Standing for the Truth

2 John 5–13

All Christians should obey biblical truth and manifest love, as taught by Jesus Christ. The “elect lady and her children,” whom the apostle John mentioned in his second epistle, lived observably according to these commandments. Consequently, she and her family left a lasting impression on John.

So thankful was he for having seen her children’s commitment that he expressed his approval and gratefulness. Then he urgently requested the lady to remain steadfast in the Lord. He added to his appeal a warning to her and all who read the epistle to guard against deceptive teachers who present themselves as followers of Christ but are actually antichrists. Knowing this woman offered hospitality to traveling teachers, John cautioned her against welcoming false teachers into her home.

He concluded by encouraging her and others to follow after truth, love, and the commandments taught by Christ and His apostles.

John’s Appeal

Using the phrase and now, John indicated he was embarking on something new he wanted to share:

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 Jn. 5).

The word plead means to “beseech, request, or entreat.” It was a polite way of appealing to this godly, respected woman.

Before instructing her to practice love, John reminded the elect lady this was not a “new commandment.” In fact, it was revealed at the church’s inception and has always been part of the apostolic message. Christ Himself taught it originally (cf. Jn. 13:34; 15:12, 17).

Jesus told the apostles and all Christians “to love one another.” Love is not an option but an obligation. The Greek word for “love” in the phrase that we love one another (2 Jn. 5) is in the present tense, meaning love is to be ongoing. Though the commandment to love is nothing new, Christians must continually be reminded to obey it.

Then John explained the practical application: “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” (v. 6).

The Greek word for “love” is agape. This type of love is self-sacrificing and unique in both its nature and character when referring to God. God does not merely love; His entire nature is love. Such love transcends all human expression and is completely foreign to man’s nature. God the Father is the source of agape love. He freely bestows it on all believers and expects them to express it in their Christian walks.

To “walk according to His commandments” speaks of obedience. Love and obedience are strongly related.

True Christian liberty is found in loving God and obeying His commandments. Someone who loves God will want to please Him by keeping His commandments. The central command to love one another (v. 5) overrides all other commands for Christians. Believers who truly possess love for others will “walk” (order their daily conduct) in obedience to God’s commandments.

Bible commentator Glenn W. Barker said it well when he wrote the following:

The test of love is obedience to God’s commands, and the test of obedience is whether one “walks in love.” The argument is intentionally circular. Love of God that does not result in obedience to the Word of God cannot be the love that is God’s gift in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ own love was manifested by his obedience even to death. Love of God can finally be expressed only in action and truth (1 John 3:18). Do we love our brother? Are we prepared to die for him? Obedience that does not lead to the life of love in which we love one another even to death is not obedience offered to God. Not to love means to remain in darkness (1 John 2:11) and in death (1 John 3:14). Hatred of one’s brother can never be defended as obedience to God. It is rather obedience and gratification of one’s own sin––one’s own evil nature (cf. 1 John 3:12).1

John’s Admonishment

“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 Jn. 7).

The word for introduces the reason why mutual love and obedience to God’s commandments are of great and urgent importance. Only those who follow Christ faithfully will be able to detect and defend themselves against the “many deceivers” whom John described as “antichrist.” This was a distinct group of heretics who manifested antichristlike beliefs inside the local church at the time of John’s ministry. They were wandering teachers who spread the heresy that Jesus was not the divine Son of God.

The word antichrist is composed of two Greek words: anti, meaning “against” or “instead of,” and Christos, Greek for “anointed.” The English word for Christos is Christ. The Antichrist is identified in Scripture as a vile man of sin, a lawless one who is a pawn in Satan’s hand, trying to overthrow God’s program.

John called these false teachers “antichrists” because they denied Christ’s divinity. They disrupted the church fellowship, twisted John’s teachings, and caused major discord and division within the body of Christ. (See “Warning Against Antichrists: 1 John 2:18–29” in the March/April 2014 issue.)

Having established the immediate danger, John provided a more pointed warning: “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2 Jn. 8).

The phrase look to yourselves is a command to stand guard continually over one’s beliefs and conduct. The warning is twofold: the readers are (1) to guard the true gospel message imparted to them and (2) guard their own personal commitments in the Lord.

The phrase those things we worked for refers to the rewards for faithful service. If a believer follows false teachers, he will not be rewarded for faithfulness and obedience at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:11–15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This text in no way implies salvation is by merit. Salvation is totally by grace through faith, apart from works (Eph. 2:8–9).

John contrasted the believer’s spiritual reality with that of the antichrist group. One who does “not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (2 Jn. 9) and is not born again. On the other hand, the one “who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (v. 9). The doctrine of Christ includes what John wrote concerning Jesus’ incarnation, teaching, provision of redemption, and postresurrection ministry. Abiding in this truth provides evidence that one is born again and rooted in Christ and shows that he possesses both the “Father and the Son” (cf. 1 Jn. 1:3).

John then taught how to treat the antichrist group: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 10–11).

The word if can be translated “since.” It assumes these itinerate, false teachers will seek lodging. The idea is that they expect to stay at the elect lady’s home in order to propagate their false doctrine about Christ.

John gave two commands. First, do not welcome them into your house. Second, do not “greet” them, meaning do not wish them well or bid them Godspeed. In other words, do not receive a cultic teacher at your door, converse with him, or accept his literature. If you do, you share “in his evil deeds” (v. 11). That is, you promote his wickedness, affirm his heretical beliefs, and approve of his evil works.

John’s warning is firm. The apostle had confronted such heretical teachers, and they rejected his admonishment. If he could not convince them, neither could the lady. Today many Christians are too tolerant of false teachers and often end up succumbing to their doctrine, thus compromising their own beliefs.

John’s Anticipation

John concluded his epistle by explaining the brevity of this letter and his hope to visit the elect lady: “Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (v. 12).

The letter gives no hint as to the “many things” John wanted to share. Perhaps they were personal or too lengthy for a letter. Whatever the case, he decided to wait until he could discuss them face-to-face. He planned to visit the woman, but the details of the trip were not finalized.

It is usually better to communicate in person rather than by letter. Face-to-face contact is more intimate, language can be explained in detail, and facial expressions and voice tone can help transmit the message. Unfortunately, we will never know what John wanted to tell the lady.

The apostle expressed confidence that his visit would produce joy. The phrase that our joy may be full speaks of their Christian fellowship together being not only full, but also complete—a joy that would remain with the passing of time. Notice, John eagerly anticipated their fellowship would fully bless him as well.

He closed his letter with a word of endearment: “The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen” (v. 13). The sister’s children had asked John to greet their aunt. The sister was a chosen, godly woman herself. Since only the children are mentioned, the sister probably had died. The children and sister mentioned here provide evidence that the words elect lady do not refer to the church but to actual people.

This is a short epistle, but its lessons are important.

  1. Glenn W. Barker, “2 John,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 12:363.

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