As we have done with every New Testament letter, before we look at the details of a letter we need to examine the structure of the letter. The author of 2 John is “the elder.” This, of course, tells us nothing about who the author is. As we read this letter I think the author will become obvious. But let us wait to make the conclusion of who the author is until we have read the whole letter.
The recipients of the letter are “the chosen lady and her children.” Some think this is symbolic for a local church. I think there are two reasons why the symbolic view of the chosen lady and her children must be rejected. First, the way we interpret any form of communication is that we accept what a person says literally unless the context demands otherwise. This is also how we interpret the Bible. We take the words of the scripture literally unless the text demands otherwise. There is nothing in this text to suggest that the author is speaking figuratively. Second, interpreting the chosen lady and her children as a local church requires a denominational view of the church. Who is the chosen lady? Those who take a symbolic view would say the local church. Then who are her children? Those who accept a symbolic view would say the members of the local church. But a church is not an entity, institution, or a denomination. The church is people. The members are what make up a church. There is no church without the people. So how can we say that the lady is the church and the children are the members? Such symbolism is simply not biblical. Therefore, we need to interpret this letter as being written to a lady and her children. Many letters in the New Testament were written to individuals (Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy) so we should not think that this letter cannot be to an individual. Notice that in the recipient section of the letter, the author speaks about truth. The author loves the recipients in the truth and all of those who have known the truth love the chosen lady and her children because the truth abides in them. We should realize that this letter is going to be about walking in truth.
The salutation is the standard greeting in New Testament times: “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.” Paul in his letters also spoke of the grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 4 the author gives his thanksgiving:> “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.” The author is thankful and joyful because the chosen lady’s children are walking in truth, obedient to the commands of the Lord.
Walk In Love
This leads us to verse 5 which seems to be the thesis statement of the letter. “I ask that we love one another.” The author goes on to explain how we love one another: “that we walk in obedience to his commands.” By walking in obedience we are walking in love toward God and toward one another because we are commanded to love. We walk in love by practicing obedience. This is an important point that we need to explore for a moment. True love is found in obedience to the commands of God. Love is not having warm fuzzy feelings toward God. When we speak of God wants us to love with the heart, he is not necessarily speaking about an emotional response, though emotion may be appropriate. Rather, worship from the heart is that we desire to obey God. Not only do our actions conform to the commands of God but our hearts desires to conform to the commands of God. This is how we truly love God.
At this point I think we can determine the author of this letter by comparing it to the last letter we looked at. “This is the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). “As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love” (2 John 6). I think it is easy to ascribe this letter to the apostle John, the author of 1 John. “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3). “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands” (2 John 6). We will see a few more parallels in the upcoming verses.
In verse 7 John turns his attention to those who are not walking in the truth and are therefore not walking in love. There were false teachers who did not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh. Any person who teaches that Jesus did not come in the flesh is a deceiver and the antichrist. John taught this point also in his first letter. “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23). As we saw in 1 John, we see in 2 John the continuing problem of the Gnostic teachings. Many were claiming to be from God and sent out from the apostles, yet they were teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh.
In verse 8 John gives the warning for the lady and her children to watch out for these deceivers who bring this teaching. To follow their teaching will cause a person to those their reward that they have been working for. The warning continues into verse 9: “Anyone who does not remain in the teaching about Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son.” John warns that no one should go beyond the teaching that the apostles have given concerning Christ. Anyone who goes beyond the teaching of Christ does not have God and is not in fellowship with God. Those who remain in the teaching of the apostles, however, has both the Father and the Son.
Verses 10-11 continue the warning: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” John gives specific instructions about what to do if these teachers who claim to be of God and from the apostles ask for aid as a Christian. The chosen lady and her children were not to aid such a false teacher by allowing him to stay in their home. These Christians were to refuse these Gnostic teachers who denied that Jesus came in the flesh.
I think there are two important applications that need to be made from these warnings and instructions.
First, we learn that we are to be discerning in our fellowship. We cannot fellowship with people who claim to be Christians but who do not accept the basic doctrine of Christ. I think we must define a false teacher according to the way John defines a false teacher in this letter: that is, a person who denies that Jesus came in the flesh. Others argue that this passage applies to all false teachers. While I agree that this text can be used and applied to false teachers in our day and time, the problem is that today most of the time a false teacher is defined as someone who disagrees with our positions. I have a unique view of the book of Revelation. Does this make me a false teacher because I do not have the same view as another Christian? I have a unique view on the Lord’s Supper. Does this make me a false teacher because I do not have the same view as another Christian? I have a unique view on how to interpret the scriptures. Does this make me a false teacher because I do not have the same view as another Christian? The point I want to make is that once we include issues that are not found in 2 John, then where does one draw the line? We should also remember that this teaching in 2 John did not apply to other issues that we read about in the New Testament. Those who were binding laws on meat sacrificed to idol in Corinth were not to be excluded from one’s house. In Pergamum we read about those who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. But John does not say that they should not be welcomed into their home (Revelation 2:14-15). I think we are safer to apply the command to not welcome someone into our home those who are claiming to be our brethren but reject that Jesus came in the flesh. While we may not think that this would apply today then, that is not the case. There are some of our brethren who in trying to figure out the balance of the humanity and deity of Christ have gone to the extremes that are not found in the scriptures. Some teach that Jesus divested all of his deity while in the flesh. Others teach that Jesus only had a shell of flesh on him but was God completely. These things do not fit the scriptures and such teachings must not be followed.
The second application that must make from this text is that we are to have a discerning love. We walk in love by walking in obedience. The chosen lady and her children were to not accept anyone who claimed to be a believer. Christians were to share their love within the confines of the truth of God’s word. We see a strong call in the religious world that we put our differences aside and simply focus on the fact that we all believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. This teaching has even infiltrated within the minds of brethren who see those in the religious world as good moral people who are trying to do the will of God. But just because we do not deny that Jesus came in the flesh does not mean that we have fellowship together. Love toward the brethren is couched in that we are all walking in obedience. Each of us must be conforming our lives to the laws of Jesus Christ to have fellowship together and have a shared love for one another.
John concludes the letter by stating that he hopes to visit with the chosen lady and her children soon. That way they can speak face to face about these problems with the false teachers. John has much to write about, but seems to want to speak in person about these things rather than write about them. In verse 13 the letter ends with a traditional greetings. “The children of your chosen sister send their greetings.” As before, I think we must understand these words literally that John is passing on greetings from the chosen lady’s nephews. I do not see why there would be a problem accepting that the family is giving their greetings to one another in this letter.