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II John

II John

Our journey through the New Testament letters written by John has progressed through the first of his three letters. We have concentrated on that first letter for the past few weeks.

Quickly in review, among the points John made in his first letter are God is light, and those who accept God’s Son Jesus as Savior have spiritual light. We are not to sin, but if we do sin, we have Jesus as our advocate to defend us. We are to love God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit more than the world or the things of the world. We must ignore and avoid any and all who teach things contrary to what is in the Bible. We are to love fellow Christians, which will be proof of our acceptance of Jesus and His teachings. Proof that is to give us spiritual confidence. All of which will allow us to never fear, but always love, God.

Next week, our journey through the letters of John will be completed as we consider the third letter. Today, John’s second letter.

Both II and III John were written about the same time as I John, which was 55 or 60 years after the resurrection of Jesus. As we have up to this point in our journey, we will discuss, not only what John wrote, but also how his words can and should affect us today, that coming in three ways - to whom the letter was written, what John wished for those to whom he wrote, and what instructions he gave to his fellow Christians.

Before that, how about some background information?

Remember that when John wrote his first letter, there were many false teachers who had begun to make the rounds of the Christian churches. 

Remember that one of the false teachings was that Jesus only seemed to have had a body, but was instead totally spirit, which means, the false teachers said, He did not really suffer when He was crucified. Neither did He really die. 

The danger of that false teaching is that if it was true - which it was and is not - but if it was, Jesus could not have been the sacrifice needed for salvation. Sacrifices had to yield blood and die. If Jesus did not really do that, He could not be the sacrifice the disciples, including John, taught He was. So we would still be spiritually dead.

Another false teaching was that only very smart people could and can understand Jesus and the blessings He has available. According to that false teaching, it was only very smart people who could ever have a close relationship with Jesus.

Consider the danger of that false teaching. If people are separated according to intelligence - which, in a spiritual sense, they are not - but if they were, there can be no Christian fellowship. Some could fellowship with one another. The smart ones could get together. The dumb ones could. But Christians in general could not have fellowship together if that second false teaching was allowed to stand. Why would smart ones lower themselves to associate with slow learners? How could slow learners ever feel worthy of being with the super smart.

It can be wondered why false teachings would even be listened to, let alone be accepted by Christians. However, remember that at the time of John, there were some age-related problems in the Christian churches. At least some of John’s original readers were second and maybe third generation Christians. By that time, the newness of the Christian faith had faded. The excitement of the Christian experience, strong at the beginning, had begun to fade as the faith journey continued. It began to appear Jesus was not going to return soon. It appears at least some of the Christians were finding the daily walk of faith to be tiring.

The new teachings making the rounds, though false, seemed exciting to at least some of those to whom John wrote. Hence the issue with which John dealt in his first letter. Since II John was written about the same time as I John, the same issue was faced in the second letter. So as, in I John, he often referred to his readers as his children, which was a reminder he was their spiritual father - a position he claimed because he had heard, seen, and touched Jesus, which his readers and the false teachers had not - he opened his second letter with the words, “The elder.”

There are a couple possibilities of the meaning of that word.

It might have referred to a position of authority. 

However, in the context just discussed, it seems more likely that using the words “the elder” was another way of John reminding his readers he was the only one among them who had had the experience of being with Jesus. In that way he was an elder - older than his readers physically, as in years of age, older spiritually in his acceptance of Jesus, older as being the one with the longest history of being associated with Jesus.

The elder - John - as he had done several times in I John, opened II John with the reminder he did have the authority to write. The authority to teach and challenge younger Christians about how to live as Christians, including the necessity of avoiding false teachings about Jesus, thereby following true teachings about the Lord.

John the elder wrote II John. He wrote to “the elect lady and her children.”

“The elect lady.” There are also some possibilities about those words.

“Elect lady” might have referred to a particular person. It seems the root word for “elect” was, in the Greek culture, sometimes a proper name. Something similar to Elektra. “Lady” was, at that time, an expression of affection. So it may be John was writing to his dear friend Elektra.

Or - this is the one that seems more logical to me from what I have studied - the words might have referred to a church. Using a feminine word is still used today, as in, “the church and her people.“ That is where “lady” would come from. "The elect” would relate to those who are Christians. Those who would have “elected” to accept Jesus as Savior.

The question can be asked that if John referred to a church, why not just name it? Yet again there are some possibilities. One is that maybe his letter was intended, not for just one congregation, but more than one. The other is that as John wrote his second letter, persecution against Christians had begun. It was growing. There is some thought John was reluctant to name a church because that might lead to increased persecution if the wrong hands got hold of the letter. That would make “the elect lady” a sort of code for Christians.

Both those possibilities seem logical, and if many churches are referred to, it includes us as we are a church of Christians. A church, as John continued, with “children,” as in new believers being developed.

The elder to the elect lady and her children. John to the church, including older and newer Christians. 

Whom he, along with other Christians, loved. John still claimed the right to guide, counsel, and share warnings and rebukes, but he did so, not to berate or scold, but because he cared for them. The words “whom I love” was another reminder from John that he loved those to whom he wrote.

Including - verse  3 - that they have three things. The things are grace, mercy, and peace. 

Actually, the wording is not a hope or a wish they would have those three things. It was a declaration that for those who are Christians and stay loyal to the Lord, those three things will be theirs. Including that even at that time of persecution, grace, mercy, and peace were theirs.

Let’s think about each of those things, rejoicing that those of us who are now Christians do have and will have them and do and will benefit from them.

Grace. One definition of grace is receiving what is not deserved. It is grace that spiritual blessings should be given to sinful mortals. That blessings do come, including divine favor and good will so that our lives can be safe and secure in God’s love.

Mercy. As mentioned, grace is receiving what is not deserved, such as God’s blessings, while mercy is not receiving what we do deserve, which is punishment for our sins. Mercy is forgiveness and pardon. It extends to continual forgiveness. As mentioned in John’s first letter, the goal for those of us who are Christians is that we not sin, but if we do sin, we have Jesus as our advocate so we can receive continued forgiveness. Continued mercy.

Peace. Restoration of harmony with God, which will help our relationships with others and with ourselves. Peace describes a tranquility of spirit and conscience, which is a promise of confidence in our relationship with God. That was also mentioned in I John. The spiritual confidence Christians are to have when they accept Jesus, love God, and love others. That is what John in verse 3 calls “peace.” An assured reconciliation with God.

May we always remember from where grace, mercy, and peace come. They come “from God the Father and from Jesus Christ His Son.” Adding the third part of the Trinity, it is the Holy Spirit who reminds us of the source of grace, mercy, and peace. That is a critical point. The things listed by John cannot be received on our own. They cannot ever be deserved by any of us. None of us can ever be good enough to deserve any of them. They are gifts - divine gifts - given to all who are Christians. Those who live as Christians.

“In truth and love.” The promise John just wrote is true. The truth is based on God’s love. Grace, mercy, and peace are gifts for any and all who love God and others.

What does that mean for us? It is a challenge that we accept Jesus. If you have not accepted Him, why not now, even as this message continues? Accepting Him is so worth it, including the privileges of having the peace that comes with being assured of being right with God, the mercy of forgiveness, and the grace of God’s blessings, which on our own we do not and cannot deserve.

*       *       *       *       *

John loved the Christians to whom he wrote. Since his letters are in the Bible, he wrote, not only to people 2000 years ago, but to us as well. And not only us right now. Also to the spiritual children we will hopefully produce as a congregation.

John loved all his readers. It was therefore with joy he declared that those who accept Jesus and stay true to Him have three gifts from God. The gifts of grace, mercy, and peace.

Much of the rest of II John contains instructions about living as Christians. It is interesting John felt good about how the Christians were doing at that time. In fact, in verse 4 he expressed joy that some of the new Christians he heard about were following the truth of Jesus. However, as good as John felt about how good the Christians were doing, he knew it was critical they be encouraged to keep doing well in their faith.

Let’s consider the ways John expressed that encouragement.

Verse  5. “Love one another.” That was a very common theme of I John. Here it is in II John. Love one another. As mentioned other times on our letters of John journey, that is not always easy. Again using myself as an example, there may be some characteristics, habits, and/or attitudes that you find annoying, which could lead to a difficulty to love me.

But with God’s help, we are to overcome the annoyances, at least to the extent of wanting only what is best for others.

Verse 6. In addition to loving people, we are to love God, shown when we “follow His commandments.”

There should never be any question what God expects from us and for us.

For instance, we have the Ten Commandments. Remember? Have no gods but our one true God. Do not make graven images. Do not use God’s name in vain. Keep the Sabbath Day holy. Honor your parents. Do not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Those things are very easy to understand. In addition, both the Old Testament and New Testament are filled with specific instructions about how to live, some of them spoken by prophets, some by Jesus, some written by Jesus’ apostles. All of which the Holy Spirit reminds us.

As stated with love, the commandments in the Bible are not always easy to follow, but we know what they are. As we follow them, we prove our love for God, which makes them worth obeying.

Verses 7 and 8. There are “many deceivers.” Many who try to draw Christians away from spiritual truth. John used the word “antichrist,” which refers to anyone who teaches anything other than Biblical truth about Jesus. Such people are all around. That was true at the time of John. It is still true today. So another instruction is to “look to yourself,” making sure you are following the truth of Jesus, lest you “lose” your faith and your salvation.

Another instruction is in verse  1o. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring” the truth of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit with him, “do not receive him [or her] into your house.” 

I think that applies also to houses of worship. Shortly after 9/11, there were some Christian pastors who invited Muslims into their pulpits on Sunday mornings, giving them opportunities to explain the Islamic faith. At first I thought, “Why can’t I come up with original ideas like that?” I very quickly caught myself. Christian churches are to teach Christian doctrine! 

If we want a comparative religions study, that could be OK. And if someone with a different faith wants to attend and learn about God, that is fine. But not come and speak a different faith from the pulpit.

We must - that is a challenge from John - we must not to this place welcome those whose purpose it is to teach anything other than the truth about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

As verse  11 words it, we must not encourage those involved in “wicked” or non-Christian work.

*       *       *       *       *        

John wrote his second of three letters to Christians, whom he loved. He declared that three of the gifts Christians receive are grace, mercy, and peace. He encouraged them to love each other, to love God, to keep growing in their faith, and to avoid false teachers. As all that was written to readers 2000 years ago, God has seen fit for us to read now. May we accept and use the wonderful gifts of God as we avoid anything false so we can continue to grow in our faith.

Today’s closing song centers our thought on one of the gifts given to Christians. The gift of grace. It is the hymn Grace Greater Than Our Sins. We will sing verses 1 and 4. Verse  4 includes the plea that if you have not yet accepted Jesus, you do so, even now.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured -

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,

Freely bestowed on all who believe!

You that are longing to see His face,

Will you this moment His grace receive?

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Lord, thank You for the writings of John. Thank You for Your decision to include his three letters in the Bible. Concerning the second of those letters, help us to know, feel, respond to, and use Your gifts of grace, mercy, and peace. In addition, continue to remind us and encourage us to love each other and to love You. That will help us grow in our faith as we continue to stay true to You. Amen.

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