For an introduction to this series, click here.
January 24, 2008
This little letter (the shortest book in the Bible) was written by John to the "elect lady," whoever that may have been. If you have read the rest of John's writings, the themes here are quite similar.
"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, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love." (vs. 1-3)
Whoever this lady was, she was probably well-known at the time among the first-century church. Other than that, this is a pretty standard opening for an epistle.
"I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady— not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning— that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward." (vs. 4-8)
Once again we find John reminding his readers to love one another. Love is a vital element for the Christian life. You notice that John also points out that true Christian love involves more than a feeling: it requires walking in God's commandments.
We also find John warning against the error of gnosticism. The gnostics denied the humanity of Christ and taught that He was merely a spirit being. John made a point of pointing out that it is false doctrine to deny that Jesus came in the flesh.
John includes another serious warning as well: we can lose rewards in heaven if we are unfaithful to the Lord. As Christians we have the privilege of earning rewards in heaven. But those rewards are conditional upon our faithfulness.
"Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." (vs. 9-11, ESV)
God takes doctrinal purity seriously. There are minor things that no Christians will ever agree completely on. To divide over these things is foolish and unnecessary. But there are a number of things in Scripture that are non-negotiable. John goes so far as to say that we should have nothing to do with these false teachers, not even a greeting. That is serious. In our society, we are told to be tolerant of everyone, even those with whom we disagree (those who use the word "tolerance" the most are often some of the least tolerant people out there, but that is another topic for another time). Instead of trying to win them back, we need to just have nothing to do with them until they show signs of repentance. Now of course this goes for teachers, leaders in the Christian community. I don't think John is telling us not to have anything to do with relatives, friends or neighbors who hold unorthodox doctrine; I think he is talking about teachers and about how the church should deal with them.