The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©



2 John 1:1-13


'The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love' (2 John 1-3).

This letter which we call 2 John is a short letter but a very important one, and though small it is well worthy of its place in the New Testament. It is like thousands of letters written in those times, in the way that it begins by mentioning readers and writer and by giving a greeting; but it is very special in the particular ways that it speaks of the readers and the writer and in the way that the greetings are given. We will look at each of these in turn.

a. The readers

The letter was sent to 'the elect lady and her children'. Who were these people? The 'elect lady' may have been a particular person who was a friend of the writer. Some people have understood one of the words 'elect' or 'lady' as a name and have called her 'the lady Eklekte' or 'elect Kuria'. If her name was Eklekte, we would have to say that that was her sister's name too, since the word is used again in verse 13. That is unlikely. Nor is it very likely that he name was Kuria. The whole church is spoken of in the New Testament as 'the bride' or 'the wife' of Christ (Ephesians 5:24-32) and a particular congregation of church fellowship could be spoken of in this way (see 2 Corinthians 11:2). In 1 Peter 5:13 it says, 'She who is at Babylon' (which probably means the Church at Rome) 'who is likewise chosen' (almost the same word as 'elect' here) 'sends you greetings'. That is greeting from one church to another church and not just from an individual. Moreover in our letter, in the very first verse, it is said that this 'elect lady and her children' are loved by 'all who know the truth'. It is most likely, therefore that this letter is sent by 'the elder' to a particular church and its members, described as 'the elect lady and her children'.

b. The writer

Who then was 'the elder' who wrote like this to that particular church congregation? Sometimes the word 'elder was just used for an old man in the Christian fellowship (as in 1 Timothy 5:1). More importantly it was used for one who had the responsibility of oversight in a congregation. We read of elders in the church of Jerusalem (Acts 15:2), elder appointed in the churches established by Paul in his missionary work (Acts 14:23), elders in the church in Ephesus (Act 20:17) and in other places. But there were many such elders. Yet our writer calls himself 'the elder'. The word was some times used in a special way. An apostle could be called an elder (as Peter in 1 Peter 5:1) and second century writer called a person 'elder' who had been a disciple from the time of the apostles and who had the special task of passing on the teaching of the apostles to those who followed after them.

For centuries the Church has believed that his name was John and so this letter is called 2 John. Certainly there many ways in which this letter (and also 3 John) is like 1 John. There are many ways in which all three letters are like John's Gospel. Many people, therefore, feel that the gospel and the three letters are all by the apostle John, written in his old age in or near Ephesus where he had worked. Some, however, think that there was a different John whom the second century writer Papias called 'the elder John'. Some think that 'the elder' was a different person from the apostle and different from the John whom Papias mentioned. The important thing to notice is that, as in the case of 1 John and as in the case of the gospel, the writer wants to tell us nothing about himself, nothing more than that he is 'the elder'. He wants to tell us much about his Lord. He wants his readers not to think of him but rather to keep strong in faith and as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

c. The greeting.

In nearly all the letters that we have in the New Testament the usual kind of greeting that people used in letters in those days has become a prayer. Often it is 'Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ' (Galatians 1:3). We can think of it here as a prayer, or perhaps in this case as a confident statement of the blessing God gives in answer to prayer: 'Grace, mercy and peace will be with us.' A word very much like 'grace' was the usual Greek greeting in those days. The word 'peace' - Hebrew shalom - was the usual Jewish greeting. 'The elder' uses both greetings. But he is saying that the grace of God will be with those who belong to Him - that grace which is the undeserved favour and love of God which accepts us, pardons us, provides for us and leads us into the privilege of serving Him. Peace, too, will be with those whose trust is in Him - peace with God through His forgiveness, peace of heart, and the way of peace among men. Then to 'grace' and 'peace' he adds 'mercy'- the mercy that God shows to us though we are sinners, rebelling against Him and unworthy of receiving any single gift from Him.

There are still two important words in these verses that we have not considered. They are key words here and key word in the whole letter. We need to think of them separately and to think of them together. They are the words 'truth' and 'love'. The elder says that his friends to whom he writes 'loves in the truth' and so do 'all who know the truth', and it is because of 'the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever'. Then he says that 'grace, mercy and peace will be with' them from God the Father and from Jesus Christ 'in truth and love'. Love is the beginning and end of God' attitude to us. Love is the beginning and end of the Christian's life. We have seen both of these things about love in our study of 1 John. Yet we must also stand in the truth of God made known to us in Jesus Christ, 'the Father's Son'. We cannot know love without accepting that great truth that God has sent His Son to us to live and die for us. We cannot have any truth that does not centre in that love of God. Love and truth belong together in life when life is lived according to God's plan and purpose. Love without truth becomes just feeling; truth without love becomes hard and unattractive. The life of Jesus was 'full of grace and truth' (John 1:14). 'Grace and truth' came and still comes to us through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). We are called to speak the truth in love and to live out the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The greatest thing that we can ask for our lives is that in them there will be both grace and truth in balance, love and truth; we can pray that we, like 'the elder', will love people in the truth, stand courageously for the truth, speak the truth, live the truth, and do so in love.


Lord God, we pray that You will look on us who are weak and sinful in Your great mercy. Give us all to grace that we need for our lives; flood our hearts with Your peace. So help us to hold to and to stand by the truth that know; and may we do so in love, that others may be attracted to You our true and loving God, through Your Son Jesus Christ our Saviour. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

1. What does it mean when it says in verse 2 that the truth 'abides in us' (internal) and that it 'will be with us for ever' (eternal)? Does this link up with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life?

2. Among ourselves or with Christians around us do we see more love and less of a stand for the truth, or more concern for the truth and less love? What should we do to try to have more a balance of the two?


Some of the close similarities between 1 John and 2 John can be seen as we notice that a number of the important words and phrases in this letter have been important words and phrases in 1 John - love, truth, abiding, a new commandment, having God, loving one another. Verse 7 speaks of 'deceivers' who 'have gone out into the world', not believing 'the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh' and being in effect 'the antichrist'. This is very similar to what is said in 1 John 2:18, 19 and 4:1-3.