Our title this week,“Walk This Way,” was the 1975 song by classic hard rock band Aerosmith and is probably their signature hit song. We had some fun again with the band playing the famous guitar intro and repeating the three words (because we wouldn’t want to share ALL of the words of the song). And we’re only interested in those three words that capture the big idea of 2 John … And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.
The first thing we see is how very short is this chapter; it is the shortest book of the Bible with less than 300 words in the Greek text. And as with both Jude and 3 John, there are two big ideas popping out: holding firmly onto the truth and examining the veracity of teaching and the teachers doing it, while, on the other hand, living a godly life and walking in such a way that it exemplifies love. TRUTH and LOVE! They go together … like peas and carrots! And those two words dominate the text – even at the very outset of John’s letter in the greeting …
The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— 2 because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.
So this is a letter from “the elder” to “the chosen lady.” What? What does this mean?
We have every reason to believe this letter is from the Apostle John. If you read 1st John, it is clear that the style and phraseology are sourced in the same person.
The chosen lady – whereas this could be an individual, it is almost universally believed that this is a New Testament way of referring to a church family … sorta like the term “the bride of Christ.” And it speaks of those “chosen” by God, which is clearly a NT way of speaking about the family of faith. And most of the rest of the letter switches to plural pronouns, being addressed to a group of people.
So why the cryptic way of writing? Let me illustrate …
We have missionaries who are serving in some difficult places that are hostile to the Gospel. When I write to them, I copy the style they pen to me. I’ll not ever use the word “missionary” with them – saying simply “M’s” or “supported workers.” I won’t use the word “church” but will say “the family.” And these last three letters – Jude, 1+2 John – are written later than most NT books, at a time where the gospel has had several decades to go out into the world. And enemies of the truth are out there, both then and now.
And John speaks to this church receiving his letter of his love for them. It is emphasized in the Greek … I love you! It was the truth, and their common commitment to the truth, that held them together as people who loved one another. It was not a mere feeling, but a knowledge that led to the feelings and commitments that would follow. The result was an experiential and cognitive sense of pervasive grace / mercy / peace – with God and one another mutually.
It’s like God’s people being together with one another as in a gathering of, say, Dallas Cowboys fans – you’re with the other elect ones, you’re away from the hostility from Redskins, Steelers and Eagles fans that comes from your association, and that unity together is a bigger thing than if you just feel like you like another person in the room or not.
John goes on … 4 It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us (having given us His truth). 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.
So, again, you see and hear the juxtaposition of truth and love. Apparently, John had some interactions with some members of the church away from the context of this church and its location, and he writes to speak of his joy to see how well they were fleshing out their lives.
None of this truth – these commands – were new. This is the same as it was in the beginning with God and especially in His written revelations, and even more especially in the “God in the flesh” exposition of truth in the person of Christ.
So how is it that being committed to walking in love is the same thing as walking in truth? Again, perhaps an illustration is helpful, so here comes another famous running illustration …
Imagine you are on a running team, and one of the teammates has a lot of natural talent, along with being a very likeable person. But this teammate is not serious about practices – comes late, leaves early, takes shortcuts in training, all of it while the coach (he thinks) is not watching. And then the night before races, he pigs out on mac and cheese, eats ice cream before bed, wakes up to six fried eggs for breakfast, and grabs a big milkshake from McDonald’s on the way to the race. Naturally, he starts the race well, but is barfing by the midpoint and finishes poorly – hurting himself and the team. But he’s such a nice, likeable guy! Is it best to just overlook it? Or is it a better application of truth and love to speak to it in a winsome way?
There are correct, truth-related things to do. There is a right way to do them. And there is a proper attitude together with one another to do these things together.
And as John really now gets to the meat of his communication, let me give you some more background here that informs both this letter and 3rd John.
Again, this is a bit later in the New Testament as the gospel is spreading around the Roman world. And there were messengers of the gospel traveling and preaching. Where were they to stay as they went upon their journeys? How would they be supported practically? There were no automated teller machines and credit cards. Yes, there were inns and boarding places, but they were very sketchy and had bad reputations. So these travelling missionary preachers stayed in the homes of people in the churches who supported them along the way. It was a necessary system, and even a good system (as we’ll see next week), but it was also a system that could be abused by false teachers. It was necessary for people to have an eye and an ear open for this – evaluating what they heard.
John says … 7 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. The particular error of these false teachers was to wrongly teach about who Christ was – often teaching that he was short of being the Divine Son of God, but rather some sort of spirit or phantom. This was an antichrist (small “a”) communication; not THE Antichrist, but the doctrine of such that left the listener short of the truth and devoid of relationship with God and eternal life.
8 Watch out that you[we] do not lose what we[you] have worked for, but that you[we] may be rewarded fully.
Those pronouns … well, the Greek manuscripts were all over the place on how this should read. I believe the proper way is to have “we” throughout, not mixed with any “you”. (Long explanation … will save it for our Greek class.) Here is how I think it should read: Watch out that WE do not lose what WE have worked for, but that WE may be rewarded fully.
The idea here is not of losing salvation, but of losing full rewards and fruits of labors. Likely a transcriber early on in the NT era changed the pronouns so as to not have it look like John was in danger of error and personal failure. But John was including himself in the mix – he was a teammate with them. He was communicating that “we all need to be diligent to not lose what we’ve labored for in Christ, that we may gain the fullest reward for these labors.”
And now John speaks specifically about these errant travelling teachers … 9 – Anyone who runs ahead (actually the wording means to stray from the path – like a dog that won’t walk down the path with you, staying close) and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring – the literal word here is “carry” … like baggage … so if he is not packing … this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. 11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.
So John is saying that to provide hospitality and support to people who are not packing the truth and teaching the truth, but who are running off to all other sorts of wrong doctrine, this kindness does not help the greater cause. Rather, it hinders it and helps the cause of the wicked one. There is a time to stand for what is correct.
And now John gives some final farewell words … 12 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. 13 The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.
John somewhat acknowledges the brief and cryptic nature of his writing, saying that it is his hope to visit them soon. And he sends greetings from another “chosen one”, another church with other Christians, living and serving in other places for Team Jesus.
So what do we take away from this little letter and our explorations of this piece from the biblical attic? If we put together John’s three letters, the three big ideas are: hold on to sound teaching, obey God’s truth, and display love toward others – especially those in the church family.
It is the first of these that is especially emphasized here in 2nd John. And this is a practical teaching for us in this day and generation. All the foundations of truth are questioned, and even the idea of “foundations” is questioned! Objective truth has fallen from favor. Subjectivity – whatever you want to believe – rules the day. And that leads to anarchy – both within a civil society, and in terms of relationship with God.
Think about how crazy this is: the only absolute truth that many in our day hold to is that there is no absolute truth! They know that for sure! And if you hold to an absolute truth, their non-absolute truth is that you are not only wrong, you cannot be tolerated and should be personally destroyed and eliminated!
I’ve lived to see things shaken and morphed that I never imagined would be – about topics like gender, marriage, sexuality, moral authority, and the way to truly know God. And I’m not THAT OLD! It hasn’t been that many years that these things have changed. And while it is a certain truth that Christian people – God’s family – need to be the kindest of all peoples, there comes a time where truth must be affirmed and held onto for what it is. We need to walk this way.