Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Truth (Part 2)

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. (2 John 1-3)

Many things in the epistle of 2 John prove to be a mystery. Nowhere within its contents does the author name himself; he simply uses the moniker “The Elder.” Most accept this as the Apostle John, but some scholars have called this into question. However, in light of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles attributed to him, I believe John is the writer. That assumption will be made throughout the rest of this study.

Imagine the aged John, an elder in the church of Ephesus. Most likely at the time of penning 2 John, all the other Apostles have died. John has heard or seen each of them spill their life’s blood as martyrs. His flesh is weathered, his muscles have weakened, his bones are aching and his agility, eyesight and hearing are not what they used to be. But as his physical life declines, his spiritual life thrives. In some ways he is a celebrity of the 1st Century church – the last living of the Lord Jesus Christ’s inner circle. However, he is quite unlike the rock star mega-church pastor of the 21st Century – he is humble, poor and focused on building a spiritual empire and not a financial one.

At this stage of his life, as he knows his days on earth are growing shorter, what is he focused on? More than anything it is expressed in these opening verses of 2 John. It’s all about truth and love. Both of these words occur multiple times in the opening of the letter (truth = 4 times and love = 2 times). Many have given John the nickname “The Apostle of Love.” I think we could easily call him “The Apostle of Truth” as well. For the wise, old Apostle, I think he found those two words best described Jesus. Jews saw Moses as the greatest prophet, but John saw how much greater the Son of God was as expressed in his Gospel: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). John understood that the law so dearly loved by the Jews had passed away as an old covenant as the grace and truth of Christ, the fulfillment of law and prophecy, manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The recipients of 2 John present an enigma as well. Should we take this as a personal letter to a single lady? Or is it something bigger? Is this figurative language of a church elder to a sister church? I think as we explore the context we’ll find it to be the latter, and indeed, it is a very relevant letter to the church at large today. The church is the “elect lady” in that she is the bride of Christ and each of us who follow Christ are her “children.”

As I examine John’s writing, I find that for him the words “truth” and “love” were synonymous for the Lord Jesus. You could almost interchange the name of Jesus with those words and see how this fits. The imagery and character of Christ are vividly portrayed, packed in and expounded by John in short order. John is setting up the reader for what is to come later in the letter, clearly and concisely pointing out the fact that one absolute truth does exist, and it is found in the person of Jesus.

Already in the life of the Apostle false teachers are creeping in and stealing from the flock of Christ. Many truths are presenting themselves to the early believers. Scholars today like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels tell us that early Christianity was a buffet of beliefs, full of variety in understanding and interpreting Christ. They say eventually the bigger, stronger sect overpowered the others and became orthodoxy as we know it today. I believe we see clearly in 2 John that an orthodox, single teaching of the truth existed from the beginning. The Apostles (including Paul) had a unified understanding of Christ. Other false teachers tried to bend, twist and hijack that truth. How heartbreaking it must have been for John to witness this, with some of the false teachers possibly being students of Scripture that he taught. How painful it must have been for him to see people led astray into false belief and doctrines of damnation.

Truth took top priority for John, and he saw the truth embodied in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He desired more than anything to preserve the truth, teach the truth and live the truth.


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