, John goes into more detail, so he doesn’t have to explain a lot here.
His guidance here is extreme:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. 2 John 1:10-11
The commentators’ perspective is helpful at this point. From what I’ve read from various sources, the custom of the early church was to invite traveling ministers into your house and take care of their basic needs. I can imagine people wandering from city to city and village to village as they proclaim the Gospel and spread the amazing news about Jesus. John draws the line here. Don’t endorse them in any way! Well, that doesn’t sound very loving, does it?
The NIV Application Commentary is helpful here:
These troubling verses should be viewed as “emergency regulations,” tied directly to the crisis at hand. They are directives from the battle zone, and they underscore the extreme danger the church is in when it not only tolerates, but actually invites into its ranks those whose teachings undermine traditional Christology.1
The early church was comprised of many house churches. The “rule” created here is put in place to keep disruptors from coming into your church and deceiving others. This is not a rule about shunning hospitality to strangers, not at all. The people John is referring to are seeking to disrupt the fellowship. They’re not merely wandering around looking for a bed and breakfast. John gives church leaders permission and authority to say no to those who would otherwise destroy the koinonia, the fellowship of believers.
Discerning who to say no to and who to tolerate is of utmost importance. John’s point is not trivial. He draws the line around those who deny the incarnation of Christ. The same would be true of those who are offended by the virgin birth or the reality of the resurrection. These are clearly inconsistent with the life and teaching of Jesus. But what about the current debate on sexuality? How about women in leadership?
We can quickly create a list of issues and apply the rule of locking the door, of saying you are not welcome here. Or we can just let anything go; every view is ok, right? No. That is not right. But herein lies the problem.
I want to suggest that we can love someone completely without agreeing with their theology. We can love someone who doesn’t know Jesus. We can love someone who worships a statue five times a day. We can absolutely love that person. But we must not let that person come in an teach in the church. This is truly black and white.
If it were only so easy to distinguish between the shades of gray, and so we don’t have all the clarity we might desire and the battles rage on. Our friends in the United Methodist Church are not so united anymore as a result of such fighting. Honestly, I think Screwtape is applauded when this happens.
John quickly closes his letter on a more positive note:
I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings. 2 John 1:12-13
In other words, there’s lots more to say, but for now, I hope you get the point.
It’s funny how I started this post suggesting this was a short letter, then commenced to writing thoughts that only scratch the surface of what is taught here. We have a lot to learn. God helps us first to love each other and give us discernment that makes you smile. Help us see those who are intent on destroying that which you have given us to manage — even Your church.
- Guthrie, George H.. NIVAC Bundle 8: General Epistles, Revelation (The NIV Application Commentary). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.