2 John 1–3 (NKJV)
The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, 2 because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Today we begin a series of exhortations from John’s second epistle – one of the shortest books of the Bible. John identifies himself quite simply as “The Elder” who writes to “the elect lady and her children.” As an “elder” John identifies himself as one whom Christ called to shepherd a specific congregation in the fear of God. As such, John writes to the “elect lady and her children” most likely a reference not to an individual woman and her actual children but to a specific congregation and the members of that congregation. This is confirmed by the way he closes the letter. He writes, “The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.” John’s epistle is a letter from his congregation to theirs.
Note, therefore, two things about John’s title for the church, “the elect lady and her children.” First, John personifies each local church as a lady chosen by God: he writes to “the elect lady” and his congregation is the “elect sister.” This means that Trinity Church too is a lady and to be treated as such. But not only is the church a lady, she is also elect – chosen, selected by God to represent Him on earth and to be His peculiar people. John’s choice of feminine imagery, not only “elect” but an “elect lady”, fits with Paul’s identification of the church as the bride of Christ.
Second, members of the congregation are called “her children.” John writes to the “elect lady and her children” and sends greetings from “the children of your elect sister.” The local, visible church, in other words, is our mother. And as our mother, we are called upon to honor her and support her, to esteem her and value her. John wants us to apply the 5th commandment, to “honor your father and mother”, not only to our earthly parents but also to our spiritual parents. We honor the our Heavenly Father and we honor the Church our Mother, the bride of Christ. So even as Jesus, the husband of the elect lady, pursues her holiness, so we, as children of the elect lady, are to honor her in the fear of God.
Notice, therefore, that John’s manner of address expresses a robust theology of the church. Our local church, in our case Trinity Church, is our mother. Therefore, we are to love her in the truth. So John Calvin writes:
… let us learn even from the simple title ‘mother’ how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know [the visible church]. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives… God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.
So what of you? Have you loved and cherished the church, devoted yourself to her health and growth, prayed for her children, contributed to her stability, preserved her purity? John reminds you today to honor your mother.
So having heard these words, let us confess before the Father the ways in which we have failed to honor our mother. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess together.