Walking in Truth Together

2 & 3 John

The problem with idealizing the Early Church

Acts 2:42-47, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Who wouldn’t love to be part of a church like that? The devotion, the teaching, the fellowship, the sharing of life together in Christ, the generosity, the Spiritual power, the joy, the favour, the expansion of God’s kingdom every single day! Let’s be a New Testament church!

And yet… Which part of the NT would you mean? The Corinthian NT churches where sexual immorality, tribalism, and making a mockery of the Lord’s supper were common? The Galatian NT churches that were being swept into Old Testament Judaism with a superficial Jesus skin on it? The Thessalonian NT churches who couldn’t decide whether the Lord had come too late or too soon? The Cretan churches of Titus where loafers and meddlers were wrecking the generous testimony of other Christians? Being a NT church has its hazards.

Even if you read a few chapters later in Acts, they are squabbling over groceries and who will pick up the messages. They quarrel over who to include in their fellowship. Even the apostles disagree about who should join their missionary travels. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles acted in mixed fashion, sometimes admirably and sometimes poorly.

The Gospel is the Good News of how Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Sinners are human beings out of step with God, in rebellion against his ways. We human sinners need saving. So, God in his great love for this world full of sinners, sent his one and only Son into the world, to live, to die, to rise again, to save any sinner who would trust him to do it. We, the Church, are the sinners who are saved. Our identity in Christ has changed, but our instinct to sin is only changed over time as we submit to Christ and walk with him.

The tiny letters of 2 and 3 John reveal the NT Church and its sinners. It is probably not right to skip over 1 John, but this series is about the Good Things that come in Small Packages, so we will only mention 1 John as we zero in on the smaller letters that are usually overlooked.

READ 2 John

READ 3 John

Code names:

  • Elder – John the Apostle. We can tell that the author of 1 and 2 John are the same because of the shared themes and vocabulary: Word, Beginning, Light, Life, Truth, Abiding, the World, Walking with God, Water, Blood, Joy, Victory, and Loving one another. We also see these words and ideas as well as writing style paralleled in John’s Gospel. Though there has been some debate, from the earliest days of the Christian movement, these letters have been attributed to John.
  • Lady – probably a local church, but perhaps a specific woman who hosts a local church
  • Children – Those local believers who converted to Christ specifically through the Gospel proclamation of John

Walking in the Truth

We often talk about walking with the Lord. In fact, we sang about it this morning. It is a common metaphor for living the Christian faith that stems from the Apostles’ experience. They actually walked with the Lord. Down the beach. On the water. On the road. In the dust. From town to town. Throughout Palestine. For a specific period in history. Their walking with Jesus was literal, physical reality.

And one day, they walked with him out of town to a mountainside where he stopped walking physically with them. They walked back to Jerusalem without him. But after Pentecost, they walked with Jesus in a new way, the same way that all believers walk with Christ: By his Spirit living in us and guiding us through the word.

Jesus gave us this helpful metaphor in John’s Gospel:

  • “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
  • “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going.” John 12:35

And Paul picks up on the same metaphor in his letters:

  • “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4
  • “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:4
  • “We walk by faith and not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7
  • “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16
  • “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Ephesians 5:1-2, 8

But no NT writer returns to this metaphor as frequently as John. In the 5 pages of his letters in my Bible, he uses the word walk 8 times. Many years later after John walked with Jesus he wrote these letters to the local churches of the Chosen Lady and Gaius, he was impressed at their faithfulness in walking with Jesus. Their walking in truth, in obedience, in love gives him joy. In fact, he says, there is no greater joy for a father than that his children walk in the truth.

Last weekend I stood beside by children as worshiped the Lord together. I heard my oldest son’s voice belting out low tones of praise to the Lord from behind me to my left, my second son singing strongly from the seat beside me on my right, and the voice of my third son praising God behind me on my right. And I was overcome with the joy of it so that I couldn’t sing at all. Like the Elder here, nothing makes me happier.

Walking Together

After commending them for their walk with Christ, he turns in both letters to the problem of walking companions. The prophet Amos asked, “Can two walk together unless they agree?” John’s letters address the same question.

Walking together must be based in the truth. Some of those who had heard and believed the Gospel were being misled by others who taught a message contrary to John. They accepted the coming of Christ, even the divinity of Christ, but they did not teach the full humanity of Christ. They heard the basic message of the Gospel, but then ran ahead and accepted new ideas about Jesus that are not in the Gospel.

Within a century a full-blown Gnosticism would threaten Christianity. Gnosticism was the view, based on Greek philosophy, that spiritual things were good and physical things were evil. They fully rejected a physical Jesus in favour of a mystical spiritual Christ. Only these enlightened knowers had the true light of Christ in them. They were the spiritual ones. They were the light bearers. This teaching wasn’t fully grown in the days of 2 and 3 John, but its seeds were being planted.

The Scripture is clear. The Gospel teaches both Jesus’ full Divinity and humanity.

The Christian theologian Anselm of Canterbury wrote about the importance of this doctrine, “Therefore, none but God can make this satisfaction. … But none but man ought to do this, otherwise man does not make the satisfaction… If it be necessary, therefore, as it appears, that the heavenly kingdom be made up of men, and this cannot be effected unless the aforesaid satisfaction is made, which none but God can make and none but man ´ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it.’”. In other words, only God could take initiative to reconcile the broken relationship between God and man. Only God was good enough to satisfy his righteous demands. But only man owed the debt, only man committed the crime. Only man should make the sacrifice. It took the God-Man Jesus to do this work.

In these churches, there were teachers advocating for only one side of this equation. They were ignoring the importance of Jesus’ humanity. We see this same issue addressed in 1 John 4:1-3, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

In 2 John 7, John also called this teaching anti-Christian. Even today, there are some, not many, who deny that Jesus ever lived. They want to downplay his significance in actual history. This is still an anti-Gospel, anti-Christ message. The problem was that these teachers were finding a welcome in the house churches. So, John warned them not to host teachers like this. He urged them not to support these false teachers who were leading some astray, not to welcome them to their meetings, not to share table fellowship, not to provide them with support or hospitality as they went about their anti-Christian work.

Now, some Christians took this tactic of shunning too far. That is the issue in 3 John. First, John commended Gaius for his kind and consistent welcome to the true traveling teachers of truth (5-8). Even though they were strangers, his support and hospitality to these men made it possible for them to do their God-honouring work. Others were hearing the Gospel and learning to walk with Christ, too. By partnering with them, Gaius was enabling the mission of Jesus to carry on.

Missionary support.

Diotrephes was another story (9-12). Claiming authority that was not his, he rejected these teachers, teachers sent by and endorsed by the apostles. We don’t know if he was teaching the heresy mentioned in 2 John or simply making the bar for fellowship higher than the Gospel calls for. But for some reason he refused fellowship and support to godly teachers of the Good News. Don’t follow him. Don’t emulate him. John drew a contrast with Demetrius who is endorsed by the truth itself and all those who love the truth.

2 John contains the stern warning, Be careful about who you receive. 3 John contains a similar warning, Be equally careful about who you reject. This echoes the words of Jesus:

  • Matthew 10:40-42, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
  • Luke 10:16, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
  • John 13:20, “Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

Jesus takes it personally when his emissaries are rejected. When a brother or sister in Christ brings his basic essential message, we are in rebellion against him when we spurn them. We oppose God when we oppose his messengers. So, be careful, dear ones, when you consider who to partner with and who not to.

Finally, John closes both letters in the same fitting manner. After insisting on a Gospel of God incarnate, coming near to us in the flesh, John closed affirming the value of being together in the flesh, face-to-face.

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