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I. Address and Greeting: From the well-known Elder to a well-known Lady.
The greeting, with its invocation, fills a large space. It is framed after the manner of St. Paul, and remarkably incorporates the two points of truth and love which occupy the whole Epistle.
2 John 1:1-2. The elder the aged Apostle John, who gives himself this title because it was the only one that combined authority with age to the elect Kyria and her children: nothing is known about the two sisters introduced at the beginning and the end, save that they were influential persons, probably widows with large families. St. Paul speaks of Rufus as ‘elect in the Lord,’ and St. Peter of ‘elect strangers:’ no higher term could be suggested by Christian courtesy.
Whom I love in truth: the ‘whom’ in the masculine embraces all of the household addressed. They were elect or loved of God, and therefore elect and beloved of the apostle; according to his own axiom in 1 John 5:1. Again, according to his own axiom, he declares that his love was not ‘in word and with the tongue,’ but ‘in deed and in truth:’ with special reference, however, to the severe caution which he is about to administer.
And not I only, but also all they that have known the truth: this Christian matron and her children were well known at home and abroad, bearing the same relation in their own spheres as the Gaius of the next Epistle bore in his. It is obvious that knowing the truth is an expression that has two applications here. On the one hand, it defines religion as the experimental knowledge of the revelation brought into the world by Christ, who said ‘I am the Truth:’ a definition the force of which was more felt in early times than in later. On the other, it prepared for that distinction between believers in the truth and all false teachers on which the writer purposed to insist.
For the truth’s sake which abideth in us and shall be with us for ever. Obviously the common truth is, like regeneration, regarded as the bond of love. But there is an undertone of allusion to the fact that holding fast the truth is the test of religion, and that their common fidelity endeared the faithful to each other. Hence the change to ‘us,’ and the quotation of the Lord’s words, which applies to the truth what He spoke of the Spirit of truth, ‘He abideth with you and shall be in you:’ with the change, however, that here the ‘abiding is ‘in’ us, and the ‘being’ is ‘with’ us. It is like a preliminary triumph, in prospect of the subject that is coming.
2 John 1:3. Grace, mercy, peace, shall be with us from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. This is the old invocation, with which the other apostles have made us familiar, but in its fullest form as found in the Pastoral Epistles. It had become the sacred benediction, as including the whole compass of the Divine blessing in the Gospel: grace refers to the fountain of favour to undeserving man revealed in Christ; mercy to the individual application of that favour in the forgiveness of sins and the succour of all misery; peace to the result in the tranquillity of a soul one with God. These blessings come from the Father through the Son of the Father; but the repetition of the ‘from’ makes emphatic the distinctness and equality of the Two Persons. There is here an observable deviation from St. Paul’s formula; as also in the addition of ‘truth and love’ the two spheres or characteristics of the Christian life in which, though not on account of which, these blessings are imparted. These last words also explain the ‘shall be’ of the invocation: they express the apostle’s confidence that his friends, living in truth of doctrine and charity of fellowship, will ever enjoy this benediction in common with himself.
II. The substance of the letter follows: introduced by congratulation, it contains an earnest exhortation to practical love and warning against false teachers.
2 John 1:4. I rejoiced greatly that I have found of thy children walking in truth. As St. Paul always prefaced his warnings by praising what he could praise, so St. John expresses his deep joy at having found his now present joy at having found during his past acquaintance with them certain of her children walking in the full truth of the Christian religion.
Even as we received commandment from the Father. ‘And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as He gave us commandment’ (1 John 3:23). This great preliminary commandment omits the name of the Son because the reception of Him is its substance; and the particular commandments are presently to be mentioned.
2 John 1:5. And now this is the purport of the letter.
I beseech thee, Syria: the request has in it a tone of dignity as well as of courtesy; the mother is addressed, though some of her children who walked not in love are aimed at: the apostle urges his request, which is sheltered behind the evangelical law, not as though writing to thee a new commandment, but that which we had from the beginning, in the first person, that we love one another. ‘Let us all walk in love:’ this, as well as the whole strain, shows the same exquisite courtesy which pervades St. Paul’s letters to individuals.
2 John 1:6. Here we have once more St. John’s familiar tribute to the ethical supremacy of love, the new revelation of which by Christ ‘in the beginning’ sways his thoughts with a peculiar power. The verse is remarkable for its circular argument: love is the walking in all the commandments, the strength to keep them all being in love, and love being their compendium; again, the one commandment heard from the beginning is ‘that ye should walk in it,’ that is, in love.
2 John 1:7. There is no love which is not based on truth: the love which keeps the commandments keeps the doctrinal as well as the ethical commandments. And, as love is the strength of obedience, so it is the guardian of the truth. Hence the ‘for’ that follows: for many deceivers are gone forth into the world from the spiritual world, the sphere of the lie they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh. The supreme truth as truth is in Jesus is the incarnation. This is the deceiver and the antichrist, of whom the former Epistle spoke: the deceiver as it regards you, the antichrist as it respects Jesus. ‘Cometh in the flesh’ refers in the most general way to the incarnation itself: not as a past fact, ‘came in the flesh’ (1 John 5:6); nor as the fact with its results, ‘hath come’ (1 John 4:2); but in its widest universality, though without reference to the second coming.
2 John 1:8. Look to yourselves: a rare expression, intimating the deep earnestness of the warning. That ye lose not the things which we have wrought: the apostles were God’s labourers; but, with refined delicacy, this apostle represents the reward of apostolic work, not as to be received by themselves, but, as to be received by their flocks.
But that ye receive a full reward: of our work and your own fidelity. The reward of Christian labour is a familiar idea in the New Testament; and the last chapter of the Apocalypse represents the Saviour as coming with His ‘reward’ ‘to render to each man according as his work is,’ Revelation 22:12. But the labourers’ reward is not dependent on the fidelity of their converts, though the converts themselves lose it if unfaithful. The word reward here seems to refer to the other world; but, before mentioning that, St. John deprecates their losing the benefits of apostolic labours, which listening to ‘evil workers’ would occasion. There is a beautiful contrast in the original words: ‘See that ye let not slip all the fruits of our teaching, and all the benefits of your Christian discipline, in the present world; see that hereafter ye be found worthy of the completed rewards of Christian fidelity, as it is written, “Every one therefore who shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). The word ‘full’ has no necessary reference to degrees of recompense: it is used as a most mighty stimulant, and what it means the next verse shows.
2 John 1:9. Whosoever goeth forward, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. This seems beyond doubt the true reading, and the verse thus becomes one of the utmost importance and interest. To abide in the doctrine of Christ is to remain content with His teaching or what He teaches; to go beyond it is to follow an imaginary development, and affect to be wiser than the Master Himself. The penalty is an awful one: one step beyond the commandment received in the beginning leads to the loss of God.
But he that abideth in the doctrine, the same hath both the Father and the Son: the change is in St. John’s manner, from God generally to the Father and the Son. The Lord Himself declared that ‘all things’ were delivered unto Him for the instruction of men; and the ‘all things’ He explained as the knowledge of the Father through the Son (Matthew 11:27). On this rests the whole ‘doctrine’ or doctrinal system of the Church, afterwards spoken of generally as ‘the doctrine.’
2 John 1:10-11. There is no more impressive word concerning the importance of holding fast the simple truth of the Gospel than what we have just read; and its force is deepened by what follows.
If there cometh as come there does and certainly will any unto you and bringeth not this doctrine: a professed teacher, therefore, coming for hospitality, after the manner shown in the next Epistle. It is important to guard the interpretation of these words on both sides. In mitigation of their severity, it must be remembered that the apostle is speaking of an antichrist coming with a doctrine opposed to Christ, and such a man ought to be excluded from the house of every servant of the Lord, whether coming in person or by his writings; but it is in his teaching capacity that he is to be excluded. But, on the other hand, and in vindication of its real strictness, the prohibition of salutation, and give him no greeting, does not by any means refer to formal Christian salutation, but forbids every kind of intercourse with him that implies friendly fellowship. The reason is expressly given, and in such a way as to show that fellowship such as hospitality is meant: a courteous salutation, or any act of charity, might be bestowed on him without involving complicity with his evil. But no such friendliness is to be shown as might further him on his way in the very least. ‘He that is not with Me is against Me:’ there is nothing in this rigour, so often branded as bigotry, that goes beyond the ordinary teaching of the New Testament.
2 John 1:12-13. The apostle, writing on this subject, has more to say than he can write; hence this letter is not an accompaniment of the larger Epistle. He was writing on paper or Egyptian papyrus, the pressed coatings of the plant, with ink, a preparation of soot and burnt resin and oil: the Third Epistle omits the paper and says pen instead, the pen being a split reed. The brief Epistle was in fact the forerunner of his personal presence; the apostle hoped soon to speak all that he had to say, and to hear all he wished to hear, that their joy might be filled. This was the design of his writing the First Epistle; this short one had not that purpose, but needed the supplement of free conversation. The greeting from the children only of the elect sister seems to indicate that their mother was not alive, and that St. John was a guest in their house.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 2 John 1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30