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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
2 John 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

As explained in the introduction section of these notes, the "elder" was evidently the Apostle John , the "chosen lady" a local church, and her "children" the believers in that church.

"It may well be that the address is deliberately unidentifiable. The letter was written at a time when persecution was a real possibility. If the letter were to fall into the wrong hands, there might well be trouble. And it may well be that the letter is addressed in such a way that to the insider its destination is quite clear, while to the outsider it would look like a personal letter from one friend to another. The address may in fact be a skilful attempt to baffle any hostile person into whose hands the letter might come; and, if that is Song of Solomon , our difficulty in identifying the person or Church to whom the letter is addressed is nothing other than a tribute to the skill of John." [Note: Barclay, p162.]

The church was "chosen" in that it consisted of elect individuals: Christians.

"We are hardly to think here of an elder in the sense which the word presbyteros usually bears in Christian contexts in the New Testament, that Isaiah , one who discharges the ministry of eldership in a local church.... The word appears in another specialized sense in second-century Christian literature, of church leaders in the generation after the apostles, particularly those who were disciples of apostles or of "apostolic men," and were therefore guarantors of the "tradition" which they received from the apostles and delivered in turn to their own followers." [Note: F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John , p135. See Irenaeus (ca. A.D130-202), Against Heresies, 551; 5362; The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 339.]

John loved this church and so did other Christians who knew about it. The basis of this love was the truth the Christians there believed in common with one another. This "truth" refers to God"s revelation in Scripture. The importance of this truth is clear from the fact that John referred to it three times in these two verses.

"The Truth makes true love possible." [Note: B. F. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John , p225.]


Verses 1-3

I. INTRODUCTION VV:1-3

John introduced himself, identified the recipients of this letter, greeted them, and mentioned the major subjects of his concern to prepare his readers for what follows.


Verse 3

John wanted his readers to appreciate the importance of guarding God"s truth and practicing love for one another. These two things are the basis for grace, mercy, and peace. "Grace" is God"s unmerited favor, "mercy" is compassion, and "peace" is harmony and inner tranquillity.

"The succession "grace, mercy, peace" marks the order from the first notion of God to the final satisfaction of man." [Note: Ibid.]

These qualities flourish where truth and love prevail.

"When divorced from truth, love is little more than sentimentality or humanism. If I truly care about my brothers, then I will want them to know, and live according to, God"s truth." [Note: Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John , p255.]

"Where "truth and love" coexist harmoniously, we have a well-balanced Christian character (cf. Ephesians 4:15)." [Note: Bruce, p139.]

John"s description of Jesus Christ as the Son of God the Father is reminiscent of his emphasis on Jesus" full deity both in his first epistle and in his Gospel.


Verse 4

John began by commending the church. He had met some of its members who were walking in obedience to God"s truth (i.e, walking in the light, 1 John 1:7).

"It is much easier to study the truth, or even argue about the truth, than it is to practice it!" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:535.]


Verses 4-6

A. Practicing the Truth vv4-6

John wrote this epistle to urge his readers to continue to be obedient to God by responding positively to the truth of His revelation. He also wanted them to resist the inroads of false teachers who sought to distort this truth. He dealt with the first purpose in 2 John 1:4-6.


Verses 4-11

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TRUTH VV:4-11

"In the central section of2John [ 2 John 1:4-11] . . . we have a brief summary of the great contrasts between truth and error, love and hatred, the Church and the world, which are dealt with at greater length in1John." [Note: Stephen S. Smalley, 1 , 2 , 3 John , p322. Cf. John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John , p205.]


Verse 5

John"s message for this church was not some new revelation. It was a reminder to keep on walking in obedience to God"s truth by continuing to love one another (cf. 1 John 2:3-9; 1 John 3:14-18; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11; 1 John 4:20-21). This was important since false teachers were encouraging the readers to depart from the truth they were hearing ( 2 John 1:6).

"It is not that love precedes truth or belief but that love offers the clearest test of the truthfulness of the confession and the sincerity of the obedience given to God"s commands. Belief may be feigned and confession only of the lips, but love is harder to counterfeit." [Note: Glenn W. Barker, " 2 John ," in Hebrews -, Revelation , vol12of The Expositor"s Bible Commentary, p363.]


Verse 6

If anyone had a question about what loving one another meant, John explained that it is essentially obeying God (cf. 1 John 5:2-3 a). That Isaiah , we love each other best when we obey God"s will that His Word reveals.

"Love strives to realise [sic] in detail every separate expression of the will of God." [Note: Westcott, p228.]

The antecedent of the last word in this verse is not clear in the English text or the Greek text. "It" could refer to "love" or "commandment." The latter alternative seems somewhat more likely in view of John"s argument. In this case John"s point was that his readers should obey God"s commands as they had heard these from the beginning of the apostles" preaching (cf. 1 John 1:1). They should not obey the gospel that the false teachers were proclaiming.

All the specific "commandments" of God are really one "commandment" or obligation for the Christian (cf. 1 John 3:22-23).


Verse 7

This verse gives the reason for the exhortation in 2 John 1:6 and links what follows with 2 John 1:4-6.

". . . the wandering prophets and preachers did present a problem. Their position was one which was singularly liable to abuse. They had an enormous prestige; and it was possible for the most undesirable characters to enter into a way of life in which they moved from place to place, living in very considerable comfort at the expense of the local congregations. A clever rogue could make a very comfortable living as an itinerant prophet. Even the pagan satirists saw this. Lucian, the Greek writer, in his work called the Peregrinus, draws the picture of a man who had found the easiest possible way of making a living without working. He was an itinerant charlatan who lived on the fat of the land by travelling [sic] round the various communities of the Christians, and settling down wherever he liked, and living luxuriously at their expense." [Note: Barclay, p156.]

Erroneous teaching had already begun to proliferate in the early church (e.g, Gnosticism, Docetism, Cerinthianism, etc.; cf. 1 John 2:18; 1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 2:27; 1 John 4:1-3). The common error was Christological. The false teachers regarded Jesus as something other than God"s Anointed One who had come in the flesh (cf. 1 John 5:1). "Coming" in the flesh means having come and continuing in flesh. This is the true view of the Incarnation. Jesus was and continues to be fully God and fully man.

"Christ is never said to come into flesh, but in flesh; the former would leave room for saying that deity was united with Jesus sometime after his birth." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, "The Second Epistle of John ," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p1480.]

"The incarnation was more than a mere incident, and more than a temporary and partial connection between the Logos and human nature. It was the permanent guarantee of the possibility of fellowship, and the chief means by which it is brought about." [Note: A. E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, p175.]

This type of false teacher is a deceiver as well as opposed to Christ. John did not mean that such a person was the end-time Antichrist. The use of the definite article in Greek, translated "the," used with an unnamed individual as here, sometimes translates better with the English indefinite article "a" or "an." That understanding of this statement is preferable here in view of other Scriptures that indicate the end-time Antichrist has yet to appear (e.g, Daniel 11; 2 Thessalonians 2).

"The elder says that anybody who denies the truth is a very antichrist, just as we might speak of a supremely evil person as "the very devil."" [Note: Marshall, p71.]


Verses 7-11

B. Protecting the Truth vv7-11

Next John moved on to his second purpose. He wrote to encourage his readers to resist the false teachers who were distorting the truth and deceiving some of the believers.

"The presbyter"s attention now moves from the existence of true belief inside the Johannine community, which gives him great joy ( 2 John 1:4), to the dangers presented to it through the espousal of false belief by deceivers who have "defected into the world." Earlier, the writer has spoken of Christian truth and love; in the remainder of2John the emphasis inevitably falls on the need for truth in contrast to error. But the two sections interlock. Departure from the truth results in a failure of love. Thus the dark description of heretical secession and its consequences ( 2 John 1:7-11) forms the basis of John"s warm appeal for love and unity ( 2 John 1:4-6)." [Note: Smalley, p327.]


Verse 8

Compromise with the false teachers could lead to a loss of reward (cf. the warning passages in Hebrews). [Note: Barker, pp364-65; Marshall, p72.] Moreover loss for John"s readers would involve loss for him as well since he had a share in their lives. This loss would only be partial, however. They would still receive some reward (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, " 2 John ," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p907.] Loss of salvation is not in view at all.

"The readers are warned to take heed that the deceivers do not undo the work which the apostles and evangelists had done, so that they might receive a full reward." [Note: Ryrie, p1480.]

"John is anxious that they shall hold on with him to the finish." [Note: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6:253.]


Verse 9

The picture in John"s mind seems to have been that of a Christian who, the false teachers said, did not have the whole truth. It is common even today for false teachers to claim that those who do not agree with them are still intellectual infants. However, John regarded that "infantile" position as proper for the Christian (cf. Matthew 10:16). If his readers advanced beyond it, they would really step out of the truth into error. John warned his readers of the danger of apostasy, namely, forsaking truth to embrace error (cf. 1 John 2:23-24).

John"s use of "abide" indicates that he spoke of a vital personal relationship with God that comes with adherence to the truth, not just dead doctrinal orthodoxy (cf. John 8:31; John 14:21-23; John 15:1-7).

The teaching "of Christ" could be the teaching that Christ gave (subjective genitive), "the standard of Christian teaching," [Note: Ibid, 6:254.] or the teaching about Christ (objective genitive). Perhaps John meant both things.


Verse 10-11

In the culture of John"s day philosophers and teachers relied on the people to whom they spoke for lodging and financial assistance (e.g, Acts 18:2-3; Acts 21:7). John instructed his readers to refuse to help the false teachers in these ways. Beyond this they were not even to give verbal encouragement to these apostates (cf. Acts 15:24; Acts 23:2-6; 1 Corinthians 10:20; 1 Timothy 5:22; James 1:21; 1 Peter 3:13). [Note: Cf. Brooke, p179.] John did not advocate the persecution of heretics here, but he strongly counseled his readers to give them no aid or encouragement in their destructive ministry. [Note: Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3John, p351.]

"This is a severe measure, particularly when one remembers that hospitality is generally enjoined in the NT." [Note: Ryrie, p1481.]

I believe John would have approved his readers" efforts to correct the false teachers in private and to lead them into a true appreciation of the person and work of Christ (cf. Acts 18:26). In dealing with such persons ourselves we must also relate to their ministry in one way and to themselves in another. We must not approve or encourage their work but must show concern for their personal relationship with Christ. [Note: See Hodges, " 2 John ," pp908-9.]

"Admittedly great care should be exercised before applying such a radical withholding of hospitality from anyone. For the elder it was applied only to antichristians who were committed to destroying the faith of the community. The issue involved more than disagreements in interpretation or personal misunderstandings among members of the body of Christ. It was radical and clearly defined unbelief, and it involved active and aggressive promotion of perversions of truth and practice that struck at the heart of Christianity.

"The responsibility of parents may furnish an analogy. Parents must discriminate as to whom even among their relatives they entertain in their home. Some relatives might be of such questionable character as to menace the moral, spiritual, and physical welfare of the children. Such relatives must be excluded. Parents must balance their concern for their relatives with their responsibility for their children. Notice that John does not suggest that the elect lady and her children deal with the false teachers in hatred or retaliate against them. Instead, he counsels that the false teachers be kept at a distance lest their heresy destroy the young church." [Note: Barker, pp365-66. Cf. Marshall, p75.]


Verse 12

John had more to say on this subject that God did not lead him to record in this letter. He could have written this epistle on one standard size sheet of papyrus. [Note: Smalley, p314.] We do not know if John was able to follow through with his desire to visit his readers soon.

His readers" joy would be full when they understood the issue presented here more fully as well as when John visited them (cf. 1 John 1:4).


Verse 12-13

III. CONCLUSION VV:12-13

John expressed his desire to visit his readers personally to explain the reason for the brevity of this epistle.


Verse 13

John evidently meant that the Christians in the sister church of which he was a member sent their greetings along with his own to his readers.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 John 1:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/2-john-1.html. 2012.

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Thursday, May 23rd, 2019
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