By Sam E. Stone
Deceivers are all around us. While the last two letters from the apostle John are characterized by his emphasis on the importance of love (as in 1 John), he was equally strong in his warnings about false teaching—2 and 3 John are the shortest documents in the New Testament, but they address serious and important issues. Although they deal with themes similar to those in his first epistle, these are more in the form of a personal letter than a treatise.
Basis of Unity
2 John 1-3
Second John is addressed to the lady chosen by God, most likely a figurative name for the local church there. Her children would then be the members of the congregation. In speaking of himself as the elder, John may be alluding both to his age and the high respect in which he was held. (Compare 1 Peter 5:1.)
J. W. Roberts wrote, “The letter is concerned with hospitality to traveling missionaries. . . . He defines what ‘following the truth’ means; it includes love, but this must be ‘according to truth’ (2 John 4-6). Then he warns the lady against false teachers (7-9) and forbids offering hospitality to them (10, 11).”
Threats from Deceivers
2 John 4-8
John commended those who were walking in the truth. If we think of the truth as a path, some were walking on it, while others stepped out into the errors of the world. Love means walking in obedience to his commands. If we love Jesus, we will do what he says. Otherwise our claims of love will be empty.
Many deceivers . . . have gone out into the world. False teachers were spreading heresy. Some of them denied that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2, 3). The antichrist is one who is opposed to Christ (2:18; 4:3). It is possible for a Christian to deny the faith and end up worse off than before (2 Peter 2:20). Faithful service in this life brings an eternal reward in the next. This comes not by our merit or our good works, but by what Christ has done. He alone can assure us of eternal life (1 John 2:25).
Stay on Guard
2 John 9-11
False teachers who have left the original apostolic teaching about Jesus have gone too far. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Like many today, these folk wanted God—but not Jesus. That option is not open to us (John 14:6). Instead we are to continue in the teaching we received. C. H. Dodd wrote of those seeking to insinuate their error into the churches they visited: “From their own point of view, they were Christian missionaries. From the standpoint of the Presbyter [John] they were impostors.” The testimony of Scripture is the basis of our faith.
The practical purpose of John’s letter now emerges, according to John R. W. Stott: “This concerns both the inner life of the local fellowship (4-6) and the doctrinal danger which threatens it from without (7-11). The two are related. . . . Here then, in this central section of the Epistle, is a succinct summary of those contrasts between truth and lies, the Church and the world, Christ and antichrist, the commandments of God and the deceptions of the devil, with which we have become familiar in the First Epistle.”
Any person who shows hospitality to a false teacher is in danger. Do not take them into your house or welcome them, John commanded. These heretics are so dangerous that their behavior elicits a forceful warning. False teachers are to be rejected as an act of self-preservation (Romans 16:17; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Complete in Joy
2 John 12, 13
John hoped to visit with the recipients of his letter in the near future. Then he would have the time and opportunity to explain more clearly what he had only mentioned briefly here. Moreover, their personal Christian fellowship helped their joy to be complete. The sister referred to in v. 13 could refer to another congregation or it could be a literal relative. In either case, all involved could look forward to seeing each other face-to-face.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.