This is the shortest of the epistles of the Apostle John. In it John does not mention himself by name, nor does he call himself an apostle. He refers to himself as "the elder," and addresses this letter to "the elect lady and her children." There has been much contention about whether this "elect lady" was actually a lady of John's acquaintance whom he loved in the truth, or whether this is only his manner of addressing the church. At this late date such argument is not only futile, but utterly ridiculous. What is of value is the substance of the letter.


(Verses 1 through 3) "The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; for the truth's sake which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love."


As John refers to himself not as "an elder," but as "the elder," it is evident that such identification is sufficient to those to whom he writes; and such a title is not at all out of place for him, since indeed he was an elder, first in the original sense of the word, being at the time of this writing very much advanced in years, and also being an elder ("presbyteros") of the church at Ephesus, and of the churches in Asia. In spite of all the arguments pro and con, we will consider "the elect lady" as a lady of John's acquaintance, probably of noble standing and reasonable wealth, called to faith in the Son of God, and walking in the way of our Lord. John includes this lady's children also in his address, giving this testimony of both her and them, "whom I love in the truth: and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; for the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever." So his love for this family, though it may be partly the love of close friends, is primarily for the sake of the truth, Christ Jesus our Lord, Who dwells in us, and shall be with us forever. He then prays that grace, mercy, and peace, in truth and love be bestowed upon them "from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father." This is very similar to the Apostle Paul's greeting of those to whom He writes.


(Verses 4 through 6) "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received commandment from the Father. And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk after His commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it."


It is always a source of joy to the true gospel minister to find not only his adult brethren and sisters walking in the truth according to the commandment received from the Father, but even more to see their children following in the same path. He did not say whether they were all so walking, but "I found of thy children_ _ _," signifying that at least some of them had been brought to the knowledge of the truth. Continuing, he says that his plea to her is not a new commandment, but the one "which we had from the beginning, that we love one another." If there is one thing above others that identifies the writings of the Apostle John, it is that our love of God and our love of one another are inseparably joined together. Where one is, there is the other also; and where one is lacking, so is the other. He then says, "And this is love, that we walk after His commandments." His definition of love is "action which proves love." Otherwise, "love" is only an empty claim, and utterly worthless. The commandment to which he refers is, "That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it;" and the commandment "we had from the beginning" is "that we love one another."


(Verses 7 through 9) "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things, which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son."


The apostle's reason for reminding this elect lady of the commandments of God apparently is not that he does not have confidence in her faith in the Lord, but that he desires to warn her against those who will try to deceive not only her, but all with whom they have any dealings. These deceivers are not confessing that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh, that is, they are denying that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Those who teach such doctrines as that are deceivers and antichrists. So he cautions her and her children, "Look to yourselves," or take special care that you maintain the course you have followed so far, that you not lose that which you have already attained to, which is the assurance of salvation. This is the full reward of faithful service to God. As John presents it here and in his first epistle, the "doctrine of Christ" is the doctrine that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh, that Jesus is the Son of God. He says that whosoever transgresses, or turns away from, and does not abide in this doctrine "hath not God." On the other hand, "He that abideth in," or maintains this doctrine, "hath both the Father and the Son."


(Verses 10 and 11) "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."


In the time of this writing there were many who traveled from place to place, preaching. Some were true servants of our Lord Christ Jesus, and were faithfully preaching His word, while others were the ministers of Satan, pretending to be servants of Christ, but doing every thing in their power to lead astray those who were seeking to serve the Lord. John says that when one comes to us, the first thing we are to do is "try the spirits." The test is, Does he, or does he not, preach that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, and has come in the flesh? If he does not bring this doctrine, that is if he will not confess that this is the truth, do not receive him into your house, and do not wish him well as he leaves. Even to wish him well ("bid him God speed") is to be a partaker of his evil deeds.


(Verses 12 and 13) "Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of thy elect sister greet thee, Amen."


Thus the apostle closes this letter, intending to visit this lady that they may talk face to face about many things to their mutual joy. Then he passes on to her the greeting from the children of Her elect sister.





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