2 John was written to warn a church about false teaching and to urge them to continue in love and truth.
I. Greeting (1–3)
II. Walking in Truth and Love (4–6)
III. Those Who Oppose the Truth (7–11)
IV. Closing (12–13)
Following the standard form for letters in the Greco-Roman world, John simply identifies himself as “the elder” (see the introduction to 1 John for a brief discussion of authorship). The Apostle John’s use of this term is not surprising since Peter also did so in 1 Peter 5:1. “Elder” is one of the New Testament terms for the pastoral office, and John identifies himself in a pastoral role.
Although varying ideas have been suggested, it makes best sense to understand “elect lady” as a reference to a specific church and “her children” as referring to the members of that church. This makes best sense of the letter, and the imagery is not unusual since the both the Old Testament and New Testament refer to Israel and the Church as a woman or a bride (Isa 54:6; 62:5; Jer 2:2; 3:1; Ezek 16; Hos 2; Eph 5:22–31; Rev 22:17). John has also just referred to church members as “children” frequently in 1 John.
This introduction establishes the key theme of the letter: the inter-connectedness of love and truth. Truth here refers to the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. “Truth” is thus a synonym for “gospel.” John’s love is in the truth, and everyone who knows the truth also loves this church because the truth abides in them. Thus, truth is the environment for Christian love, and love is the response of Christians to truth.
John’s statements show that Christian fellowship (“love”) must be based on truth. We will not increase gospel unity by downplaying truth. And truth, properly held, will always produce love. If our adherence to doctrine causes us to be mean-spirited or uncharitable, we are missing truth.
Walking in Truth and Love (4–6)
John is delighted to have heard that the members of this church are living faithfully. He uses the word “walk” which is commonly used to refer to one’s lifestyle. These Christians are “walking in truth,” living in line with God’s revealed truth just as God has commanded us to do. Living in obedience to God’s word is not an optional choice for really committed Christians. It is a basic command of God for all of his people.
Notice also that a believer should find great joy in the faithfulness of other believers, as John does here. If we love truth and love people, we will be delighted when people live faithfully according to God’s word. What causes you to rejoice is a significant indicator of your heart.
As they remain faithful, John stresses a central aspect of this faithfulness, loving one another. In language similar to 1 John, John mentions that the love command is not novel but is something they have known from the beginning (see comments on 1Jn 2:7–11 on the meaning of “the beginning”). Loving one another is basic to Christianity. John goes on to define love as living (“walking”) according to God’s commands. We are commanded to love, and to love is to obey God’s commands. Though this might sound like a riddle, the point John is making is crucial. To love God is to obey him (John 14:15). To love others is to encourage and help them to obey God. Too often today people think that to love someone is to indulge them, to let them do what they want, but indulgence is not true love. We do not demonstrate love if we do something to or with another person that God forbids. If we encourage or aid someone to do something God forbids, this is not genuine love. Rather we demonstrate love by seeking to prevent someone from disobeying God and urging them to obey God.
Those Who Oppose the Truth (7–11)
This church needs to live faithfully and care for one another particularly because there are many false teachers around. The presence of false teachers seems to be the main cause for John’s writing. “Many” deceivers hover around this band of believers, making this a serious and common problem. The false teachers deny the incarnation (cf. 1Jn 4:1–3). Since they deny a central aspect of who Jesus is, they are anti- Christ. Often in these letters John makes the point that it matters eternally to accept and believe the full biblical testimony about Jesus.
John urges them to beware (“watch yourselves”) lest they be led astray by this false teaching. The language here (“lose,” “worked for,” “reward”) sometimes raises concern. First, note that talk of “reward” ought not be concerning since it is common in the New Testament, referring to the eternal benefits of trusting Christ and persevering in that faith (e.g., Luke 6:23; John 4:36; 1Cor 3:8, 14; Rev 22:12). This does not mean that we earn such reward by our deeds but that God rewards these deeds which are fueled by grace. Clearly the “losing” referred to here does refer to the eternal state of their souls. John also states that those who move away from the apostolic teaching do not have God. What then does John mean by referring to this as something “we have worked for”? John, and those with him, have worked with these people, preaching, discipling, rebuking, and encouraging. He does not want that work to be in vain. And the people themselves have exerted effort along the way. John is not saying they have earned salvation, but that much effort has gone into the work. If they turn away, they will waste that effort. They will not lose a salvation they once had but will reveal that despite all their effort, they were never truly converted (cf. 1Jn 2:19).
Since this false teaching turns people away from God and toward eternal destruction, Christians must not receive or support it. Helping or encouraging teaching which will lead people to hell is neither nice nor loving. We have a weighty responsibility to be careful about what ministries we support. Good intentions are not enough. This passage provides a basis for our primary financial support going to the local church which we know well and from which we ourselves are nurtured.
The personal, intimate nature of this letter is seen in John’s closing. We see John as a faithful pastor. The strong words on false teaching come from one who loves them and longs to see them. Words of challenge and exhortation are most effective in the context of known love. John is happy to use the latest technology available (ink, paper, and the postal service) to communicate with this beloved congregation, but he longs to see them “face to face.” Christians value personal relationships. And his goal, which is the goal of any faithful pastor as well as any loving Christian, is that their joy might be complete, knowing that joy comes to fullness in fellowship with God and his people.
This commentary is part of The Gospel Coalition Bible Commentary series (general editor, Phil Thompson). This commentary is freely available under Creative Commons License with Attribution-ShareAlike, allowing users to share it in other mediums/formats and adapt/translate the content as long as an attribution link, indication of changes, and the same Creative Commons License applies to that material. If you are interested in translating our content or are interested in joining our community of translators, please reach out to us.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This edition (version 1.0) was published 06/23/2021 and may be cited in print works as follows: Van Neste, Ray. 2 John. TGCBC. Austin, TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021.
This work is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
1:1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
Walking in Truth and Love
4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what weSome manuscripts you“>1 have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
13 The children of your elect sister greet you.
 1:8 Some manuscripts you