The book of Second John is actually a brief letter written by the Apostle John. He refers to himself as “the elder” (v.1), a title with a double meaning. John was the chief elder over a community of churches in and around Ephesus, churches that were originally planted by the Apostle Paul but were now under John’s supervision. “Elder” was also a reference to John’s advanced age. He was the only disciple who was not martyred for his faith, although he endured a great deal of persecution. As the only surviving apostle, the churches relied on John’s teaching and leadership. His eyewitness account of the entirety of Jesus’s ministry was invaluable, and the wisdom gained from walking with Jesus for over 60 years was a precious treasure to the church.
This inspired postcard of Scripture is addressed to “the elect lady and her children”, a reference (in my opinion) to a sister in Christ who had a church meeting in her home. Apparently some false teachers had requested entry into the church, seeking an opportunity to preach. John’s letter instructed the church on how to deal with the issue.
John helped the church understand how to balance two things that are fundamentally important to our faith — love and truth (in v.1-6, John mentions love four times, truth five times). The church’s dilemma: show love to these false teachers at the expense of truth, or insist on the truth at the expense of love. John’s advice was to keep truth and love in balance. That balance can be seen beautifully in Jesus. He could deal tenderly with the vilest sinners and outcasts of society (to the point he was publicly criticized for it) — yet He never wavered from the truth. He was completely truthful. It was John who recorded the way Jesus did that with the woman at the well (John 4). And then Jesus could turn around and with a blistering word put an arrogant Pharisee in his place. Jesus spoke the truth, He showed love, and He kept them in perfect balance.
When we dethrone self and let Jesus rule in our lives, jettisoning our selfishness and personal agendas, we we will be balanced, too. If you are always telling people off (even if you are speaking the truth), make sure you show the love of Jesus. If you never speak up for the truth because you are afraid to offend someone, make sure you don’t sacrifice the truth just so you will be liked.
In the case of the false teachers mentioned in verse 7, John advised that when it comes to the identity of Jesus Christ, we hold to the truth at all costs. He told the “elect lady” not to talk to the men or let them into her house if they did not hold to the basic “teaching of Christ” (v.9). These men were denying the humanity of Jesus and twisting the gospel to suit their own philosophy, and John judged that they did not deserve the courtesy of even being heard. That is good advice for us today. Tolerating false or watered-down doctrine is like inviting termites into your floor joists. We must keep going back to Scripture and fight to keep our faith pure for future generations.