2 John – Priorities and Problems
In the last in our Christian Fundamentals series on the letters of John we look at John’s second and third letters. 2 John is only 13 verses and is, of all New Testament letters, most typical of what 1st century correspondence looked like. As you read it consider what issues stand out for you, what questions spring to your mind? Three that are typically highlighted are:
- The identity of the “chosen lady” in verse 1. The chosen lady might be a matriarchal figure in the church to which John is writing. Some think it is the universal, or catholic church, but the church universal does not have a “sister” (v13) The best authorities believe it is the church as the bride of Christ in its local expression. The word used for lady is the Greek kyria which is the feminine of kyrios (Lord). Christ is Lord, the church his bride. The sister is, in that case, a sister church.
- The possibility we might “lose what we have worked for” in verse 8. What is meant here is not salvation but eternal rewards. There are rewards for faithful service (Mt.25:21, 23) These are best explained by Paul in 1 Cor.3:12-15.
- The question of what to do with false teachers calling at your door in verses 10 & 11. In a world where itinerant preachers were commonplace these false teachers would not be doing door-to-door work. Rather, they would be calling on churches seeking an opportunity to preach. These churches met in homes and John is warning against welcoming false teachers “into the pulpit.” It does not mean we should not speak to and invite Jehovah’s Witnesses into our homes, provided we are confident in doing so. Howard Marshall explains it, “There is a difference between giving a person love and even hospitality and providing them with a base for their work.”
Problems on the Journey
New Testament writers do not devote themselves to the detailed dissection of false teachings. Rather, they hold up the light of truth, creating for all to see a stark contrast between truth and error. This has been the policy of Reachout Trust as we have found biblical truth the best teacher in considering conflicting truth claims. If you know and own God’s truth for yourself you are better protected from deception and better able to help others who are deceived.
There is a “because” in the text between v6 and v 7 and it should read, “As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you love one another because many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world.” Love of truth and love of the saints are the antidote to false teachings.
Too often in the Christian community today love is defined as sentimental, romantic, the way the world defines love. Doctrine (teachings) is downplayed in an attempt to show how open and loving we truly are. John makes clear that those who love the Lord walk in the truth, however inconvenient that truth may be to a fallen people. False teachers “have gone out into the world” (v7) because they deny essential doctrine and cannot exist in the environment of truth and love that would correct them.
The danger to Christians is a complacency concerning the truth and blindness to the error in the pleasant and plausible false teachers. Where before have we come across a plausible false teaching that beguiled a child of God? Being attractive, pleasing to the eye, and desirable is no test for truth; especially when God’s command is already so clear (Gen.3:1-6)
Like those first Christians, we already have “a pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim.1:13-14) and the only way to follow God is to know and follow that pattern (v9) How else are the lost to come, themselves, to a knowledge of the truth?
Priorities in Christian Living-Truth
John takes great joy in knowing they are continuing steadfastly in the truth. (v4) The truth is the foundation of the Christian life. Like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s story, we have come by way of the cross, shed our burden of sin, and are now on a journey into eternal life. It is a journey marked by truth.
God has commanded we walk “in truth and love” (v4) We have learned this in the first letter (1 Jn.2:7-11; 3:14-18; 4:12, 20-21) We are commanded to work out in our lives what we believe and the question now is not whether we know the truth but whether we live the truth. Christian love is not an emotional love but is a matter of obedience. It is a costly love and demands we make our feelings subject to our obedience, not the other way around.
Verse 6a speaks of “commands” and 6b of “command.” What is the difference? The ‘commands’ are the commandments familiar to us from the Bible. The ‘command’ is Jesus’ love commandment to love one another (John 13:34-35) It demonstrates that obedience is a daily concern to carry out God’s will as completely as possible in all circumstances. This fulfils Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment (Mk.12:28-31)
What if our love is weak?
We are reminded that, “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn.4:19) We engender love in our lives by going to God’s word and reminding ourselves of his great love for us. Gal.2:20; Je.31:3; Heb.12:10-11. This is how important the Bible is in our lives. We must apply the affirmations of love to ourselves, personalise them. Ro.8:31-39; Eph.1:3-14; 1 Pet.1:3-9. We feed ourselves on his word, discover his great love for us, and then “love compels us” (2 Cor.5:14) But this is no formula, rather it is how we build our relationship with God, through his word and by his Spirit, and with each other, through obedience to the spirit of love.
3 John – Friends, Frauds and Role Models
3 John is almost a mirror image of 2 John. In both the writer is the elder, in both he desires to visit the person to whom he writes, in both he is concerned about travelling teachers. The difference here is that this is a personal letter, written to Gaius, and the travelling teachers in mind are not the false teachers of 2 John but authentic representatives of Christ bringing the true gospel. Where 2 John warned against giving hospitality to false teachers 3 John encourages giving hospitality to true teachers. In our world of so many confusing voices, such confusion of doctrine, this is essential for us to understand and apply.
Might 2 and 3 John have been sent to the same church? John writes about his original approach to the church being rejected (v9). Was this an appeal to a personal friend in the church to keep the faith in the face of such opposition? Gaius received “the brothers” sent from John gladly and generously, but Diotrephes had denied them hospitality and threatened punishment for those who gave it.
The letter is addressed to Gaius, described by John as a dear friend (agapětos) vv2,5,11. This is agape love, the love of God that John has for Gaius. He is also described as ‘the one whom I love in the truth.’ If we want to see an example of the love written about in 2 John this is it. Christian love is not an emotional, romantic love but a divine love, grounded in truth.
John’s prayer for Gaius is for more than his spiritual well-being. “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (v2) This a prayer for practical provision. As both spiritual and physical beings we are to be neither ascetics, denying the needs of the body, nor epicureans, treating the physical as of first importance; both body and spirit need feeding. What does this tell us about the responsibility of the church to care for the practical needs of those set apart to full-time service and ministry?
John’s friend Gaius is:
Faithful to the truth
Faithful in Christian love (vv 5-8)
Gaius’s faithfulness shows in practical ways and he lived his faith such that he was ready always to to offer hospitality and comfort to faithful gospel teachers. What would visitors find in our homes? Would it be natural to welcome them or would we have to make special arrangements? Are we that consistent in our walk that we can confidently invite others into our lives?
Gaius is probably in the minority in the church and John commends and encourages him in his faithfulness (v6) so he wouldn’t “become weary in doing good” (Gal.6:9) Doing such good is a witness to the world. What would the world see if we refused to support and help one another in our faithful service to Christ and his body?
The main motivation in mission and evangelism is not concern for the lost, though that is one motivation, but faithfulness to Christ. How often have we taught that we witness to the cults, not for results, but for the sake of faithfulness. We do it because we love him and he commands it. Paul writes, “we are servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor.4:5 cf 1 Cor.15:58; Col.3:23-24) In serving the lost we are serving him. Are we prepared to serve Christ by welcoming his true servants despite what others think, do, or say?
“I wrote to the church (2 John?), but Diotrpehes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” (vv 9-10)
How does Diotrephes compare with Gaius? Is he faithful to the truth? Is he faithful in Christian love?
Diothrepes wanted to be in charge and John’s approach to the church threatened that. When John refers to “gossiping” the word is “babbling,” indicating talk that is malicious, makes no sense because it is simply untrue. John makes it clear that he will not seek peace at any price (v10 cf 1Cor.4:18-21; 2 Cor.13:1-4) Division in the church must be dealt with however difficult it is. One of the advantages of the biblical model of team leadership is that it avoids having one personality imposing their agenda on the church.
When we come across such a bad example as Diothrepes how are we to respond? John now presents another friend, Demetrius, a role model. Urging Gaius to imitate what is good, he writes of Demetrius as that example. He is “well spoken of by by everyone – and even by the truth itself.” (v12) This might mean that Demetrius, when measured against God truth, is not found wanting. He lived a life of faith and a genuine Christian life cannot remain hidden (Mt.5:14)
Note John immediately connects the moral qualities of good and evil with a personal relationship with God.
“Anyone who does what is good is from God”
“Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God (in Christ)”
A person born of God possesses eternal life, and out of the power of God within does good. If we want to live a life of goodness we don’t start with a moral code, or rules, but with the power of God within. If we lack Christ we will never be like Christ.
The church still has problems to face because of sin. These three, Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius represent different approaches to church membership and leadership and the message is clear. If we are to tackle the inevitable problems of being a Christian community we must allow the love of God and love for the truth to change us. CS Lewis famously said:
“There are two kinds of people: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, have it your own way.”
Perhaps we should reflect on Diotrephes’ example and consider the consequences of always having things our own way. Perhaps then we will more readily follow the example of both Demetrius and Gaius. Paul writing to Timothy in Ephesus about the importance of Scripture and the danger of error, writes:
‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.’ (2 Tim.3: 14-15)
Paul is saying to Timothy here, ‘Remember the faith of your mother and grandmother.’ (1:5) Do we know the sacred writings, the Scripture as Paul is confident Timothy does? Are the influences in our lives, those who have taught us from our first coming to faith, continuing to impact our Christian walk, keeping us firmly in the truth?
‘Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.’ (1 Tim.4:15-16)