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reality bites: who’s John’s lady?

Frank Abagnale is probably the most famous identity thief because of Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of him in the movie Catch Me If You Can. In the 1960s, Abagnale eluded the FBI by posing as an airline pilot, doctor, assistant attorney general, and history professor while accumulating over $4 million with bad checks. Well, there is another case of stolen identity in the little letter we call 2 John.

Who did John write to? To the lady chosen by God and to her children whom I love in the truth (2 John 1:1). The lady? Was she a real lady? Or was lady a secret code word for church? Nowhere in the New Testament or in later Church writings do we find someone calling a church a lady (Greek kyria). In fact, no one has ever called congregations ladies” to the present day.

In a first century it was common to address a woman as kyria—much like our formal Dear Madam greeting. Why did John write to her? This lady was chosen by God. To do what? At the time of John’s writing, congregations met in homes. Over time, some cities eventually formed a network of house churches that were overseen by elders. So, John wrote to the lady chosen by God to lead the church gathering in her home.

John refers to the people attending this church as her children (2 John 1:1, 4)—like he calls those he discipled as children nine times (1 John 2:1, 12, 13, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). Where did John get this idea? From Jesus! Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me  so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ (John 13:33). He says it again when he asked his disciples, Children, do you have any fish? (John 21:5). 

The lady was a good pastor. I rejoiced greatly, says John, to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father (2 John 1:4). The lady wasn’t a cheerleader or therapist; she was a herald on behalf of the King. Preaching and teaching God’s word not only calls us to faith in Christ; it is also the means by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts. In other words, preaching is not mere instruction; it is through the proclamation of Scripture that God is present among us in Christ through the work of his Spirit.

John had one request: And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another (2 John 1:5). Was the lady’s church not loving each other well? John’s definition of love gives us a huge clue. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands (2 John 1:6a).

Who defines love that way? Jesus. If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). John is merely restating Jesus’s definition. Notice: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).

If this definition of love isn’t shocking enough, John pushes it further. Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he  doesn’t hold to this teaching, don’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil ways, making you his partner (2 John 1:9-11, MSG). The lady pastor must protect her children like a mama bear with cubs. The pulpit is not a theatrical stage or a platform for personalities or a throne to dispense orders. John reminds pastors that it’s their job to guard the pulpit against those who want to make it more about themselves than the teaching of Christ (2 John 1:9-10).

I love how 2 John ends. Post-talking is fine (I made that word up), but face-to-face conversations make our joy complete (2 John 1:12). Then to top it off, John adds, The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings (2 John 1:13).

What? There’s another lady pastor? Hooray!