In our book-by-book tour of the Bible, we come to the second of the general letters (epistles) written by John the Apostle. First John seems like a sermon. Second and Third John are far more like personal letters. Second John is intimate and warm. It begins, “The elder to the chosen lady and her children” NASU Roman censors caused many of the early Christian writers to be very cautious in naming names. They also disguised doctrine that might get them into trouble. In an attempt at maintaining the safety of both writer and recipient, their writing tended to be on the cryptic side. Verse twelve’s reference to not wanting to write with paper and ink could indicate a fear of punishment from the authorities if said authorities disapproved of the contents of his letter. First century Roman punishment was not gentle.
Thus a little interpretation of terms is necessary. “The elder” is a suitable term for John the Apostle, most probably the last of the apostles to die and likely the only one to die of natural causes. Those who have committed much time and effort to the study of Second John are divided as to who the lady and children are. Some claim that the lady is a specific, but unidentified, individual with children who are likely males. The original language hints that they are boys but does not spell it out specifically. A few who hold to this view, speculate that this lady is Martha.
Other students of Second John believe the lady to be, not a woman at all, but rather a specific church and the children to be its members. Of those who hold this view, some believe that the chosen lady of verse one is the church at Jerusalem and the chosen sister of verse 13 is the church at Ephesus.
Some students think the lady is both of the above. They speculate that this individual lady had a church meeting in her home. Based upon the available evidence it seems to me that the modern reader will have to wait for the answer to this question.
Another term in Second John that seems somewhat disguised is “truth”. John used this word five times in the first four verses. Some students think John is using the word truth as a cryptic equivalent for the gospel. Except for the one usage at the end of verse three, the passage reads very sweetly if one substitutes “Jesus” for truth. John certainly had heard Jesus declare Himself to be “The Truth”. All of that makes for interesting conjecture and it might prove profitable for motivating and encouraging oneself but the modern reader is simply left to wonder at this point.
There seems to be two main points of the letter. The first is for us to remember and focus on the fact that Jesus commanded us to obey Him. John was reminding us that Jesus commanded us to walk in love and the only way to do that was through daily obedience to His commands. What could be easier than that? Easy to understand; easy concept to grasp; difficult to live by, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. In fact it cannot be done apart from continual yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit.
The second main point is a warning that the deceiver is near at hand and dangerous. John warns that failing to identify and purge the evil one will be costly. This failure could cause one to lose ground in the effort to become more like Christ. It could also mean the forfeiting of rewards stored up for the faithful Christian. John gives practical advice for identifying the teacher of truth so that we will be able to discern evil deceiver. The true teacher will teach that the Messiah, the Christ, did indeed come in the flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The true teacher will also take care to not misrepresent Christ. The true teacher will not attribute other teachings to Christ beyond that which Christ actually taught.
Not all teaching beyond Christ’s actual words is evil. Christ did not address each and every specific situation in minute detail. Sometimes clear teaching using principles from the Bible are helpful in navigating modern life. However, we must be careful to clearly distinguish in our teaching that which is Christ’s clear command and that which is our extrapolation from it. While He is never wrong, we just might be. Speak softly and gently, that way the words you have to eat will go down much more easily. While it is very important to be able to identify others who are evil deceivers, it is even more important to be able to identify the evil deceiver when he is me or thee.