2 John is the shortest book in the bible! It appears to have been written to urge discernment about which visiting missionaries to support so as not to unintentionally contribute to the propagation of heresy (NIV Study Bible Introduction to 2 John). I’m not sure if it was written to an individual widow or to a subsection of the church as “[Christ’s] chosen lady”. Here John picks up Jesus’ command to love one another and explores it in relation to a Gnostic heresy.
Our actions demonstrate what we truly believe and whether it matches our words or whether our words are empty rhetoric. Christian love emanates from God the Father, is embodied by His Son and is stirred by His Spirit. We his followers can choose to walk in it or out of it. Throughout the New Testament there is a call to love more deeply than merely in affection (whether we like someone). We love because that’s who God is and what his Son commands us to do.
Some Gnostics of the time believed that Jesus was not fully God in the flesh over his whole life (for instance some thought God began to dwell in the man Jesus only at his baptism and then the Spirit left him prior to death). John emphasizes Christ’s incarnation in verse 7 and then firmly instructs the reader not to host missionaries who claim otherwise.
I find it intriguing that John emphasizes Christ’s incarnation immediately after exploring the command to walk in truth and love (v.6, 1 John 1 & 2). Indeed these two ideas are the only prominent ones in the letter. We should remember that comprehending any spiritual truth inspires a godly response. As such loving our God will result in obedience which will in turn lead to more love for one another. In this case I wonder whether comprehending the true nature of Jesus’ incarnation inspires (or enables) a balanced response of walking in truth and love. If we err on either side we are not being true to Jesus and our message and or ethics will suffer. Richison (2001) believes that showing love while underplaying truth only achieves sentimentality, while the opposite extreme involves dry ceremonial witness that lacks vibrancy. In the modern religious climate it serves as a warning not to surrender truth to love as advocated by more liberal Christians or the proponents of radical post-modernism. On the other hand Paul warned us against forgetting to love in ways that could reduce our message to clanging cymbals or a resounding gong (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Some thoughts on application: allowing the principles in this letter to speak at the church level, perhaps we should be mindful not to water down inconvenient truths in an attempt to appeal to the masses. To do so would ultimately be unloving and the salt would lose its saltiness. We should also recognise the potential in our words to cause hurt and pain and therefore be sensitive. Salt will sting an open wound. At the individual level love should shape us to be kind and sensitive when communicating differences of opinion. Ultimately we should seek to express such thoughts without seeking to control each other. Alternatively we should not forgo discernment for the sake of keeping the peace, because then everybody loses! As God enables us let us try to live with a foot in each camp.
Some Cool Quotes:
“Walking in the truth can be as dry as last year’s bird nest. Orthodoxy without “orthopraxy” can be dry as dust. Many churches are like this today. They do not experience truth; they just assert truth. They are sound in doctrine but sound asleep in vitality.” – Dr Grant Richison, Campus Crusade (Canada)
“And any gospel you believe, any gospel you proclaim that does not include both doctrine and ethics is only half a gospel tragically incomplete, radically distorted, hopelessly deficient. Both doctrine and ethics are at the heart of the gospel because they are so inextricably linked.” – John Piper
“Truth must always direct our love.” – Dr Grant Richison
Piper, J., 1985, ‘Love: A Matter of Life and Death’, Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Richison, G., 2001, ‘Today’s Word: 2 John.’, Campus Crusade (Canada), Manitoba.