Sunday September 9th
2nd and 3rd John
So we finished up our study of 1st John last week and today we’re going to cover two letters - 2nd and 3rd John. But sometimes the second and third things are a little different from the first one. For instance, when it comes to having more than one baby, mothers will tell you that it goes something like this:
First baby: At the first sign of distress, even a whimper, you pick up the baby.
Second baby: You pick the baby up when their crying threatens to wake up your first baby.
Third baby: You teach your first child how to rewind the mechanical swing.
First baby: If the pacifier falls on the floor, you put it away until you can go home and boil it.
Second baby: When the pacifier falls on the floor, you squirt it off with some juice from the baby's bottle.
Third baby: You wipe it off on your shirt, pop it back in.
First baby: You change your baby's diapers every hour, whether they need it or not.
Second baby: You change their diaper every two to three hours, if they need it.
Third baby: You try to change their diaper when someone complains about the smell.
First baby: You take your infant to Baby Gymnastics, Baby Music class and Baby Story Hour.
Second baby: You take your infant to Baby Gymnastics.
Third baby: You take your infant to the supermarket.
First baby: The first time you leave your baby with a babysitter, you call home five times.
Second baby: Just before you walk out the door, you remember to leave a number where you can be reached.
Third baby: You leave instructions for the babysitter to call you only if she sees blood.
First baby: You spend a good bit of every day just gazing at the baby.
Second baby: You spend a good bit of every day watching to make sure that your first child isn't squeezing, poking, or hitting the new baby.
Third baby: You spend a good bit of every day hiding from the children!
So today we are going to compare 2nd John with 3rd John
For instance, 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. There he just referred to himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved”.
The second letter is addressed to “the chosen lady”, which might be a person, although some Bible scholars think it’s an expression that is a symbol for the church. That makes sense if you compare it to the final verse of the letter, verse 13: “The children of your chosen sister greet you.”
3rd John appears to have been written to Gaius, a personal friend of John. This would be similar to the Apostle Paul writing letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
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 next 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.
As we said before, the commandment to love one another is something that we as believers should know from the very beginning. 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 particularly reminding the people who would be reading his third letter 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.
When John says “I wrote something to the church”, he is referring to letters of recommendation that he sent with the visitors, asking the church to host them. But this man Diotrephes not only wouldn’t treat these visitors properly, but he told others to shun them. John says, “When I arrive there, I plan to have a few words with him to straighten him out”!
One commentary says this:
“Diotrephes abused his position of leadership in the congregation by attacking other Christian workers. Evidently Diotrephes regarded other Christian teachers as threats rather than as coworkers. Proud and selfish, he turned away traveling evangelists and punished those who welcomed them.
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 certain groups of 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.
What we have to understand is that a lot of false teachers had been traveling through the Christian churches attacking the truth of the gospel—that Jesus is the Son of God who took on human flesh to purchase our salvation.
These deceivers were denying the reality of the human nature of Christ, saying that Jesus only came as a spirit in the appearance of a human. 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 stern warning about shunning people who are walking in “antichrist” spirits and the exhortation in 3rd John to welcome fellow believers who come proclaiming the truth?
Possibly our friend Diotrephes got confused and thought he was supposed to shun ALL visitors, but in any case, John was going to set him straight when he gets there.
In contrast to Diotrephes, who is in 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. 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.
Someone described these two letters, along with Philemon and Jude, as “New Testament Postcards” because they each have only one chapter.
In some ways, these short books served a similar purpose to postcards. The author had a short message he needed to get out quickly, and then the author expresses a desire and a plan to personally visit the recipient soon.
It’s kind of like “Here are a few thoughts, but I’ll tell you the rest when I get there. See you soon!”
And if that’s the case, then we should really key in on the things that John felt were important enough to include in his postcard!
And I think we could sum up these two letters together with a few quick phrases:
And in essence those are the main themes of 1st John too.
So here are three letters, three books of the New Testament, that are telling us to “practice” (do you remember that word from 1st John?) truth, love, and fellowship – and to stay away from those who practice evil.
That’s not a bad game plan for our Christian walk each day, is it?
Sometimes we think that following Jesus is a complicated process, but the gospel is really simple – love God and love each other!
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?”
Micah says that God has already told us what He wants:
Justice, kindness, and to humility – that’s it!
It so similar to what John has been telling us about truth, love, and fellowship. Just a few simple things that we should focus on.
That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 11:30
“My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Let’s not over-complicate what God expects from us each day.
John was able to fit it onto a post card!