Having shown in his first epistle the significance of love as a power for true fellowship in Christ Jesus, John deals in his other letters with the application of this guideline to two specific instances. In this second epistle he emphasizes the need to hold to the truth and refuse hospitality to heretics who deny the true knowledge of Christ, but to extend it to all who walk in the truth. In his third epistle he commends Gaius for his hospitality in the gospel, but reprimands Diotrephes for his failure. Tenney, in his New Testament Introduction, explains this relationship as follows.
The smaller epistles deal with the same problems (as considered in the first epistle], from the standpoint of church polity and discipline. I John says that “they”, meaning the adherents of the false doctrine, “went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (2:9). There had been a schism in some of the churches in which the errorists had withdrawn to form their own group. Some of these, however, had become itinerant teachers, who sought to gain entrance into smaller churches that were immature and weak. The Second Epistle contains warnings against them: “For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh,”
II John 7.
The church is warned that any such teacher is not to be welcomed, “for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works”
II John 10, 11.
The Third Epistle affords one or two interesting insights into church life in this period. Apparently much of the ministry was carried on by itinerant preachers who made periodic rounds, staying a little while with each group and holding “protracted meetings” in private homes. Such a procedure was easily susceptible of abuse by religious racketeers, who would use their privileges to obtain a free living from the people. John commended Gaius for his gracious support of them since they received no contributions from the Gentiles to whom they administered
III John 5, 8.
THE AUTHOR AND DATE
There is no question, but that John, the Apostle, brother of James and author of the gospel, is also the author of this second epistle.
The only question that does arise is his self designation as, “the elder” (vs. 1 and III John 1). He does not identify himself by name. There is, however, plenty of evidence to convince us that John could properly call himself elder. Peter called himself elder (I Peter 5:1) as well as apostle (I Peter 1:11). The Greek word pesbuteros refers to someone advanced in age as well as an office bearer in the church. In both instances, John could properly be called elder. The early church recognized John as the author of this second letter. True, the letter was somewhat overshadowed by the larger first epistle (and perhaps some even considered II and III John as part of I John), yet the church fathers regarded it as an inspired letter and John as its author. The style, vocabulary, and subject matter easily identify it with the first epistle.
Considering the closeness of the content of all three epistles, we may conclude that they were written in close succession as far as time is concerned. The heresy mentioned in First John continues to be his concern in this epistle. They must walk together in truth, reject all heresy, as well as those who advocate heresy. We place the writing of this letter within the decade A.D. 90-100, the same as for First John.
THE ELECT LADY
We concluded that John wrote his first epistle to the saints of Asia Minor, especially the region of Ephesus where the heretic Cerenthus lived. From Ephesus the letter was circulated to others.
This letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, but also all they that have known the truth” (II John 1:1). Over the years, various suggestions have been given to explain who this lady is. These suggestions break down into two groups. First, those who explain that this lady is a real person, a leading lady in the churches of Asia Minor, perhaps a resident of Ephesus. They suggest that her name might be “Electa” (a proper name from the word translated elect), or “Cyria” (a proper name from the word translated lady), or that she is described simply as an elect lady without a proper name at all. The other group understands “elect lady” as a figure of speech describing the church itself as the spiritual mother of God’s children.
Arguments have gone back and forth expressing reasons why one is to be preferred over the other. In favor of an individual Christian woman and her family are: 1. A symbolic interpretation is not indicated, it seems forced upon the text. 2. A distinction is made between the lady and her children (II John 1:1) and “all those who know the truth.” If the lady is the church then all who know the truth would be the same ones. 3. Both verses 5 and 13 refer to an individual in the singular, hence a godly woman. Arguments against an individual but in favor of spiritualizing are: 1. Electa was not a proper name in that day, though Cyria was. Yet there is no indication of her name. 2. The Scriptures in other places picture the church as a woman (Gal. 4:26). 3. The content of the letter is general, it hardly applies to one lady. Also, would it not be strange, in that day especially, to address a letter to an unidentified woman? 4. Plural pronouns are used in verses 6, 8, 10, and 12 in which John identifies himself with the lady, hence the church is one. 5. III John 1:9 mentions a former letter to “the church.” This epistle could be the one. Personally, it seems more convincing to spiritualize “the elect lady” and make it a description of the entire church. One hesitates to be too dogmatic about such things, however. Whether he directed this letter to a Christian woman and her family (which is entirely possible), or to the saints whom he calls elect lady and her children, the end result is not different: it is intended by the Spirit to be read by the entire church and also for us. Ultimately, we are the “elect lady” no matter who may have been first intended.
A BRIEF OUTLINE
As we outline this letter we must show how the theme of walking in the truth is developed. Throughout, the emphasis in on the TRUTH.
1. His greetings (II John 1:1-3). He identifies himself as the elder, and the recipient as the elect lady and her children. Here he specifically points out, “whom I love in the truth” and others as “those that have known the truth” (II John 1:1). His concern is for the truth’s sake (II John 1:2). He extends apostolic greetings (II John 1:3).
2. He exhorts us to walk in the truth (II John 1:4-6). He expresses joy in that he found her children walking in truth (II John 1:4,). This walking in truth is not new; it is old and it is demonstrated in that we love one another (II John 1:5). Walking in love is expressed as keeping God’s commandments, the summary of which is to love one another (II John 1:6).
3. As we walk in the truth, we must know how to deal with many deceivers (II John 1:7-11). These deceivers are identified as those who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. They are antichrists (II John 1:7). John exhorts us not to lose the work that has been done by God, but to receive a full reward (II John 1:8). It is so serious that, if we follow such error, we will lose God; if we remain faithful we possess both the Father and the Son (II John 1:9). The key verses follow: if such heretics come to our houses, we are exhorted to refuse them entrance and not give them the greeting of God’s speed, for if we do that we are partakers of their lie (II John 1:10, 11).
4. Conclusion and parting prayer (II John 1:12, 13). He informs them that he has many more things to write, but he will wait until he sees them face to face (II John 1:12). Those with him send greetings, Amen (II John 1:13).
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
1. Explain briefly the relationship between the three epistles of John.
2. Review once again the error of rejecting Jesus Christ as come into the flesh. How was this error in John’s day preliminary to the many doctrinal controversies regarding the natures of Christ, His Person, and His works that were to follow in the second and third centuries?
3. Discuss the arguments for and against the “elect lady” of verse 1 as being a Christian woman with her family. Are you convinced one way or the other?
4. How is this letter a brief summary of his first epistle? Can you show this?
5. Why are truth and love so closely related? Expand on this idea by considering other passages of the Bible that deal with the subject of truth.
6. As you reflect on verses 10, 11, what is meant by not receiving a heretic into your house (would this mean, do not discuss it with him at all, or does it mean do not socialize with him)? How does a person bid another God-speed?
7. Try to illustrate the instruction of verses 10, 11 in our dealing with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to our doors. What is the proper method in dealing with them on the basis of this passage?