Study #2 (2 John 3)
Expecting Grace, Mercy, and Peace
Our previous study considered verses 1 and 2 of the Second Letter of John.
1. The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,
2. because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
The “elder” is probably the Apostle John who was writing to this elect lady and her children as he expressed his love in truth for them. John’s love and this letter which it produced, are anchored in God’s truth. Since truth and legitimate love are ours by God’s grace, we are assured that these amazing provisions will be with us forever.
John then pronounced God’s blessing upon them.
3. Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
John’s comment here is more a reminder of God’s promised blessings than a simple friendly greeting.
Grace, mercy, and peace were common words used to begin some of the letters in the New Testament. Paul uses these same three words to begin his letters to Timothy. Peter and Jude use grace and peace. Their greetings are more prayers or wishes that God should grant these blessings. The grammar is a bit different in this personal letter of John. Here John declares these things as certain possessions of the Christian. It’s not that the other writers didn’t also believe these promises of God are already assured to us. But this Second Letter of John was a very personal letter of encouragement, therefore the confidence of divine promise and certainty was emphasized.
God’s Grace is with us.
The word translated as “grace” is “charis” (χάρις). It’s the completely unmerited favor of God that redeems his people from sin. Grace removes our guilt through Christ. It’s absolutely free and undeserved. God had established this basic truth from the beginning.
Exodus 33:19 , “And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
Deuteronomy 7:6-7, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,”
When the word “grace” appears in the Old Testament it’s usually a translation of the Hebrew word, “khanan” (חנן). According to Dr. Girdlestone, this word represents “the free bestowal of kindness to one who has neither claim upon our bounty, nor adequate compensation to make for it.” Grace has always been the only way lost sinners are brought in faith to the God who made them.
This Greek word used here in Second John for “grace” didn’t always mean the same thing. Words often change with usage. In the older Greek language, long before the New Testament was written, this word was primarily used of the perception of beauty. It was something only in the eye of the beholder and had no objective reality in itself. It was a subjective quality. It later came to be used of the beauty itself, that which caused the appreciative perception in the beholders. Today we use the term “graceful” in that sense to mean fluidity and beauty of motion.
Later, closer to the time John wrote this letter, this Greek word was used by ethical philosophers to describe the beauty that came from favors done freely without any obligation or expectation of a returned favor or payment. It was in that sense that the Holy Spirit led the New Testament writers to adopt this Greek word for “grace” when speaking of this continuing attribute of God.
The New Testament uses this word to describe God’s unmerited favor toward his people. Works cannot be considered as a cause of grace. Truly good works are produced in us by grace and are evidences that grace has been extended. To put our works as the cause of grace instead of grace as the cause of our good works is not biblical.
Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
Romans 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Those saved by grace will trust in the work of Christ with sincere faith, and will do good works as evidences. Doing things or deciding to believe in Christ to earn grace is a contradiction in terms. God’s grace toward fallen sinners is exclusively an act of his redeeming love. Grace is not directed by God in any sense toward unbelievers except as God redeems them.
We should not speak of God’s grace in general terms. The term “common grace” is inaccurate. It implies that this unmerited redeeming favor of God is extended to all people, but he only redeems when a person responds to it. God may show mercy or care for all people, but it’s only accurate to say that he shows grace only to those chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The idea of a general grace that is resistible and comes to men who may reject it, misuses this word in a way the Bible never uses it of God. It contradicts the way in which hearts are changed by God when he saves them. It makes us instead of God as the ones who decide who will be redeemed.
God’s Mercy will be with us.
“Mercy” translates the Greek word “eleos” (ἔλεος). This is the tender concern of God that cares for those in misery and suffering. Mercy and pity are related ideas in Scripture. They are responses to misery, and misery is a result of the entry of sin into our world.
Scripture uses this word more broadly than the term “grace”. God’s grace is what moves him to redeem the undeserving in Christ, but his mercy is extended with respect to all of creation as it struggles under the curse of sin. All the objects of God’s grace are redeemed. Not all who are the objects of mercy are redeemed. God may restrain the outward suffering of the wicked but still not remove their guilt by Christ.
God’s grace and mercy do not ignore the demand of justice. All who naturally descend from Adam deserve eternal spiritual death, separation from God. Those elected to salvation had that demand of justice satisfied by the death of Christ, the only possible substitute. Those who are not redeemed by his death will pay eternally for their guilt.
The mercy of God toward the elect is extended as a loving Father to his children. The mercy of God toward the reprobate is extended as a sovereign governor to ensure a better environment for his people and the successful unfolding of his eternal plan. As our Creator God’s mercy to all displays his power and tenderness in spite of how he is treated, but without setting aside the demands of justice.
God’s mercy and pity are not exactly like that which we might have. Our pity is a reaction to seeing people suffer while we don’t understand how it all fits into God’s larger purposes. God sees human suffering with a different perspective. He knows how it all is a part of his eternal designs. For the sake of his elect and for the display of his glory, God is moved to restrain and relieve suffering again and again.
In the Old Testament “khesed” (חסד) is the common Hebrew word used for “mercy”. The King James Version translates it as, “kindness, mercy, pity, favor, goodness, lovingkindness”. Closely related Hebrew words are “rakham” (רחם ), “tender feelings of pity”, and “rukhamah” (רוחטה) the feminine form of that same word.
God’s mercy is clearly shown toward the weak or suffering.
Psalm 103:13, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”
Exodus 34:6, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ ”
Deuteronomy 4:31, “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. ”
2 Samuel 24:14, “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.’ ”
As God’s children we too ought to show mercy to those in misery. It’s practical evidence of a true God-implanted love. (For example consider the conduct of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:37.)
God’s Peace will be with us.
Peace in Scripture is not freedom from calamities and bad circumstances. It’s the inner blessing of calm in the soul which God gives in spite of circumstances. Even in the midst of tragedy there is an abiding and inexplicable joy for the child of God. This is how Paul in his letter to the Philippian church could express his continuing joy while held in a Roman prison:
– Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
– Philippians 4:11, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
This inner confidence, harmony, and calm is a covenant blessing available to us in our union with God. The union is possible only when sin is forgiven through the atonement of Christ. The world looks for tranquility by trying to eliminate problems. The believer finds peace that overcomes and sees him through the problems.
These three characteristics promised by God certainly adhere to his people. So John assures them that they will have these things in Christ.
These three blessings originate in God the Father and Jesus Christ.
3. … from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son …
James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
God is the source of every blessing, even those outward favors poured out on the undeserving atheists when they are healthy, safe, and have food and other provisions. Their further condemnation is that they fail to give God the glory for all he gives them.
The grammar John uses here places Jesus on the same level with God the Father. They are equals, and with the Holy Spirit they constitute the one True God. The Cerinthians imagined Jesus to be a mere son of Joseph and Mary upon whom the Christ descended for a while. But the record of Scripture is clear. Jesus has always been the promised Messiah, the Christ. He was and still is the eternal Son of the Father, and together they are the source of these blessings. Jesus was no mere “emanation” sent from a distant wholly transcendent deity. He, together with the Father, is the source of every blessing of grace, mercy, and peace which are brought upon us and which are sustained by the work of God the Holy Spirit.
These blessings come in truth and in love.
3. … in truth and love.
These blessings come from God in truth and love, and they flow in truth and love through John, the concerned writer, and the other believers mentioned.
Truth and love are inner works of the Holy Spirit. They make these gifts of grace, mercy, and peace flourish in us. This work and promise of God causes us to confidently expect them for ourselves and other believers.
Truth unites the covenant community against falsehood. Love is demonstrated in the community of true believers as they are drawn together as a family in unity with Christ. Together, truth and love create the environment in which grace, mercy and peace abound.
Bob Burridge ©2017
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted