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For the Sake of the Truth: 2 John

In Summary:

Well, we’ve hit a book that is just one chapter, so the summary will have to introduce the book and knock out the whole chapter in one fell swoop. Which should be easy, though it is not uncommon to write about 2 John and use more words than the whole of 2 John contains. In fact, take a minute and go read 2 John. I’ll be here when you get back in 5 minutes.

This letter, like four of John’s writings, is technically anonymous. It is written from “The Elder” and addressed to “The Chosen Lady.” How do we get “John the Apostle” (also, traditionally called “John the Evangelist,” as the author of the Gospel, or Evangel) from “The Elder”? Well, that’s a good question, dear reader, and it takes some examination. At this point, some 1900 years after the writing of 2 John, we can start as taking this as received tradition. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s like a replay of a football call: you accept what has been said, unless you find clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call. So you can start there, but you have to acknowledge two things: 1) it’s not explicit in the inerrant text, so you could be wrong; 2) even the early church was not certain that it was the same John.

However, the received tradition is based on a couple of usable clues. First, the authority evident in the letter itself suggests someone who is well-regarded by the church and needs no introduction. Unlike our “this man needs no introduction,” which we typically follow up with a “here’s the introduction,” apparently The Elder needed no introduction…and got none. Second, there are language similarities to 1 John and John, as well as theological themes in common. There is not a strongly compelling reason to think the tradition is wrong, but we should be careful hanging too much on authorship here.

The next question becomes: who is “The Chosen Lady?” You get two choices here as well. It’s either symbolic or literal. You’re either seeing a letter sent to a group symbolized by the term, or to a definite person who is the audience. The Church is often referred to as the “Bride of Christ,” which would legitimately result in this type of address. Further, The Elder addresses not only The Chosen Lady but also her “children,” and this is often taken as the church and those they have reached with the Gospel. Further, the closing verse of “the children of your chosen sister greet you” (2 John 13) could be an indicator that The Elder speaks of another congregation. We know that the early church used family terms to refer to one another and their fellow congregations.

However, it is also possible that The Elder (John) has developed a relationship with a believing family and is writing for the purpose of encouraging a specific lady and her children. Perhaps she has been a supporter of the ministry or is a believer who has recently had to relocate and needs both news of her children left behind (v. 4) and guidance for traveling teachers she will encounter at times (v. 9).

Either way, the message then comes to us, as written initially to a person or a congregation of the ancient world, and now we strive to apply it to our modern day.

In Focus:

With that in mind, while there are many quick truths here, put your focus on 2 John 10-11 about greeting those who do not abide in the teaching of Christ. The instruction is not to even bring those who teach falsehood into the home. This rejection of hospitality is notable: that was not the way of the world at the time. You provided hospitality to those in need or even those traveling about, even if you did not know the person. The exception were those who had deeply wronged your family.

And The Elder is instructing the Chosen Lady to treat false teachers in exactly that manner: they are wronging the family. Do not so much as let them in for lunch.

In Practice:

What does that look like for us?

First, what it does not look like: if the recruiting team for another religion knocks on your door and you bring them for a glass of water and to tell them about Jesus, then you are not violating this principle. That’s a good thing to do.

What should we not do? We should not do things like: send that snake-oil peddling Gospel-denying TV preacher $50 just “in case” or anything of the sort. We should not support those ministers who harm the family by being wolves in sheep’s clothing and abusing their authority or position.

We have to be discerning. Which requires us, as the people of God, to know the Word of God well enough to discern right from wrong and, as Spurgeon (I think) said, discern right from “almost” right. Remember that Truth is like asking if the power is on or off before you rewire the ceiling fan: there’s no “almost” or “maybe.” That wire is either hot or it isn’t. And if it is, you’re going to get zapped.

For the sake of the truth, we must know the Truth and hold to it.

In Nerdiness: 
Well, some of the nerdcontent is up there in the In Summary section, but a few more notes: if 3 John is written by the same person as 2 John, then we could consider the intro to 3 John in deciphering 2 John. 3 John is from “The Elder” to “The Beloved Gaius.” It would be logical that the formula in 2 John matches and “The Chosen Lady” is a name formula.

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