We managed to complete our studies on 1 John right before Christmas; and the plan now is to study both 2 and 3 John today. As you can see, they are both short letters and the commentators think that each one of them was able to fit on a single sheet of papyrus, which is what they used for paper in those days. So, these two letters are really short notes, both written on two single sheets of paper.
Just like 1 John, John’s name doesn’t appear in 2 or 3 John, but most scholars believe that they were written by John the Apostle who also wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation. Instead of using his name, John refers to himself at the beginning of both letters as ‘The elder’. Elders, of course, are the leaders in the church. I’m an elder and the rest of our elders are seated in front of me today. And while John was technically an apostle, it’s possible that he was also regarded as an elder in the church. In fact, the Apostle Peter refers to himself as an elder in 1 Peter 5. However, it’s also possible that John refers to himself as ‘The Elder’, not so much because he was a leader in the church, but because he was now an old man. He’s been around since the very beginning, because he was one of the Lord’s disciples. And time has past and most, if not all, of the other apostles have died, and John is the last one. And he’s now an old man; and perhaps he’s regarded by everyone as ‘The Elder’. He’s the senior member of the church who is loved and respected by all — or by nearly all, as we’ll see in a moment.
And if you take a look now at the beginning of 2 John and the beginning of 3 John, you’ll see that 2 John is addressed to ‘the chosen lady and her children’ and 3 John is addressed to ‘my dear friend Gaius’.
Most of the commentators agree that when John refers to ‘the chosen lady and her children’, he’s not referring to a woman and her children, but to a church and its members. So, he’s writing to the members of a local church. And referring to the church as a woman shouldn’t surprise us, because the people of Israel in the Old Testament were often compared to a woman; and in the New Testament, the apostle Paul likens the church to a bride. And so, it’s not unusual for God’s people to be compared to a woman. And if you look at the end of 2 John, you’ll see that John sends greetings from ‘The children of your chosen sister’. In other words, the members of John’s church are sending their greetings to the members of this other church.
So, 2 John is addressed to a local church. And John says that he loves them ‘in the truth’. He probably means they are in the truth like him, because they believe the truth of God’s word and are living according to it. And he, John, not only loves them, but ‘all who know the truth’ love them as well. He’s referring to the fellowship which believers enjoy and to the love we have for one another because of our common belief in the truth of God’s word and in the truth about Jesus Christ. And so, when we were on holiday last weekend, we were able to go to a church we’d never been to before. But we weren’t worried about attending and we were sure they would welcome us, because we’re believers just like them; and, though we’d never met before, we are united in the truth about Christ.
And John says the truth lives in us and will be with us forever. Since he goes on to refer to false teachers, it’s possible that he wants to encourage his readers. Perhaps the false teachers have put doubts in their mind. Do we really know the truth? Are we real believers? Perhaps we should listen to what the false teachers are saying? And what is the truth anyway? And so, in the opening two verses John perhaps wants to encourage these believers and to put their minds at rest: don’t worry about what the false teachers are saying, because you already know the truth.
So, 2 John is addressed to a local church. 3 John is addressed to ‘my dear friend Gaius’. The name Gaius crops up in several places in the New Testament, but it doesn’t always refer to the same person and we have no way of telling who this Gaius is. But he was clearly known to John who refers to him as ‘my dear friend’ and as one ‘whom I love in the truth’. Once again he probably means that Gaius, whoever he is, is in the truth because he too believes the truth of God’s word and is living according to it.
So, 2 John is written to a local church, while 3 John is written to a single man.
Let’s now turn our attention to the main body of 2 John. John says in verse 4 that it gives him great joy to find out that some of the members of the church are walking in the truth, which is what God the Father commanded us to do. Walking in the truth means living according to the truth of God’s word and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so, it means believing the truth about Christ and walking in his ways. And, of course, this is what God commands us to do. This is his will for us. Back in 1 John 3, John said that this is God’s command: to believe in the name of his Son and to love one another. That’s his will for us. And John is delighted to find out that some of the church are doing precisely that. This is not to imply that others in the church were not doing these things. But he’s only heard about some of them; and what he’s heard about them has caused him great joy.
And this is what brings us joy, isn’t it? We hate to hear stories of members who have wandered away from the truth and they’ve given up their faith or they’ve given up coming to church. We hate to hear stories of people who once were full of zeal, but their love for the Lord has grown cold. We hate to hear those stories. But we love to hear stories of believers who are walking in ways of the Lord and doing his will. That’s the kind of thing that brings joy to the elders of the church and to everyone else when they hear it.
And John goes on in verse 5 to reinforce the command they received earlier which is to love one another. That was the message throughout John’s first letter. And you might recall that John made the point in 1 John that we’re to love one another, not with words only, but with actions and in truth, because true love involves action. If our fellow believers are in need, we’re not truly loving them if all we do is wish them well. No, we have to do something. We have to help them. And, as I explained before, when John talks about loving one another, he’s mean specially that we’re to love our fellow believers. Yes, we’re to be kind to everyone and we’re to do good to all. But the focus in John is on loving our fellow believers.
And this is love, says John. Love is that we walk in obedience to God’s commands. And his command is that we walk in love. It’s like going around in a circle, isn’t it? What is love? Love is to obey God’s commands. What does God command? That we love one another. And what is love? Love is to obey God’s commands. What does God command? That we love one another. And around we go again. Love and obedience are bound up with one another, because God commands us to love one another. That’s what you’re to do. This is God’s will for you. And this is what you should aim to do with your life. You should make it your ambition to obey your Heavenly Father who commands you to love your fellow believers.
And then, the rest of this second letter is taken up with the problem of false teachers. John refers in verse 7 to many deceivers who have gone out into the world. So, they have gone out into the world to spread their message. However, the message they’re spreading is false, because these preachers are deceivers and, according to John, they do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. John is probably referring to the same kind of false teacher he described in his first letter. And he mentioned in several places what they believed or what they didn’t believe. And putting it all together, it seemed they did not believe that Jesus was the Christ and God’s Only Begotten Son who came in the flesh as one of us to suffer and die as the sacrifice for sins. They did not believe this. In other words, they did not believe what Christians have always believed. They did not believe the true gospel. And they could be called deceivers because they were leading people away from the truth. And John says about them at the end of verse 7 that any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
John talked about antichrists before in 1 John 2 and 4. And I explained that what John says about the antichrist matches what Paul says about ‘the man of lawlessness’. This is someone who will appear shortly before the return of Christ who will oppose Christ and his church. He will appear one day, but not yet. However, while the antichrist has not yet come, many antichrists have come. And when John referred in 1 John to the antichrists who have already come, he was referring to the false teachers who are opposing Christ and his church by denying the true gospel about Jesus Christ and by teaching things which are false.
And here in 2 John he refers to the many deceivers who have gone out into the world and who do know acknowledge the truth about Christ. And they are the antichrist. That is, they are the antichrists who have already come and who have the spirit of the antichrist in them, because they’re working against the true gospel.
And there are many false teachers around today: people who claim that what they teach is true, but what they teach has nothing to do with what we read in God’s word about Jesus Christ the Saviour. And so, instead of leading people into the truth, they lead people away from the truth.
So, John’s warning to his readers in verse 8 applies to us as well. Watch out! Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be fully rewarded. When he refers to what they have worked for, he’s referring to their faith. After all, didn’t the Lord Jesus say that the work which God gives us to do is to believe in the Lord Jesus? And so, he’s saying that we’re not to give up our faith, but we’re to persevere in the faith and we’re to continue to believe the truth about Christ: that he’s God’s Only Begotten Son who came in the flesh as one of us and gave up his life as the sacrifice for our sins. We’re to keep believing in him; and whoever keeps believing in him will receive a reward from God. He’s referring to eternal life in the presence of God, which is not a reward we can earn or which we deserve, but is a reward which God graciously and freely gives to all who believe in his Son. So, watch out lest you’re led astray by those who do not believe or teach the truth.
And anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God. A family is out for a walk in the countryside and one of the children runs on ahead of the family and gets lost. It happens from time to time, doesn’t it? Perhaps you remember it happening in your family. The child runs ahead, and turns left when he should have turned right. And people are always running ahead of the gospel, because they get tired of the same old gospel and they want something new. Or what sometimes happens is that someone begins to focus on something which is related to the gospel, but it’s not the gospel. And it takes up all their attention so that they begin to disregard the thing that matters most. And they end up turning left, when they should have turned right.
And the false teachers, the deceivers, had run ahead. And John says about them that they no longer have God. But those who stick with the gospel have both the Father and the Son. The person who sticks with the gospel and continues to believe it and hold on to it is the true believer.
In Bible times, there were itinerant preachers: preachers who travelled from place to place. Think of Paul who went from city to city. Of course, they didn’t have hotels in those days. And what inns there were were apparently not the kind of place respectable people wanted to stay. And so, itinerant preachers relied on the hospitality of Christians. When they arrived at a city, they were hoping that a Christian would give them room and board while they remained in the city. But John says in verse 10 that if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching — the true gospel — do not take him into your house or welcome him. Don’t help him. Don’t support him. Don’t have anything to do with him, because whoever welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
People don’t often come to us, looking for a bed for the night. And so, for us it means: don’t go to his church; don’t invite him to speak anywhere; don’t read his books; don’t listen to his podcasts; don’t support him in any way. And as I’ve said before, the best way to vaccinate ourselves from false teaching is to know the truth. And so, you should do what you can to read and to study and to apply yourself to knowing the truth of God’s word. Study God’s word. Study the church’s catechisms which are designed to help us understand God’s word. Knowing God’s word is the best way to vaccinate ourselves from error.
Let’s turn over the page in our Bible and turn our attention to 3 John. And John refers in verse 3 to his joy in hearing about Gaius’s faithfulness to the truth and how he continues to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy, he says, than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
And in verse 5 he focusses on Gaius’s faithfulness in what he is doing for the brothers. True love involves action and Gaius has clearly been doing something to help his fellow believers. And John goes on to say that these men whom Gaius has been helping are strangers to him. So, he’s been helping believers he did not know. And according to verse 6, the believers have told the church — John’s church — about Gaius’s love.
And so, what is John talking about? What has Gaius done for these fellow believers who were strangers to him? It seems from what John says that the fellow believers are in fact itinerant preachers from John’s church. And Gaius opened his house to them and showed them hospitality. And having returned to John’s church, the preachers reported to John and to the rest of the church about Gaius’s kindness to them. And so, that’s why they were strangers to Gaius. He’d never met them before until they arrived in his city.
And John goes on to instruct Gaius to send such preachers on their way in a manner worthy of God. That is to say: send them on their way in a manner fitting for those who serve the Lord. And while John warned his readers in 2 John not to welcome false teachers, he wants now to encourage Gaius in 3 John to continue to welcome and to help true preachers.
And these men were true preachers, because, according to verse 7, they went out ‘for the sake of the Name’. That is, they went out to serve the Lord Jesus. And instead of relying on help from pagans and unbelievers, they relied on help from believers like Gaius. And John says in verse 8 that we ought to show hospitality to such men. This is our duty. This is something we should do. And he adds that in this way we work together for the truth. Not every believer is called by God to be a preacher or missionary. But those who are not called to be a preacher or missionary can be fellow workers with preachers and missionaries when they support them in practical ways. And so, when you use your resources to help with the spread of the gospel, then you’re involved in that gospel work. You’re a fellow worker with those who are preaching God’s word.
And so, Gaius is an example for us. He was someone who helped the work of the gospel by supporting these itinerant preachers. He’s a positive example for us to follow.
But then John goes on to refer to the negative example of this man, Diotrephes. I wonder, have you ever met a Diotrephes? According to John in verse 9 this is a man who loves to be first. That is, he wants to run things. He wants to take over the church. Have you ever met someone like that?
And John goes on to say that Diotrephes will have nothing to do with us. Some of you use the ESV translation which says that he will not acknowledge our authority. The Greek word which John uses means ‘to welcome’ or ‘to recognise’. And so, the ESV takes it that John means Diotrephes will not recognise our authority. And John is referring to his authority as an apostle in the church to preach and teach God’s word. But the NIV translation is quite good, because the point is that Diotrephes has some kind of grudge against John. If John came to church, Diotrephes would not welcome him. Or if John was preaching in church, Diotrephes would not listen to him. And when John writes his letters to the church, Diotrephes will not accept what he says. He has some kind of grudge against John and John’s fellow workers.
And in verse 10 John refers to what Diotrephes has been doing. What has he been doing? He’s been gossiping maliciously about John and his fellow workers. So, Diotrephes has been going around the church, complaining about John and his fellow workers and turning the people against them.
And not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. Whereas Gaius welcomed the preachers who had come from John’s church, Diotrephes refused to welcome them. They were true preachers of the word. They were faithful gospel preachers. But he wasn’t willing to welcome them or to support them. And that’s not all: but he also stopped those who wanted to welcome the preachers and he put them out of the church. And so, do you know what he was doing? He was throwing his weight around and imposing his will on the others in church. He was saying: This is what we should do; and I insist that you do what I say.
Have you ever met a Diotrephes? He wants to run things. He’s got a grudge against others in the church who have been called to preach God’s word; and he turns others against them by the things he says; and he imposes his will on others in the church.
Well, says John in verse 11, don’t imitate what is evil. He means don’t imitate Diotrephes. But imitate what is good, because anyone who does what is good is from God, whereas anyone who does evil has not seen God. He hasn’t seen what God is like and how God is good and he’s kind and he’s generous and he’s full of love for his people.
And after the negative example of Diotrephes, John refers in verse 12 to this man, Demetrius. The commentators believe that he may have delivered John’s letter to Gaius. And John says about him that he’s well spoken of by everyone. And John says that he’s well spoken of by the truth itself, which perhaps means that his commitment to the truth is commendable. And John and his fellow workers also speak well of Demetrius. And presumably John’s church has sent him out to preach God’s word; and John wants Gaius to welcome him and to help him.
We don’t want to be a Diotrephes, do we? But we want to be like Gaius, who brought joy to this elderly apostle, because of his faithfulness to the truth; and because he continued to walk in the truth; and because he was faithful in what he was doing to help preachers preach God’s word. We want to be like him, don’t we? And so, we need to stick to the truth; and we need to support the work of the gospel so that more and more people around the world will hear the truth about Jesus Christ, who is God’s Only Begotten Son who came in the flesh as one of us and who gave up his life as the sacrifice for our sins. And because of him, we know that when we fall short — and all of us fall short in many ways — we have a Saviour who came in the flesh as one of us and who gave up his life to pay for our sins and shortcomings and who shed his blood to cleanse us of our guilt so that we can have peace with God and the hope of everlasting life.