I was once told that one way to achieve true inner peace and harmony is to finish whatever you start.
So, this morning for breakfast I finished a couple of things that I started last night - a frozen pizza, a gallon of ice cream and a chocolate cake…. And I feel better already!
Today we will finish up what we started in our study of 1st John with chapter 5 and we’re also going to start and finish two more letters - 2nd and 3rd John.
We’re going to see quite a bit of similarity in each of these letters, because John has some consistent themes that he wants to drive home. In fact, this final chapter of 1st John continues with the earlier themes of acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah and keeping His commandments:
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Keep in mind that the commandment John is continually emphasizing is the commandment to love each other! That’s why he says that if we love the Father we must love the children of God. In fact, John is suggesting that if we can’t love God’s children (each other) then maybe we haven’t truly embraced Jesus as our Messiah, because that’s what He wants from us. In other words, we can’t say, “I love you Jesus, but I just don’t want to love those other people who love you!”
These next verses are one of the clearest places in the Bible where we see evidence of the Trinity:
5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
To put it plainly, you can’t have a relationship with God the Father unless you have a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus. And the Holy Spirit testifies that this is the truth, so they are all in total agreement.
And John spells out the great benefit of our faith in Jesus as God’s Son by saying it’s the assurance of our eternal destiny:
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
Does that mean I should ask for a Cadillac or a mansion? Not exactly. John says I should be asking for things that are “according to His will”, which means that my requests need to line up with God’s plans, not my plans.
This next section is a bit of a challenge:
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.
To make some sense of this, here is an explanation from a commentary:
The distinction between kinds of sin is not a ranking of the seriousness of sins. Instead, we have here a distinction between kinds of sinners. "Sinning not unto death" is committed by someone who already has eternal life. When these sins are dealt with through prayer for forgiveness and the "atoning sacrifice" of Jesus Christ, God hears the prayer of the believer and forgives the repentant sinner. But where there is no confession of faith in Jesus, there is "sinning unto death". This sin is that leads to death for the one who is guilty of it.
In other words, believers can have our sins forgiven because we know enough to confess, repent, and be cleansed. But unbelievers can’t have their sins forgiven because they refuse to turn to God and repent, that’s what makes their sin “unto death”.
John closes this chapter, and his letter with this reminder that we’ve been given the power to keep away from sin:
18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
Now let’s compare those themes with 2nd John and 3rd John
2nd John in verses 1-3 is addressed to:
1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
3rd John is addressed to:
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
In both of these letters, the author identifies himself only as “The elder”. He doesn’t call himself by his name.
But that shouldn’t surprise us, because John didn’t use his name in his first letter either, and he didn’t call himself by name in his Gospel either. He just referred to himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved”.
Now let’s compare verse 4 of 2nd John with verses 2-4 of 3rd John:
4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.
Okay, now compare that to these verses:
2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.
In the letter of 1st John, we saw an emphasis on “walking in the light”. In these two letters, John uses the expression, “walking in truth”. I think we could say that these are essentially the same thing, since Jesus is the light of the world, and the way, the truth, and the life. So if we are walking in Christ, then we are in the light and in the truth!
Verse 5 and 6 of 2nd John are going to remind us very much of 1st John chapter 2:
5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
We learned before that the commandment to love one another is something that we as believers should know from the very beginning of our faith. But it’s also a new commandment each time we choose to obey it by loving someone when conflict arises.
Does John address loving each other in his third letter? Yes, he does, but with a very specific focus:
5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.
8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.
John is reminding the people that they should show hospitality towards brothers and sisters in Christ who had traveled to visit them from other cities. He says, that, although these visitors were “strangers” in the sense that they had never met them before, they were all a part of the family of God, and “fellow workers” for the sake of the gospel.
In fact, John was very displeased with certain individuals who didn’t show hospitality towards some of the visiting believers that were sent by John. In 3rd John 9-10 he says:
9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.
John had written letters of recommendation for the visitors, asking the church to host them.
But Diotrephes not only wouldn’t treat these visitors properly, he told the others to shun them. John says, “When I arrive there, I plan to have a few words with him to straighten him out”!
After all, doesn’t shunning, or refusal to show hospitality to visitors, sound like very un-Christian behavior to you?
Well, then it might surprise you to know that in verses 7-11 of 2nd John, John actually INSTRUCTS the church to shun some people!
But there is a specific reason why he recommends this, and it has to do with the antichrist spirit that John spoke about in his first letter:
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
We have to understand that a lot of false teachers had been traveling throughout the Christian churches attacking the truth of the gospel—saying that Jesus was not the Son of God.
John says this is clearly a lie from the antichrist spirit. And John warns the believers not to receive people with that spirit into their houses or even give them a friendly greeting. Just avoid them.
Do you see the difference between this warning about avoiding people who are walking in “antichrist” spirits and the exhortation in 3rd John to welcome fellow believers who come proclaiming the truth?
In contrast to Diotrephes, who is in big trouble, John highly commends another guy with a D-name:
11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
In all likelihood, Demetrius was the one who was carrying this letter from John to Gaius and his church. Since there wasn’t a Post Office back then, letters were carried by messengers. Some Bible scholars think that Demetrius may have also been a traveling teacher himself; and if so, John’s letter would have been a way of encouraging Gaius and the church to show hospitality to him, rather than shunning him as Diotrephes was trying to do.
John’s closing words from his second and third letters are very similar. Here’s 2nd John 12-13:
12 Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.
13 The children of your chosen sister greet you.
And this is the closing to 3rd John 13-15:
13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.
15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
I think we could sum up the final chapter of 1st John and these two short letters with a few simple phrases:
I often think of God’s instructions to us in Micah 6:8
“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
God has already told us what He wants:
Justice, kindness, and humility – that’s it!
It so similar to what John has been telling us in these letters about truth, love, and fellowship. Just a few simple things that we should focus on.