Apostle John, speaking as an elder to the lady, his coworker in Christ, wrote glowingly of his pleasure in the spiritual growth and lives of faith he saw in those he knew of her congregation. Then, he reminded her of the paramount commandment they had received from Jesus: Agape one another, for this is our signature as those who walk in the light, who live in truth, who have put our faith in Christ, who have received the Spirit of God.

It was of utmost importance, for false teaching had infiltrated the assemblies, through those masquerading as light, but who were in fact antichrist. Now, John would get to the meat of his warning.

Watch Yourselves

The work the apostles had done had been founded upon sacrificial love, a love that each of them had given their lives for, as had their Lord, Messiah Jesus. John alone was left of the original twelve, for even the indomitable Peter and the unstoppable Paul had been martyred for their faith.

You watch yourselves, so that you will not destroy what we labored [for], but rather you might receive a full reward.

2 John 1:8 (my translation)

The elder did not explain what that reward would be, but the letters of the apostles spoke often of crowns and rewards, and they had taken their cue from the Lord Jesus, who had spoken of rewards in heaven. It was part of the language of the first century church.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:12 (NRSV)

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Jesus, Matthew 10:40-42 (NRSV)

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Paul, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 (NRSV)

From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Paul, 2 Timothy 4:8 (NRSV)

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James, James 1:12 (NRSV)

And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

Peter, 1 Peter 5:4(NRSV)

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

John, Revelation 2:10 (NRSV)

Keep in Step With Christ

What Jesus explained to his disciples, the night before he died, represented a steep learning curve. Though he had stretched their minds and hearts as far as they could go during his three years with them, John vividly remembered Jesus telling them that night,

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

Jesus the night before he died, John 16:12 (NRSV)

Then there had been the glorious days of the Lord’s resurrection, forty in all, when Jesus had said to them,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

Jesus, Luke 24:44-45 (NRSV)

Even still, they had had to rely heavily on the Spirit’s teaching and guidance, keeping in step with the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, so they would speak only the truth about Jesus, and what it meant to live abiding in the vine of the Lord. So, John cautioned,

Each one who goes [too far] ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God—the one who remains in the teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son.

2 John 1:9 (my translation)

John warned the lady of this great danger, for it is exactly what the false prophets had done. They had gone too far ahead, they had searched outside the truth, and though what they had stumbled across certainly was adjacent to the truth, it was still, by its very nature—regardless of proximity—false.

It was a danger so present, and so insidious, and so poisonous, John wrote,

If someone comes to you and does not bear this teaching [that Jesus had come in flesh], do not receive [this person] into [your] home and also do not speak to greet this person— for the one who speaks to greet [this person] shares in his evil deeds.

2 John 1:10-11 (my translation)

Perhaps this is also why John prefaced his warning with a reminder to love, the signature of those who are in Christ. Jesus had set the bar himself: love those who oppose you, love those who mistreat you, love those who would betray you. He had done all of those things. Jesus had given sacrificially of himself.

But here is where you and I can get a bit muddled. For love, though certainly expressed in kindness, generosity, patience, and grace, is also expressed in being protective of the vulnerable and disadvantaged, being passionate for what is right and good, shining light into darkness.

There are times when love must step for the sake of those who may be harmed, when love must take a stand in all loyalty and faithfulness, when love cannot not choose.

These were difficult times, in the turmoil of the century’s turning. Those who were turning back to the religion of their old life, the customs and ways of their people which felt familiar and safe, were no longer to be given access to those young in the faith. And those who were turning to other spiritualities, to Gnosticism, were to be kept away from teaching and shepherding the flock.

The lady was to protect her congregation. Though she loved those who had gone out from them, though she desired to show them all grace and graciousness, she was not to give them permission to teach and shepherd among her little children. Her protective love for her spiritual children must outweigh.

Do not receive this person into your home, where the assembly gathers for worship and fellowship.

Do not speak to greet this person, and thereby give them permission to address the children of God, whose hearts are open to receive the word of those who had the lady’s approbation.

This was the important message John the Elder needed the lady to receive from him immediately. She would read the rest of his teaching in the circular that had come with his personal note to her. All else could wait until he came to be with them in person.

Much of what I have to write to you I did not intend for the sake of paper and ink, but rather I hope to appear to you and talk “mouth to mouth,” so that our joy is made full.

The little children of your chosen-in-God sister [warmly] greet you.

2 John 1:12-13 (my translation)

At the very end of his letter, John sent greetings from the lady’s sister—either her actual sister, who also hosted a house church (as, perhaps, Tryphaena and Tryphosa may have been), or a coworker with whom the lady was close.

John’s message is particularly relevant today, as we also try to navigate increasingly treacherous times for Christians, seeking to embrace each other in love while also protecting those whom God has placed in our care from being deceived.

May we all come to deeply understand what it means to keep in step with Christ!

Contrary to popular belief, many women could read and write in the first century Greco Roman world, particularly women of higher rank. Since we know from the Christian Testament many prominent women, both Greek and Jewish, became believers early on, it makes perfect sense that Phoebe would be given Paul’s treatise on faith to deliver to the assemblies in Rome, and that John would later entrust his own treatise on truth, light, and love to the lady addressed above.

[Bronze statuette of the 1st century depicting a girl reading | By Unknown – Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), 2008-04-11, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3880514%5D


[Bronze statuette of the 1st century depicting a girl reading | By Unknown – Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), 2008-04-11, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3880514%5D

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