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TEXT: II John 1-13
SUBJECT: Blest Be the Tie
The Ecumenical Movement was a good idea doomed to failure. Its idea was to unite the People of God, so as to promote mutual love and the cause of missions worldwide. I cannot see how any Christian could find fault with these goals, or not-deep down-wish the Ecumenical Movement had worked.
Of course it didn't work and the reason for its failure is not hard to find. From the beginning, its basis or grounds for unity was the wrong one. What was the basis? It's most famous slogan puts it well-
Doctrine divides; service unites.
If we can only ignore Christian Truth in favor of Christian service, God will be glorified, the Church will be edified, and the world will be evangelized. Many fine people were-and still are-involved in the Ecumenical Movement, and I would not deny their good motives.
But I have to say their slogan has got it backwards. The people of God are not united by our common service (as good as that is), but by our Common Faith.
Hair splitting on Eschatology divides; fine points of Church Government divide, but our Faith-our core doctrine, our central beliefs are what put us together in the first place, and what holds us together.
This Unity of Truth, supported by brotherly love, is the tie that binds our Christian hearts, and the topic of John's Second Epistle.
If you've read I John, you know the emphasis is nothing new for the Apostle. He has been harping on this, literally, from the first verse of his First Epistle, and now he returns to his favorite theme, here in the Second.
A QUICK INTRODUCTION
Unlike I John, II John reads like a real letter of that time, divided into three parts: (1) The Greeting, vv.1-3; (2) the Body, vv.4-11; and, (3) the Complimentary Close, vv.12-13.
John doesn't tell us exactly when he wrote it, or even to whom, but its content is so similar to his First Epistle, that it must have been written , more-or-less, to the same people, which means: to a church or the churches of Asia Minor, near the end of the First Century.
I suspect that it was written to one of the Seven Churches of Asia, while I John was written to them all. Not all scholars agree, of course, but it's the feeling I get in reading it.
The Letter opens with a signature. John tells us who's writing it, but, unlike Paul, he doesn't give his name. He simply calls himself-
Why didn't he specify which elder? It's because he didn't need to! That's what he went by in these churches, and everyone knew it.
The word, elder, can mean either (a) an old man, or (b) an officer in the church. Here, I think it means both, for John was a very old man at the time and the recognized leader of the churches in that part of the world. The Greek Orthodox would have called him a Patriarch; the Roman Catholics, an Archbishop. This is what he was; not a local pastor, tending only to his own knitting, but an overseer of many (or maybe all) the churches in Asia Minor. His task was enormous, but it was well-met by the special Gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had breathed on John and the other Apostles.
If John is the writer, who's he writing to? He tells us-sort of-
The elect lady and her children.
A few commentators have taken this at face value: it was a Christian woman and her children. Sometime before 200 AD., Clement of Alexandria, even named the dear lady: Electa! I suppose this is possible, but it's extremely unlikely.
The elect lady and her children refers to a particular church. This was a customary way of referring to ancient cities and countries at the time, and so, why not apply it to a church, which is, after all, the City of God!
But I think there's more to it than this. As a Jew, John was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, which often call Israel both God's wife and His children-and sometimes at the same time! The imagery, therefore, was second nature to him. And, as a Christian, he knew that the Church is the New Israel. And so, it shouldn't surprise us to see John referring to the church as a lady and her children.
Or, I should say, the Elect lady and her children. Had they chosen Christ? Of course they had! But why had they chosen to believe in Him and follow Him? It's because God had first chosen them.
Next, John reminds them of how he feels about them-and why. To call her, the elect lady hints at respect and admiration, but he doesn't leave it there. These are people he-
Loves in truth, and not only [he], but all who have known the truth.
If the first part of this line were read in isolation from the rest of the Epistle, you'd think he means, 'I truly love you'. Some scholars think this is all he means. But I cannot square that interpretation with the rest of the Letter, and so I take it the other way. John's love for them was-
Because of the truth.
Because, as he says in the next line, the truth abides in them, in him, and in all Christians. And not only abides 'at the moment', but-
Will be with us forever.
Here, as usual, John RW Stott, has hit the nail right on the head-
It was the truth that bound John in love to this church, especially the truth about Christ in opposition to the 'lie' of the heretics.
In other words, Doctrine Unites! Especially the doctrine of Christ: His Full Divinity and True Humanity; His Perfect Obedience and Vicarious Sacrifice; and His Moral Teachings. Believing these things in common-with all our minor differences-is what unites us and keeps us together, even when we're cranky or overbearing or whatever we are when we're not at our best.
John feels this way about these dear people and he's not speaking for himself only. All who know the truth feel the same way.
John's blessing then follows-
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
John is so deeply imbued with the Truth of the Gospel that he can hardly say, 'Good luck' without bringing it in. He assigns the blessings of Heaven-grace, mercy, and peace-not to God alone (that is God the Father alone), but also and equally, to the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is a purely human name. Nobody before His incarnation ever called Him that. Thus, Jesus is a real man. But this 'really' real man-with a physical body and reasonable soul-is also, at the same time, God.
This is what John believes; what the Elect Lady and her children believe; and what all who have known the truth believe. It is also what knits our hearts together in love for one another.
JOY AND CONCERN
When we come to v.4, we find John both overjoyed and a little worried. He's happy that some of her children were walking in the truth. In other words, some (I think, most of them) were hanging on to the doctrines and moral teachings of Christ.
While some, evidently, were not. They hadn't gone over to the other side as of yet, but they were, perhaps leaning that way, starting to drift in loose believing or living.
What's causing their drift? A few verses later, he tells us that it's the influence of false teaching; the Gnostics were out in force, they were drawing all kinds of unbelievers into their version of Christianity, and now, some true disciples were being tempted by their reasoning or charisma or popularity.
This was happening every day then-and still is.
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