WALKING IN LOVE 2–3 John
“As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love” (2 John 6).There can never be too many reminders to love and keep Jesus’ commandments.
John’s later years.
John outlived the other disciples of Jesus. If he died in the late 90s, as most believe, he outlived Peter and Paul by some three decades! During these decades more and more hostility developed toward Christians. There was both official persecution, and many nonviolent expressions of discrimination. In addition, the false teachers Peter, Jude, and Paul had predicted did emerge, and corrupted the faith of many. What then seemed most important for John to communicate as he neared the end of his life? These two brief letters help us understand, for they pick up themes we are familiar with from 1 John. John emphasized the full deity of Jesus, and love as the mark of an obedient community. How important these twin pillars of faith are today. We worship Jesus the Son of God. And we love one another as brothers and sisters in the family of God.
John greeted an “elect lady” (2 John 1–3), to encourage continuing love (vv. 4–6) and warn against those who deny Christ’s deity (vv. 7–13). John wrote Gaius (3 John 1–4), to encourage him to keep on ministering (vv. 5–8), to warn against Diotrephes (vv. 9–10) and to commend Demetrius (vv. 11–14).
Understanding the Text
“The elder . . . the elect lady” 2 John 1.
John’s reference may have been to his own age, but more likely to his position in the church. He was one whose maturity and wisdom had made him worthy of trust. The name “elect” was used in the first century in the way we use “born again Christian”—to identify individuals as believers who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The term need not be understood to imply predestination. But it does affirm that we who have chosen to believe in Christ have been chosen by God. We want Him as a our God. But God wanted us first, as His children. “Walking in the truth” 2 John 4. Here as in 1 John, “truth” is linked to reality. A person who walks “in the truth” lives in harmony with spiritual and moral reality, as these are known to us in Christ. You and I walk “in the truth” if our lives are marked by holiness and by love. “His command is that you walk in love” 2 John 2:5–6. John emphasized a particular reality all Christians are to experience. We show our obedience to Jesus, and our harmony with Him, by loving fellow believers. I suspect that John may have thought the people he ministered to may have tired of his message. He did say the command wasn’t new. And that the elect lady and her family had had it from the beginning. But John was not apologizing. He is simply saying, love is so important, we must be reminded of it all the time. John was like the old preacher who explained his philosophy of ministry. First, I tell ’em what I’m going to tell ’em. Then I tell ’em. And then I tell ’em what I told ’em.” That’s the way we need to be in reminding one another to keep on loving, for Jesus’ sake. “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” 2 John 7–11. There are many doctrines that are important to Christians. But none are as pivotal as this one. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, existed with God and as God from the beginning. And God the Son was born into our race, lived here on earth as true man, and after dying for us was raised from the dead. It was God the Son who died for us on the cross: God, come in the flesh to redeem us. People can be Christian and have doubts about verbal, plenary inspiration. People can be Christian and be absolutely wrong in eschatology. But no one who denies that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh can be Christian in any biblical sense. We’re not to run around ruling this or that person out of the faith because he or she differs from us on points of doctrine. But we are to have nothing to do with any who call themselves “Christian” but deny the full deity of Jesus Christ (v. 11). “Your faithfulness to the truth” 3 John 1–4. John, in his 90s now, had developed a clear view of what is truly important in life. The things most of us focus our attention on-scrambling to advance in our careers, working out misunderstandings in our relationships, important things all have receded in significance to the last apostle. What thrilled him now? He wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (v. 4). We need to develop the same attitude when it comes to our children. I’m glad for the mom or dad who tells with obvious pride about the great job Joey’s got, or the house with its own swimming pool that Suzie’s husband bought in Houston at $40,000 less than it cost to build. But we need to remember that the one truly important thing in life is that our children walk in the truth, and walk with God. “We ought therefore to show hospitality” 3 John 5–8. These few verses reflect the itinerant ministry of many in the first century who traveled from city to city, staying with one Christian group and then another, to share a special teaching or spiritual gift. We saw in 2 Timothy, and in 2 Peter, how many of the itinerant teachers were false: they were insincere, seeking to gain a following only that they might win money from them. Here we see the other side. We see hundreds of believers who went on the road “for the sake of the Name,” and who received “no help” from any source. These men gave up any personal ambitions to travel and nurture Christians throughout the empire, usually receiving nothing but food and lodging from those with whom they briefly stayed. We still have folks like this today. Missionaries, preachers, school teachers, social workers, who for the sake of Jesus give up the prospect of lucrative careers to work in an area where they can serve others, and better share Christ. Such folk should be honored by their fellow Christians, and encouraged in practical ways.
Epitaphs(3 John 9–13)
Ever read one of those books of humorous epitaphs? Like the one in England, that tells all: Mary Picket, Lies silent and fast, Her husband’s ears Have peace at last. Or the one from our own old West, that simply says: Flicker was quicker. Actually, the thing about even humorous epitaphs is that most do say something about the character of the person they memorialize. Something that stands out; something that folks remember. In a sense John suggested a theme for the epitaphs of two leading individuals in the first-century Christian community of Asia. One, Diotrephes, was marked off as loving first place. He gossiped, trying to make others look small so he’d look bigger by comparison. And he tried to dominate his little group by cutting off any contact they may have with others. Someone might have written something like this on his tombstone: Diotrephes, who cut others down, Things are better Now he’s not around. On the other hand, we have Demetrius who was “well spoken of” by everyone, apparently because he was dedicated to doing good. I suspect a very different epitaph would have marked his memory. You might try your hand at creating an epitaph for Demetrius. But it’s more important to create an epitaph for yourself. But by how you live, not with words.
How do you want others to remember you?
In heart a Lydia, and in tongue a Hanna, In zeal a Ruth, in wedlock a Susanna, Prudently simple, providentially wary, To the world a Martha, and to heaven a Mary. -Epitaph of Dame Dorthy Selby