Summary: Writing to the "elect lady," John was aware of the delicate balance needed to show grace to those who had wronged her while refusing to compromise her convictions and faith. We must love others, but we cannot compromise our faith for the favor of men.
Gratitude for the Faithful
Our text today comes from the second general epistle the apostle John wrote. Along with the gospel that bears his name, and Revelation, John also wrote 1, 2, and 3rd John. It is believed to have been written around AD 85-95, near the end of John’s life.
John’s second epistle had a two-fold purpose. First, he wrote to encourage the “elect lady” to love all believers, regardless of their attitudes or behavior. Apparently, she had taken a firm stand for truth and sound doctrine against false teachers, and some within the church had criticized her stand. John knew the importance of loving others as we do ourselves, even if they had wronged us or were speaking against us.
Secondly, John wrote to encourage the lady to remain steadfast in her stand for truth in doctrine. He admonished her to keep false teachers at bay, even refraining from allowing them entrance into her home. She was not to respond hatefully, but she was not expected to offer hospitality or accommodate those spreading false doctrine.
John spoke of the difficult balance we continue to face in our day. We must love others as we do ourselves, seeking to be an effective witness for the Lord. However, we must also be bold in our stand and commitment to truth. We cannot cower under the tide of public opinion, refusing to stand for the Lord in order to gain the favor of men. We must be gracious and compassionate, but we must also be courageous and bold for the faith.
As we begin to study John’s second epistle, I want to consider the elements of John’s greeting as we discuss: Gratitude for the Faithful.
I. The Salutation (1-2) – In the opening verses we discover the gracious salutation John offered the lady he held in such high esteem. Consider:
A. The Elder (1a) – The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth. John does not refer to himself by name, but simply as “the elder.” This spoke of the position he held within the church and the responsibilities associated with his position. The word “elder” is translated from the word presbuteros, and gives us our English word presbytery or Presbyterian. It could refer to a senior member of the church, 1 Tim.5:1, but usually spoke of one who held a pastoral role in the church, a position of authority and oversight of the church. This is the title that John held among the church.
We must bear in mind that this time in history was five to six decades beyond the crucifixion. John would have been an aged man, the last remaining apostle. No doubt, he was widely known and respected among the church at this time.
B. The Elect Lady (1a) – The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth. Having identified himself, John then addressed the lady to whom the letter was written. Like his identification, John does not mention her by name, but simply referred to her as the “elect lady.” This speaks of one who is “elect or chosen.” Clearly, John is writing to one known for her relationship with Christ and faithfulness to Him.
There is some debate as to whom John actually wrote this second epistle, since she is not specifically named. Some believe that John wrote to a particular woman, who had raised children in the faith, and they too walked with the Lord. Among those who hold this view, some think he may have written to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Others think John’s reference to the “elect lady” and her “children” referred to a local body of believers, with the “lady” being the church, and the believers being described as “children.” The truth is, we simply do not know with certainty. Regardless of whom John addressed the letter, the application does not change. The truths he shared would certainly apply to a mother and her children or to a local body of believers.
C. The Expression (1-2) – John expressed his affection for the elect lady and her children. Through his expression we see two distinct elements:
1. John’s Love – whom I love in the truth. John affirmed his love for the lady and her children in the truth, referring to the truth of Jesus Christ, the foundation of the Christian faith. He used the word agape to describe his love for her and the children. He loved her with godly love – love that is without bounds and unchanging. His love for her and the children was settled and motivated by the common truth they shared. She and the children were born again in Christ Jesus, settled and standing firmly in the faith. John shared their faith and commitment to truth. As she stood against those who sought to undermine the truth with false doctrine, she was encouraged that John loved her in the truth, and supported the truth for which she stood.