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The Elect Lady
The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth.
The elder: The word properly means an old man (Greek: presbuteros, elderly man). Vincent says, "The word is used originally of seniority in age.... Afterward as a term of rank or office" (391). Members of the Sanhedrin were called elders (Matthew 16:21; Acts 6:12). Then there are the official elders in the church (Acts 11:30; Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 5:19). Is John using the term in the original sense or in the official sense? John could not have been calling himself "the elder" in the official sense because there was always a plurality of elders in a local church and they never occupied an official position in regard to other congregations.
John is writing with all of the authority of an apostle and exercising that power freely in this epistle. An elder does not have that authority. He would be contradicting the scriptural concept of an elder by acting officially as "the elder" in imposing himself on other congregations. Peter calls himself "an elder" but not "the elder." "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ..." (1 Peter 5:1). Peter exhorts elders from the official capacity of an apostle and notes that he also is an elder, officially. John, then, is using the term in its original sense. He writes as an old man instructing his beloved children in the gospel.
unto the elect lady and her children: "Elect" is eklektos and speaks of "one picked out, chosen." As noted in the introduction, John is writing to a local congregation using the figure of a woman and her children. God’s people are called His "elect," His chosen ones, who have been chosen for salvation (Matthew 24:22; Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:31; Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1). It is in complete harmony with these passages to refer to a congregation as "elect." Peter uses the word "elect" in reference to a church: "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you" (1 Peter 5:13). Barclay says, " ’The Elect One at Babylon,’ and The Elect One is feminine" (153). Feminine qualities are attributed to the church, as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33; Romans 7:4). She is a beautiful lady adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9). "Her children" are those who have been produced through a holy relationship with Jesus Christ. This is an unusual figure that must not be stretched beyond its ability to symbolize. The congregation as a whole is called "the elect lady"; as individuals they are called "children." Those who have a problem with this figure are probably trying to extend the illustration beyond its ability to illustrate.
whom I love in the truth: The love that John expresses for this congregation is agape love, the love of preciousness, the love that God and Christ have demonstrated in unmistakable ways to an ungodly and unloving world. It is a love that sets a value and then responds to it, a self-sacrificing, self-denying, and self-forgetting love. Paul describes this love in 1 Corinthians 13, in what we often call the "love chapter" of the Bible. It is peculiarly the love of Christians that can be exhibited only by Christians, for it has God as its source. The expression "in the truth," Wuest says, "is locative of sphere" (200). The article does not appear in the original text. John says that he loves this church in the sphere of truth; that is, because it subscribes to the truth of God’s word. God’s word promotes Christian love in no uncertain terms as we have learned repeatedly from John’s pen in 1 John. This term indicates that special love Christians have for one another. Wuest says, "He uses the pronoun in an intensive way, ’whom, as for myself, I love in the sphere of truth’" (200). Paul implies a special love that Christians have for one another in Galatians 6:10. We love all men but especially one another.
and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth: John widens the circle of this love when he says, "not I only." There are many others who have a special love for this congregation. They are "all they that have known the truth." "Known" is from the word that speaks of experiential knowledge, a knowledge Christians possess and that continues to grow and mature as long as they live. "Known" is in the perfect tense and thus speaks of knowledge gained by experience and retained at this time. Vincent says it should be rendered, "I have learned to know, therefore I know" (392). What knowledge have they gained and retained? It is the knowledge of "the truth," the truth of the gospel. There is a bond that exists between people who stand for the truth of God’s word. There are many Christians who have never seen these people to whom John is writing, but they love them with a special love because of this special bond. John wants these people to know, "You are loved." We all need this knowledge.
For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.
John gives the reason for this special love among Christians. It is "for the truth’s sake" or "because of the truth" that this distinctive love flows from one congregation to all others that hold that same truth. John says that this truth dwells in him and his readers.
Dwelleth: This word is meno, "which is used often in the Gospels of one living as a guest in the home of another. Thus the truth is a welcome guest in the heart of the Christian" (Wuest, II John 201). Since the truth is resident in the hearts of all these Christians, they manifest this love to a unique degree one toward the other. We do not love one another because we are so great or pretty or desirable but because we have the indwelling truth of God’s word that directs us in all our affairs. John is confident that this love will abide because of the ever-abiding truth. "It shall be with us forever." Vine says that "forever," eis ton aiona, expresses that which has "interminable duration" (41).
Grace, Mercy, and Peace
Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Grace be with you, mercy, and peace: It was a usual practice to extend such salutations when writing a letter to a friend in New Testament times. The common custom was to open with the name of the writer along with the name of the recipient and then just add the word, "Greetings." Paul writes in similar fashion but expresses his greeting in the form of a prayer or desire for those to whom he writes. For example, he says such words as, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." John’s greeting is somewhat different in that he expresses it in the form of a statement, "Grace, mercy, peace shall be with us..." (ASV). John here shows his confidence as he views God’s care for His people. More than a greeting, this statement is the affirmation of yet another reality in the life a Christian.
grace: Grace is commonly defined as God’s unmerited favor. Wuest says,
Briefly, in the ethical terminology of the pagan Greeks, charis (grace) referred to a favor conferred freely, with no expectation of return, and finding its only motive in the bounty and free-heartedness of the giver. Of course, this favor was always done for a friend, never for an enemy. When charis is taken into the New Testament, it leaps an infinite distance forward, for the "favor" God did at Calvary in becoming sin for man and paying the penalty instead of men, was done for a race that bitterly hated Him, a race, unlovely, and humanly speaking, unlovable (Wuest, II John 201).
In speaking of Calvary, Wuest refers to God’s saving grace that was displayed on the cross. Jesus died in our place because of God’s unmerited favor. Grace is also used in the sense of God’s enablement, His sustaining grace. God told Paul that His grace was sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:9). We are saved by grace; we are also sustained by grace. It is in this sense that grace is used in this passage. John is saying that God’s sustaining grace, care, and help will be "with us."
mercy: "Mercy" is eleos and means "the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it" (Vine 60). Again, it was through God’s mercy, His pity toward fallen man, that we have obtained salvation (Titus 3:5). After one is saved, he is still in need of God’s mercy, His unwavering concern, His awareness of our needs, and His willingness to meet those needs. In the midst of all his infirmities, weaknesses, and sins, the child of God cries out for mercy. The Hebrew writer advises: "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). Because we have "an high priest" who is "touched with feelings of our infirmities," we can be assured that we will obtain mercy (Hebrews 4:15). David, who blessed the Lord for "all his benefits," declares that "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy...He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities...Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him" (Psalms 103:2; Psalms 103:8; Psalms 103:10; Psalms 103:13). Lenski says, "mercy is His pity for those who are in trouble and distress" (559). The child of God is assured of God’s mercy to succor him in times of trouble and distress: there is a day by day supply of that mercy.
peace: As a result of God’s grace and mercy, man can come into a right relationship with God and enjoy "peace with God" (Romans 5:1). The enmity caused by sin is eradicated, and man stands reconciled and at peace with his God. In addition to the peace with God, there is the peace of God. In fact, one depends on the other; there cannot be the peace of God until there is first peace with God. This is that peace of mind, tranquility of heart, and calmness of soul that is the desire of every heart. Every human being covets a general sense of well-being. Paul promises this peace in answer to prayer: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). A peace of mind that is far beyond man’s comprehension can flood the soul of every Christian. Isaiah testifies before God that the dedicated can enjoy this peace: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isaiah 26:3). What sweet music those words are to our ears. "Peace!" "Perfect peace!" John says, "This shall be yours."
from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: The immediate personal source of this sustaining grace, succoring mercy, and abiding peace is God the Father and Christ the Son. Notice that John is particular to mention that God is the Father of Jesus and that Jesus is the Son of the Father. This arrangement is not by accident but by design. John is still troubled by the false doctrine of the Cerinthian Gnostics who denied that Jesus was divine. They said that the man Jesus was born of natural parents, Joseph and Mary, that the divine Christ only adopted the body of Jesus for a brief period, and that he abandoned that body before Calvary. As the old time preachers used to say, John "drives the nail through the board and brads it on the other side" when he calls God the Father of Jesus and Jesus the Son of the Father. Jesus has to be divine. He further makes his point by using the threefold title, "Lord Jesus Christ." "Lord" is kurios and signifies having power or authority. Both God and Jesus are spoken of as Lord (James 1:5; James 1:7; James 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:19). On Pentecost, Peter closed his masterful sermon by saying that Jesus is Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Thomas recognized the lordship of Jesus when he fell at His feet, saying, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). If Jesus and God are both called by this same title of authority, Jesus must be of the same nature as God. In this threefold title, Jesus is called both Lord and Christ (the anointed Messiah). The point is that John uses this statement of assurance to teach, or at least, reiterate, a grand truth, the deity of Jesus. He wants to make sure that these Christians do not separate the earthly Jesus from the heavenly Son.
in truth and love: There is some disagreement over whether this phrase should go with "with us" ("with you" KJV), describing the way grace, mercy, and peace work in us, or with "God the Father" and "Christ," showing how they give grace, mercy, and peace. Alford says, "truth and love are the conditional element in which the grace, mercy, and peace are to be received and enjoyed" (517). Wuest translates this phrase, "in the sphere of truth and love" (201). The Christian must be encircled in his life by obedience to the word of God and a love for his fellow man if he wants to be the beneficiary of God’s gracious gifts of grace, mercy, and peace. Stott says, "The fellowship of the local Church is created by truth and exhibited in love. Each qualifies the other" (Stott 204).
Rejoicing in Faithfulness
I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth: The rendition of "rejoiced greatly" can hardly be improved upon by given further definition. Other translations render it "I rejoiced exceeding" (Berry 617) and "I was greatly delighted" (Amplified).
"Found" is perfect tense, suggesting completed action with present results. "Of thy children" is literally "out of (ek) thy children," or certain of them. Evidently, John is saying that he has been in contact with some of the members of this church over a period of time, thus giving him opportunity to observe their lives. He is delighted to write to the congregation and commend the members for "walking in truth." John has observed their conduct and has found them habitually serving the Lord according to His truth. "In truth" is,
...locative of sphere. Her children were conducting themselves in the sphere of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. That is, their actions and words were circumscribed by the Word of God. Their conduct was governed by the Word of God (Wuest, II John 203).
"Walking in truth" means that they are ordering their lives in accordance with the word of God.
as we have received a commandment from the Father: Berry has it in literal translation: "as commandment we received from the Father." "A" is not in the Greek text. John is saying that these brethren, whom he had met and observed, are living according to the truth as commanded in God’s word. John’s commendation is worthy of our imitation today. Everyone needs cheering on from time to time. When we find someone living right, we should commend them. When we see a congregation doing great things for the Lord, we should show our delight in them. This reaction is especially a good example for preachers who have so much contact with Christians all over the country. A word of cheer means much when someone is truly trying to serve the Lord.
Love One Another
And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
And now I beseech thee, lady: "And now," Woods says, means "on the basis of what has just been written by the apostle" (343) Haas suggests, "as things stand" (73). It seems that he is saying, "Having said this, I beseech thee." "Beseech" is erotao, meaning "to request, entreat, beg" (Wuest, II John 203). John has just reminded the church of the Lord’s commandment to walk in truth, but he does not approach them with authority; he, rather, confronts them with exhortation, saying, "I beg of you, please." In addressing the church as "lady," he makes his appeal to the whole congregation.
not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning: This statement is almost identical to the one in 1 John 2:7 : "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning." In the next clause, John expresses this old commandment; but his readers know it already. This commandment was new when Jesus gave it to His disciples because the love it required was entirely new in quality; however, it is not new to John’s readers, for it has been around "from the beginning." "From the beginning" of their Christian experience, they have heard this commandment expressed over and over. So, John says, I am begging you to keep on loving one another just as this old commandment requires.
that we love one another: This is the commandment given many years before by our Lord when he commanded "that ye love one another...as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). The admonition "that we love one another" is further proof that John is writing to a congregation of Christians rather than to an individual lady. This mutual love is to be spread throughout the church, not just between John and a "lady." John would not say to a lady, "I love you, and now I beg you, lady, that we love one another?" "One another" is a pronoun of reciprocity, showing that the members of this church and the apostle John should love and return love one to the other.
Love and Obedience
And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.
And this is love, that we walk after his commandments: It is "the love" in the Greek. This is that special love that God has for man--the love that He has proved by infallible evidence and that He pours out into the Christian’s heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). This is "the love" that we are to have for God, our brethren, our neighbor, and even our enemies. "The love" manifests itself in obedience to the commandments of God. This passage is directly related to John’s statement in 1 John 5:3, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." Love and obedience go hand in hand; they are inseparable among children of God. Berry says, "that we should walk according to his commandments" (618). We are to "walk," or order our lives, "after," or according to God’s commandments. "After" is kata in the Greek, "the local meaning of which is ’down,’ thus suggesting domination. We are to order our behavior, conduct ourselves, dominated by the commandments of God. They are to be the dominating factor in our behavior" (Wuest, II John 204). If one truly demonstrates "the love," true love, he will obey the Lord.
This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it: "The commandment" is the commandment to love. Love is the motivating principle behind our obedience to all of God’s commandments; so, it is the commandment. Jesus says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). In effect, He says, "Do not tell me that you love me if you are not willing to obey me." Many put bumper stickers on their cars today, saying, "Honk, if you love Jesus." Honking is not enough; it requires obedience. To "walk in it" is to walk in the commandment to love. True Christians conduct their lives in the sphere of love, surrounded by love, encircled by love, motivated by love. The atmosphere in which dedicated disciples live, move, and have their being is in the environment of love.
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: The word "for" connects what John has said with what he is about to say. He has urged obedience to the truth and love toward one another in anticipation of his warning against the "deceivers." "Deceivers" is planoi and means "a wanderer, vagabond... deceiving, seducing, a deceiver, imposter" (Moulton 326). "Deceivers" speaks of the itinerate teachers who moved about from place to place spreading their false doctrine. John says they "are entered into the world." The tense is aorist and thus speaks of a particular period when these false teachers foisted themselves upon society. They "entered"--or better, "went forth"--into a world of men to proclaim a doctrine that denies the fundamental principles of Christianity. They "confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." This assertion, of course, refers to the heresy of the Cerinthian Gnostics who refused to acknowledge the truth that deity was introduced into a fleshly body by birth. (See the comments on verse 3.) To the Gnostics, flesh was evil and spirit was good, and never the twain should meet. They could not conceive of God’s being "manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16). They fought the teachings of John in his gospel that the Word who was God was "made flesh and dwelt among men" (John 1:1-2; John 1:14). John says that "Jesus is come in the flesh." Vincent says, "The verb is in the present participle, coming, which describes the manhood of Christ as still being manifested" (395). Barclay suggests that "the incarnation is a permanent reality, that in fact the incarnation is timeless" (166). The humanity of Jesus is a very present and encouraging reality for every Christian. Jesus is not a historical person to the child of God--He is a contemporary Christ. He is not the Christ Who was--He is the Christ Who is.
This is a deceiver and an antichrist: The Greek has it: "This is the deceiver and the antichrist." Those who are looking for a man who is "the antichrist" in the future and those who look for "the antichrist" future to John should ponder this passage. "The deceivers" who deny that Jesus came in the flesh are the same as "the deceiver" (singular) and "the antichrist" (singular). Haas recommends translating it: "Such a one is" (145) the antichrist. When John speaks of these false teachers as individuals, he calls them "deceivers" (this verse) and "antichrists" (1 John 2:18). When he speaks of them collectively, he calls them "the deceiver" and "the antichrist." The antichrist was present in the person of many deceivers in the first century; the Christians to whom John writes should not have looked for him in a specific person in Rome after the time John lived, nor should we look for such a person today.
Do Not Lose What You Have
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Look to yourselves: John has impressed upon them the ever present danger of false teachers who will try to lead them astray. This danger calls for a solemn warning. "Look to yourselves" is blepete and literally means to "ever keep a watchful eye upon yourselves" (Wuest, II John 205). The error of the Gnostics was so subtle and deluding that it could slip up on these Christians almost without detection. They must be ever on guard and protect themselves from an attack by the deceivers.
that we lose not those things which we have wrought: There is considerable disagreement among scholars about the pronouns in this verse. Some say that the first "we" should be "ye." Others say that all of the pronouns should be "ye." Still others think that it should remain as it is in the King James Version. Because of these differences in translation, it is appropriate to take the common sense approach. The people who have the most to lose are the ones who need the warning, so we will take the approach of the Revised Standard Version and make both pronouns "ye." "Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward" (RSV).
Consider another translation: "Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully" (NIV). Vincent agrees with this rendering, saying, "The best texts read...ye lose...ye receive" (395). By following the teachings of the Gnostics who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh, these Christians would stand to lose all that they had accomplished throughout their Christian lives.
One of the saddest sights in the church today is to see one who has spent his life in service to God led away by some godless doctrine that damns his soul.
"Lose" is apollumi, "to destroy, ruin, lose" (Wuest, II John 206). Is it not lamentable that a faithful Christian would destroy all that he has labored for just because he listens to a false teacher? "Wrought" refers to what they had worked for or accomplished.
but that we receive a full reward: MacKnight renders this passage: "may receive our reward complete" (679). These Christians have been rewarded in many ways with great blessings: forgiveness of sins, daily answer to prayer, the indwelling of God’s Spirit, supernatural help, unspeakable joy, abiding peace, strengthening fellowship, and so much more. If they now are led away through false teaching, they will destroy for themselves the "full reward" of eternal life.
This passage gives a warning to all who think one cannot fall from grace and be lost eternally. Why would the apostle warn them to guard themselves lest they lose their reward if it were not possible to lose it?
Going Beyond the Teaching of Christ
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
In this passage, John expresses a general principle that will apply in the case at hand with the Gnostics and in any case with people who go beyond the word of God. Some want to limit this passage just to the doctrine that denies the divine-human nature of Jesus, but the evidence presented below will show that such is not the case. The apostle lets his readers, and all readers to come, know that it is dangerous to tamper with God’s word.
Whosoever transgresseth: Vincent says, "The best texts read proagon goeth onward.... The meaning is, whosoever advances beyond the limits of Christian doctrine" (395). Arndt & Gingrich render it "anyone who goes too far and does not remain in the teaching" (708-709). To go beyond the word of God is to add to it, and the scriptures prohibit such (Revelation 22:18-19; Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Galatians 1:7-9).
and abideth not: Haas says in reference to "transgresseth" and "abideth not," "the two verbs are closely connected, the second explaining the first" (146). To go beyond the word of God is not to abide, or remain, in the word of God. Lenski says, "Leaping forward (pro) from a safe place to one that is wholly unsafe is folly" (568). This leap is what one takes when he leaves the pure doctrine of Christ for "the doctrines and commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
in the doctrine of Christ: "Doctrine" is didache and means "teaching" or that which is taught. There is much discussion about what the "doctrine (or teaching) of Christ" is. Does it refer to the teaching about Christ, such as the teaching that Jesus is both human and divine, or does it refer to the teaching of which Christ is the author (Hebrews 1:1-2). In Greek grammar, if it refers to the teaching about Christ, it will be in the objective genitive, like "doctrine of baptisms" (Hebrews 6:2). If it means the teaching that Christ taught, it will be in the subjective genitive, like "doctrine of the Pharisees" (Matthew 16:12). The spelling is the same in both the objective and subjective genitive; hence, the wording and context must determine which it is. When you consider the context, you find the apostle talking at length about "walking in truth" and knowing "the truth," which refer to the teaching of God’s word. He then turns to the "commandments" after which one must walk, referring to the word of God in general.
Parenthetically, he warns about the false teachers and then returns to his theme of obedience to God’s word by warning about the dangers of going beyond the doctrine of Christ. It would seem from the context that John is talking about the teaching that Christ authorized and the apostles proclaimed.
For further proof that the "doctrine of Christ" is the doctrine taught by Christ, let us look at some parallel phraseology. We read of "the apostle’s doctrine" (literally, "the teaching of the apostles") (Acts 2:42), "doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:12), "doctrine of the Lord" (Acts 13:12), "doctrine of Balaam" (Revelation 2:14), and the "doctrine of the Nicolaitans" (Revelation 2:15). In each instance, the wording is the same in the Greek. It is easy to see that in each of these cases, it is not the doctrine concerning the persons mentioned, but the doctrine taught by those persons. It was not the teaching about the apostles, the Pharisees, the Lord, Balaam, and the Nicolaitans, but the doctrine they taught.
Vincent says, "Not the teaching concerning Christ, but the teaching of Christ Himself and of His apostles. See Hebrews 2:3" (396). Alford says that it refers to "that truth which Christ Himself taught" (520). Westcott: "...the doctrine which Christ brought, and which He brought first in His own person, and then through His followers..." (230). Lenski, Stott, Robertson, Haas, and others also agree that the "doctrine of Christ" is the doctrine taught by Christ.
hath not God: The end result of straying from the true teaching of God’s word is losing fellowship with God. To forsake the word is to forsake God. When one goes after the false teachers, they become his gods; and he loses the fellowship of the Father. Preachers often point out the grievous results of sins of immorality that rob a person of communion with the Father (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). It seems inconsistent that some are reluctant to teach that doctrinal impurity will also destroy that fellowship? This passage teaches that truth in unmistakable terms.
He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son: This statement is the antithesis of the first statement. Those who go beyond and abide not in the teaching of Christ, lose their fellowship with the Father. Those who continue faithful to His teaching have fellowship with both the Father and the Son, from whom the teaching comes.
"Abideth" is in the present tense and thus translates, "keeps on abiding." It is important that we stay with The Book, as Walter Scott called the Bible. Where do we find the teaching or doctrine of Christ? Is the teaching of our Lord limited only to the words in red as some would have us believe. The teaching of Christ is the teaching that proceeds from Him, either personally, as in the gospels, or through the teaching of the apostles. "The apostle’s doctrine" is the doctrine of Christ. Jesus tells His apostles, "He that heareth you heareth me" (Luke 10:16). Jesus further tells his apostles that there were many truths that He had not revealed unto them, but the Holy Spirit would guide them into "all truth" (John 16:12-13), even promising them binding and loosing authority (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18). Some say today, "Just give me the words in red. That is enough for me." Jesus said, "Not so!" The words of the apostles are just as binding as if spoken personally by Jesus. In 1 John, John tells us to allow the Word of God to abide in us; it is "the anointing" from the Holy One (1 John 2:24; 1 John 2:27). In 2 John, he tells us to abide, or remain, in the word that we might maintain our fellowship with the Godhead.
Attitude Toward False Teachers
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine: The Greek construction surrounding the word "if" "expresses an assumption that is considered a real case" (Haas 147). Without doubt, John is talking about the real case of false teachers who go from city to city proclaiming their spurious teaching. They come, not as mere visitors, but as formal teachers of false doctrine. Since it has been established that John is writing to a church, it is to the church that these fraudulent teachers come. They "bring not this doctrine," that is, the teaching authorized by Christ and taught by his apostles.
receive him not into your house: Many congregations met in private homes in New Testament times; hence, it was natural for the apostle to say, "receive him not into your house." Was he saying to stand at the door and bar such men from entering? It would seem that the apostle was concerned about this person’s occupying the pulpit, not his very presence. He is saying, "Do not allow him the opportunity to teach his false doctrine."
neither bid him God speed: "The greeting was ’Chairo!’ literally, goodspeed or Godspeed. This greeting was more than mere formality; it was an approval of the course being pursued by the one thus greeting, and included a desire for success in the effort attempted" (Woods 349). John does not forbid you to say "hello" to a false teacher; he forbids you to give him any encouragement in his efforts to promulgate false doctrine. The faithful are not to give him money to aid him in his work, give him lodging while he continues his false teaching, or in any way aid and abet him in palming off his erroneous teaching on others.
For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
The reason for withholding the pulpit from such a person or aiding him in any fashion is now given. Those who do so have fellowship in his evil purposes, deeds, and achievements. God forbid that we should have fellowship with evil in any way. "Partaker" is from the same word from which we get fellowship, koinonia, "a partner, one who cooperates with another" (Wuest, II John 207). Cecil May, Jr. verbalizes the gist of these passages in clear terms:
This context, and the other things said, make it clear that the subject is the support of preachers. One who supports faithful preachers of the gospel becomes a "fellowhelper" in that preaching of truth (3 John 1:8), and, by the same principle, one who supports a teacher who has "gone beyond" truth to some other doctrine becomes a "partaker" in the false teaching he thus supports (2 John 1:11). Adding ’neither bid God speed’ forbids encouraging the teaching of error even in ways that may fall short of financial support.... The passage does not, obviously, forbid all association, only that which encourages or supports teaching which transgresses the doctrine of Christ. Association designed to convert the false teacher, for example, would certainly be acceptable (3).
Brother May strikes the happy medium in his approach to this section of scripture. He heads off the abuses, both from the right and the left.
Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: The brevity of this epistle is explained in this sentence. John has "many things" that he would like to say to this congregation of God’s people, but he refrains from doing so with "paper and ink."
"Would" is boulomai and speaks of "a desire which comes from one’s reason" (Wuest, II John 208). Evidently, John had reasoned this matter out and had come to the conclusion that it would be best not to write his thoughts in a letter but wait for a face-to-face meeting with them. The "paper" John used was papyrus, which was made of a tall, smooth reed with a triangular stalk and contained the pith from which the paper was made. The pith was made into strips that were laid across one another, glued together with a paste, and pressed together. This crude "paper" was the writing material first century writers had to use. The "ink" was made from soot and other substances. As we sit at our speedy computers pounding out volumes in short periods of time, we should think about those ancient worthies who meticulously wrote down with great effort the grand truths we now evaluate.
but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face: It is John’s desire and expectation to visit this congregation in the near future and converse with them "face to face." This expression means literally, "mouth to mouth." Anyone can testify that it is difficult to write on paper that which you can express to another’s face. The tone of voice, the expressions on the face, and the general attitude of the speaker express thoughts that can never be put down with "paper and ink." One of the greatest problems in writing is being misunderstood. In these days, a phone call is much better and faster than written correspondence. While misunderstandings may linger through writing, those problems can be eliminated immediately when speaking "mouth to mouth." Barclay writes: "John was wise and John knew that letters can often only bedevil a situation, and that five minutes heart to heart talk can do what a whole file of letters is powerless to achieve" (169). This is the tenor of John’s words in this little missive to a beloved church.
that our joy may be full: In 1 John 1:4, he writes that "your joy may be full." Here he says that he wants to be present with them that "our joy (his and theirs) may be full." This archaic expression from the King James Version is music to our ears. Fullness of joy is the desire of every heart. John says we can have it in Christian fellowship. Wuest says that the Greek construction is such here that might be rendered, "in order that our joy, having been filled completely full, might persist in that state of fulness through present time" (209). Jesus talks about a joy that cannot be taken by any man (John 16:22).
The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.
Members of the congregation where John attended send their regards and best wishes to their "sister" congregation. In the introduction, we used this statement to prove the inconsistency of making "the elect lady" an actual woman in the church. If her name is "Eklecta," as some suppose, she has a sister by the same name, a highly unusual situation. All of the evidence leads to the conclusion that "the elect lady" is a local congregation, and her "elect sister" is the congregation where John worships. The "elect sister" is the congregation as a whole; the "children" are the members of that local church.
We never cease to be amazed at the ability of God’s word to be brief yet teach many grand truths. It proves beyond doubt that God is its originator. John and his vocabulary may be the instruments used, but the inspiration of God shines through every word. In this brief memorandum, John has covered the subjects of love, truth, grace, mercy, peace, joy, obedience, the antichrist, respect for the authority of God’s word, attitude toward false teachers, the relationship of local churches, and more. What a treasure this little "book" is!
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 2 John 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany