2 John Commentary

The commentary below was taken from: Gary M. “2 John” In The NIV Application Commentary: The Letters of John. By Gary M. Burge, 228-243. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1996.

Fidelity to the Truth: Commitment to Love (1 – 6)

The New Testament thinks of the church with feminine metaphors (e.g., “the bride of Christ,” Eph. 5:22 – 32) and even calls Christians “the chosen [or elect]” (Rom. 8:33; 16:13; Col. 3:12; 1 Peter 1:1). Thus, we should view 2 John as a personal note written by John and sent to a particular congregation (affectionately described as “her children”).
Perhaps we should view the Johannine community as a series of small house churches distributed over a distance. These may have been isolated groups of people, few in number, who met in a village home for study and prayer. Or, if a larger urban community is imagined — for example, in Ephesus — these communities may have been houses in the city, each nurturing about twenty-five believers and knit together with informal connections with John as local elder/leader. This letter is addressed to one of these fledgling households of faith, now struggling for life.

John’s first message actually begins in verse 4, where he celebrates the continuing faithfulness and obedience of these Christians to the truth. All ecclesiastical matters are eclipsed by two critical affirmations of the faith, which he recites here: Christians must embrace and obey the truth, and at the same time love those who are brothers and sisters in Christ. “Truth” and “love” are the twin themes that echo throughout 1 John and here appear in summary form. They are the key elements that distinguish Christians from the world, and in this case, the faithful Johannine church from those who have left. The secessionists’ unyielding hatred (1 John 2:9), their disobedience before God’s word (1 John 2:4), indeed, their departure from the truth (4:6), all show how far they have moved from God.
But this is a bittersweet report. Couriers may have come to John reporting how faithful this remaining house church was. On the other hand, verse 4 may imply something different. John’s rejoicing that “some of” the believers here remained faithful may suggest that others have not. We can only speculate about the relation of the two groups.

Specific Warnings (7 – 11)
Verses 8 – 9 form John’s first firm word to his followers: He does not want them to lose all that they have gained so far. The NIV translates, “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for,” but the preferred Greek text is first person plural, “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for.” As evangelist and pastor, John has been a participant in the birth and maturation of the faith of the recipients of this letter. In other words, they are not the sole custodians of their church, free to do as they wish. John has been a builder among them, and his contributions and responsibility make him a justified critic of what is happening. The chief pitfall he warns against appears in verse 9. While the debated doctrine is the incarnation of Christ, the root problem is that some have “run ahead” and failed to continue in the teachings about Christ. The word “run ahead” in Greek is a term of superiority and appears only here in the New Testament with a negative connotation. This is not progress in the faith, but progress beyond it.

But note that John’s warning is aimed not at those who merely believe these doctrines but especially at those who teach them (who “bears this teaching”). John uses the plural in verse 10, “If anyone comes to you.” John is not referring here to a personal visit of one person with another. Rather, this is an audience with the gathered church. Furthermore, when John refers to receiving them “into your house,” he likely has in mind a private residence used as a primary place of meeting and worship for the community — a house church. The Greek oikia (“house”) often refers to such a meeting place (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). As Smalley comments, “John is not therefore forbidding private hospitality, but rather an official welcome into the congregation, with the widespread opportunities which would then be available for the heretics to promote their cause.”

But once we say that the essential nature of the church is “love and truth,” all our problems are not solved. Would that it were so easy! The ongoing questions that John leaves open here center on whom we love and how much truth we should fight for.
The church has often “shut the gate” in order to justify its intolerance of theological deviation.

On the other hand, is there a place for “shutting the gate”? Does a time come when fellowship with some group should be denied or when contact should end? Should Christians ever “draw a line in the sand”? We have good evidence from antiquity that the early Christians were obedient to Jesus’ words to receive openly the traveling teacher/prophet (Matt. 10:40; Mark 9:37). However, more evidence shows that this hospitality was quickly exploited. The early second-century Christian writing Didache teaches, “Whenever someone comes and teaches you all these things we have talked about, receive him. But if the teacher himself has deviated by teaching another doctrine that contradicts these things, do not listen to him” (Didache 11:1 – 2). The same warnings were voiced in Ignatius in the same time period (Smyrnaeans 4:1; Ephesians 7:1). In his Letter to the Ephesians Ignatius tells the Christians to “stop up their ears” so that traveling beguiling teachers will not pollute them (9:1).
Despite what we hear in our popular culture, tolerance is not an ultimate virtue. Strong action is appropriate when individuals jeopardize the very integrity of the church. It is significant that in Matthew 18:17 Jesus describes a church member who sins seriously and yet will not accept admonishment. Quite simply, the person is to be shunned: “Treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Paul manifests the same view in 1 Corinthians 5:1 – 5, 13. In other words, tolerance must have its limits if the church is to have integrity.

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