By Simon Presland
I have read through the short epistle of 2 John many times over the years. After my most recent reading I came to a conclusion: I would love to have a mentor like the apostle John!
When I read his writings, I often picture a kind elderly man garbed in a grey cotton robe with a tallit (a prayer shawl) over his head, sitting at a stone table by candlelight with papyrus paper and ink. (The Greek word for ink means “black,” and in John’s day, ink was made by mixing carbon, water, and gum or oil.) I visualize him talking to God, asking him for his words of love and truth (the main themes of 2 John), and then with bold conviction putting the words on paper. Oh, to have a mentor who will speak love and truth to me! Someone who isn’t afraid to address tough issues like John did in this letter, but also someone who knows how to speak and write grace and kindness.
John the Elder
One of the attributes I admire about John is his humility—something I struggle with at times. For example, in the gospel bearing his name, John does not write about himself as if to boast, “Look at me; I’m someone special.” Instead, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”(John 19:26), “the other disciple” (20:2), and one whose “testimony is true”(21:24). Yet early in his life with Christ, both John and his brother James were given the name Boanerges, meaning, “sons of thunder.” I have read that Jesus gave them this name because of their propensity toward anger as indicated in Luke 9:51-55. If this is true, John’s personal spiritual growth offers me hope. I am guilty of losing my temper as well, and when I do, I feel unworthy of being a follower of Christ. But if Jesus loved John so much that he was part of Jesus’ inner circle (Matthew 17:1, 26:37) despite his shortcomings, then I can rest in his love as well, knowing I’m fully accepted just as I am.
In keeping with his humility, John calls himself “the elder” to open 2 John. This simple title states his position and function. In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul states, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor.” Yet John does not demand honor on any level in his letter. In Paul’s instructions to Timothy concerning overseers (the equivalent word in the Jewish background of Christianity is “elder”), he lists qualifications that John would have certainly met and even exceeded. However, John does not list his qualifications in order to proclaim his righteousness to the letter’s recipients. Instead, he states how delighted he is that some children are walking in truth (2 John 4). In other words, he is looking to compliment rather than receive acknowledgment.
Truth and Love
Bible scholars can’t say with certainty whether John is addressing an individual “chosen lady and her children” or a sister church and its members. However, what is clear is that John’s tenderhearted compassion for these people shines through in his letter. John uses the words grace, mercy, and peace as he opens his letter. I imagine myself receiving such a blessing from a mentor like John. How special I would feel! How loved! How valued! Such words would cause me to pay close attention to what my mentor had to say. I would know he had my best interests at heart.
As with all his letters, the most prominent themes in 2 John are truth and love. Indeed, the word truth appears 52 times in his gospel and 22 times in his three short epistles. “What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus (John 18:38). Then, as if to answer his own question, he said, “I find no fault in him at all” (King James Version). Pilate was talking about Jesus who embodied truth.
By the time he wrote 2 John, the apostle was well acquainted with the fullness of truth. For example, he knew Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He knew Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). Thus, when he wrote about truth in 2 John, he knew exactly what he was talking about. John stated that many deceivers who do not acknowledge “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 7) had gone out into the world. He said such a man was a deceiver and the antichrist. He then exhorted the lady not to lose what she had worked for, but to continue in the teaching she had received. What teaching had she received? Most certainly she would have received teaching about who Jesus was—the Son of God, the Son of Man, God in the flesh.
John also admonished her not to allow anyone into her house who espoused false teaching. The earliest Christians gathered in private homes to study the apostles’ teaching, for fellowship and prayer, and to break bread together (Acts 2:42). Affluent Christians with more spacious accommodations generally invited their fellow believers into their homes. It was also common for individuals to welcome traveling teachers into their homes. (Interestingly, the Didache, an early second-century church manual, warned that if teachers stayed for more than three days, or asked for money, they were to be considered false prophets.) Thus, in no uncertain terms, John was telling the lady, “Lock the windows! Bar the doors! Don’t let those deceivers in or they may contaminate the truth you already know.”
Did such hard words contradict the apostle’s second theme, that of love? No. In verses 5 and 6, John makes it clear that love was, is, and always will be the hallmark of a Christian. John equates obedience (to the teachings of and about Jesus) to loving him. Jesus said the greatest command is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Holding to and proclaiming the truth about Jesus is the essence of loving him and walking in truth. It is safe to say that John would have told the lady about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He would have shared with her the truths Jesus shared with him, so that the lady might also have eternal life. Therefore, if she listened to teachings from false teachers, she would be in danger of losing her “first love.”
The command to love one another is the second greatest commandment (John 13:34, 35). John restates this in 2 John 5. However, the truth about Jesus cannot and must not be compromised. John was letting this lady know that true love stands for true truth. The Amplified Bible states verse 6 this way: “And what this love consists in is this: that we live and walk in accordance with and guided by His commandments (His orders, ordinances, precepts, teaching). This is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you continue to walk in love [guided by it and following it].” John was letting her know that truth, love, and obedience go hand in hand. As a good mentor, John’s words are clear and they’re full of love.
“I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). John’s mentorship of this lady goes beyond mere words. He desires to see her and talk to her face-to-face. Personal contact is vital to any mentoring relationship, and it is obvious that John had invested much into the life of this lady.
As I finish reading John’s last words, my heart yearns once again for a mentor like John. But as I close my Bible, I realize something special: this elder is my mentor! John’s writings mentor me—and you—thousands of years after his death. I close my eyes, bow my head, and pray,
Father, thank you for loving me enough to give me a mentor like John. Help me live a life of obedience by continuing to study and live by the teachings and commands of Jesus. Give me a heart to love others and to walk in truth—truth according to your Word, not according to the way I perceive it. May my life bring you great joy, even as the lady and her children brought John great joy. Help me not to compromise my walk with you, but give me the courage to tell others that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to offer eternal life for all who would believe in him. Thank you for speaking to me in truth and love through my mentor, John. Amen.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Passing on the Gift
We’ve all longed for a mentor like John, but have you considered mentoring someone else? Intentionally building up another believer will benefit his life—and yours—in countless ways. It’s also a powerful way to build the kingdom.
In his book, The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life (Thomas Nelson, 2000), Billy Graham says,
One of the first verses of Scripture that Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, encouraged me to memorize was: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, King James Version). This is like a mathematical formula for spreading the gospel and enlarging the church. Paul taught Timothy; Timothy shared what he knew with faithful men; these faithful men would then teach others also. And so the process goes on and on. If every believer followed this pattern, the church could reach the entire world in one generation! Mass crusades, in which I believe and to which I have committed my life, will never finish the Great Commission; but a one-to-one ministry will.
How can you start living 2 Timothy 2:2 in your own life?