January 14, 2002

Fatherly Advice - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 2 John Scripture: 2 John 1:1


Fatherly Advice-Part One

2 John 1-6
January 14, 2002  
Pastor Randy Smith

Sadly, the United States ranks first in the world in fatherless families. Since 1960, the number of children living in households without a father has tripled from five million to 17 million. Louisiana, for example, ranks number two in this national trend. More than 33 percent of Louisiana families do not have fathers living in the home, and 40 percent of Louisiana babies are born out of wedlock. Also, more than 79 percent of teen births are out of wedlock. Statistics reveal the following regarding children raised in fatherless homes. They are: five times more likely to live in poverty, twice as likely to commit a crime, twice as likely to commit suicide, twice as likely to drop out of school, twice as likely to end up in jail, more than twice as likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, four times as likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems; girls are 2-1/2 times more likely to get pregnant, boys are 63% more likely to run away.

Sadly, either through direct experience or witness, we have all been confronted in some way by the effects of "dead-beat dads." Some may feel single parent families are acceptable, the statistics reveal otherwise. Simply because God has so ordained the family to function with fathers, alongside mothers, as a strategic tool to train, admonish, warn, reprove, model, discipline and encourage their children in love. Unfortunately, when fathers fail in their responsibilities, incapable children are left to fend for themselves.

Is the church any different? As a spiritual family, God's children in the Bible have been likewise described as those who need: shepherding (1 Pet. 5:2), instruction (1 Ti. 3:2) and oversight (1 Ti. 5:17). God has provided for these needs in the church through undershepherds, whom we often call elders.

There was a man in the Bible who commonly referred to himself simply as "The Elder." His name was the apostle John. John viewed the church as his spiritual children. As a matter of fact, he used the word "children" 18 times in his 3 short epistles. As a spiritual father to several churches, John had the great responsibility to shepherd his children in the truth of apostolic doctrine, especially when they were confronted by the deceptive error of false teachers. And as any father seriously undertaking his responsibilities, nothing brought John greater joy than to see his children walking in the truth (3 Jn. 4).

This message is entitled "Fatherly Advice-Part I." This morning we will be studying verses 1-6. However, before we begin, allow me to provide you with some helpful background material. The letters of 2 and 3 John are the shortest documents in the NT and bear great resemblances to 1 John. Due to their brevity and specific source of readership, the letters were not widely circulated shortly after their time of composition in AD 90. The aged John, possibly the final living apostle, wrote this letter to encourage an unnamed church in the province of Asia to remain steadfast and pure to the apostolic doctrine.

The epistle follows the conventional 3-part structure of an ordinary letter from the 1st century. The first three verses serve as an introduction. The body of the letter is contained in verses 4-11. Specifically, John makes the following points in this section: Commendation (1:4), exhortation (1:5), clarification (1:6), description (1:7), admonition (1:8), instruction (1:9), prohibition (1:10) and caution (1:11). Finally in verse 12-13, the letter reaches its conclusion.

Again, John's purpose is to encourage his children to hold fast to the apostolic doctrine delivered once for all to the saints especially when false teachers confront them. We too have much to glean from that proposition since we live in a day and age when the absolute truth of the gospel has been under severe attack.


Unlike current letters today where a name is usually attached to the end of a document, the unnamed author identifies himself immediately as "the elder." Though we are familiar with that term, John most likely is speaking of a different connotation than we are accustomed. The definite article "the" placed before the office draws attention to its significance. Though John could have easily used the authoritative designation "apostle," he chose rather to come alongside his beloved church as a father seeking to encourage and instruct his children. The term "elder" breathes forth respect, age and a personal knowledge of the Way that surpassed that of his children. One commentator goes as far as to say the designation aptly points to "the simple and solitary dignity of the last surviving apostle of Christ." Though the title is somewhat nebulous to us, there is no doubt that his readership was familiar with his identity. They were expected to view the elder as a man with authority, speaking forth counsel from the apostolic tradition, which must in love be obeyed!

The readership is simply identified in verse 1 as "the chosen lady and her children." Much ink has been spilt in an attempt to interpret the term "lady." Should the term be taken literally? Was her actual name Electa Kuria "Chosen Lady" as the Greek language implies? After all, 3 John was written to a person, Gaius, why could he not have written to a lady here?

Other interpreters prefer to take the name "Chosen Lady" figuratively as a personification of a local church. The personification of places or objects in the feminine form was already well established at this time. Paul refers to the Jerusalem above as our mother in Galatians 4:26, and Peter refers to the Roman church in 1 Peter 5 as "she who is in Babylon." Possibly the best evidence for this interpretation, beyond the letter's context is Revelation 21:2. "And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. Is not the church the bride of Christ? As you can probably see, I favor the latter interpretation; the church is "the lady" the bride of Christ.

If we understand "the lady" as the church, and I remind you churches met in homes until the fourth century, then her "children" (vs. 1) are naturally the people within the church. Importantly, the lady spoken of is prefaced by the adjective "chosen". This designation is also used of the sister church in vs. 13 to signify that God is the one who chooses (elects) His church out of a godless world, and sets aside a people for His own possession and glory. Think about it, by specifically calling individuals God has assembled us to be His chosen church. We belong to Him and apart from Him we wouldn't exist.

John concludes verse 1 by saying, "whom I love in the truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth." "Love" is mentioned four times in this short epistle. "Truth" is mentioned five times, all in the first 4 verses. The repetition of these words is a flag pointing us to the theme of the letter. Keep these two words in mind as I promise we'll hear more of them in the near future.

Initially, John makes it clear that he (emphatic in the Greek) personally loves them. What a great way to begin the letter! His instructions are birthed in a heart that cares, a heart that is looking out for their best interests! The love John refers to is not friendship love (phileo), but rather agape love, a self-sacrificial love, yet not without affection, characterized by God Himself. This is commonly the word used to describe the love shown by God to men; henceforth, it should characterize the love men show to God and each other. Fascinatingly, the word agape was rare in writings of this time. It was a new word to bring out the elements of Christian love, which differed from that of the world.

Yet for the Christian, love is not blind. Love and truth must co-exist side by side. John Piper once said, "Our concern with truth is an inevitable expression of our concern with God. If God exists, then He is the measure of all things, and what HE thinks about things is the measure of what we should think. Not to care about truth is not to care about God. To love God passionately is to love truth passionately."

Christian love is founded on Christian truth. Love will never increase at the expense of diminishing truth. As we will see, it fails to be Christian love if it is not characterized by truth. And if Jesus Christ is the full expression and embodiment of "the Truth" (Jn. 14:6), then those who abide in Him must also abide in the truth. And all those who abide in the truth are brought into a mutual bond not only with their Savior, but with each other as well. The contrast is beginning to be established by John between those who belong to Christ (children of the truth) and the false teachers (children of error).

For the third time John mentions truth in verse 2 to accentuate and deepen His point. John speaks of the truth "which abides in us and will be with us forever." That should sound familiar. Remember Jesus' words during the upper room discourse? "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever ; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you " (Jn. 14:16-17). What is said of the Spirit is also said of the truth. "And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth" (1 Jn. 5:7). The promise of the abiding Holy Spirit is here applied to the truth itself. Notice any connections? Jesus Christ, "the Truth," abides in us through the Spirit of truth enabling us to be indwelt with the truth. FF Bruce summarized it in the opposite way, "It is through the Spirit of truth (holy Spirit) that He who is truth incarnate (Jesus Christ) dwells perpetually in and with His people."

According to verse 2, notice this great truth about the truth. The abiding of the truth, and even the Holy Spirit for that matter, will not be temporal, but rather eternal and unchanging. How unlike the false teachers! 1 John 2:19 says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us." The false teachers do not remain with the truth; both they and their views come and go like changing chameleons. Like any heretical doctrine, none have been able to stand the test of time. Only the church of the living God is the "pillar and support of the truth" (1 Ti. 3:15), because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today…and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Only God's truth, embodied in Christ, vitalized into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is by nature unchanging and will be (future tense) with us forever. Literally the text says "into the age," meaning into eternity which has no end. This is a great promise of assurance and future certainty for all of "us!" (Notice John's switch of pronoun tense.)


At this point in the ancient letter, the author would often express a traditional salutation. Yet John breaks tradition in verse 3 by not only employing the distinctively Christian words of grace, mercy and peace in his greeting, but also again (with the word "us") includes himself in the blessing. Though these three words are not common in the letters of John, they carried great meaning beyond a simple formula for the Christian community. They brought forth ringing declaration! Grace is God's free, unmerited favor bestowed on guilty and unworthy individuals in and through Jesus Christ. Mercy is God's pity and compassion for those in trouble or distress. Peace is an inner sense of tranquility and well being which is a sure result not based on circumstances.

Brooke Westcott, based on the order of the terms, made an interesting observation. "The succession of grace, mercy and peace marks the order from the motion of God to the final satisfaction of man." Also, unlike all the other epistles that use a similar formula, only here do we find the blessings in the future tense. What a great promise to know that grace, mercy and peace will be with us forever. They flow from a spring-fed well that never runs dry. Nothing (absolutely nothing) will ever rob us of these joys. For example, I can remember that Paul and Silas after their false accusation, a beating with rods and their feet clamped in the stocks of a filthy prison, "were praying and singing hymns of praise to God" (Ac. 16:25). Or how about Peter and John himself who left the Council after being flogged, "rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Ac. 5:41).

The giver of this threefold blessing is from none other than (vs.3) "God the Father and (from) Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father." The world seeks to find grace, mercy and peace from circumstances as they are given from the temporal world. The false teachers in verse 9 were of this breed as they chose to separate from Jesus. Yet nothing apart from God can produce this threefold blessing to satisfy the soul of His creatures. According to verse 3, these blessings only come from God and Jesus (two separate persons, yet unified in one Godhead, equal in essence) to their children who abide in their truth.

John closes his reception in verse 3 with those now popular words "in truth and love." The revelation of God takes place in truth and love. Its effect is to lead believers into truth and love. As Christians grow in truth and love, they will better experience the fullness of God's blessings of grace, mercy and peace, because these three virtues flourish in an environment where truth and love prevail. The blessings are operative in truth and love, two attributes that describe the Trinity and must characterize God's children as well.

Westcott said, "Truth and love describe an intellectual harmony and a moral harmony, and the two correspond with each other according to their subject matter. Love is truth in human action, truth is love in regard to the order of things." John Stott remarked, "Our love grows soft if it is not strengthen by the truth. Our truth grows hard if it is not soften by love." In other words, our love for others should never undermine the truth and our truth must always be in love. Furthermore, consider the problem this church was facing with false teachers. The greatest remedy to error is knowing the truth and confronting in love.


John now moves from his three verse greeting to the body of the letter in verse 4. Before expressing his concerns regarding the false teachers in verse 7, he initially informs the readership of his great joy. "I was very glad (NASB)," somewhat softens the force of John's joy. Rather, a literal translation is "rejoiced exceedingly" (jumped for joy). Though it is in the aorist tense, John's joy in the behavior of his children no doubt continued well into the future. John echoed these same sentiments to Gaius in 3 John 4 when he said, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth."

John 1:4 further helps illustrate John's heart and motivation, "And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." I find it interesting that Adam in Genesis 2 had perfect fellowship with God on a vertical level, but expressed discontent until the woman was created on a horizontal level. In the same way, John had perfect fellowship with the Father and Son, but needed a horizontal relationship to complete his joy. This is the pattern of a Christian hedonist: seeking personal joy in God to glorify the Creator. Daniel Fuller concurs, "The proper response to God's whole counsel is (1) to find one's need-love met in sharing with Him, through the Holy Spirit (the joy experienced by God), and then (2) to make that joy full by talking about it with other people…we will also want to 'double our joy' by discussing with fellow Christians the implications of God's great purpose for the world." Simply put, our joy is brought to completion when we can share it with other people. This applies to anything we treasure, ultimately with our greatest treasure being in God.

What specifically brought John such great joy was that some of the lady's children were walking in the truth (2 Jn. 4). John's joy was not motivated by their beautiful building, increased attendance or expanded parking lot. Rather, it was motivated by their obedience to the truth. How opposite is this from the teaching of the world! To them an absolute truth is offensive. Unlike the world, John's children were "walking in truth."

"Walking" when it is found biblically is used to describe the whole of a person's existence and behavior. Therefore, walking in the truth meant living according to God's revelation in the gospel, abiding in Christ. It is synonymous to John's popular expression of "walking in the light" (1 Jn. 1:7). It's one thing to know the truth, but another to live it out. These believers' lives revealed the reality of their faith. It was a reality observed by John and one that continued into the future, denoted by the perfect tense of the verb "found." The same word/tense is only found in Revelation 3:2, when the same author speaks to the neighboring church at Sardis and says, 'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God." It appears that John in addressing "the lady" found many completing their responsibility to walk in the truth.

To show that the ultimate authority to walk in the truth is not his own, John concludes verse 4 by mentioning that this commandment is from the Father. In other words, it's not an option, but a direct commandment from the Father as communicated through the Son. And the commandment to "walk in the truth" is foundational and crucial to the Christian message.


Beginning in verse 5, John makes the transition from the past ("and now") to the present situation. In a polite, personal and dignified request, John asks the church to take heed to a commandment that is not new, "but" (point of contrast) one that they have had from the beginning. Though not new, the commandment needed repetition. It's said repetition is the mother of learning.

What was this commandment? Look at the verse, "that we love one another." Why was the commandment old? Let's first examine the parallel passage in 1 John. "Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. (But, catch this…) On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining" (1 Jn. 2:7-8). The context likewise in 1 John, is love and obedience. Consider another reference. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn. 13:34).

Well, John, was the commandment old or new? The answer is yes. The commandment was old in the sense that it dated back to Jesus Himself. Meaning, if it was "new" to Jesus, the commandment by the time of John's writing, some 60 years later, it could be considered "old." The law of love was nothing new to the readers of John's letter. It was an old commandment that dated back to the foundations of the gospel message and indirectly even earlier.

Jesus, when asked to summarize the law and the prophets (Mk. 12:28-33) exclaimed that they hinge upon two OT commands: Love the Lord your God (Deut. 6:5) and love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). Yet as old as the commandment was, in a sense it was "new." Jesus as we saw summed up the words from the Old Testament law, which were centuries old by the time of His incarnation. Yet Jesus gave these words a new meaning as they found their fulfillment in Him and His love for the Father. According to Jesus, members of the messianic community should demonstrate a similar love, as experienced within the Trinity, toward each other.

John is reminding the church that this command had a purpose (hina-"in order that"). Like all of God's other commands, they are given for the purpose of obedience. The church was expected to fulfill the command (end of vs. 5) by loving one another. Since "loving your neighbor as yourself" is a summary of the law (Rom. 13:9), love is imperative mark of both the believer individually and the church corporately. Though the love definitely has emotional elements, it is ultimately characterized by action of deliberate choice. John describes the nature of this sacrificial love elsewhere. "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 Jn. 3:16-18). Again John is balancing truth mentioned in verse 4 with love in verse 5 without driving a wedge between the two.

In verse 6 John attempts to clarify and specify the type of love he is discussing. What is love? Imagine asking someone on the street to define love. You'd probably receive hundreds of different answers! However, John is not willing to accept anybody's definition. All definitions are meaningless unless they follow divine guidelines and flow from a willing heart. One commentator said, "Love divorced from duty will run wild and duty divorced from love will starve." Specifically, love according to verse 6 is walking according to His commandments. In verse 5 love was defined as one of the commands. Now in verse 6 the commandments, notice change of the word, are all summarized by love.

Allow me to unpack this. What is true love for God? First consider a few Johnannine verses. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (Jn. 14:15). "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him" (Jn. 14:21). "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love" (Jn. 15:10). "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5:2). The answer to the previous question based on these verses defines true love for God as keeping His commandments.

Yet our text specifically relates to loving our neighbor. However, the same definition is true for loving our neighbor as well! True love for our neighbor is keeping God's commandments! The greatest way we can show love for our neighbor is walking according to God's commandments. "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:8). Paul's point is that all the commandments are rooted in love and are expressions of love. John's point is that if we love God we will keep His commandments, and if we keep His commandments, we will demonstrate tangibly our love for each other.

For example, how can I say I love you and then steal or covet your property? Obviously, my love for God manifested in keeping His commandments is not a reality. In the process I steal or covet, ultimately demonstrating my lack of love for God and indirectly my lack of love for you. If the Christian community really loved God and sought to keep His commandments, do you think there would be such a thing as divorce or adultery? Absolutely not! Our unloving actions toward each other simply demonstrate a heart that is not satisfied with God, our pearl of great price. I ask you, considering the statistics read during the introduction of this message, who is a man loving when be bails on his family, or a mother when she has an abortion? Do you want a better marriage? Simply love God more, make it your passion to live for God's glory, quit loving yourself so much, and all the cards will begin to fall into place.

John closes the verse by reminding them that this expectation is nothing new. You've heard it all along! Keep walking it! Don't just acknowledge it, do it!

Well, if we could summarize the first six verses of 2 John in two words, those words would obviously be truth and love. These two powerful words also summarize the apostolic doctrine in which John was recommitting to their memory. Why? "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 Jn. 1:7). Before a church can ever expect to be a testimony to the outside world and reject false teachers, they must be one who walks in truth and love, practically demonstrated first to God and then to each other.

Yet, the evangelical church today has failed to understand the essence of John's message. Joel Belz wrote that there is "a perverse assumption now…dominant among evangelicals that feelings, attitudes and relationships are all more important than truth. Unity is a higher priority than orthodoxy. Division, even for truth's sake, becomes the most offensive of heresies" (World Magazine, 12/19/97). Don't be fooled into a false dichotomy. Truth and love are not at odds with each other, but rather truth and love enable us to detect these heresies. Lord willing, we'll unpack them next week as we conclude this epistle.

other sermons in this series

Feb 18