By Roy Ciampa, Ph.D.
Armstrong Chair of Religion, Samford University
Set Apart in the Way We Live
2 John 1–9
“The elder,” traditionally understood to be the Apostle John, writes to “the elect lady and her children,” which is probably a metaphor for a church and its members.
This letter may have been sent along with the longer message found in 1 John as a separate word of encouragement to a particular church.
The key theme is to continue in Christ’s teaching, which entails walking in the truth and walking in love.
Walk in truth. (1–4)
The opening verses of this letter repeatedly speak of the truth. John loves those he writes “in the truth” as do “all who know the truth,” and that is because of “the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever.”
John was pleased to have found some of the elect lady’s children “walking in truth.” In verse 3, we’re told that grace, mercy and peace will be with us “in truth and love.”
In every place where “the truth” is mentioned, one could substitute the word “Christ” and have the same meaning. The starting point is recognizing, as Jesus told us in John 14:6, that Jesus is the Truth.
By referring repeatedly to the truth rather than simply to Christ, the point is made that to reject Christ is to reject the truth, and that all who reject Him are following lies and falsehoods. It also reminds us that all who are committed to Christ must also have a relentless commitment to the truth.
In Scripture, “to walk” is a metaphor for living life in a particular way. To walk in the truth is walking in step with Christ, who is the Truth.
Walk in love. (5–6)
Jesus first gave the command to love one another twice in John 13:34, where He declared it was a new command. He repeated it in John 15:12 and 15:17, and it is often repeated in the New Testament, especially in 1 John.
The command is a rewording of Leviticus 19:18 — “Love your neighbor as yourself” — which is also often repeated by Jesus and the apostles. To love Christ is to obey His commands, especially His command to live a life of love for others.
Walk in obedience to the teachings of Christ. (7–9)
One of the reasons why the confession of Christ’s coming “in the flesh” is important is because Christ “condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3) when, on the cross, He “suffered in the flesh” (1 Pet. 4:1) and was put to death in the flesh” (3:18). Any suggestion that Christ did not come in the flesh — as a real human being capable of suffering — undermines the truth of Christ’s suffering on the cross and suggests that Christ’s love for us was not as costly or truly sacrificial as the Bible insists it was. That would also undermine the command we have been given to love one another as Christ has loved us.
If His love wasn’t actually a costly love, perhaps ours doesn’t need to be either. But Christ suffered and demonstrated a costly and self-sacrificing love to which we are also called (see again vv. 5 and 6).
Anyone who seeks to rob the Church and the world of that teaching is another example of “the deceiver and the antichrist” (v. 7), whose teaching endangers all who hear it.