John’s second letter in the scriptures is a practical letter of what it means to love the truth, know the truth, and walk in the truth. You will notice that the word “truth” occurs four times in the introduction of this letter (vs. 1-3).
Before we can move very far into the letter we approach an enigma. The recipients of this letter from John are “the elect lady and her children.” The question at hand is whether John is writing to an actual woman and her children or if this is symbolic language for a church. Undoubtedly as you read through the letter you will find that John is speaking about the Christian community. The letter seems to have practical application of the key themes found in John’s first letter. This use of plural pronouns through this letter have caused many to accept that the elect lady and her children is a reference to a local church and its members. However, as much as I agree that this letter was written to a church, there is an enormous problem that cannot be overlooked. Allow me to ask a few questions to help us see the problem. Who is the “elect lady?” Most say that it is referring to a local church. Okay, then who are “her children?” Most will answer that the children are the members of the local church. Then who is the “elect lady?” If the children are the members of the local church, then who does the elect lady represent? The members of a church are the church. John is not writing to a church building. He is not referring to a denomination. We cannot separate the church and the members because the people are the church. If there are not people, then there is no church. It is redundant. Because of this problem, I conclude that this letter was written to an actual Christian woman and her children. However, it is clear from the writing that this letter was intended to be shared with the Christians where she lived. Perhaps the local church met in her home. Perhaps she was influential and known among the apostles and therefore the letter was addressed to her. Since the letter does not speak of personal issues but to a church at large, this is the best resolution to these difficulties.
The implication of the first three verses is that they know the truth and have the truth because they know the Son and are in a relationship with him. This was one of the key messages in John’s first letter.
Walking In Truth (vs. 4-6)
John is rejoicing because some of the children of the elect lady are walking in the truth. We are commanded by God to walk in the truth. John explains what walking in the truth looks like. In verse 5 he expresses the command that was given from the very beginning, that we love one another. John used this same language in 1 John 2:7-11 and John 13:34-35. The apostle Paul taught the same truth concerning the relationship between love and walking in the truth.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8–10 ESV)
Walking in the truth means that we love one another. John continues the thought, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments.” Loving one another is the fulfilling of the law. Love and obedience are inseparably linked. Walking in the truth and loving our Christian brethren are not two separate commands. What I mean by this is that we cannot obey one command without obeying the other commands. If I am walking in the truth, then I must be loving the brethren. If I am loving the brethren, then I am walking in the truth. I cannot say that I walk in the truth and not love the Christian family. 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. I am amazed at the damage that has been inflicted on other Christians in the claim of “standing for the truth” or “walking in the truth.” Walking in the truth is not about slandering names and trying to discredit and destroy everyone who does not agree with us. Walking in the truth cares about the souls of our Christian brethren and acts in a way to bring about the saving of the soul. From this it is important for us to make a commitment to love one another. If we want to be found in the truth and love the truth, then we must love one another.
Remain Loyal To The Truth (vs. 7-11)
John turns to a theme that we read about in his first letter. There are deceivers who have gone out into the world. The Antichrist is the person who does not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Rather than discussing more about who these deceivers are, John gives instructions on how to deal with these deceivers. Many are shocked by these instructions.
First, we need to watch ourselves. We need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of accepting false teaching. If we want to receive the reward awaiting each of us, then we must take care to remain in the truth and not fall into error. We cannot ignore the fact that there are many who claim to be true followers of Jesus and associate themselves among our brethren who are deceivers and do not teach the truth. We must accept that reality. It was true in the first century and continues to be true today. Paul speaks of “false brothers” in Galatians 2:4 who slipped in. Paul said there were “fierce wolves” would come into the flock (Acts 20:29). Paul said there were false apostles, deceitful workers, and servants of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13). Jude speaks of brethren who have crept in unnoticed who pervert the grace of God. These writers are not speaking about non-Christian outsiders. These are your brethren and we need to hear this warning. They are preachers in various churches across this country. They are elders in various churches near and far. They are teachers and leaders among our brethren. Do not be deceived. Just because a church is in a directory or on a website does not mean they are sound and does not mean the truth is proclaimed there. Watch ourselves so that we are not pulled away from the truth.
Second, do not go beyond the teaching of Christ. We cannot go with these deceivers. Again, the apostle Paul taught the same thing to the Corinthian Christians.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6 ESV)
We must stay within the boundaries of what is written in God’s holy word. We cannot go on past the word of the Lord. We live in a time when people think that they do not need authority to be a disciple of Jesus. Listen carefully to what the apostle John is saying. To walk in the truth means that you stay in the boundaries of the revealed truth.
We can go beyond the truth in two ways. First, we can do so by being progressive. We ignore the limits of the scripture and simply rely on our own wisdom as the means for determining our service and worship. We must live by the word of the Lord. We must live and act on the basis of, “Thus says the Lord in God’s word.” When the religious leaders asked Jesus a question, Jesus often responded with, “What do you read?” What does God’s law say? We do not answer questions by what we think but by what God’s word says. Second, we go beyond the truth by being conservative. Rather than adhering to God’s law we adhere to our rules and traditions. We uphold the way things have always done or what brethren have done historically. This, while proclaiming to be following the old paths, is no different that those who progressively go beyond the word of the Lord. Both are rely on human wisdom. Neither are relying upon God’s word. Do not go beyond what is written and we must take that charge seriously as a Christian.
Third, John tells us that we take this charge so seriously that we are not receive those who go beyond the teaching of Christ. We cannot assist them in their teaching. We do not treat them as brothers and sisters in the faith. John is not teaching Christians to act rudely or misbehave. To welcome one into your home was to show hospitality to the false teacher who is going around the town proclaiming his error. You cannot assist him in his error. John is not saying to avoid the person and not try to teach them. But he is saying that we do not want to condone what they are doing or be in fellowship with their actions. False teachers, false prophets, antichrists, and deceivers do not share in the provision of Christian hospitality. John even says to not give them a greeting. Again, this is not asking Christians to be rude and not say hi. But do not act like you are in Christian fellowship.
Carefully read verse 11. When we assist these deceivers who go beyond the truth either financially, through hospitality, or even by acting like we are in fellowship, John says that we are taking part in their wicked works. John tells us that we must draw a line in the sand at some point. We cannot allow the preacher or the elders teach things that go beyond on the teaching of Christ and continue to be in fellowship with them. John is not speaking about legitimate disagreements in understanding God’s word. John is referring to those like Peter identified who are twisting the scriptures. What they teach is not a legitimate understanding of the scriptures. It is a twisting of the scriptures and an avoiding of the truth that has been revealed. We cannot be in fellowship with those who distort God’s word. We cannot attend a church where what is being taught would cause people to be in sin if they practiced that teaching. This is why divorce and remarriage is a critical issue. This is why sexual sins are a critical issue. This is why baptism is a critical issue. We cannot be joined to a place where what is upheld and taught leaves people in their sins.
Therefore, John teaches an important principle. John teaches the right of the Christian to refuse immoral, ungodly influences and to refuse to support or welcome one who stands in opposition to the faith. The Christian must refuse to be in fellowship with people who claim to be Christians but are subversive to the faith. The same is true of the local church. The shepherds are commanded to protect the flock from those who claim to be Christians but twist the scriptures or go beyond the teaching of Christ. This is why all churches are not the same. This is why I cannot be fellowship with the large churches in this city. What they teach does not conform to the teaching found in the scriptures. They are going beyond the word of God. Further, I cannot be fellowship with many churches who claim to be sound in the faith because they do not uphold the teachings of Christ. If I attend at that church then I am endorsing what is being taught by my presence. I am participating in that error and joining in with that teaching. Please do not forget that John is not talking about the world. We expect the lost of the world with all their sins and problems to come here. They will be with us and they will be full of sins. John is speaking of people who claim to be Christians, who know the truth, but do not adhere to the truth. Instead they twist the scriptures or go beyond the scriptures.
Let’s pull these two thoughts together that John has taught us. Walking in the truth means that we love one another. We must seek out the interests of our Christian brethren ahead of our own. Further, we walk in the bounds of God’s commands. But we must understand that our love for the brethren does not include the wolves and deceivers who claim to be of us but are not one of us. Their actions and teachings reveal that they are going beyond the teachings of Christ. We cannot be in fellowship with them and do not want to assist them in their deception. Christian love does not overlook teaching that does not rely upon God’s word. Therefore, we must watch ourselves so that we do not lose our reward by being swept away by those who would try to disqualify us.