The second letter of John was written to “the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth” (2 John 1). This “lady” was probably a local congregation, not an individual, and “her children” were members of the church. He began by saying that he was “overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth” (2 John 4), followed by the words “and now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one that we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another” (2 John 5). John had a focus on love and truth in this very short letter, only 13 verses in length. In fact, it is the shortest book in the Bible, although the 15 verses of John’s third letter actually contain fewer words.
John challenged this community to “love one another,” as he had commanded Christians to do in his first letter. Then he defined love by saying, “And this is love, that we walk according to [God’s] commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning — you must walk in it” (2 John 6). Love is much more than an emotion in John’s understanding, and it includes walking according to God’s commands and walking in the truth of what God has revealed in Jesus. This is an active and sacrificial love, one that Jesus described in the Gospel of John when he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).
But who are the friends of Jesus? John wrote this letter because a group had left the Christian community and he felt that they were no longer adhering to the truth of Christ. “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” said John; “any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward” (2 John 7-8). John wanted the faithful friends of Jesus to be on guard against people who denied that Jesus had been fully human, perhaps preaching that he only seemed to be human. This splinter group may have been “progressive innovators,” according to New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, causing John to issue the warning, “Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God” (2 John 2). These innovators went beyond the teaching of Christ by “neglecting the ‘flesh’ or humanity of Jesus.”
Affirming that Jesus Christ “has come in the flesh” is an ongoing challenge in the life of the church. For years, the Christian faith has focused on the soul and has seen the flesh as something less important — sometimes even totally depraved. Even though the Nicene Creed says that Jesus “was made man,” many Christians have a negative view of human flesh. Neither Jesus nor the Jews wanted this split between body and spirit to exist, but a group of Greek thinkers in the early church introduced a dualistic philosophy that had a negative view of the body and a positive view of the spirit. Later theologians developed this theme: Saint Augustine believed that the soul makes war with the body, and the Protestant reformer John Calvin saw earthly human existence as “a rottenness and a worm.”
Jesus, like his Jewish colleagues, saw the flesh as a good gift of God, and he rejoiced in the pleasures of touch and taste and other bodily sensations. “From the beginning Christianity has been an incarnational faith — ‘the Word became flesh,’” says Monsignor Bill Parent, “which means that there is something fundamentally good about our human flesh.” Fortunately, more and more people today are eager to make a connection between body and spirit, and many are pursuing this goal through diet and exercise. Suddenly we have churches offering “Christian Yoga,” which presents elements of the Hindu practice of hatha yoga in an intentionally Christ-centered setting. Others feature weight-loss classes with names like “Jesus Is the Weigh” and “Weigh Down Workshop” (which has been offered in at least 10,000 churches), and book publishers are turning out titles such as The Maker’s Diet, outlining a “Biblically correct” eating plan. After 2,000 years of being largely separated, spirit and body are finally coming back together.
The reunion of spirit and body carries with it the possibility of integrity — that is, the bringing together of different parts into a unified whole. As human beings, we long to be complete and undivided, enjoying integrity as physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual and spiritual creatures. John was advocating Christian integrity when he pointed to the teaching of Christ and said, “whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching” (2 John 9-10). This passage from 2 John is one of the Bible’s greatest hits because it is grounded in the belief that Jesus was fully human and fully God, and it challenges us to exercise our bodies and spirits by “walking in the truth” (2 John 4).
1. Where do you see a connection between love and truth?
2. What significance do you attach to the humanity of Jesus?
3. How do you make an effort to keep body and spirit together?
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