John’s second letter is the only epistle addressed to a woman, “To the chosen lady and her children” (2 Jn. 1 NIV). Some commentators suggest that John is using symbolic language, so that this “lady and her children” is a reference to a local church; and that when he says in closing, “The children of your chosen sister send their greetings” (13), he is referring to another local church. While the practical instructions in this short letter are relevant to both the individual and the local church, there is no reason why it should not read as words of encouragement and caution to a family, perhaps even a single parent family. Three words are repeated at least four times in the first six verses of this letter. These words are “love,” “truth” and “commandments.” They are repeated to highlight important ideas. For the apostle John, truth was just as important as love. Genuine Christianity needs both. But what truth does John have in mind? In his gospel, John quotes Jesus as saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6) – that is, Jesus is the truth. But John also quotes Jesus as saying to His Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Here truth refers to God’s Word. Perhaps John had both meanings in mind when he referred to “the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever” (2 Jn. 2).
A healthy family knows God’s truth (2 Jn. 1-3).
What is the connection between this “chosen lady and her children” and “truth”? We notice that John, this family and many others had knowledge of the truth (1). In a world where everything seems to be relative, where tolerance encourages us to be satisfied with “our own truth,” it is good to be reminded that the Lord Jesus and God’s Word are objective truth; they remain what they are regardless of our thoughts and interpretations.
Truth can be known. Healthy families actively encourage knowing God and His Word. It is good to read the Scriptures and pray together as a family, in a way that is meaningful to the children. We thank the Lord for godly and devoted Sunday school teachers and Christian youth workers. While they are helpful, we should not delegate to them our responsibility to guide our family in the truth.
As parents, we need to expose our children to God’s truth by encouraging them to participate in the local church, Sunday school, youth camps, Bible conferences, as well as enjoy Christian music, films and books. Let’s not forget that the current of this world is strong and not favorable to Christian families.
Notice that the knowledge of truth, according to John, is not dry and academic. Grace, mercy and peace are to be expressed in the context of truth and love (3). As we get to know Jesus better and grow in our understanding of God’s Word, the way we treat other people will change. Knowledge of God’s truth leads not only to love, but also to expressions of grace and mercy, and these lead to peace. Real knowledge of God’s truth transforms relationships.
A healthy family lives God’s truth (2 Jn. 4-6).
When John wrote this letter, he was an old man. He had lived during the first few decades of the Christ-ian church. He witnessed its exciting expansion, and also its serious difficulties. Not all followed the Lord with sincere hearts. Not all were willing to pay the price of discipleship. Not all lived the truth. By the time John wrote this letter, he was an experienced realist.
What brought “great joy” to the heart of this old man? Was it news of improved statistics on church attendance or larger collections of money for social needs in Judea? No! John tells the lady, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us” (4). What makes you happy as you look at your children or at the youth in your local church? Are they learning to obey God’s Word and “walk in the truth”?
In the minds of many, love and obedience are opposites. Some associate commands and authority with legalism and prefer a more flexible, joyful Christianity characterized by love, spontaneity and freedom – a Christianity without boundaries. But there is no evidence of this dichotomy in John’s writings. Submission to God’s authority, obedience to God’s commandments and love of God and people all mix naturally and happily.
Just as sensible traffic rules lead to safe and free movement, so God’s rules provide the framework for joy, spontaneity and freedom. Paradoxically, when we submit to God, we can freely and joyfully express our love for God, not only through prayer and song, but also through our obedience to His Word. “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands” (6).
Perhaps due to abuses of authority in the past, the modern mind has been educated to dislike, question, oppose and even reject authority. The world says, “No one can tell you what you should believe or do.” But at conversion we freely give ourselves to the Lord Jesus. He has bought us and we now belong to Him. We are happy to be under His authority. Once we understand what the Lord wants, obedience is the natural next step. And the Lord expects this obedience from young and old alike.
A healthy family protects God’s truth (2 Jn. 7-13).
In the second half of this letter John foresees problems. He warns this lady and her children to be careful, to be realistic, to open their eyes, to protect their home. Their faith, like ours today, is exposed to three serious dangers.
1. We can lose things: “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully” (8). We cannot work for our salvation; it’s a gift from God. Neither can we lose our salvation; it remains a gift from God. But as Christians we can lose many things. Through gossip or bitterness we can lose good relationships. By carelessness a local church can lose good Bible knowledge and practice. By worldliness and laziness we can lose effectiveness in ministry. By disobedience we can lose God’s intended blessings.
2. We can go beyond: “Anyone who runs ahead…” (9). This is a danger especially for the curious, the active, the progressive, the creative. If we are not careful, our enthusiasm can lead us beyond the boundaries of God’s truth, and in the wrong direction.
3. We can encourage what is wrong: “Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (11). John warned this family that evil would soon knock on their front door. Don’t leave the doors open. Look carefully. Learn when to say “No” politely but firmly. Only receive what is constructive to the spiritual health of your family. By welcoming what is wrong, we encourage decadence. Who and what do we welcome into our homes? Are we aware of the powerful influence bad friends can have on the spiritual life of our children? What TV channels, videos, music, web-sites, computer games and magazines do we allow in our home? Is there something that you should no longer welcome in your home? Christian families – if they are to breathe God’s peace and harmony, and if they are to remain healthy – will need to be strong in protecting their doors.
God loves and cares for families. If our families are to foster healthy growth, they should welcome the Lord Jesus in their midst and seek creative ways to encourage each family member to know and obey God’s Word. Is there anything you can start doing to motivate your family to know the truth better and to walk in that truth? Knowing that the current of a godless society is opposed to healthy Christian values, we should be very careful what we welcome into our homes.
May the Lord grant us, parents and children alike, the strength to be purposeful and strong in our family life so that the Lord Jesus may feel comfortable in our recreation, our celebrations, and also in our daily routines. That’s what makes a healthy Christian family.
By Philip Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org