The elder, to the much-favoured woman and her children, whom I love in truth, and [this love is] not only [from] me but also with all those who know the truth, 2 because that truth, which remains with us, will always be alongside us from now on: 3 grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, with truth and love.
4 I was much delighted when I came upon some of your children walking in the truth, according to the directive we received from the Father. 5 But now, [much favoured woman], what I want to write to you is no new directive, but one which has been in our possession from the beginning, [namely] that we should love one another. 6 And this is [that] love, [given to us] that we should walk according to his directives; these are those same directives you have heard from the beginning, given to you so that you should walk in them.
7 [You know,] many impostors have gone out [from us] into the world, [and they are] those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come bodily; and any such person is the impostor and the antichrist! 8 So watch yourselves, so that you will not lose what we have formed [together], but may [in time] receive a full commendation. 9 Everyone going forward without having the teaching of Christ alongside does not have hold of God's hand; the person who abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son [for company]. 10 So, if any come to you and do not bring this teaching, do not receive them into your house or extend hospitality; 11 for to issue [such] a blessing is to join hands with such people in their evil work.
12 Although I have much I could write to you, I propose not to use paper and ink but I hope to [soon] be with you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be full and overflowing. 13 The children of your much favoured sister [also] send you their greetings.
As we carefully read, and closely attend to, John's 1st Letter, we have confronted the writer's emphatic celebration of love. AGAPE is nothing less than the purpose of life. It is that which is found within the ever-widening household, a family circle which God is gathering as His own special place of dwelling.
We have noted to our benefit that the Letter informs us of the writer's developing self-understanding, having been conquered by this love, this perfected love [AGAPE] which banishes all fear (I John 4:18). John's Letter and all that it contains, and all that it anticipates for the future, is inextricably bound up in the wonderful and life-changing events that he has recounted in his gospel. He has recounted these things because they have burst in upon him, as the light which scatters the darkness that prevailed before the dawn! And now we read the first of two more personal letters, this one to a "much favoured woman". Such an ascription reminds us of the words of the angelic messenger uttered some decades earlier to the young woman who would give birth to Jesus:
Cast off all fear, Mary, for your are much favoured with God! (Luke 1:14).
Could John have been writing here to Mary, the woman God chose to be the mother of Jesus? We recall Jesus' request to John from the cross. In His agony, Jesus' heart went out to Mary - what is she to make of all of this? How is she to keep on singing the song she composed when she discovered that the angel had been right - that she was indeed with child. She composed a famous song for that celebratory moment, when Elizabeth her cousin confirmed the pregnancy in its earliest stage. And when her child was born, she and her husband cared for Him and did what any parents do for a young child. They watched Him grow and become an adult, they followed with interest as His teaching work developed. He proclaimed the Kingdom of God, just as she had done in her song. He took up the mantel which John the Baptist, Mary's nephew, passed on to Him when he was arrested by Herod. To his own disciples John the Baptist had said:
… he must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).
And then at His cross, John "the disciple Jesus loved", was asked by Mary's Son to take her into his house, and be as a son to her. In this way John indeed would act as Jesus' "right hand man"; but not in the way he, and his mother, the wife of Zebedee, had expected (Mark 10:35-45). This confirmed - both to John and to us - that family life, according to God's purposes, makes its own contribution to God's Kingdom. There, at the cross, that earlier request was answered with a directive from Jesus Himself to confirm John's family life as an integral part of his life in God's Kingdom.
So could it be that Mary is the "much favoured" woman addressed in this letter? In her song she had referred to herself as the bondmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38,48). Could she be the letter's intended recipient? It is, I guess possible, but I suspect not. More likely it is another woman, perhaps John's own mother, who was a close associate of Mary. John's final greeting to this "much favoured woman" in which another "much favoured woman" is indicated, is also important:
The children of your much favoured sister [also] send you their greetings.
Who are these children? Could they be John's own children and did he marry this woman's sister? We do not know but it seems that this sign-off points to John's own household, where he continued to act on the commission given to him from the cross? Could these then be members of the household of Mary? Whoever these two women were, this letter's connection to these two "much favoured" sisters tells us of John's closeness to them both as fellow-members of God's household, further confirming that life in God's Kingdom is also about service in family life, in marriage, in all our domestic and the other relationships formed by our household. This is about a life of service in the relationships God has given us and has nothing to do with some mystical non-bodily experience where we leave behind such earthly things.
Of course, there have been persistent Christian traditions that frantically try to insist that the young woman who gave birth to the Messiah, God's own Son, must have been so pure that she could simply not have had more children. But to take offence at the possibility that God might have allowed Mary and Joseph to have more children is simply to get confused about what the Gospel is teaching us. It is to blur what this Letter reminds us, namely that, with His dying breath, Jesus Christ, Israel's Messiah, with the authority of the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6), had given John a clear directive [ENTOLE] to oversee Mary's care. Her earthly needs as a woman, as a mother and a widow, had to be met.
This letter gives strong advice. To deny that Jesus Christ has come bodily is to deny one's connection to the family-circle in which God was pleased to make Himself known to us in a Human Person. That is nothing less than to deny Israel's Messiah, leaving oneself unprotected from the influence of idols. This brief letter then, in a practical way, applies the warning given at the end of John's 1st letter.
Little children, keep yourself from idols (1 John 5: 21)
This is no paternalistic advice - it is advice encouraging all members of God's family to see themselves as they really are - children of the Father, brothers and sisters of the Son of God. It is a personal letter written with urgency revealing a Gospel that confronts family life with the happy news that God is pleased to dwell with us in all our relationships. The letter is not panicked but simply identifies a problem. Those who, having some prior association with Jesus' earthly ministry, may orient their devious denial of His actual coming in flesh and blood, are not to be welcome. The message is this:
Don't have anything to do with these deceivers. To send them on their way with your blessing is to become a party to their deception.
John says in effect: Lock your doors! Don't answer when they knock! Love [AGAPE] stays with the truth. It does not spend its time trying to negotiate a new appearance in order to fit in with those who deny God's Son.