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A Letter to a Lady

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
February 19, 2024 12:00 am

A Letter to a Lady

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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February 19, 2024 12:00 am

Listen to the full-length version of this message or the other messages in this series here:  Even in the salutation of the Apostle John's Second Letter, he offers profound words of encouragement to the anonymous woman to whom he is writing. He calls her "chosen." His letter's opening reminds this woman that she and her children have not been forgotten, and they are loved--by John and the Lord. Whatever our circumstances or challenges, let us remember who we are in Christ and stand firm on the promises of God.


Take another look at the Apostle John. Here's a man that had preached of multitudes of people. Here's a man uniquely empowered by God, one of the apostolic community. He had healed people. He had been used by God to write John's Gospel and the letters of John in the book of Revelation. He was personally given a tour. He saw the stunning glory of the throne of God.

He described for us the glories of that golden city. Now, what great things are you doing for God, John? Today on Wisdom for the Heart, we begin a series through the Second and Third Epistles of John.

Stephen Davey calls this series Postcards from John. Even in the salutation of John's Second Epistle, he offers profound words of encouragement. He's writing this letter to an anonymous woman.

He calls her chosen. His letter's opening reminds this woman that she and her children have not been forgotten. They are loved by both John and the Lord. As you listen today, you'll be reminded that whatever your circumstances or challenges, who you are in Christ makes all the difference. There's something touching about private correspondence, whether it's a letter or an email or a quick text. How we write and what we write has a lot to say about who we are, what we're looking forward to, what we want or like.

There's something personal and touching and powerful about handwritten personal letters. I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to one of them. It's been preserved for us. If you head toward the book of Revelation, you'll bump into it just a half a page long. We call it the Second Letter of John. This is a private letter written by the apostle John to an anonymous woman. In fact, the letter is so private and so personal that the apostle doesn't even need to name himself or give us her name either. It simply begins, the elder to the chosen lady.

That's it. Now, there's little doubt that John the apostle is the author because of comparison. In fact, eight of these 13 verses are taken almost identically from 1 John and placed in this personal note.

These are the same emphases, the same doctrines, the same points. This is John's vocabulary and his style. Now, just to set the stage, John at this point is the last surviving apostle. He's one of the 12 original disciples chosen by the Lord and then commissioned later as apostles to lead the early church. By the time John writes this little letter, the term presbyter, presbuteros translated here elder, has been in use for some 40 years.

He's not the only one, the only one serving. He's living out the remainder of his days in Ephesus after having returned from exile on the island of Patmos. By the time he writes this letter, he is around 90 years of age.

He'll live nearly a decade longer. He is referring to himself with this pastoral title that he had become known by, a role which stretched way beyond his involvement in the church at Ephesus from which he wrote this. Before we dive into the text, let's make sure we don't miss the obvious.

What amazes me about this opening line are a couple of things really. One is that John is still writing to encourage people when he's 90. He might not have been at this point strong enough to travel those weary years on the island.

The rigor of that lifestyle might have weakened him. We don't know if he is involved in itinerant preaching, if he's even strong enough to stand, but he can still write, and so he writes. I don't think John had any idea that we'd be dissecting and analyzing and expounding on his postcard.

I think it's surprising that we'll spend weeks, well months, but not years, relax. I don't think John had any idea of the encouragement and the richness and the reach of this little note that would have its way around the world. I do want to suggest this, that even if it didn't go any further than this one woman's house, if that's as far as it went, as far as God was concerned, and as far as John the apostle was concerned, this one person would have been worth the effort. This one woman made me wonder, what am I missing? Who am I missing?

What opportunity am I missing? Take this example from 2 John to heart. If you're, beloved, if you're prone to listen to the lie whispered in your heart that you're not all that important in the church or to the church because you don't have a title and you don't have an office and you don't have a podium and you don't have some public role.

In fact, all you seem to do well these days is write people little notes of encouragement and that voice whispers, come on, is that it? That's a lie from the serpent that troubles your spirit. Take another look at the apostle John. Here's a man that had preached to multitudes of people. Here's a man uniquely empowered by God, one of the apostolic community. He had healed people. He had orchestrated the direction of what we would call the first megachurch on the planet. He had been used by God to write John's gospel and the letters of John in the book of Revelation.

He'd been tucked at and pulled at by the masses of people. He was personally given a tour. He saw the stunning glory of the throne of God. He described for us the glories of that golden celestial city. Now, what great things are you doing for God, John? I'm just writing a note to a mother who's in need of guidance and encouragement. Beloved, let's never get too big to do something small.

Just think about this too. God chose not to preserve for us any sermon outline by John, no manuscript, no tape or CD or MP3, nothing, but he preserved for us this little note to an unnamed woman. And it simply begins, the elder to the chosen lady. Now, just who was this chosen lady?

Who is the recipient of this first century postcard? Now, would you believe, and I'm sure you do, that there are at least six different opinions on who she was. You can't imagine the hours I spent reading 49 authors and experts in the field who weighed the evidence in their own favor regarding one of these six opinions.

At one point, I was hoping it would snow today. So let's answer the question. Here are the differing viewpoints. First, that this lady is a metaphor. She represents the universal church, or that is the church worldwide. Or, she's a metaphor for a local, unnamed church, one of them. Well, the problem with this view is found in the personal comments in this letter that you really have to sort of ignore to fit this metaphor. I mean, he talks to her as if she's a real woman, that she has a real house, that she has real children. In fact, the warning is that she's going to give hospitality to false teachers, and he doesn't want her to do that. That's a real warning to a real woman.

So to stretch this just stretches it beyond to me what the text would allow. And let me give you one other thought about this view that I really don't like. What I really don't like is the fact that in the New Testament, while the church is referred to in feminine terminology, we're told that Jesus died for her, Ephesians 5.21, a very special, sweet nuance in him being the bridegroom of we, the church of the bride. And we're told that we are the bride of Christ in Revelation 21. But the church is never, ever hinted at or called in the Scriptures, the mother of believers.

Never. You are not children of the church. And for this to be the metaphor, that makes you children of the church. The church has absolutely no ability to give anybody life. We don't give spiritual life or a spiritual birth.

Only God can do this. And this view grew in strength as the church became corrupted that viewed the church as the mother of those who were truly converted. This is far different than what the Scriptures would tell us.

In fact, John in his gospel makes it very clear that when you accept Jesus Christ, when you receive him, you are given the right to become children of, say it with me, God. There's another view that this lady is a real woman, but her name is Mary, as in Mary, the mother of the Lord. Again, early church leaders got that rather ingeniously by translating chosen, the elder to the chosen lady.

Chosen can be understood as eminent and it can be. And since there was no woman in their view more eminent than Mary, the mother of Jesus, this is obviously a letter to Mary. Well, it's highly unlikely if John is in his 90s, which he is, for Mary, older than John, quite a bit older, that she would still be alive. She has since long, since disappeared from Scripture. Furthermore, it panders to the view that she then is the mother of all believers.

So the metaphor to me takes us down the wrong path and stretches the truth of Scripture. There's another view, a fourth view, that it is a real woman, but her name is Martha. Again, one of the early women that traveled along with the Lord. Again, early church fathers knew that the word translated lady to a chosen lady in the Aramaic language can serve as a common name, korea, which is translated from Aramaic, at least into English, Martha. John knew that and the major problem I have with that view is he's not writing in Aramaic.

He's not trying to subtly hint. He's writing in Greek. A fifth view is that she was a real woman named Electa. Again, going back to the word chosen, eklectes, that word could form a proper name, electa. The problem with this view is that in the Greek text, the word chosen is an adjective, not a noun. It is nouns, proper nouns, which give us names. John, again, understood a little bit of grammar.

The view, I thought, was actually funny. If this is true, if you look down at verse 13, John ends this letter by saying, the children of your chosen sister greet you. He uses the same word for her, eklectes, chosen, which means electa's sister's name, if she was a real woman, would have to be electa as well. Now, that would mean that their mother either really liked the name electa or forgot that she named the older daughter electa and then named the younger daughter electa.

I thought that was funny. Finally, the sixth view is that she was an anonymous, faithful woman. In other words, the word chosen is to be taken as an adjective, which it is in the construction here. It can mean excellent, permanent. It can also mean faithful or choice.

This is a compliment. And the word lady could be taken simply as lady, which in our language we would translate as ma'am. In fact, let me give you a literal translation of this opening phrase, which answers the questions. You might want to get a pencil and write it down. Here's how it should read. The elder to the chosen lady. There you have it.

All those hours to arrive here. But I did want you to hear some of the evidence as to the other views because I know there are others who hold. She is an unnamed yet faithful believer. Now, the word chosen, eklectes, would have encouraged her immensely to know that she had not been forgotten as a widow that seems to be the implication here.

A mother who raised children, by the time he writes this letter they're grown. She's not only not been forgotten, but the implication is she was chosen by God before time began, but what has happened in her life has been chosen for her as well by her sovereign Lord. In fact, the only other time in the New Testament this word chosen is attached to someone's name or another individual.

It only happens one other time. It's in Romans chapter 16 verse 13 where Paul writes, greet Rufus, a choice eklectes, a choice eklectas, a choice man in the Lord. The word eklectas is to be understood as someone with an excellent reputation. I don't know why the translator shifted and called her chosen and him choice because I think that's a wonderful translation, a choice servant of Christ. So, whoever this anonymous woman is in some anonymous unnamed church somewhere in the world, John knew her. She knew John and he's writing to this choice faithful servant of our Lord. We're not really told why she had that reputation other than the fact that she had a heart given to hospitality and that's a danger and John wants to warn her not to give hospitality to false teachers. She's known for her faithful testimony. She's tried to pass on her godly influence to her children. We'll learn later on that some of her children were walking with God and some of them were not. So, when we get the recipient right, that John is writing to a literal woman, a literal mother with literal children that she's a real woman with a real house where she's going to entertain real guests, that she has a real sister and she has real nieces and nephews.

It just sort of colors now our ability to make application as we ought to and the right perspective in our lives. This is a brief note written to a godly woman and her children. Notice the rest of this opening phrase, the elder to the chosen lady and her children whom I love in truth. John isn't being discreet here.

He isn't crossing a boundary when he tells her that he loves her. In fact, he doesn't use the word philia which would mean I have deep affection for you. He uses that covenantal word agape.

I have a commitment to you like God has to you as his child. But I want you to notice in the text he includes the children in this statement of love. The elder to the chosen lady and her children whom, that references all the above, whom I love in truth. In our language, we could say it, whom I love in the Lord. Who is in sum and substance of the truth. He's going to drive the truth, the truth, the truth, home. It resides, it emanates from, it is surrounded by, it is sourced in Christ.

He's going to make that clear. I love you in him. I love you because we both, along with your children, we all belong to him. There's this immediate love, this sense of loyalty and desire to support and our love is rooted in the truth of Christ. This would have been incredibly encouraging to this woman because he's telling her, not only do I love you, but all who know the truth. See, we're part of a community. He's telling more than likely this widow, you're not alone.

You're part of a family and you meet any of them, they're going to love you just like I do. How encouraging this would have been to her to read. Let me wrap up this first study here with a couple of thoughts that came to mind in addition to some of the other points of application.

Let me spell these out. Number one, some things can remain steadfast and never need to change with time. That's why he begins with this nuanced retelling of unchanging truths. You've been chosen by God in his grace. Your life has been planned by the providence of God implied in the sovereign Lord. There is truth, the truth, the truth that never changes for it emanates from Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.

You belong to this community of believers and that love doesn't change because it's rooted in Christ. There are things that never change with time. Secondly, some things can remain hopeful even when time changes everything. Imagine how her world had changed. What she thought would be her lot, what would she thought would be her marriage, what she thought her children would become.

How much has changed over time? Imagine her culture around her. You talk about quicksand. In fact, beloved, if you think we're living in a wicked generation, start studying the first century of Rome.

It will greatly encourage you. She's living in that cesspool. It wants to bury her.

It wants to bury everything about life that matters. Raising godly children, come on, that's impossible. Managing a household without a husband by her side, that'd be exhausting and discouraging. Putting bread on the table, that's going to be a daily challenge. You probably prayed the Lord's prayer over and over and over again. Daily bread, Lord, just for today, making ends meet, thinking about the future with any sense of hope, that would be a battle.

Maybe you're facing the same one, though in different ways. And here comes this knock on the door and in the letters handed to her from none other than the elder statesman of the church, an old, wise, gracious, caring elder, John. I imagine her reading it over and over and over. She shares it. The church reads it.

It begins to spread. It is authorized over time as that God-breathed, Spirit-stamped truth because this church needs it. This was written to you and to me. She would need these encouraging words, which is why God prompted John to be faithful in doing something small. I read of a woman by the name of Mary Cushman this past week. Her testimony pulled out of the Great Depression days of the 1930s where she and her husband and her five children were trying to make it day by day. Her husband had become ill, but even before then, they would live off his paycheck of around $18. She dressed her five children in Salvation Army clothing.

Ill-fitting, but warm enough. Still barely able to make ends meet, her husband becomes ill. In a prolonged illness, unable to work, she adds to her incredibly busy, discouraging, hectic, difficult days the laundry and the ironing of her neighborhood to earn some nickels and some dimes. The local grocer finally stops loaning them food when their family tab reaches $50. Then her oldest son is caught stealing food from that same grocer. With that, the last strand of hope just snapped.

She writes, I couldn't see any hope any longer even though a believer. I took my youngest, my little five-year-old daughter into my bedroom with me. I plugged up the windows and cracks with paper and rags and then I turned on the gas heater we had in there, but I didn't light it. I lay down on the bed with my little girl beside me and I told her we were going to take a little nap and then things would be better. And I closed my eyes, listening to the gas escape from that little heater.

I will never forget the smell of that gas as I began to fall asleep. Suddenly I thought I heard music. I stirred and listened.

I had forgotten to turn off the radio in the kitchen. I heard the singing of an old hymn and the lyrics I knew by heart. Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. As I listened to that hymn, I realized the tragic mistake I was making.

I had tried to fight terrible battles alone on my own. I jumped up, I turned off the gas, I opened the door, raised the windows just in time. Then I began to thank God for all he had given me, all that I had taken for granted. Poorly fed, poorly clothed children, but I had been given children. A husband ill and unable to work, but I had been given a husband. A future without answers and financial resources, but a future where God would keep his promises. I had been standing on my problems with God instead of standing on the promises from God.

I couldn't help but think of her as John begins with his opening lines to encourage this anonymous woman, his sister in Christ. Look, you're in danger. Be careful. In fact, there are only two commands in this letter.

One of them is be alert and don't do that. Look, you belong to Christ. You are rooted in his sovereign purposes. You have needs, but take them and those burdens and those longings and those hopes to the truth, to the truth, to the truth know in Christ.

In the days ahead, Stephen will continue through second and then third John in this series called Postcards from John. I hope you'll be with us for all of it and that God will use this teaching to revolutionize your life. Changing lives is what God's word does.

That's why Stephen has dedicated his life to teaching it. I encourage you to join us each weekday as we study verse by verse through God's word together. Access more of our resources at and then join us back here next time on Wisdom for the Heart. I'll see you next time. I'll see you next time.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-19 00:08:47 / 2024-02-19 00:17:37 / 9

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