Jottings from John’s Second Epistle (Paper 1)
Dennis Williamson, Belfast
All Second Epistles are punctuated with caution, admonition, instruction and preparation in view of anticipated or actual departure from the ways of God. Equally evident in all is the spiritual discernment of the writers and their concern to provide preventative ministry under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit in light of such declension. This is clearly seen in a consideration of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians in relation to the "service of God", in the second letter to Timothy regarding the "man of God", in the second letter to the Thessalonians in light of the "programme of God". The apostle Peter agrees as in his second letter he tells of those who scoff at the "prophetic Word of God". Here in John's second letter a touchstone is reached as he speaks of the "Son of God".
May we not perceive a development in the thought of the apostle? After giving such all-embracing principles relative to the Person of Christ in the First Epistle, he seems to be reflecting as to the strategy of the enemy in opposing these same doctrines. Where would he begin? What area would be most vulnerable? If only he could invade the home sphere it would eventually have its effect upon assembly life and testimony in general. This fear appears to be increased in the third Epistle where the assembly is under consideration.
As a wise spiritual statesman the apostle gives to us via this Epistle a picture of home relationships ordered in the spheres of truth and love as a prophylactic against the inroads of evil. Truth will control and love will cement, providing the necessary balanced foundation upon which to build an impregnable superstructure. Is this not just what we currently need? How often has weakness in family life resulted in later days in ineffective testimony in the sphere of the assembly. Has not an improper balance of truth and love in the former been often the cause of much divided witness in the latter? May we learn the forceful implications of John's teaching here (1) that true moral strength must first be manifest at home if we are to lift the standard of assembly life, and (2) that such strength is derived from our personal association with truth and love as seen in the Lord Jesus.
Conjecture and speculation have not been wanting as to the identity of the "elect lady" to whom this Epistle was written. Is she called Kyria, or Electa? Is John writing to an assembly using the figure of "an elect lady and her children"? This latter hardly seems consistent either with the apostle's style or with New Testament revelation as a whole. It is better therefore, I suggest, to resist any impulse to engage in unverified supposition. As with the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, so here with those to whom this Epistle was written, names are not divulged. In both instances the intent of the spirit may perhaps be for us to concern ourselves with the content and character of each Epistle as to the practical and permanent application to our own lives of the truth revealed.
No such cloud, however, surrounds the identity of the "Elder" who is speaking. The dignity of his approach, spirituality of his message, consistency of his life, and his ability in relation to the ministry mark him out clearly, whether the title be one of respect or responsibility. He is none other than "John the beloved". Is it any wonder he can speak with such authority as he does throughout his writings? Here is one who has his "loins girt about with truth" Eph. 6. 14. This will preserve him from compromise on the one hand and coldness on the other. We shall discover as we peruse this short Epistle that we have here a man writing with deep conviction yet with affection. He is by no means obtrusive but so open-hearted that we may clearly sense the quality of his own spiritual life, see where his priorities lie, be unmistakably aware of what he believes for he gives no uncertain sound. Dove-like, as his name suggests, his influence will be heavenly, holy, harmless and to the honour of the One upon whom his gaze is fixed, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
One thing which comes over to us loud and clear in this little Epistle is that truth is not something cold and abstract, not just a matter of theorizing about certain ideals or analysing literary genre. Truth is both vital and vibrant, reaching and affecting the very hub of heart and life, and from there vivifying every area of personality and practice until it reaches the periphery of our experience. The apparently cynical reviling of Pilate in John 18. 38 "What is truth"? just will not do. Stances like this, of supposed intellectual prowess designed to overrule the incisive force of the truth, crumble before any life lived after the pattern of the One whom Pilate faced that memorable day and whose life extracted the confession "I find no fault in Him."
With this simple introduction we shall consider John's second letter together and see his altogether homespun approach. It is so uncomplicated as he weaves together doctrine and practice that we cannot fail to identify the pattern. To help us in our meditations I have arranged the material under four headings with the distinct emphasis on the Scriptures as warranted by the text. (1) Appreciating the truth, verses 1-4. (2) Answering to the commandments, verses 5-8. (3) Abiding in the Doctrine, verses 9-11. (4) Assisting by the Word, verses 12-13. May God grant that, as we seek to develop these thoughts by examining this portion of the Word in our next article, we may learn to value that same Word for the glory of the Lord and the preservation of our spiritual life and testimony.