How to Read the Bible Book by Book: 2 John
2 John 10-11 “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.”
We’ve almost made it! Only three weeks left before we get to the book of Revelation and wrap up our book by book survey of the Bible that we have been working at for nearly a year and a half now. These next three letters are all short in length—the shortest in the New Testament by far—and each one only consists of one chapter. Second John is the shortest with 13 verses, followed by Third John with 14, and then finally Jude which comes in at 25 verses. It is likely that these few pages are not well worn in your copy of the New Testament. It is easy to rush past them on the way the bigger and more dramatic presentation of the book of Revelation. But despite their relative length, they say something important to us about false teachers and disruptive people in the church. You have learned this to be a common theme in the New Testament. The Faith never gets to rest easy. It is always under Satan’s attack, and his favorite means of attacking seems to be to pick at it from the inside. False teaching and power-hungry believers do more damage to churches than opposition and persecution ever will. So, we want to be careful to note what these small letters have to say to us.
Speaking of false teaching, that theme carries over from the letter of First John. As we noted, John is likely writing these letters late in his life. Tradition says that John served in Ephesus at some point and likely had ministry influence on several of the churches in the area of Asia Minor. It appears that Second John was written to a different congregation than First John, but it is likely that they are from the same region. Once again, the theme is false teachers, and the same terms and phrases are used. John will speak of a new command to love one another; he will warn about false teachers, calling such people “anti-Christs”; and he assures his readers that to love God is to be obedient to his commands.
In this second letter, John begins by identifying himself as “the elder.” John is unique among the apostles in designating himself in such a way. John was clearly among the elders who watched over churches in this region of Asia Minor. John had unique authority as an apostle but chose not to draw upon it in his greeting. Instead, he took the more humble term of elder, a term that he shared with other men who served the church.
He addresses his letter to “the chosen lady and to her children.” Who is this chosen lady? A number of suggestions have been made over the years, but it seems most likely that he is referring to the church in general. The church is the chosen lady, while her children are the individual members of the congregation. Together, the church makes up the bride of Christ who has been betrothed to her husband, waiting on him to return and begin the wedding supper of the lamb. As a lady, the church receives Christ and is committed to him. It is a term of warm affection. John associates the church with those “who know the truth.” The truth lives in the church in the form of the Spirit…but the truth will always be with them, even in the ages that are yet to come.
In verse 4 John goes on to speak about the great joy he has because he has found many of her children walking in the truth. He finds here a faithful church—a faithful bride, loyal to her husband. He has a new command for this church: that they should love one another. And what does this love consist of? Is he speaking here of a sentimental spirituality? No, to love God means to seek to obey his commandments. This is the task for the church in the present age—to keep walking in love and obeying Christ as her Lord. As we learned in the first letter, we will fail at this at times, and when we do, we confess our sins. But make no mistake that the goal is to grow and strengthen in our obedience.
John tells us why this is so important, beginning in verse 7. Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Here are the same sorts of people we met in the previous letter. They are people who believe in Christ in some form or fashion, but do not recognize the apostle’s witness about him that he was truly a man and lived in the flesh, just as we do. Such people have been deceived and are themselves deceivers. Once again John associates them with the anti-Christ. Anyone who runs ahead of God and does not keep the teachings that have been handed down to the church by the apostles, are not themselves members of the body of Christ. Only those who continue in their teaching are in fellowship with the Father and the Son.
The boldest statement of the letters is made and in verses 10 and 11 and serve as the climax to this work. The true members of the body of Christ are not to have fellowship with such deceivers. To have fellowship with them is to share in their wicked work. So John warns them not to even have such people into their homes.
It could be easy to misunderstand John at this point, and many have. He does not mean by this that Christians cannot have unbelievers into their home. What John is referring to here was a common practice of the early church of sending out missionaries to do regional mission work. There was often a network of roaming missionaries and teachers who traveled among early congregations, and in normal circumstances the church had an obligation to provide hospitality to such people. In fact, that will be the subject of the letter of Third John. But Christians have no such obligation to those who do not hold to the teaching of John and his fellow apostles. As a matter of fact, to provide hospitality to such people would amount to helping them in their deceptive work. John warns them not to be disobedient in this way.
The letter ends with a friendly note that he has much more to say to them, but would rather do so in person. For now, he will keep his comments brief and to the point. But his heart is with them, and he hopes to visit them soon.