Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 2 John: 8–13
The Teaching of and By Christ
We recently made the effort to understand what John meant in vv. 2–4 by the term "walking in the truth" (find details in Week 21's summary). Basically, here's how you know if you're walking in the truth: You're walking in the truth, John says, when you're following sound doctrine. In his first epistle, the elder provides us with three tests that rate us on how we know we're in fellowship with God and how assured we are of our salvation; the three are highlighted in Week 2's summary: (1) The social test reveals how we love our brothers; (2) the moral test determines how well we obey God's commandments; and (3) the doctrinal test documents whether we believe in Christ who was sent, came, died, was buried, rose again, will come again, and embodies the true doctrine about Jesus.
Today, in vv. 8–11, we'll focus on the empirical message of Christianity: Christ Jesus' actual incarnation. John will present to us this expectation: If we're walking in the truth, the doctrine that we follow and live out will be correct and unembellished regarding Christ. John ends his second epistle with a two-verse salutation, suggesting that he has much more to say but prefers to do so in person, "face to face," rather than with "paper and ink." He closes with his final greetings from members of his congregation to those in his addressed congregation.
Self-Inspection Is Required of Believers (2 John, v. 8)
John began this brief letter by commending and encouraging the church body for their love for one another, as they adhered to the truth of the gospel (vv. 4–6). He sensitively and skillfully combined truth and love to effectively present believers’ perspective toward heresy. His positive outlook was this: There can be no divine love apart from truth. Midway through this letter, he presents the negative side: Believers must not extend their love to those who reject the truth. He first warned believers that [Gnostic] heretics — deceivers and antichrists — who denied Jesus' incarnation had infiltrated the house churches (v. 7). Today, the more deceivers abound, the more watchful we disciples must be. So, here in v. 8, he'll warn the congregation not to lose the reward for which they'd faithfully worked.
Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully (Second John, v. 8).
"Watch out," John begins. As a believer, what are you to watch out for or examine? His directive was a personal one: “Look to yourselves” (in some versions) to see whether you're born again? If you truly see new birth, you'll find spiritual life in your soul. With fresh life, you'll truly sense spiritual feelings, such that you'll be concerned that your soul will either be saved or lost forever; you'll also become eager to be instructed on how to follow God's will for you and cease doing what's wrong but becoming what's right. "Look to yourselves" and see whether sin is a burden for you? It's a burden for born-again souls.
Regarding losing "what we have worked for," according to W Hall Harris III, "Some interpreters see this as a reference to faith itself being lost, but this involves assumptions about the possibility of apostasy and loss of eternal life for genuine Christians, which are not reflected in John’s other writings in the New Testament. Much more likely, 'what we have worked for' refer to pastoral and missionary efforts undertaken by the letter's recipients in their own community and surrounding communities. If the secessionist opponents with their false teaching are allowed to recruit unopposed in the community to which the author is writing, all the effective work accomplished up to this point by the recipients of the letter would be in danger of being lost."
A different view on losing "what we have worked for" is propounded by Pastor Jim Gerrish: "The Bible often speaks of rewards for God’s servants (Matthew 20:8; John 4:36). Sometimes we forget the fact that God’s servants will get different rewards. Some will please the Master and others won't please him as much (Matthew 25:24–28). The idea in this verse is that some people may not get a full reward."
In his Notes on the Bible, American theologian Albert Barnes (1834) wrote this about v. 8's text that warn believers, then and now, to "Watch out": "The truth which is taught here is one of interest to all Christians — that it is possible for even genuine Christians, by suffering themselves to be led into error, or by failure in duty, to lose a part of the reward that they might have obtained. The crown that they will wear in heaven will be less bright than that which they might have worn, and the throne that they will occupy will be less elevated. The rewards of heaven will be in accordance with the services rendered to the Redeemer; and it would not be right that they who turn aside or falter in their course should have the same exalted honours they might have received if they had devoted themselves to God with ever-increasing fidelity."
In vv. 8–9, we read of Apostle John's words the claims of the false teachers. But he insists that they were deceitfully destroying Christianity by wrecking the foundation that had been laid and on which everything had to be built. He warned the church not to lose the reward for which they'd faithfully worked (v. 8). Such loss of reward could be due to doubt or, as vv. 10–11 will make clear, extending love beyond the bounds of truth. He makes it clear that deceivers not only won't receive a heavenly reward, they'll also miss out on receiving God's valuable gift of salvation, as we'll see in v.9.
Adherence to Christian Truth (2 John, vv. 9–11)
For us, as God's servants, to receive our full reward, we must remain true to Christ. Firm adherence to Christian truth unites us with Christ and Father God, for they are one. We also ought to disregard those who outwardly deny the existence and doctrine of Christ, as well as those who disobey or violate his commands. Anyone who doesn't profess and implicitly preach the doctrine of Christ, respect him as the Son of God, and advocate the valuable gift of salvation that he gives freely as full forgiveness of our guilt and sin, must never be tolerated and accepted. Yet as we obey God's commands, we must remember to show kindness and a good spirit to those who differ from us in lesser spiritual matters while we adhere to the all-important doctrines of Christ's person, incarnation, and holy gift of salvation.
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them.11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work (Second John, vv. 9–11).
The opening text of the passage consists of two general parts, a negative followed by an affirmative. The Greek proágō for "continue in" means to go on or run ahead. The false teachers claimed that they were progressives; those who thought ahead; men with open and adventurous minds. John (who was also a most adventurous thinker) insists in v. 9 that, however far a man may advance, he must follow and act in accordance with Jesus Christ's teachings or he loses touch with God. John wasn't condemning advanced thinking; he was stressing that Jesus Christ must be the criterion of all thinking and that whoever challenges or denies the truth about Jesus and his teaching can never be right.
When one denies the teachings of and by Jesus, he or she rejects both the Father and the Son. John, in v. 9, draws a critical line of truth. Those in his house churches who discontinued to adhere to and propound the doctrine of Christ were secessionist Gnostic opponents whom the author describes as running ahead and not remaining in Christ's teachings. As a result, being so progressive, they'd developed their own approach to Christian theology beyond that which was documented by numerous, apostolic, eyewitness testimonies (as expressed by John in his gospel and first epistle). To not "continue" (or "remain" or "reside") in Christ's teaching amounts to not continuing (remaining, residing) in Christ himself, that is, to not be a genuine Christian and to “not have God.”
In contrast to the secessionist opponents who we're not genuine believers and, therefore, had no relationship with God, the person who remains in Christ's teaching is said to have both the Father and the Son in an ongoing three-way relationship between the Father, the Son, and the believer. A Christian may be said to have "both the Father and the Son" in the sense that he or she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit who interconnects and develops within the believer a vital and spirited relationship with both the Father and Son in real time.
Speaking of "anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ," Pastor Gerrish adds that "The Gnostics were the theological progressives, the advanced thinkers of their day. They no doubt wanted to leave behind some of the old dust-covered doctrines and go on to new things. They particularly wanted to leave the old ideas about Christ that probably galled them considerably."
The progressive opponents had gone beyond what was warranted by apostolic eyewitness testimony about Jesus. Today, there are many individuals who don't have God, as opposed to those who (1) hold fast to the apostolic teaching about Jesus and (2) is one with both the Father and the Son. Christianity is not a vague, imprecise understanding of God; it rests firmly and assuredly on the historical figure of Jesus Christ. Probably the immediate implication here is directed at those to whom John so frequently referred as "antichrists," who denied outrightly that Jesus had come in the flesh (v. 7). However, he also makes this remark general, such that, if anyone doesn't hold true to the authentic doctrine, as regards Christ the Savior, he has no real knowledge of God.
We come to the crux of this study and John's two-part exhortation. We are not to: (1) allow heretics into our homes nor (2) welcome them. Verses 10–11 deal with our loyalty to God and our share in the sins of others. Those who attempt to undermine one’s faith in Christ do "wicked work." Our associating with anti-Christian teachers becomes detrimental to our Christian faith. Let no one's false motives of courtesy or community be encouraged or welcomed. Such evil invitations can be dangerously contagious, as Charles Spurgeon (English Baptist preacher, 1834–1892) opined in a sermon: "When a man is known to suffer from a sadly contagious disease, none of his friends will come near the house. There is little need to warn them off: They are all too alarmed to come near. Why is it men are not as much afraid of the contagion of vice? How dare they run risks for themselves and children by allowing evil companions to frequent their house? Sin is as infectious and far more deadly than the smallpox or fever [or COVID-19]."
The specific exhortation that John made to the recipients of this letter, "do not take them into your house or welcome them," might have simply been intended to prohibit and prevent believers from being hospitable in one's home to traveling secessionist spokesmen. It's also possible that "your house" refers to a local house church(s); if that's the case, John was warning congregants not to permit false-teaching antichrists to speak to the church body so that they'd have the opportunity to propagate their false teaching. Neither the homeowner nor the church was to show them hospitality, the net effect of which would be to give them a platform to air their heresy. Subsequently, "this teaching" refers to the "teaching of Christ" (v. 9), which focuses on Christ and his work, especially how his earthly life and ministry made possible the opportunity for believers to receive the gift of salvation.
Paul M Smalley wrote this about the meaning of vv. 10–11: “In these two verses, John is not saying, 'Do not love others.' Nor is he forbidding all contact with the apostate, since friendly association with them might well have resulted in their change of mind...Rather, the elder is warning the members of his community against the dangers of entertaining heretics and their views in such a way as to strengthen and develop their erroneous position, and so compromise the truth (cf. v 4)."
Although John doesn't specify the precise nature of the "wicked works" being shared here, Harris says this about condoning the teaching of deceiving spokespersons: "Giving one of the opponents’ representatives a greeting in public could be construed by bystanders or observers as giving endorsement to their heterodox [apostate] views about who Jesus is. To give the appearance of condoning the teaching of one of the opponents’ representatives might advance his cause or imply acceptance of his false christology. This would be, in effect, to 'share…in his wicked work.'"
John’s Longing and Greeting (2 John, vv. 12–13)
12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
13 The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings (Second John, vv. 12–13).
Clearly, the apostle had much to write. He was the last living link to Christ Jesus. According to Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, "John did not wish to use paper and ink. The word for paper is the Greek chartēs, meaning Egyptian papyrus. The ink (melanos) of those early days was made of water and soot, with some gum added. The pen John would write with was simply a split reed."
Apostle John preferred to express many things to his church's congregants in a personal meeting with them, rather than with "paper and ink." Letters, then, were the normal means of communicating with others that strengthened and comforted recipients; but to meet with and share with one another in person — "face to face" (although the Greek says literally "mouth to mouth") — was much more effective. However, the dangerous urgency that traveling opponent missionaries presented had compelled the author to waive preferred personal contact and instead deliver this brief and incomplete correspondence.
Finally, the elder sends greetings from one church to another. Members of the church body from where the author had written this letter (possibly at Ephesus) greeted those elsewhere in the addressed "chosen" or "elect" recipient's congregation. Likely, "to the lady chosen by God and to her children" (v. 1a) refers to a particular house church and its associate house churches. No matter the church, all of God's children must be on guard against false teachers and teachings.
- Q. 1 If you're a born-again believer, is sin a burden for you (v. 8)?
- Q. 2 Should believers and antichrists communicate with each other? Why or why not?
- Q. 3 With which medium do you prefer to communicate personally: paper and pen? Digital device? Face to face?
2 John, vv. 8–13