Ronald Sauer


Author. From a literary point of view, it is obvious that the author of 1 John is the same person who penned 2 John, for the vocabulary, grammar, style, and theology are the same in both letters. The apostle John’s fingerprints are all over 1 and 2 John.

Date. John was writing from Ephesus about AD 95, in part concerning hosting traveling Christians visiting a city on business or ministry. The comforts of the modern hotel were unknown in the ancient world. Inns were infamously dirty, flea-infested places of ill repute, and innkeepers were notoriously rapacious. Consequently, in their travels Christians were customarily hosted by members of local churches. Paul, for example, was extended hospitality by Lydia in Philippi (Ac 16:15), by Jason in Thessalonica (Ac 17:7), by Gaius in Corinth (Rm 16:23), and by Philip in Caesarea (Ac 21:8). But such hospitality could easily be abused. Should traveling false teachers, who posed as Christian missionaries, be offered hospitality? The author issued instructions concerning whom to host and whom to refuse, and why.

Recipients. Accordingly, the letter’s recipient has been understood to be either a local church or a certain woman in a local church. The following reasons have been argued in favor of both views: (1) The addressee is called "the chosen lady" who is loved by "all who know the truth" (1). Christians everywhere would more likely know of this particular church than an individual in it. But a prominent woman of means could be widely known. And the expression "all who know the truth" could be intended to mean, not that she was known by "all" believers everywhere, but just all those in her particular church. (2) The second-person plural in 6, 8, 10, and 12 seems to favor a church, referring to a plurality of recipients, not an individual. But the letter is addressed to a group of people—"the chosen lady and her children"—which in itself is sufficient to account for the second-person plural. (3) The letter’s warning against false teachers applies more to a church than to a family. But if this family had been accustomed to extending hospitality to traveling heretics, the warning is just as applicable to them as to a local assembly. (4) The command to "love one another" (5) better suits a church than a family. Yet acrimony can plague a family as well as a church. Furthermore, the writer may be stressing the proper use of love prior to addressing the family’s misuse of it by hosting false teachers. (6) The NT elsewhere personifies the church as a woman (1Pt 5:13), and as the wife (Eph 5:22–33) or the betrothed (2Co 11:1) of Christ. If "the chosen lady" here is in like manner a local church, then who would her "chosen sister" of 13 be, a sister church? Furthermore, the switch in 6 from-second person singular ("I ask you, lady") to first-person plural ("we love one another") is more likely said to a woman and her children than to a church and its members. The most natural reading of the text, then, identifies the recipient as an individual woman with her children.

Purpose. Recently the writer had crossed paths with this lady’s children. To his delight he found them living exemplary Christian lives and was writing to inform her of it. But the children had informed John of their mother’s sincere but misguided hospitality to traveling heretical teachers. So he penned this letter to encourage this lady to keep displaying Christian love to all but, on the other hand, to cease assisting heterodox deceivers in their ministry. The key words are "truth" (1, 2, 3, 4) and "love" (1, 3, 5, 6). The latter comes from obeying the former. Following the truth leads to loving God and humanity.


I. Prologue (1–3)

II. The Christian’s Path (4–6)

III. The Christian’s Peril (7–11)

IV. Epilogue (12–13)


I. Prologue (1–3)

1–3. Writing to an individual, the author deemed it unnecessary to identify himself as an apostle, and instead used the term the elder. This speaks of age, office, and dignity, depicting him as speaking in a loving, fatherly role. He addressed the chosen lady, a woman divinely selected for salvation, and her children. The cause of the apostle’s brotherly love for this family is the truth. To embrace the gospel’s truth is to experience God’s love, fostering an affection in the believer for others. The author wrote elsewhere (1Jn 5:1) that one born of God loves both the Father and those born of Him. Furthermore, the revelation of the truth contains the command to love one another (1Jn 4:21; 2Jn 5). Truth currently abides in us and will be with us forever (2). Responding to truth also brings grace, mercy, and peace to be with us, all from God.

II. The Christian’s Path (4–6)

4–6. John informed this lady of his delight in having earlier found some of her children living (walking) in accord with Christian truth (4). The apostle urged her to continue complying with the commandment to love one another (5). This love is equated with living according to God’s commandments and sums up all commandments (6). This apostle was convinced that Christian love is demonstrated by obeying the Lord’s commands (Jn 14:15, 21; 1Jn 5:2).

III. The Christian’s Peril (7–11)

7–9. This section begins with the causal conjunction for. This word substantiates 5–6. The fresh summons there to obedience and love was due to false teachers; they were tampering with the truth, and their false teaching could mar Christian love and obedience. The letter’s recipient is reminded of her duty to love because many deceivers were spreading false teaching in her community. Their error was denying the coming of Christ in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. Such deception can seduce the saints from the truth and thus from brotherly love (7).

The NT warns that false teaching breeds arguments among believers (2Tm 2:14), leads to ungodliness (2Tm 2:16) and can upset believers’ faith (2Tm 2:18). In view of these many heretics, a caution is given: watch yourselves. This caution’s intention is twofold: to avoid losing the joy, peace, etc., that we have accomplished; and that you may receive a full reward on judgment day (8). This reward includes, in part, hearing the Lord’s "well done, good and faithful servant," as well as everlasting honor and recompense for having lived as divinely prescribed. Any teacher not remaining in the teaching of the incarnation of Christ, does not have a relationship with God. He goes too far—he advocates things beyond orthodox Christian doctrine. The one who abides in the teaching that God became flesh has a relationship with both the Father and the Son (9).

10–11. John gave two instructions on how to deal with false teachers not ascribing to this teaching. First, do not receive him into your house; that is, withhold hospitality of providing room and board. This instruction does not prohibit inviting false teachers into one’s home for a discussion about the truth; but it does forbid offering them a place to stay during their itinerant mission. Second, do not say, "Welcome," or encourage him by greeting him (10). To greet a traveling heretical evangelist by providing him lodging and food approves of and shares in his evil deeds of spreading heresy. Similarly, for a Christian today to financially contribute to a religious cult or unorthodox church or to a false teacher is to encourage and assist in the spreading of their false doctrines and practices.

IV. Epilogue (12–13)

12–13. John had many other things to discuss with this lady, but decided not to do it in writing. In a future visit they could speak face to face, increasing their joy (12). The children of yoursister (or the nieces and nephews of the addressee) sent their greetings to her. It would be difficult to see both children and sister as representing a church. But should these refer to a church, who would her sister be? So this sister is taken literally. Perhaps the reason this sister herself did not ask to be remembered is that she lived elsewhere, was dead, was absent, or for some reason failed to meet with the writer.


Akin, Daniel L. 1, 2, 3 John. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistles of John. London: Pickering & Inglis, 1970.

Burdick, Donald W. The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-depth Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1985.

Law, R. L. The Test of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1909.

MacArthur, John. 1–3 John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 2007.

Marshall, I. H. The Epistles of John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964.

Stott, John R. W. The Epistles of John: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964.

Yarbrough, R. W. 1-3 John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2008.


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