There is discussion over whether this short letter (2 John) was written to a woman leader in a church or to the church personified as the bride of Christ. It seems John's second letter is directed to a woman and to a local church in which she served. One reason is because of the use of the pronoun "you." The letter opens and closes with "you" in the singular addressing the woman. This pronoun is used in plural form between the two singular uses. However, the point of the letter is not to whom John wrote, but rather it is the content that's important. Today, as well as when the letter was written, it speaks to us individually and corporately about two principles by which we are to live.
The two main principles, love and truth, are eternal and extend from John's time to ours and beyond. Loving and walking in the truth are related to commandment keeping. The essence of love is obedience to the law, and is from faith done in the spirit of liberty, purely out of love to God. Obedience can be done only by those who are justified by faith. Love and truth are joined specifically to "the doctrine of Christ" in which the believer abides (vss. 9-10). It is about Him who came into human flesh as the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14, 1-3). His doctrine is also what He taught. He taught truth because He is the truth (John 14:6).
In verse 7 of John's second letter, he gives the reason for his urgent entreaty that the saints conduct themselves in the sphere of God's commandment to love one another--the presence of heresy in the Church. Truth must be proclaimed and maintained as well as lived. That heresy denied the foundational pillar of salvation: "the doctrine of Christ." This doctrine in which we are to abide is "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." The verb "is come" is a present participle and translated as coming, which describes Christ as still being manifested in our flesh. Earlier, in 1 John 4:2, we learned that the Incarnation was presented as a definite historical fact by the use of the perfect tense: "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh." In his second letter John writes of Christ coming in our flesh as a continuing fact. Both facts the deceivers flatly denied. However, if Christ would not or could not and thus did not come in our fallen flesh 2,000 years ago, how can He, by His Spirit, dwell in our fallen flesh today? Only if He did come in our same flesh then, He can and does so now.
In 2 John 7 we have the application of the Incarnation applied to believers. They reveal in their lives the effect of believing the doctrine of the historical fact of the Incarnation. This calls for more than verbal acknowledgment. Those who believe that Christ came in human flesh will reveal a Christlike life of truth and love.
It is of interest to note that the word "love" is used in this letter both as a noun (vss. 3 and 6) and as a verb (vss. 1 and 5). The noun defines what love is while the verb describes what one does. For example, in 1 John we learned that "God is love" (noun) and that He "loves" (verb) (see 1 John 4:8, 16, 7, 11, 19). As the intended consequence of God's love, believers respond to Him in love and to others because He first loved us (4:19-21). The word used for love in both letters is agape. We are not to be deceived by anyone who mingles agape with the human self-exalting love of eros.
It was with amazement that I read pope Benedict XVI's very first pontifical encyclical, dated December 25, 2005. It is entitled DEUS CARITAS EST (Latin for "God is Love" or "Charity"). He expressed his doctrine of love (caritas) to his followers and to the world. For God's love He mingled eros with agape. This is what he penned: "God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape." For support of this amalgamation of agape and eros he references in footnote 7, Dionysius the Areopagite, who "calls God both eros and agape." This is wrong. The God of the Bible is agape. Never eros. Never!
Eros is self-exalting. It leads one to think that he is a god above the God of heaven (2 Thess. 2:4). But the God of heaven is agape--self-effacing. His love is not one of patronizing superiority. His way was stepping down in order to save us. The Sovereign and Infinite Holy God was manifested in human flesh! Christ who took our flesh upon Himself and Who continues coming in flesh is the truth of God. This is the supreme demonstration of the love of God. The deceivers and antichrists of John's day did not agree that Christ came in the sphere of human flesh.
This brings us more directly to the test of "the doctrine of Christ." The great question is: "Did God really become man in the Person of Jesus Christ?" At this point, John's discussion changes to the danger of false teachers. Believers must not simply love (vss. 5, 6); they must also maintain the truth (vss. 7-11). Consequently, they must be aware of heretical precepts. John previously described the "antichrist(s)" as people with an inadequate understanding of Jesus Christ, both in His divinity and in His humanity (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:2-3).
Not only does Rome mingle eros with agape, but she denies that Christ took upon Himself our fallen nature. Instead of "the doctrine of Christ" the papacy puts forth the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception" of Mary so that Christ could take a sinless human nature from her, purportedly to exalt Him but not actually. Rome teaches that Mary was like us in that she got hungry, thirsty, and tired, but she was exempt from fallen human nature and thus was unique in the sinlessness of human nature and of life. This, in turn, directly drives Rome's doctrinal system especially concerning Christology and consequently soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. One of the stumbling blocks to Christians is the many deceivers who subtly blur the truth about the kind of human nature Jesus took upon Himself in the Incarnation.
Cardinal Gibbons wrote that Christ took His supposedly human nature from Mary: "... by being born of the virgin, thus taking to himself from her maternal womb a human nature of the same substance with hers" (The Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 198, 199; emphasis supplied).
Archbishop Fulton Sheen desolidarized both Mary and Jesus, separating them from fallen human nature: "Mary was desolidarized and separated from that sin-laden humanity. ... Had there been no Immaculate Conception, then Christ would have been said to be less beautiful, for He would have taken His Body from one who was not humanly perfect! ... How could [Christ] be sinless if He was born of sin-laden humanity? If a brush dipped in black becomes black, and if cloth takes on the colour of the dye, would not He, in the eyes of the world, have also partaken of the guilt in which all humanity shared? If He came to this earth through the wheatfield of moral weakness, He certainly would have some chaff hanging on the garment of His human nature" (The World's First Love, pp. 15, 16, 48; emphasis supplied).
These two men speak of a phantom humanity, an hallucination. If God could enter mortal human life only as a phantom human nature, the body stands forever despised; then there can be no real communion between the divine and the human; no real salvation. But on the contrary, Jesus became what we are to make us in His image.
In these last days, God sends a gospel message in love and truth to be proclaimed to the world. It involves Christ as Conqueror of the tendencies of fallen human nature as well as the Lamb of God who bore our committed sins. Of this A. T. Jones wrote: "O, He is a complete Saviour. He is a Saviour from sins committed, and the conqueror of the tendencies to commit sins" ("The Third Angel's Message," No. 14, General Conference Bulletin, 1895). Concerning the importance of "the doctrine of Christ," that is to say the fallen human nature Christ took, Jones taught that "... the salvation of God for human beings lies in just that one thing" (op. cit., No. 13).
E. J. Waggoner earlier made the connection between our justification and the human nature of Christ: "God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, to condemn sin in the flesh, that He might justify us" ("Bible Study in the book of Romans" #12, General Conference Bulletin, 1891).
As the Apostle John pointed out, not only are we to practice the truth in love, we are called upon to defend it in that same love. Never will a believer start supporting lies in the name of love (Phil. 1:9-11). Practicing the truth, walking in truth and love, requires a heart that believes in the truth of the message of the incarnate Christ and in a consequent lifestyle that reveals the message of the Incarnation by showing love to others (2 John 5-6). This can be accomplished only by Christ living in us--in our fallen flesh--today as the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Faith and action go hand-in-hand (see 1 John 3:23). The truth as it is in Jesus, "the doctrine of Christ," is something to believe, to love, and to live.
To summarize and conclude: In the first part of John's second letter, he wrote of truth and love; in the remainder of his letter he emphasized the need for truth in contrast to error. The two sections of his letter interlock. Departure from the truth results in a failure of love. So John presents a dark description of heretical secession and its consequences in verses 7-11. This forms the basis of John's warm appeal for love and unity in verses 4-6. May this so be with us.
From encouraging truth, John turned to opposing error advocated by deceivers. The word deceiver implies much more than teaching false doctrine. It also includes leading people into wrong living. John made it clear that truth and life go together. What we believe determines how we behave. Wrong doctrine and wrong living always go together. On the other hand, correct doctrine and correct living will likewise go together, if the love of the truth as it is in Jesus is present.
--Gerald L. Finneman