The second and third letter of John are closely related to his first letter and are as much inspired as the first. These are two brief letters. In that view they may seem to be of less importance. He who thinks that, is absolutely mistaken. They are of fundamental importance to us just as the first letter, we cannot do without these letters. Their spiritual power is not in the tough language, but in the simple terms. As well as in his first letter (and that is also typical for the gospel that he wrote) John does not use many words and also not difficult words. But that what he writes is very profound.
In these two brief letters you do not obtain new truths. It’s about the same themes as in the first letter. Also here it is about truth and love, which both appear together in both letters approximately ten times. But who will know the truth (the Lord Jesus is the truth) and the love (God is love) in their full extent? The more you ponder on it, the more you come to the conviction of their infinity. Nevertheless, in both letters John finds a way to bring truth and love that close, that you will recognize their value. Through these letters you get examples of how you in your faith life can live up to the teaching of the first letter in practice.
The two letters go hand in hand, they complement one another. The primary subject of the second letter is the false teachers, while the third letter is about the true laborers of God. The second letter shows how you ought to deal with those who bring a false doctrine. You must reject them, you should not even greet them. The third letter shows how your attitude ought to be towards those who bring the truth. You must accept them and overwhelm them with love, you must help and support them in their work.
The second letter deals with the danger that you do not expose the false teacher and have fellowship with him, even if only by a greeting. That danger is greater for women, and for this reason the second letter is addressed to a woman. Therefore, in case you are a sister, you ought not to leave the discernment of a false teacher to certain brothers. The other opposite danger is that one of the third letter. That danger is that you do not recognize the teacher that comes with God’s truth and do not show him hospitality. Men run a greater risk not to show hospitality, for hospitality is not a typical characteristic of sisters only. Generally men are more selfish and less inclined to be hospitable. They also see competition much faster. It is not for nothing that they are exhorted to receive the true laborer not with suspicion, but by welcoming him and supporting him.
The message of both letters is that you have to discern what a teacher preaches. Thereby you should not let yourself be misguided to discern according to the extent or magnificence of the gift or according to a service or education or diplomas. The only criterion is whether a person brings the truth or not. Briefly said, you are to reject those who do not bring the truth and receive those who do bring the truth. Therefore it is always necessary to test the doctrine that a person brings. When he brings the sound doctrine, you should welcome him. A woman or man who possesses the Word, like for instance these letters, is able to judge his doctrine and is also responsible to do that.
Both letters are not addressed to believers in general, like the first letter, but to individual believers. Added to that the second letter is also addressed to children. They also are responsible to recognize and reject a false doctrine. It is not about them to be able to analyze a false doctrine. The point is that they are indeed able to discern the voice of the good Shepherd from the voice of the false shepherds. They should always be radical about that.
The woman and the children are to know that they should not even greet a person who approaches them with a false doctrine, not even for the sake of civic politeness. They are to take a clear stand toward the evil and the false doctrine. In this letter we will pay attention to what that false doctrine is. There is no letter in the New Testament that explains more clearly how to deal with false teachers than this second letter of John. That surely underlines the significance of this letter.
At the end of this introduction I would like to give a division of the letter. The letter can be divided in different ways, but I find the following division the best and clearest:
1. salutation of the apostle: grace, mercy, peace (2 John 1:1-3).
2. joy of the apostle: obedient children (2 John 1:4).
3. admonition of the apostle: to walk in love (2 John 1:5-6).
4. care of the apostle: antichristian deceivers (2 John 1:7-11).
5. hope of the apostle: to meet each other soon (2 John 1:12-13).