Short Book, Big Message: 2 John

Short Book, Big Message: 2 John

A Message on 2 John 4-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Feb. 24, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

2 John 4-6 (NRSV)

 

I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.

 

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Today we continue our sermon series “Short Book, Big Message,” which looks at the shortest books of the Bible, by examining the next-to-the-shortest book of the Bible: 2 John.

 

Now there is some confusion over 2 John simply from the title. The Bible has the Gospel of John but then also three epistles, or letters, that are titled 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John.

 

It’s always a fun time in confirmation class when I have the students look up scriptures from one of the epistles of John. Often they will open to the Gospel of John and if the scripture is in say 2 John they will go to the second chapter of the Gospel of John. It can get confusing!

 

When it comes to who wrote these epistles most scholars agree that it is the same person that wrote the Gospel of John. Sometimes called “John the Evangelist,” there is good scholarship that supports this theory.

 

Ancient tradition has it that this same John wrote the book of Revelation but most scholars today believe it was another person named John. They base this primarily on the time Revelation was written and so call the author of Revelation “John of Patmos.”

 

So, back to 2 John. Like I said it is the second shortest book in the Bible. It consists of only 245 words in the original Greek. Like the other shortest books of the Bible it consists of only one chapter. It is divided into only 13 verses.

 

One of the interesting things about 2 John is that the letter is written to a woman. It beings with “The elder to the elect lady and her children.”

 

Now we don’t know exactly who this lady is but we do know that it is unusual for any of the biblical epistles to be written to a woman. It proves that women had an active role in the early church not only as followers of Jesus Christ but also in leadership roles of the early church.

 

The term “elect” does not mean she was a politician but was a phrase used by the early church to refer to the followers of Jesus Christ.

 

While we know she is a follower of Jesus Christ don’t know her name, where she lives, or why he is writing her.

 

There is a lot of speculation about her identity. One theory says that it is a metaphor for the Church. The “lady” is the church itself and her “children” are the Christians that make up that local congregation.

 

Another theory is that the lady is Mary the mother of Jesus. If you remember when Jesus was on the cross he asked the “disciples whom he loved” to take care of his (Jesus’) mother. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” — John 19:26-27

 

Under this theory the “children” would be the other children that Mary had after Jesus.

 

And yet even another theory posits that the letter was written to a woman named “Kyria.” This comes about from the Greek word that is translated at “lady.” Some scholars think that the use of “kyria” in the Greek is not a descriptive word but a proper noun, the name of the person John is addressing. In other words, a lady named Lady.

 

I don’t ascribe to any of those theories. I believe that John purposefully does not include the woman’s name because of his concerns that if his letter was intercepted or fell into the wrong hands then the woman might be persecuted against. We have to remember that Christians at the time this was written weren’t well-liked by much of society.  The Jews didn’t like them and the Romans didn’t like them. So John could have been cryptic in intentionally not using the woman’s name out of a sense of protection.

 

Regardless of who was on the receiving end we do know that the letter survived and was accepted into the Cannon of Biblical texts and became part of our Bible.

 

So why did John write this letter? Well, one of the reasons had to do with some heretical movements that some of the Christians at the time were following.

 

One of these is called the Docetic heresy. This was the belief that God would never actually physically become human and walk around in the dirt on the earth because God is holy, right? And so Jesus could not have had an actual physical body but by some divine trick only made it look like he had a body. So Jesus only looked like he had a human body but really didn’t. It was an illusion.

 

Now if this sounds like something that is wrong then you would be right. It is heresy, pretty plain and simple. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. And it’s not just me saying it’s a heresy but it was officially condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

 

But at the time John wrote the letter we are exploring today the heresy was beginning to gain some traction and people were leaving the true church to follow it.

 

John writes in verses 7-9 (which follows right after what we read today):

 

“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” — 2 John 7-9

 

Knowing that we can come to a better understanding of the term “truth” that John uses in the scripture we read today: “I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth…”

 

“Truth” is an interesting word. In today’s world it is becoming more and more common for people to have an attitude that there are no absolute truths. There is a belief that truth is relative, that what may be true for you may not be true for me. We hear about “relative truth” as opposed to “absolute truth.”

 

Now I will confess that I am more in the “absolute truth” camp than in the relative truth mindset. I believe that there are absolute truths.

 

Take gravity, for example. I believe it is a truth that on earth we have gravity. It is a force that pull things down (meaning toward the earth). I believe that even though there are minute fluctuations in gravitational forces relative to altitude that gravity is a constant and its force is relative to mass. (And here lately with the way I’ve been eating I’ve been gaining more mass and thus weigh more.)

 

I think there are absolute truths in Christianity as well. Some of the best examples of these truths, I believe, are found in our creeds. That’s why we say a creed every Sunday. It proclaims what we as followers of Christ believe to be true.

 

The Apostles’ Creed starts out with “I believe…” “I believe in God Almighty…” “I believe in Jesus Christ…” “I believe in the Holy Spirit…”

 

The creeds express what I believe to be absolute truths. It proclaims the basis of our faith, the things that I believe a person must believe as truth if they are going to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

If you don’t believe what the creeds proclaim, then you might not be a Christian. For example, if you don’t believe Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, and then on the third day he arose, then you might not be a Christian. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

 

Truth is important. Jesus tells us in the 14th chapter of John that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the truth.

 

Another subject that John brings up in the scripture we read today from 2 John is love.

 

Part of the difficulty of us having a clear understanding of love has to do with our language. When I say I love Buffalo wings I am using the word “love” differently than when I say I love my wife or love my children.

 

Depending on who you believe there are 5 to 14 different types of love. The word has such different meanings that people can’t even agree on how many different types of love there are!

 

When John wrote this letter he was pretty focused on what love meant. In another letter he wrote, which we know of as 1 John, we find him writing, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” — 1 John 4:7-8

 

So God is love. That’s pretty heavy. But John doesn’t stop there. “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”

 

Now that’s some seriously heavy stuff! Love is so powerful that God himself sent his Son, Jesus Christ, the only son he had, and allowed him to be crucified and killed as an atoning sacrifice for the sins that we, as humans, committed. Jesus didn’t sin (another of what I believe to be absolute truths) and yet was killed, not for something that he did, but because of the things we did and do.

 

Love means that we don’t earn salvation. It’s not through our actions that we are saved. It is through the love of God, as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that saves us from our sins and gives us eternal life.

 

Listen to the scripture we read today, but this time from The Message paraphrase: “I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed.” — 2 John 4-6.

 

Love each other. Love one another. Pretty simple, huh?

 

Years ago there was a song that was recorded by several people, including the Kingston Trio, Jefferson Airplane, and even David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame. But the song didn’t achieve popularity until a group named the Youngbloods recorded it. Written by a young man named Chet Powers, the song talks about the importance and power of love.

 

The lyrics go something like this:

 

If you hear the song I sing

You will understand, listen

You hold the key to love and fear

All in your trembling hand

Just one key unlocks them both

It’s there at your command

 

Come on, people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now

 

I think John the Evangelist would be okay with that song. As Christians we are called to walk in the truth and to love one another… right now.

 

So my challenge for you this week is to to walk in the truth and love one another. Remember John’s words that remind us to live out the great commandment to love God and love each other. And let us not only do this with our words but also with our actions as we walk through this life.

 

May everything we do, everything we say, every action we take, be grounded and rooted in love. May love be the motivating force of all that we do, even when we disagree with others.

 

[Sing]

 

Come on, people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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