3 Reasons You Should Preach through 2 John
The little books of the Bible get neglected, don’t they? Not a lot of preachers hang out in Haggai (unless they’re trying to fund a building project) or Obadiah or 3 John. But they should! These little books are often packed to the gills with robust truths for our people’s weary souls. The book of 2 John is no different.
John had a lot on his mind, but he preferred to talk in person (v.12). A certain controversy, however, compelled him to write a short letter. If it was important enough for John to write when he would have preferred to speak in person, it’s probably pretty important.
The themes addressed in 2 John are surprisingly relevant for our day. So, with that in mind, here are three reasons why you should preach through this short book.
1. It upholds both truth and love.
John’s earlier book—1 John—is known for the way it weaves together the themes of truth, love, and obedience. And for good reason. These themes bleed over into his second epistle as well.
John begins his letter by addressing those he loves. He carefully clarifies the kind of love he has for his “elect lady”: a love grounded in truth (v.1). He tells them that love grounded in truth unites all of God’s children. Elsewhere, Paul writes that Christian unity is grounded in our common Spirit, common Lord, common baptism, and the blood of Christ shed to atone for our sins (Eph 2:13, 4:15). Here, at the beginning of 2 John, we see that our unity is also grounded in the truths we all believe together.
John quickly moves on to a traditional greeting: “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son.”
But pay attention to how he—quite uniquely—ends his greeting: “in truth and love.” The grace, mercy, and peace that we receive from God the Father and God the Son come through the conduits of truth and love. Truth and love are not at odds with one another. Quite the contrary: they must both be present in equal measure for grace and peace to flow into our lives.
But there’s more.
2. It upholds obedience.
John spends the next six verses telling his readers that truth and love must result in obedience. Said another way: we must walk in truth and love, not merely admire them at a distance (v. 4, 6). John is so bold as to define our love for God as our walking in accordance with “his commandments” (v.6).
But John is clear that our obedience is to the truth, not merely our idea of what the truth is. As John deals with the antichrists who have gone out into the world to deceive God’s elect, he issues a warning: “Watch yourselves.” If we’re not careful to make sure that our obedience is grounded in the truth of who Jesus is, we may end up losing our very souls (v.8).
Brother pastors, we must emphasize obedience to the truth. If we don’t, our souls will be lost. This is especially important because so many Christians with good theology are tempted to believe that knowing the truth is the same thing as obeying the truth.
Finally, and most forcefully, John says that if we continue to abide in (walk, live in) lies about who Jesus is, then our obedience is worthless. He could hardly be more explicit: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.” How important is obedience grounded in truth? It’s as important as having or not having God—and there’s nothing more important than that.
Truth, love, and obedience form a three-sided structure. If any one piece is removed, the gospel, the whole of our Christian faith, and even our very souls will be lost.
3. It helps us to think well about how we should interact with false teachers.
How are we supposed to teach our members to think about popular pastors like Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, or Creflo Dollar? How should we teach them to think about men who are supposedly heralds of God, but who nevertheless teach a message that leads people to compromise truth and obedience for the sake of love, or love for the sake of “truth”?
Wait. I’ve got a few more practical questions: How are you supposed to relate to the heretical pastor down the road from your church, the one with 4,000 “members”? What should you do when the mayor asks you to pray at a city breakfast where a local false prophet is featured as the main speaker? Where’s the line? Should you shake the wolf’s hand if you see him at the grocery store? Should you pray with him publicly? Can you lock arms with him to seek justice in your city? I think 2 John can really help us with these kinds of questions.
Verses 7 and 8 address the antichrists, the deceivers. These are the ones who preach a different Jesus. Specifically, John addresses the false teaching of Gnosticism. They “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (v. 7). But the principle applies to anyone and everyone who comes bringing a different teaching about Jesus (v. 10), from prosperity preachers to Mormons.
John tells those who abide in the teaching of Christ (v. 8) not to greet these false teachers and to not receive them into their homes. I don’t think John means we shouldn’t even say hello to such a man, or even that we can’t ever invite them into our home to talk. In Ancient Near East culture, to greet a traveling prophet publicly and receive him into your home meant that you received not just the man, but his teaching as well. That public display of approval doubled as a public green light for the deceiver’s false teaching. Because of this, he says that anyone who greets such a one is taking part in their wicked works (v.11). Applying this principle may look different in Detroit than in the Ancient Near East, but it must still be applied with the utmost diligence. Preaching through 2 John will help both you and your people think more carefully about the matter.
In summary, 2 John has much to offer. It will teach your people to think counter-culturally about love and truth, it will teach them the value and necessity of obedience, and it will help them exercise greater discernment regarding false teachers, both individually and in the life of the church.