Introduction The second and third epistles of John are the smallest writings in the N.T., but they carry their own unique message. There is a connection between them in their subject matter, the second epistle referring to those to whom Christian hospitality and welcome should not be extended, and the third referring to those to whom such hospitality should be extended and not refused. The emphasis is therefore practical rather than doctrinal. At the same time, however, the practical will be seen to flow from the doctrinal truths unpacked in the first epistle.
Presentation 01 Introduction In the first epistle, the theme is fellowship with the Father and the Son; in the second and third, the practical outcome of that fellowship comes into view. John's exhortations are consistent with the doctrines he has unpacked. In this sense, the second and third epistles bear the same relation to the first as for example the Corinthian epistles bear to the epistle to the Romans; in the latter Paul expounds the doctrine of the cross; in the other two he applies that doctrine to a church setting. So here, John first expounds the doctrine of fellowship, then applies it to a particular situation. ?
Presentation 01 The Recipient The first problem is to identify the ‘elect lady'. There are two main schools of thought; one that it is a specific individual lady of his acquaintance that John refers to, the other that the reference is to a particular Church for which John had oversight. The latter is the more likely interpretation. John's language in v 1,2, seems to be more appropriate with reference to a fellowship than to an individual. Furthermore, it is scarcely likely that he would speak of love for an individual as a commandment as he does in v5.
Presentation 01 In addition, the fact that John makes a transition from the second person singular v4-5 to the plural in v6,8 and 10, suggests that it is a community rather than an individual that he has in mind. All these factors, coupled with the thought of such references as 1 Pet. 5v13 “She who is at Babylon” - where Peter obviously refers to a fellowship of believers, not an individual, make it more probable, if not almost certain, that John is referring in this epistle to some local fellowship of Christians, probably in Asia. The Recipient
Presentation 01 Binding Truth John writes, “love in the truth” v1, teaching that the truth of God and of the gospel is an external, objective bond that binds believers together thus forming common ground in Christian fellowship. It is not a question of like being drawn to like, this is never what N.T. means by fellowship. It is easy to feel drawn to those with whom we feel natural affinity, when tastes, temperaments or cultural interests coincide, but this is not the biblical notion of Christian, in which truth is the bond that binds us together, and produces love in our hearts for one another. Christian love is rooted in Christian truth.
Presentation 01 This is something which needs to be born in mind in an a church preoccupied with the ecumenical movement. Compromise of the truth for the sake of unity can never lead to unity. Why? Because love, which is the only possible basis for unity among believers, is produced by truth. When the eternal truth of the gospel is diluted, love is diminished and the possibility of unity evaporates. Recognising that it is not possible to love in the Christian sense except “in the truth”, opens the door for a more meaningful discussion. Binding Truth
Presentation 01 Blessing To Come John's opening greeting in v3, reads very like Paul's in most of his epistles, but there is a significant difference. John uses a future tense, and should read, “grace, mercy and peace will be with you”. It is not so much a prayer that John utters, as an assurance which he gives. John is implying that when hearts are bound together by the bond of truth, then grace, mercy and peace and all the other rich blessings that God bestows upon his people - will be ours.
Presentation 01 Truth Under Fire This reinforces the supreme importance of holding to the truth in Christian life. The Psalmist writes, “you have so exalted your solemn decree [your word] that it surpasses your fame”. Ps 138:2. Everything is imperilled when Divine, revealed truth is attacked or brushed aside. As if to confirm this John adds at the end the words 'in truth and love'. This safeguards against any loveless advocacy of the truth [cf. Eph.4.15 “speaking the truth in love” ] in which harshness and arrogance, because they are the opposite of love, turn the truth of God into a lie.
Presentation 01 Finally, listen to what one writer calls the ‘the music of eternity’ in John's description of our Lord as ‘the Son of the Father’. With beautiful simplicity John emphasises the mystery of the Godhead in these words, while implicitly challenging the heretics' denial of Christ's deity and incarnation. Doctrine [truth] is never very far from John's mind, even in the most practical of his exhortations! Truth Under Fire
Presentation 01 Walking In Truth John's expression of thanksgiving is real though guarded in v4, for the wording implies that not all the members of the fellowship were walking in the truth, and the news he has received concerning them would account in part at least for his writing this epistle to them. The additional phrase, “just as the Father commanded us” reminds us that “walking in truth” is not, as the heretics maintained, an intellectual matter, but moral, and associated with keeping the commandments of God.
Presentation 01 We must understand that to fall into error is not merely a misfortune, but a sin, and as such something to be repented of. But John does not only emphasise the truth; he links it, as we have seen, with love. Together, truth and love form the great commandment which, as John twice emphasises in these verses, is ‘from the beginning’. Probably a reference to "the faith once delivered to the saints”. No-one has any right to use the name ‘Christian’ for a system of teaching that empties it of its original meaning and content. Walking In Truth
Presentation 01 But, can faith and love be commanded for John to speak of them as he does? Love is a command to be undertaken by a deliberate choice. So too with faith, which is not something that oddly develops in some people who have been born that way, but through the obedience we give to the summons of God. Paul's response on the Damascus Road makes this very clear, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" God commands us to have faith, as he commands us to repent [Acts 17:30], and to love [John 15:17], not to do so is disobedience, and therefore sin. John underlines the gospel’s basic moral summons to our consciences and wills. Walking In Truth
Presentation 01 False Teachers John now refers to the false teachers that were troubling the Church, those ‘who had gone out into the world‘, meaning either that these deceivers had gone out from among the true believers, or that they had gone out on mission for anti-Christ. Many favour the latter interpretation, suggesting that they had claimed to have been commissioned by the prince of darkness to go out into the world as apostles of evil and destruction. This idea also appears in the Book of Revelation, where the trinity of evil - the dragon, the beast and the false prophet - 'apes' the Holy Trinity and parodies the gospel.
Presentation 01 The refusal to acknowledge that Christ has come in the flesh refers to the Corinthian heresy, which is the subject matter of the first epistle. Here, the verb ‘as coming' is in form a present participle. Commentators stress that this indicates the incarnation to be historical and 'an abiding truth', emphasising the permanent union of the divine and human natures in the person of the Son. It is the arch-deceiver himself who is behind such a denial [cf. 1 John 2v18,22,26]. False Teachers
Presentation 01 Leaving Truth Behind Verse 8 speaks of the readers being in danger of losing their reward. This thought is echoed elsewhere in the N.T. cf. 1 John 2v28, 1 Cor.3v15, Rev. 3v11. The thought is of course, not of winning or losing salvation, which is the free gift of God, but of reward for faithful service, in terms of our Lord's words in Matt 25v21. In v9, the word translated ‘runs ahead’ suggests that the heretics had 'advanced' so far in their 'avant-garde' views that they had left the truth of God, and God Himself, behind.
Presentation 01 This is a timely warning to those today who want to be 'with it' theologically and who leave behind the 'faith once delivered to the saints’. They are crossing the line of orthodoxy and believe that such 'advance' is an evidence of the leading of the Spirit who, Christ promised, would lead us on into all truth. But the Spirit of Christ will never lead men away from the 'truth as it is in Jesus', which truth is always scriptural and related to the historical events of the incarnation, atonement and resurrection. How could anything that denies these truths be of God, or inspired by his Spirit? Leaving Truth Behind
Presentation 01 Refuse Hospitality! Verses 10,11 have given rise to much dispute, some even rejecting John's teaching. But we are not free to set aside the ethical injunctions of the apostles. John Stott suggests three things that need to be borne in mind in a balanced interpretation of John's worth. First, John is referring to teachers of false doctrines, not merely to those who have been taken in by them. There is nothing said about not entertaining people with wrong views. Secondly, John may well have in mind, not private hospitality at all, but an official welcome given to such teachers into the fellowship. Opening our pulpits to a Mormon or Jehovah Witness evangelists, may be near what John has in mind.
Presentation 01 Thirdly, John has in mind a particular kind of heretic, one who denies the incarnation, already described in v7 as 'deceiver’ and ‘anti-Christ’. Clearly, John is not suggesting that we must withdraw from or ostracise anyone who does not o agree with us on some minor point of doctrine. If we still think he seems harsh, we should remember that where the honour and glory of Christ and His gospel are at stake, tolerance, not intolerance, is the real sin. It is a Christian duty to be intolerant of anything that attacks the very heart of the gospel. Refuse Hospitality!
Presentation 01 Face To Face In v12 John makes it clear that there are things that cannot be said adequately except face to face. How easy it is to misunderstand the tone of something that is written, even when several exclamation marks are added to indicate that you are smiling as you write, and have a twinkle in your eye! Not only so: fellowship by letter, though real and blessed [as we find expressed in v13] is a poor second-best to a personal face to face fellowship. Only when we meet can our joy be full.
Presentation 01 Anticipating Glory The separation of believers from one another, through the demands of Christian service and the providence of God, though sometimes hard to bear illustrates the longing in the believer’s heart for the return of Christ. cf 2 Cor. 5v6, while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. And the joy that we experience when believer meets believer after a long absence is simply a reflection of the incomparably greater joy that will be ours when Christ returns and we shall see him face to face. This is the ultimate blessing for all who love him, and all privation of whatever kind, and all pain, will be more than compensated when we are “present with the Lord”.