2 John Bible Study:
When Should We Withhold Fellowship?

A 2 John Bible study addresses the concept of our fellowship with one another.  This book is within a contextual flow of 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John.  

In 1 John, you are reading a book about fellowship with God.  This book lays the foundation of fellowship.  From this book we learn the basis on which fellowship with God is established.  God has fellowship with us based on certain conditions including “walking in the light”  (1 John 1.7), and keeping His commandments (1 John 2.3).   

When you come to a 2 John Bible study as well as a study of 3 John, you will find these principles applied to the fellowship we have with one another.  The message of 1 John tells us how to be in fellowship with God.  In the book of 2 John, we are told that if God is not in fellowship with an individual, then we are not to be in fellowship with that individual.  3 John flips the coin and tells us that if God is in fellowship with an individual, then we are not to withhold our fellowship with that individual.  

There are some who will not have fellowship with individuals even though they are in fellowship with God.  There are some who will have fellowship with individuals even though they have no fellowship with God.  2 John and 3 John address this.  

In this 2 John Bible study, let’s look at the overall context of the book and see if we can understand the general thought of the book.

2 John Bible Study:  Who Wrote 2 John?

Let’s begin this 2 John Bible study with the question, “Who wrote the book of 2 John?”  Let me suggest that the author of the book of 2 John is the same as the book of 1 John.  The author is the Lord’s best friend, the apostle who was one of three individuals who were in the inner circle with Jesus along with Peter and James.  The author was the apostle John.

Consider the introductory verse of 2 John.

2 John 1:  "The Elder..."

The word “elder” is from a Greek word that literally means, “older.”  If you look at the word in the Hebrew Old Testament, the word “elder” is defined as one who has a grey beard.  Every once in a while, I will encounter a Mormon elder.  I have yet to see one that is old enough even to have a beard, let alone a grey beard.  Yet they call themselves elders, or the older ones.

The author of 2 John identifies himself as “The Elder.”  If this is indeed the apostle John who wrote 2 John, then he wrote it later in his life.  He is the older one.  

We will not find the name of the author anywhere in this second epistle.  I believe that it is the apostle John for one primary reason.  There are similarities in the language and terminology between 1 John and 2 John.  

  • In 2 John 5,6, you will find the word “beginning.”  You will find that same word repeated in the first epistle.  

If you read the first verse of the first epistle, it starts with the words, “That which was from the beginning.”  You will also find the word “beginning” twice in 1 John 2.7:  “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning.  The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.”

  • In 2 John 4-6, you will also find the word “commandment.”  In these verses, you will read the word four times.

You will find that same word repeated fourteen times in the book of 1 John.  

Consider, for example, what we read in 1 John 3.22-24:  “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”

  • In 2 John, you will frequently find the word  “love.”  In the thirteen verses of this book, the word “love” appears four times.  

Love is also a common thread woven throughout the first epistle.  For example, we can read in 1 John 4.7,8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  In fact, you will read the word “love” 44 times in the five chapter of 1 John.

  • In 2 John, you will find the word “deceiver” referencing the Gnostics who denied that Jesus ever came in the flesh.  This word appears twice in 2 John 7.

When you turn to the book of 1 John, there you will find this same warning made in chapters 2 and 4.  In fact, we are told in 1 John 4.2,3, “by this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”  

Did you also notice the word “antichrist”?  That is a word that is also repeated in 2 John 7.  The Gnostics who denied that the Christ ever came in the flesh are described as “antichrist.”  It is a word that literally means, “against Christ.”  John refers to the Gnostics with that term in both 1 and 2 John.  

The fact that the language and terminology of 1 John and 2 John are so similar does not prove beyond a shadow of doubt that it was written by the same author, but it does make it very likely that the one who wrote 1 John is the same who wrote 2 John, and that would be the apostle John.  

2 John Bible Study:  To Whom Was 1 John Written?

Next, let’s answer the question,  “To whom was the book of 2 John written?”  

If you look at the first verse, you will find the answer.  

2 John 1:  “The elder, to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth.”

The book of 2 John was written by an older apostle John and was written to the elect lady and her children.  There are two possibilities as to the identity of this elect lady and her children.  

Possibility #1:  The Elect Lady is a Specific Sister in Christ.

It is possible that this is a reference to a specific sister in Christ that was very special to the apostle John.  Her children would be her offspring.  

Christians are to genuinely love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  But there are also individual brethren that we seem to have developed and formed a special bond with each other.  We are friends and friendly with all of our brethren, or at least we should be, but there are certain individuals who have become our dear friends.

Maybe the apostle John had someone like that in His life.  Maybe there was a sister in Christ with whom John had developed and formed a special bond.  Maybe there was a sister who had become very dear to John.  And maybe this was an epistle written to her.

Possibility #2:  The Elect Lady is a Reference to the Church.  

Another possibility is that the lady is in reference to a specific congregation, and the children refers to the members of that church.  

The church is referenced in the Bible as a woman, a wife.  For example, we can read in Ephesians 5 how the relationship between Christ and the church is likened unto the relationship between a husband and wife.  We read in Ephesians 5.25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”   

As the apostle Paul describes this husband and wife relationship, you skip down to VERSE 32, and he writes, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

When you get down to the last verse of 2 John, it says, “The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen”  (v. 13).  So John addresses the elect lady and her children.  This lady has a sister who has children, and these children send their greetings.  In other words, the nieces and nephews of this lady send their greetings.  This may be referring to other congregations sending their greetings this one whom John addresses.  

It is a possibility that this could be addressed to a specific sister in Christ who was very dear to John.  It is also possible that this could be addressed to a specific congregation of God’s saved people.  We just do not know, and we will probably never know.  

Whether it was written to the church or to a specific lady, notice how the one who is addressed is described.  

2 John 1:  “to the elect lady and her children”

The word “elect” is the idea of those who have been chosen.  Study the elect in the Bible, and you will discover that the elect are those who belong to God (Col. 3.12), and those who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ  (1 Pet. 1.2).  These verses help us to understand the identity of the elect.  When you put those verses together, you learn that the elect are the people who belong to God and have obtained His mercy because they obeyed the gospel and have been cleansed of their sins by the blood of Jesus.  The elect are Christians.

To summarize, this is a book that was probably written by the apostle John, and it was written to either a specific sister in Christ or to a congregation of the Lord’s people.  Either way, it was written to someone or a group of people who were Christians.  

2 John Bible Study:  Why Was 2 John Written?

Finally, let’s answer the question, “Why was the book written?”

To answer that question, you want to read through the book and look for key words and verses.  There should be a key verse or a key group of verses that will serve as the thesis statement of the book.  I believe that the thesis of the book is found in 2 John 9-11:

2 John 9-11:  “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” 

This is a book that tells us that we are not to receive and extend the hand of fellowship to a certain kind of people.  In this 2 John Bible study, we find that this is a book in a context that spans three epistles.  In the first epistle, John gives us the conditions and factors involved in our fellowship with God and with each other.  When you come to 2 John, you learn that we are to withhold our fellowship from certain individuals.

The key word that we might identify is the word “doctrine.”  This word is embedded in the thesis statement of verses 9-11, and you will find this word three times in these three verses.

There are two other words that we could identify as synonyms of the word “doctrine.”  

  1. One of those is the word “truth,” and it is found 5 times in this epistle.  Four of those times are in the introductory verses  (2 John 1-3).  
  2. Another synonym of “doctrine” would be “commandment.”  The word “commandment” is found four times in verses 4-6.  

When you put the words, “doctrine,” “truth,” and “commandment,” you get this message that is being painted.  There is a body of knowledge contained in the Bible that is called the truth  (John 17.17; 2 Tim. 2.15).  Truth is a word that is used to describe the Bible.  Contained within the Bible are laws that we are to follow and commandments that we are to obey  (1 Cor. 14.37; 2 Pet. 3.2).  The Bible tells us that there are things that we must do, and if we do not do them, then we do not have fellowship with God  (1 John 2.3,4).  This body of knowledge, the truth, which contains commandments that are to be obeyed, also contains teachings.  Doctrine refers to teachings.  In particular to our passage, these are the teachings about Christ. 

Summation  [TL;DR]:  The book of 2 John was written by the apostle John and written to someone or a group of individuals who were saved.  It is a book that references this body of knowledge that we call the Bible which contains commandments that are to be obeyed, and it is instructing us not to have fellowship with those who do not hold to a specific doctrine in reference to Jesus.  That’s the book of 2 John.  

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