Once again, we are reading someone else’s mail. But this time, it’s very unclear whose mail it is.
John may be writing to a specific woman in one of the churches under his care – or “the lady chosen by God” may be one of the churches. So “her children” may be physical offspring of an individual woman – or members of a particular church.
What we do know is that – lady or church – she is loved, not only by John, but also by everyone who knows the truth about Jesus Christ. And that truth lives in them and will live in them forever, along with grace, mercy, and peace from God and the Lord Jesus.
The opening of this letter is a whole lot less awkward than the closing to John’s first letter, “Dear children, keep away from idols,” isn’t it?
In spite of the nice beginning, he still has to address the threat to his flock – this heretical view of Jesus’ not being the Son of God in the flesh. Here, he does in a few verses what he took a whole chapter to cover in his first letter:
Those who teach this about Jesus are deceivers and are anti-Christ. He even warns this lady or this church to slam the door in their faces.
This is one reason why my money’s on the lady’s being a church – because Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan encourages us to take care of those who are not like us, to be hospitable. And Jesus stated clearly in Matthew 25 that when we provide for others, we are doing it for Jesus.
But for a church to “take them into its house or welcome them” would mean to admit the deceivers as members, giving them the right to speak in worship. The early church operated very much like the first-century Jewish synagogue, in which a man – over the age of 30 – would be given a scroll of Scripture to read and then comment on it. To welcome one of the deceivers into membership in the church would be like the hens inviting a fox to come over for dinner.
John also encourages the lady or the church to continue to love one another and to obey God’s commands – which include loving one another. Again, this is a nice, short summary of what John wrote about in his first letter.
But there is one little verse that is often skipped over. And the power of verse 4 is often missed:
It has given me great joy to find some of your children
walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.
Parents love to hear good things from other people about their kids.
At times, our children can exasperate us as they assert their independence and resist our efforts to rein them in. “You’re ruining my life!” seems to come pre-loaded in every child’s operating system.
Then when someone outside the immediate family tells us how polite and creative and helpful and hard-working our child is, our first thought is, “That can’t be my kid he or she is talking about,” but then we puff up a bit with pride.
John has this word of praise for the lady or the church – because some of her children or members are walking in the truth.
But notice that John doesn’t say that he is surprised to find this – he says only that it gives him joy.
And he wouldn’t be surprised – because of God’s covenant promises.
In Genesis 17, God told Abraham:
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
“The God of your descendants.” This is one of the distinguishing marks of Presbyterian and Reformed doctrine – Covenant Theology. That God makes covenant with families – and the covenant often runs through family lines. Starting with Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph, and so on for hundreds of generations and thousands of years.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to the people in Jerusalem that “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call.” God makes covenant with people and calls them into relationship with Himself.
When our ancestors were unfaithful – and the children of Israel often were – He remained faithful. Even when we broke covenant with God – God has not broken covenant with us.
The original sign of the covenant was circumcision – but that was done away with after the death of Jesus, when the Church was expanded to include the Gentiles. From that point on, the sign of the covenant has been baptism.
Baptism is – for Presbyterians – a sign and a seal of God’s covenant promises and our faith in God’s promises. We baptize our children to show that we believe they are children of the covenant – that our God is their God, too.
The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way when it states why children must be baptized: “since they as well as the adult are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult…”
However – we do not believe that baptism saves our children. Rather, the Church baptizes them because we believe that God’s covenant extends to our children.
So, yes, some of those who are baptized are not included in the covenant. Remember that Abraham had another son, Ishmael, who was circumcised just like his brother Isaac. And Jacob had a brother, Esau.
And so John writes, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth …” He knows that not all will follow Jesus Christ. Whether the lady in this letter is a lady or the lady is a church, some of her children will walk in the truth and some will not.
But we still baptize our children – and all members of this church must be baptized, either before or at the same time they become members. And we still raise them to know and to love and to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
This probably sounds presumptuous – and it is. Because of God’s covenant promises to us, we presume that our children are also children of the covenant. If we are sheep in God’s flock, then our children are almost certainly His lambs.
This point was driven home at a family reunion nine years ago. 26 people were there – all descendants of my godly grandparents, Frank and Edna Demarest. And all 26 – including those who had married into the family – are now walking with Jesus.
So our children and the children of this church may walk in the truth and they may not – but our obligation to them as individuals is still clear: we must baptize them and teach them to walk in the truth of Jesus Christ. That is also our obligation as a church – to baptize the children of believers, and to teach them to know and to love and to serve our Lord Jesus.