This morning we begin a study of the little book of 2 John. If you remember, 1 John was a circular letter written to several churches. Second John, however, is addressed to one local church and her leader. It has only 245 Greek words, making it shorter than any other New Testament book with the exception of 3 John which has 219 Greek words. Many think that the length of both 2 and 3 John is governed by the size of a single sheet of papyrus which would have measured about 25 by 20 centimeters or 9.84 by 7.9 inches.
Let's start this morning with authorship. Who wrote this letter? Discussions of authorship of 1, 2 and 3 John are inextricably linked to discussions of authorship of the Fourth Gospel. The vast majority of modern scholars recognize the similarity among all of the Johannine writings and believe that the gospel of John and these letters of John have a common authorship. There are many similarities between them, especially in phrasing, vocabulary, and grammatical forms and doctrine.
According to Church tradition, the Apostle John wrote the fourth Gospel, 1, 2 and 3rd John, and Revelation. Let's forget tradition for a moment and look at the Scripture and see if we can determine who wrote the fourth Gospel. This is really not difficult because we are told who wrote this Gospel in the book itself.
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Yeshua loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" John 21:20 ESV
Here the writer mentions "the disciple whom Yeshua loved" and then states that this is the disciple who wrote this letter:
This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:24 ESV
The antecedent of "this" is "the disciple whom Yeshua loved" in verse 20. We know, then, who wrote this Gospel—it was "the disciple whom Yeshua loved." Now all we have to do is to figure out who that was. Does the Bible say anywhere that John was the "disciple whom Yeshua loved"? NO, it does not! Does the Bible explicitly name anyone who was "loved" by Yeshua? Yes. There is only one man named in the Bible who is said to be loved by Yeshua.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. John 11:1-2 ESV
So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." John 11:3 ESV
Now Yeshua loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 ESV
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" John 11:36 ESV
Lazarus' sisters said that Yeshua loved him, the inspired author says Yeshua loved Lazarus, and the Jews said Yeshua loved Lazarus. It seems to me that the Spirit of God is going to great lengths in John 11 to make it known that Yeshua loved Lazarus. Lazarus is the only man named in the Bible who is specifically identified as being "loved" by Yeshua. It is my contention that this "disciple whom Yeshua loved" is Lazarus, and it is Lazarus who wrote the gospel of John, 1,2,3 John and Revelation.
So why are these books attributed to John? Could someone else have written it? Lazarus is the Greek rendering of the name Eleazar. Willis Barnstone writes, "In a letter that Clement wrote to Theodore, he stated that there was more testimony attached to Mark than was presently available. Within this original Gospel was a discussion of the young man, John Eleazar (Eleazar being the Hebrew of the Greek Lazarus), who after Jesus raised him from the tomb, went to the Garden of Gethsemane clothed in a fine white linen garment over his naked body" [Willis Barnstone, The Other Bible, The Secret Gospel of Mark, p.342).]
I know this is just history, and I know that it is not inspired, but it is interesting. It means Lazarus, whom Yeshua raised from the dead, was also known as John Eleazar. I believe that John Eleazar, aka Lazarus, is the author of the Gospel of John, 1, 2, 3 John and Revelation, but this is a hermeneutical issue and not an inspirational issue. In reality, the ultimate author of the Bible is the Spirit of God.
Now that we know who wrote this letter, let's talk about why he wrote it. John/Lazarus probably wrote the letter of 2 John to a local church as a brief follow-up to his first letter. He repeats many of the same ideas and addresses some of the same problems. Apparently, the false teachers were traveling around, trying to come into the churches under the guise of godly teachers who could take believers farther in their Christian faith. But they denied essential truths about Yeshua the Christ.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 2 John 1:9 ESV
Because he had not yet been able to make a personal visit, John wrote this short letter to warn the church to not receive these men into their midst.
What we need to understand is that in the first century there was a widespread ministry of itinerant teachers and preachers. At that time, there were many who were traveling around, preaching the Gospel and teaching the word of God. In these travels, they needed a place to stay. After they had spent the day preaching from house-to-house, they would have needed a place to spend the night. We see from historical sources that inns during the first century tended to be little more than brothels. The Rabbi in the Mishna, which is a Jewish oral law and tradition, placed innkeepers on the lowest scale of human degradation. Indeed, Plato actually labeled innkeepers as pirates, the lowest of the low. Itinerant preachers would not have felt comfortable staying in such places. They would have received hospitality and food and sometimes money in Christian homes. It is not hard to see how this custom could be abused by false teachers.
The Didache, a second-century book of church order and one of the earliest fragments that we have, lays down strict rules concerning itinerant preachers and teachers. It was an early code of conduct that provided guidelines for both churches and ministers of the Word to follow. The Didache clearly states that these individuals were only to stay one or two nights in a household; and if they were to stay any longer or if they asked for money or anything over and above their lodging or the food that was recognized as necessary for their needs, they were to be seen as false teachers! The Didache states, "they are to be viewed as a Christ-monger"— someone who is seeking to live off the reputation of the Gospel and the Lord Yeshua for false gain." You can see how seriously the early church considered false teaching and false teachers.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 2 John 1:10 ESV
John is warning his readers of the missionary efforts of the secessionist false teachers and of the dangers of welcoming them. Nothing threatens the church more than false doctrine.
These strong warnings against the bringing of false teachers into their homes were necessary because the Jews had a list of six things to commend a man in the life to come. Does anybody know what was the first thing on that list? It was Hospitality! Hospitality is "loving strangers." We don't usually think of hospitality as one of the top ten commands, but the Jews saw it as number one. Let me show you how important this was to them.
Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof." Genesis 19:8 ESV
Do you know the context of this verse? Homosexual men had surrounded Lot's house demanding that he send out two men that were staying with him. Lot stepped outside, closing the door behind him, hoping to defuse the situation. He pleaded with them not to act wickedly and he offered to surrender his two daughters to the appetites of these depraved degenerates. What kind of father would do something like this? We might just write this off as the actions of a very lousy father, but we see a very similar incident in Judges. Here a bunch of wicked men come to the man's house and demand that he bring his visitor out to them "that they may know him."
And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, "No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing." Judges 19:23-24 ESV
In both of these stories we have men offering their daughters to a homosexual crowd in order to protect a guest in their home. Why? What would possess these fathers to do such an unspeakable thing? Hospitality! The crowds demanded that Lot and the man of Judges 19 turn over their guests. This was an unthinkable violation of the protection guaranteed one who comes under the roof of one's house. It was a violation of Hospitality. Now, these are bizarre incidents of hospitality, but they show us the importance that the Jews placed on it.
In case you're thinking that this is a crazy outdated practice, let me share with you something from David Instone-Brewer's book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, in which he outlines the Muslim custom of mut'ah marriage.
In Islamic law, there is something called, "pleasure marriage" (mut'ah marriage). You can search this out on the web. Look up "mut'ah marriage in Shiite law." Under this law, one could marry someone just for a short period. A man could enter into a marriage agreement with a girl (or with a woman) for a few nights and then end it. And it's just temporary. This is something they've inherited, and it is still practiced. It's still part of Islamic law. Brewer said, "It was part of the culture and probably part of the hospitality culture. And you can imagine that someone comes along. Hospitality is so important in Arabic culture. And you give them every comfort you can imagine. You give them food; you give them the best place in the house (or in the tent). And you can imagine, you might also give them a wife for the night."
But Islam demands that there be an actual marriage ceremony. There must be a very quick marriage, and in the morning, the man simply says, "I divorce you," and it's over. And the woman can go back to her original husband who divorced her for the night. It's legal in Islam.
Understanding the importance that was placed on hospitality helps us to understand why Lazarus cautioned against welcoming false teachers into their home.
Dr. Colin G. Kruse writes, "This brief letter was written primarily to warn the readers about certain itinerant deceivers, and of the dire consequences of welcoming such people and thereby sharing in their ‘wicked work'. It has a secondary and related purpose of reminding the readers of the command to love one another which they received ‘at the beginning', and so ensuring that both writer and readers persist in their relationship of mutual love. In this way the writer seeks to make sure that the deceivers do not succeed in alienating the readers from fellowship with him."
So now that we know who wrote this letter and why he wrote it, let's look at the text.
The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 John 1:1 ESV
"The elder"—if this was written by the Apostle John, why didn't he present himself as "Apostle to the elect lady"? Paul constantly used the title Apostle.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Yeshua by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Yeshua: Ephesians 1:1 ESV
Paul called himself an Apostle when writing to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, Timothy, and Titus. Peter also called himself an Apostle.
Peter, an apostle of Yeshua the Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 1 Peter 1:1 ESV
Why wouldn't John also call himself an Apostle? I think maybe it was because he wasn't one. But he was an elder.
The Greek for elder here is presbuteros. It is used here and in 3 John to identify the author. It has a wide variety of meanings in the Bible. It is sometimes suggested that the title is used because of the old age of the author and the respect or authority given to him. The term was used of officials in the Jewish synagogue in the first century. In support of this, in Mark 15:1 and Acts 6:12 a group within the Sanhedrin is described as "elders." Elders as rulers of the community appear in the Tanakh in Deuteronomy 19:12. Outside the Jewish background of Christianity, the term was also used in the Hellenistic world in both Asia Minor and Egypt as a title for magistrates. Clearly, it had a wide usage.
Here and in 3 John are the only times in the New Testament when the word "elder" appears in the singular. Churches always had elders, always a plurality. Only here do we find it in the singular because it deals with one man who is referring to himself. The terms "elder," "overseer" (or, "bishop"), and "pastor" ("shepherd") are used interchangeably in the New Testament to refer to local church leaders.
Church leadership is a team effort and not the sole responsibility of one man or the joint responsibility of everyone. The norm in the New Testament was a plurality of elders. There is no reference in all the New Testament to a one-pastor congregation.
Human leaders, even Christian ones, are sinful, and they only accomplish God's will imperfectly. Multiple leaders, therefore, will serve as a check and balance on each other and serve as a safeguard against the very human tendency to play God over other people. Within a plurality of leaders, extreme ideas are tempered, harsh judgments are moderated, and doctrinal imbalances are corrected. I believe the New Testament pattern is that the church be led by a plurality of men.
John is most likely at this time in Ephesus, a sort of mother church of the churches in Asia Minor, modern Turkey. And there were other elders there in Ephesus as illustrated in the twentieth chapter of Acts where we read that Paul met with the elders from the church at Ephesus, at the place called Miletus.
This letter is addressed to "The elect lady and her children." Just who is this? Well, if you are of the belief that you should interpret the Bible literally, you may think this is a reference to some Christian lady and her children. And some definitely see it that way.
There has been a lot of discussion about this title. Many have tried to assert this letter was written to a lady named "Eklekta." It is from the Greek word eklektos meaning "chosen." Clement of Alexandria saw it that way. But this understanding doesn't seem very likely because John also called this lady's sister eklekta (verse 13).
The children of your elect sister greet you. 2 John 1:13 ESV
Unless their parent is George Forman, I doubt that the sisters had the same name.
Others see this addressed to a lady named Kyria which comes from the Greek term lady (kyria). In view of the plural address John used in verses 6, 8, 10, and 12, this approach too seems unlikely.
I think that a better explanation is that John personified a particular local church as a "lady," and the Christians in it as "her children". Let me give you several reasons why this could be referring to the church. The Greek term for church is feminine. In the LXX, "elect" refers to a body of people. The imagery of a church as a chosen lady fits with the church as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 19:7-8; 21:2. This church has a sister that seems to refer to another local church (v. 13). John sends greetings from "the children of the elect sister." It would almost seem that this is a sister church whose members are greeting the members of this particular church that John is writing to. In the Tanakh and the Apocrypha, Israel is referred to as a wife, bride, mother, and daughter, indicating that there would have been some precedent for a Christian community to be addressed in similar terms. In 1 Peter 5:13, the church in Rome is described as "she who is in Babylon," validating that New Testament Christians could speak of a Christian community as a woman.
Therefore, I see this as a cryptic reference to a local church and its members. "The children of your elect sister" would then be the members of another local church. The letter was written at a time when persecution was a real possibility. Referring to it in this cryptic manner would provide some protection should the letter fall into the wrong hands. It may be that the letter is addressed in such a way that to the insider its destination is quite clear while to the outsider, it would look like a personal letter from one friend to another.
I said earlier that those who believe in the literal approach to the Bible, could view this as a reference to some Christian lady and her children. After all, aren't we supposed to take the Bible literally? Some of you are probably familiar with the phrase that is used to guide biblical interpretation: "If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense." That is not really good advice. We need to be careful not to impose our ideas onto the text, even if they "make sense" to us.
We need to understand that the Bible contains several genres to include: historical narrative, didactic literature, wisdom literature, prophetic literature, apocalyptic literature, and poetry. And on top of that there are metaphors, word-pictures, hyperbole, humor, and many other rhetorical devises used throughout the Bible.
When interpreting Scripture, we seem to want to default to a literal meaning. But is that true? Linguistic researchers have determined that in our daily lives, if a metaphorical meaning is available and makes sense, people default to it. Therefore, in reality, it is much more common for people to default to metaphor than to the literal. We would do well to not try to force the Bible into a literal meaning.
2 John is being written to warn a "sister" congregation that is some distance away about the missionary efforts of the secessionist false teachers and the dangers of welcoming them whenever they should arrive.
Because John's arena of ministry was Asia Minor, the probability of this being a church in that Roman province is good. Findlay argued for the church in Pergamum being the "chosen lady" (v. 1), and the church in Ephesus being her "chosen sister" (v. 13). These may be good guesses, but we don't really know for sure who these churches were.
Let's talk about John calling this church "elect." Both in verse 1 and in verse 13, John uses the adjective "elect" to refer to these two churches. What does election mean? Wayne Grudem defines it this way: "Election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure." [Systematic Theology [Zondervan], 1994, p. 670]
What too many in the church fail to understand is the biblical truth that the initiative in salvation lies with God's sovereign choice. When someone chooses to believe in Yeshua, it is because God has first chosen him or her for salvation. Many in "churchianity," and even many believers, do not like the biblical truth that God sovereignly chooses who will be saved. To them the decision of salvation is totally up to man and his free will. In their view, God's hands are tied to actually save anyone because He can't override man's free will. This is a humanistic doctrine that elevates man over God.
The doctrine of election (or the doctrine of divine sovereign choosing) has been greatly suppressed and repressed and has received so much bad press that we are reluctant to even speak of it. Just the use of it demands some kind of long and convoluted explanation because it is so hard for people to swallow.
While the truth of election may offend some Christians having a weak view of God's sovereignty, it never offends the New Testament writers and it never offends the Holy Spirit who inspired them to write it. The New Testament unmistakably teaches that believers are elect.
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love Ephesians 1:4 ESV
"He chose us"—this is an aorist middle of eklego which means "to choose out, to pick." And the middle voice is reflexive which means that God is picking for Himself, and nobody else is involved in this.
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ESV
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Yeshua the Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, Titus 1:1 ESV
Peter, an apostle of Yeshua the Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 1 Peter 1:1 ESV
Jude, a servant of Yeshua the Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Yeshua the Christ: Jude 1:1 ESV
The "called" means the same as the elect, the called-out ones.
Within Evangelical Churches there is an ongoing debate on the issue of salvation. Is it by a choice of man's free will or of God's sovereign choice? Paul, Peter and Jude seem absolutely clear that it is by God's choice. "He chose us."
The Gospel is the Good News about what God has done for His people. It is the good news about Yeshua the Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Salvation is a gift of God to His people from beginning to end. The new birth roots in the resolute will of God as the motivating force which gives new life. Salvation is a work of God. Man has no part in the miracle of the new birth and cannot have. This is what we call the Doctrine of Sovereign Election.
The Doctrine of Election is hard for man to accept. It's hard for man to acknowledge that his salvation is an act of God. Man wants to assume some responsibility, even if it's a small responsibility for having believed. He wants some credit for having made the right choice. The Doctrine of Election is repulsive to many because, by our standards, it seems unfair that God should, out of all the human beings, choose some at His own discretion to be saved and not the rest.
Why does John emphasize God's choice both at the start and close of this short letter? I believe that it is because the reality that God chose us to be His children gives comfort when we are under attack or going through trials.
"Whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth" (2 John 1:1)—it is surprising that the word "whom" is a masculine plural pronoun because it is linked to the feminine word, "lady, or the neuter word, "children." It seems to be John's way of marking the phrase as symbolic.
John is obviously concerned about the truth. Five times in the first four verses we find the Greek word alētheia, meaning truth. "The truth" can refer to one of two things. It could be a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is called "the Spirit of truth" in John14:17, or it is called the spirit of truth primarily because He communicates the truth.
John may be referring to Yeshua Himself:
Yeshua said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 ESV
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life"—commenting on this, Hall Harris writes, "However, the context suggests that the three ideas are not strictly coordinate. The next statement (no one comes to the Father except through me) seems to relate primarily to the first predicate, 'I am the way.' Thus, we suggest that the two remaining predicates, the truth and the life, are epexegetical or explanatory to the first: 'I am the way, that is, the truth and the life.'"
Yeshua is "the way" to God because He is "the truth" from God and "the life" from God. He is the truth because He embodies God's supreme revelation (1:18; 5:19; 8:29). The way to the Father is Yeshua. The way to the truth about the Father is Yeshua. The way to the life of God is Yeshua.
For John, the concept of truth centers on the person of Yeshua. The heretics were deceiving people about the person of Christ:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Yeshua the Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 2 John 1:7 ESV
These false teachers were saying either that Yeshua did not have a real human body or that "the Christ" came upon the man Yeshua at His baptism and left just prior to His crucifixion.
The Church is a community of those who "have come to know the truth." And every church needs to be strong in the knowledge of the truth so that the members can avoid destructive heresies. How does a church become strong in the knowledge of the truth?
Let me ask it this way. What is the purpose of the local church? To answer that, let's look at what Paul tells Timothy.
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV
Now notice what Paul calls the church: "the pillar and buttress of the truth." In Ephesus, to which these letters were written, the word "pillar" would have a special significance. The greatest glory of Ephesus was the temple of Diana or Artemis. When Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana, got the people stirred up, notice what they cried out:
When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Acts 19:28 ESV
The temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the world. One of its features was its pillars. It had 127 pillars, every one of them the gift of a king. They were all made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold.
It may be that the idea of the word "pillar" here is not so much support—that's the idea of "buttress"—but of "display." The idea is that the church's mission is to hold up the truth of God for all men to see. The church is to support and display the truth of God. We are not the source of truth, the Bible is, but we are to support and display it. The Bible is God's Word, and the church is to support and display that truth. Timothy was to do this through preaching and teaching the Word of God:
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 1 Timothy 4:11-13 ESV
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Yeshua, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV
I don't believe that the church's mission has changed. We are to be the pillar and support of the truth. This is done through faithfully expounding the truth of God's Word. This is the mission of every local church, but I believe that most local churches have forsaken this role.
In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes, "Toward the end of the nineteenth century… the Age of Exposition began to pass, and the early signs of its replacement could be discerned. Its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business."
Postman is right on with his assessment. In this Age of Show Business, truth is irrelevant; what really matters is whether we are entertained. Substance counts for little; style is everything. I'm afraid that the church is forsaking its calling. It is no longer the pillar and ground of the truth but has become a source of entertainment.
The first act of the newly constructed Church was to expound the Word of God, and Paul told Timothy to preach the Word to the Church. This calling hasn't changed. This is our mission. This is our calling as a local assembly. We are to preach the Word not perform plays, give three points and a poem to every message, or preach topical series based upon the latest popular TV show. On the contrary, we are to expound the Word of the Living God. May God grant us strength and grace to do just that.
Clearly, the true church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It proclaims the truth and the people who are there come to hear the truth. And the truth is the revealed truth of God's Word. The only truth that we will know is that which God has revealed to us and that is revealed in the Scripture. In other words, the church has the stewardship of the Scripture. That is our stewardship.
Nothing is as important as divine truth because it is by divine truth that we come to know Yahweh. It is by divine truth that we come to know Christ, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.
The church today suffers from a great deficiency in discernment. The church is so doctrinally ignorant today that it lacks the ability to sort out the truth from error. If we are to oppose false teachers and false doctrines, we have to know the truth—it's as simple as that.
How do you learn the truth? You learn it by carefully studying God's word. And what really saddens me is that the Christian's personal study of the Bible is almost extinct in the 21st-century. Who reads his Bible today? Who studied his Bible this week? I heard statistics for our nation that reveal that 11% of Americans read the Bible every day. That in light of the fact that there is around 40% to 50% of Americans who claim to be Christians. I don't know whether that's true or not.
In our current culture everyone who takes a stand for God's truth will be slandered for being unloving. Listen to this, in an age that says doctrine divides—and beware of anybody who tells you not to preach or listen to doctrine—we need to realize that the doctrine concerning Christ is everything, and if we don't have it right, we're lost!