John's first epistle dealt with the problem of Gnosticism in the early church. As mentioned before, Gnosticism comes from the word "gnosis" which means knowledge. In the case of this teaching, however, it refers to occult or secret knowledge possessed by the Gnostic teachers. The Gnostics taught that we are souls trapped in a prison-like material world by an evil divinity. We are kept unaware of our plight by the carnal seductions of this world, and only those with the secret knowledge (gnosis) of the true state of affairs can transcend this prison and enter a higher reality. They also taught that the "good" divinity dwelling above this evil realm aided lost souls by sending a messenger of truth to reveal this deception (Note that this is roughly the plot line for the 1999 movie The Matrix with Keanu Reeves as "the one"/Jesus).
It was easy, therefore, to superimpose this teaching onto the gospel and make Jesus the messenger of truth, and they, the Gnostic teachers, the guardians of the secret knowledge. There was only one problem with this: Jesus claimed that He was God and inhabited a human body. Jesus also taught that the truth made one free (John 8:32), revealed that all were prisoners of their own sinfulness, and freedom from guilt and condemnation was accomplished through His ministry on the cross and received by faith, not secret knowledge. As a matter of fact, He commanded that this good news be shared with the entire world and not be kept secret. Jesus empowered every soul to find salvation from sin, not just those who had the secret. He also taught that material things had no power to defile us; the material world was created by God who ruled over it and that it was a good thing, "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31)."
Like many heretics, the Gnostic teachers tried to merge their teachings with the gospel. They denied that Jesus was actually God and said that He was an apparition of God, or that He became human only at the cross, but not that He was God and man simultaneously. They mixed in certain Jewish traditions and food laws, and taught that to be free from the evil corruption of this material prison you had to practice asceticism (denial of the flesh). Some, however, taught the opposite: that since the soul was separate from the flesh, whatever one did in the flesh had no affect on the soul. These teachings led those who accepted them to either practice a severe type of legalism or fall into a life of hedonistic dissipation. Such was the effect on the church by these teachers in creating confusion and doubt among the believers.
John writes a letter in response to these men and their influence. He begins with his eyewitness account of Jesus, the Jesus who did and said things only a divine being could say and do; the Jesus that John actually saw, heard and touched in human form and thus established his witness concerning Jesus' dual nature.
In the first epistle, we reviewed how John encouraged his readers to be confident of their salvation without the special knowledge or practice of the false teachers. He wrote that there were three ways to be certain:
- Certainty by walking in the light. They knew they were saved because they lived and acted like saved people.
- Certainty by abiding in love. They knew they were saved because they acted out of love in every situation.
- Certainty by abiding in faith. The knew they were saved because they believed and relied on Jesus, not secret man-made knowledge.
John's gospel told the story of Jesus' incarnation and sacrifice on the cross. John's first epistle encouraged his readers to believe that information. The two (gospel and epistle) worked together to tell them that they left their "flesh" not through secret knowledge, but through faith in Jesus Christ based on their knowledge of and belief in Him.
The Second Epistle of John
This letter is shorter than I John and covers much of the same material. What is interesting is how the letter was used. II John is not a continuation of John's gospel or his first epistle, it is a cover letter that accompanied the epistle and gospel. It was written to a specific church with the intention of warning it about the things which John spoke of in the first epistle. The main point of the letter was to warn the church of the great danger posed by the false teachers and their teachings. John says that they needed to be vigilant.
Outline — II John
- Salutation - verses 1-3
- Commendation - verses 4-6
- Warning - verses 7-11
- Conclusion - verses 12-13
Text — II John
Salutation - Verses 1-3
1The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:
- II John 1:1-2
John is the elder (he was old and a leader in the church at Ephesus at this time). The chosen lady and her children are the church. He writes this to a particular congregation. He uses euphemisms because of the danger of persecution by the Roman government. He says that he loves this church as does all those who hold to the truth. The truth is the gospel and in this case the essential truth of the gospel (that Jesus is the divine Son of God and Savior). He tells them that all those who love this truth are loved by John and by one another. It is this truth that binds all Christians together in love forever.
Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
- II John 1:3
He pronounces a blessing from God and places the source of One divine blessing equally at the feet of both God the Father and Jesus Christ. John knows that there is some confusion among them about who Jesus really is and thus settles the matter at the outset by referring to Jesus as having an equal and similar nature as God. He asks for three things that only God can offer:
- Grace: In this case, a favor to avoid punishment from sin.
- Mercy: Compassion for human weaknesses and failures.
- Peace: No war or judgment because of sin, but rather peace between ourselves and our judge who is God.
John asks these blessings on the people from both God and Jesus thus securing a blessing for his readers but also re-emphasizing the exalted position of Jesus Christ, far above the one given to Him by the false teachers.
Commendation - Verses 4-6
I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.
- II John 1:4
In contrast to those Christians who have been deceived or those who are doing the deceiving with their false teaching, John commends those who are living according to the truth concerning Jesus Christ. Once again, he connects the teaching and revelation concerning the gospel of Jesus to the Father, as opposed to the human concepts being proposed by the Gnostic teachers.
Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.
- II John 1:5
Their proper understanding of who Jesus really is will be reflected in their lifestyle. The distinguishing lifestyle of one who truly understands the gospel and accepts Jesus as divine Lord is love, because this is the lifestyle that He Himself modeled.
And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
- II John 1:6
John merely summarizes the entire life and teaching of Christ in one word: love. If you love God and Christ you will love others, self and obey Christ's commands. He commends those who have believed correctly and have acted correctly based on that belief.
Warning - Verses 7-11
Now that he has spoken to the Christians who have stood fast in doctrine and practice, he turns his attention to those who are being swayed by the false teachers.
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
- II John 1:7
He denounces the false teachers by first describing the essence of their incorrect doctrine (that Jesus was not fully human, just a spirit). He accuses them of being deceivers, not simply making an innocent mistake or having a lack of understanding concerning their doctrine, but men purposefully deceiving the church with their teachings. He charges them with being pawns of the Antichrist, that force which exists in the world under many guises with the purpose of defeating the gospel of Christ and His church. Jesus spoke of "false Christs and false prophets" who would come into the world with the purpose of deceiving the saints in the very name of Jesus (Matthew 24:23-24).
8Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.
- II John 1:8-9
His warning is couched in terms of what you gain or lose by being careful not to be deceived. If you remain faithful to the gospel and Christ then you keep your reward (eternal life) and your relationship with the Father and Son. If, on the other hand, you fall away from the teaching then you risk your reward and your relationship.
This is a good answer to those who claim that doctrine is not really that important or essential. John warns them that to have the wrong doctrine and practice of Christianity can lead to loss of faith and, consequently, loss of reward.
10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
- II John 1:10-11
John adds a practical way to implement his warning. In those days the offering of hospitality to strangers was an important social practice, especially for Christians. It was a sign of Christian love, faith and maturity. However, it was also a way of providing support for preachers and teachers in the church who travelled from place to place ministering to different churches. John says that one was not bound to offer hospitality, even to a teacher or preacher, if that person did not maintain the proper teaching of the gospel. He tells them, on the contrary, to discourage such a one by denying him hospitality and not even to greet him.
This seems harsh, but understand that the false teachers were sowing the seeds of a soul's destruction with their doctrines. They had to be stopped. John warns the brethren not to allow false teachers the opportunity to set up a base for teaching others in their homes (how teachers of that day operated, even the Apostles - Matthew 10:11). He concludes by saying that even to offer the usual greeting (the hope that all is well or that God will bless their efforts) was not to be given less they offer any type of encouragement to these people. This is why I feel no guilt in refusing money to religious causes who do not honor Jesus as Lord, nor do I allow any group or person into my home to teach or promote an idea that disclaims the position of Christ (e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses - Jesus is a spirit or angel).
Conclusion - Verses 12-13
12Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full. 13The children of your chosen sister greet you.
- II John 1:12-13
John ends on a personal note that is more fully explained in his third letter. The problem in general, the issue of false teachers and how to respond to them, has been addressed. A more personal problem exists in this church involving certain individuals so John says he would rather deal with these issues in person, not in writing. He closes with a final greeting from the church where he is based (Ephesus). We do not know which particular congregation he is writing to.
- Doctrine is Important – Incorrect teaching and understanding can cause us to lose our salvation. It is important for elders, teachers and preachers to be on guard at all times (they are to correct and reprove those who teach or promote false ideas - Romans 16:17).
- Doctrine Guides Actions – What you do is based largely on what you believe. Many who do not act like Christians usually lack proper teaching and understanding. These need to be corrected using God's word appropriately.
- Doctrine Decides Discipleship – There are many "nice" people who reject Jesus. You can have a relationship with a friend or family member who is not a Christian, but the one thing you can't have with those who do not believe is Christian fellowship.