Here at SonRise it has been our custom to set apart some time each January to examine the nature of the Church. We make time for this each year because we’re not only a church but we are the Church, and we want to do life together as the Church in ways that are biblical and healthy rather than ways that are pragmatic or worldly. We’ve gone about this in several different ways in the past, looking at everything from the 9Marks of a healthy church, to the meaty section in Ephesians 2 about what a covenantal blood bought church looks like, to the historical marks of a true church given to us in the Nicene Creed. This year we’re going to be zeroing in on the Church by looking at the little letter of 2 John. 2 John is one of those books in the Bible that is often overlooked due to its small size. But as small and unimpressive as it may seem but do not be duped…it has loads to say to us.

It is a normal first century letter, with a standard opening (v1-3), a main body of content (v4-11), and a conclusion (v12-13). 13 verses makes up the whole of it, and while being short it has content that gives enduring direction toward obedient and holy living within the Church. Although the author isn’t mentioned we believe it is none other than the apostle John because it carries the same writing style, uses many of the same words, and repeats many of the same themes. This is why in the ordering of our New Testament, we find 2 John addressed to the ‘Elect Lady and her children’ and 3 John addressed to ‘Gaius’ directly after 1 John (a much larger letter from John to those under his pastoral care). Taking these three letters together along with his gospel and his apocalypse we have a five-volume collection of the beloved disciple’s mind and heart for God and for His Church.

Just last night in our family worship we covered the fruit of the Spirit. To help them understand this fruit I asked certain questions that I knew the boys would know the answers to. I asked, “What fruit grows on apples trees?” The boys said, “Apples!” “Ok, what fruit grows on orange trees?” “Oranges!” “What grows on cherry trees?” “Cherries!” They got those quickly, but then I turned the tables and asked something different, “Just as God causes apples grow on apple trees, what does God cause to grow in His people?” They didn’t know. The answer of course is the fruit of the Spirit. They understood it, went off to bed, and……as I took up this text again to go over it I thought to myself, “This is so similar. If the Church is viewed as a tree, what does God cause to grow within in it? Or more precise, what does God cause to grow within us?”

For us today as we look to the introduction we cannot help noticing something. In 2 John 1-3 two words are repeated: truth is repeated four times and love is repeated twice. It’s these repetitions…truth and love, love and truth…that give us the theme not only for this introduction, but for this letter as a whole. And more so according to John, it’s in these two repeated words of truth and love that we find the some of the most important fruit that God grows in us, His Church.

Here’s where I want to take us today. First, I want us to see the identity of the Elder and the Elect Lady in v1a. Second, I want us to see the activity present in v1b. And third, I want us to see the certainty that anchors all of this in v2-3. Identity, activity, anchored in certainty.

Identity (v1a)

“The elder to the elect lady and her children…” is the way this letter begins. As you cam imagine there has been much ink spent on defining whom these terms refer to. The elder, being that this letter is called 2 John, is most likely John the apostle. But if it’s John, why not use his name? Or why not refer to himself authoritatively by using the title of apostle? I think he uses the term presbuteros (elder) to indicate, that he is not only an old man, that he was not only a leader in a church somewhere nearby, no. He uses this term to indicate that he is a leader that has pastoral oversight over the recipients of this letter. Most people believe at the time of 2 John John was ministering in Ephesus to many congregations. So he was nearby, they know each other deeply. He is likely one of their shepherds, one of their pastors, one who carries spiritual authority in their midst. We know something of this. That he left his name out probably means the recipients of this letter were so familiar to him they simply called him ‘elder’ as many of you refer to me as ‘pastor’ rather than Adam.

What about the “…elect lady and her children…”? Who does this refer to? While some say this is nothing more than what it is, that John is writing to a specific woman with specific children that he knows very well, I’m not convinced of this for a few reasons. First, for a man and a leader within the church to address a woman in the first century that he is not married too using numerous references of ‘loving one another’ would have been inappropriate and very suspect. v5 is an example of this, when John says he and the elect lady ought to continue to love one another.

Second, there are many instances throughout Scripture where the people of God, in the Old and New covenants, are referred to using feminine titles. When God’s people rebelled against Him He said in numerous places that they were to Him a bride committing adultery. Think of the whole book of Hosea, of God liking His people to Gomer, a prostitute that He pursues. Think also of Ephesians 5. There the Church is the Bride of Christ who is cleansed by Christ, sanctified by Christ, and washed clean with the water of the Word by Christ, so that Christ would present her to Himself without spot or blemish. That God is referred to with masculine language and we are referred to with feminine language shows us something of the care and love we receive from God being His beloved, His Church, His people.

Third, that this lady is called the ‘elect lady’ gives more evidence that she is the predestined, chosen, and elected covenant people of God in view. John ends this letter in v13 by referencing another elect group saying, “The children of your elect sister greet you.” It seems highly likely that this refers to another local church under John’s care that this church has a gospel partnership with.

So we have before us a letter from the apostle John to a church and its members under his pastoral care. The identity of those within 2 John is, I think, now settled. Which prepares the way for us to see the activity between them.

Activity (v1b)

After learning who is in view, hear now the rest of v1, “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…”

A deep affection is present between John and this church. He loves them greatly, he tells them as much, and from being told of this love the church should be truly encouraged and ministered to. But do you see that his love for them isn’t the kind of love often thrown around today, as if he just feels a bunch of warm fuzzies for them? No his love for them is a true love, a love that reflects God’s love for His Church. It’s a love in line with the truth, and not just truth as man may define it, but truth as God defines it.

“…whom I love in truth…”

John’s burden for this church is a balance of truth and love. We don’t often practice this kind of balance. Most of us tend to be bent toward one side or another on this spectrum. We are either those who emphasize truth at the expense of love, or those who emphasize love at the expense of truth. The first feels cold or harsh while the last feels shallow or phony. John, in a very Christ-like way, loves this church differently. Being properly balanced, his love doesn’t sacrifice truth and his commitment to the truth doesn’t dull his love but deepens it. His love for them is a discerning love. This discerning love is the love Christians are called to engage in with one another in the Church. I think this is the kind of love Jesus had in mind in John 13 when He said all people will know we’re His disciples, by our love for one another. I think this discerning love we see here in 2 John is love in its most sincere and true form. It’s a love that doesn’t ignore the obvious about people. It’s a love that never leaves any sin or any elephant in the room unaddressed. It’s a love where people can be honest with one another about one another while treating one another with gospel grace. It’s a love that embraces someone as they are and where they are, while acting to move us where we need to be. Or we could say it like this: the truth of Scripture is what guides, governs, and gives John’s love for this church and our love for one another true meaning and expression.[1]

In order to have this kind of honest love toward one another, in order to love each other in truth, I think something must be known beforehand. We must know that we are gospel people, mastered by the grace of God in Christ. Think of it like this. When children do wrong and parents intend to discipline them for doing so, they ought to remind the children first that they are their children. That all they have is theirs, that nothing can ever change their status as their children, and that they forever have their parents whole heart. Then after that is said, parents correct and discipline them. We do this as parents because our children are hard wired to believe that any kind of correction means rejection, and nothing could be further than the truth.

I think this is something of what it means to love in truth. If I know you love me and you know I love you and we both know that we’re forever accepted by one another through a robust gospel grace streaming out from God to us in Christ, than we could say very hard and honest things to each other and be deeply loving one another in doing so. Perhaps this is why John refers to this church as the elect lady before he brings the main content of his letter in v4-11. Before giving correction he reminds her that she is a chosen bride, one showered with a sovereign electing love from before the foundation of the world, and nothing can ever change that. Anything John says to them after that, whether hard or easy, will be tempered with the reality that he has their good in mind.

And John isn’t the only one doing this. At the end of v1 he says that all who know the truth love them like this too. Thus, the pattern for life together in this community of churches under John’s pastoral care is community committed to a true discerning love, to loving one another in truth. But do you wonder how can John speak for such a large group of people he doesn’t know? John is even speaking of you here. How can he so confidently declare that we should love others and are loving others in the same way he does? The answer is clear. Because across cities – states – nations – even across the centuries – the truth of God’s Word doesn’t change, it is certain, and it is fixed forever.

We have now seen the identity of those in view and seen the discerning loving activity between them. Now John turns to anchor all of this in certainty.

Certainty (v2-3)

In v2-3 we read, “…because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever. Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us; from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.”

By closing his introduction to his letter in this way, John gives his main motivation for loving others, and no surprise, we find him speaking of truth once again. Why does he love them in truth? Why do all others who know the truth love them and others in truth? John’s answer: because of the truth. This repetition of truth reminds us that it is impossible to define love in a biblical manner apart from the reality of truth. Our world around us seeks to do this very thing. For love to be true, love must be tolerant. Love never asks another to change. Love never challenges one’s views. Love never refers to anything as wrong.[2] No, love to our world is free, open, and given to all without any discrimination. Churches and other organizations that embrace such a belief are said to be ‘on the side of love’ while churches like our own and other organizations committed to orthodox doctrine are said to be hateful, close-minded, and out of touch with the modern world.[3]

Can it be any more obvious that the Bible takes a different view? For love, true discerning love, to have any real substantial meaning it must be seen as it truly is – inseparably linked to God who is Himself not only the truth but the standard of all that is true. John says as much in v2, that the truth of God is certain and abides forever because God is forever.

So, the grand lesson in v2 then, is this: we’ve already seen the pattern for life together in the churches under John’s care is one of discerning love. Because God is forever and because His truth is unendingly certain it means the pattern for their life together within the Church back then is still the pattern for our life together within the Church today. Or in other words, the God who commanded them in His truth to a life of discerning love in their churches, is the same God who commands us in His truth to a life of discerning love in our churches.

To hammer this home, John doesn’t merely repeat himself in v3, he goes into a gospel-centered celebration of God’s love to us in Christ.[4] “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us; from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.” Grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s love. Peace is the consequence of receiving grace and mercy. These things, he doesn’t say, might be with us or may be with us, but will be with us. All this comes to us from the Father and the Son, in what? Truth and love.

This gospel-centered celebration in v3 reminds us that the wonders and glories of discerning love found v1-2 find their apex in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Sent by the Father, empowered by the Spirit, His is an example of what truth and love look like. He didn’t deny the wickedness around Him, He addressed it and held out the remedy. He didn’t deny our unworthiness either, He looked at our sin honestly, truthfully, with blazing clarity, and even after seeing it’s ugliness He willingly chose to take it all upon Himself, bearing our curse, in our place, as our substitute, so that at the feather touch of faith the guilty go free. This is love. Love that’s honest about sin, love that gives us the redemption and righteousness we really need, love that brings us to God.

Conclusion:

Church, discerning love was their pattern, discerning love must be our pattern too. Healthy churches love one another and the lost like this. Healthy church members will give love and seek to receive love like this. Healthy church leaders love like this.

The question really is: now that you know what love looks like among the elect lady of God, do you want it? Do you want to be loved like this? Do you want to give love like this to others? Do you want to be led by elders, who like John, will love you with a discerning love? Who will call sin sin and point you to the biblical truth and gospel grace that your soul really needs? Or, when you come in here, do you simply want what the world wants? Do you want a church full of attenders and members and leaders that affirm you regardless of how you choose to live your life?

One may feel welcoming and warm and fuzzy but will bring you nothing good. The other will be challenging but life giving, hard but satisfying, difficult but aiming at your eternal good.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Daniel Akin, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, accessed on 1/3/18, via Logos Bible software.

[2] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, 1-3 John – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 177.

[3] Ibid., page 178.

[4] Ibid., page 176.

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