Friday, September 11, 2009


Whew! Having looked at 1, 2, and 3 John over the 5-week DC break, we'll start up the Discipleship Curriculum, level 401, reviews / previews again next week. That'll come on Monday, Lord willing. Also coming next week, I'll begin a fairly in-depth book review of Dr. Jason Lisle's recent book, The Ultimate Proof of Creation. Stay tuned!

3 John 5-14

V5-14 – 5Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. 9I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 11Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone – and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. 13I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

John continues to commend and encourage Gaius for his behavior. One commentator elaborates, “In the Early Church there were itinerant evangelists and missionaries. They left their full-time labors and they devoted themselves to the spread of the gospel. They traveled from church to church and they launched out to preach the gospel to Gentiles in places where the gospel could not be heard, and Gaius is welcoming these traveling evangelists and missionaries who love the truth into his home. He’s encouraging them. He’s supporting them. He’s giving them food and means that they can go about their missionary labors…even when he doesn’t have a personal relationship with those teachers. Some of these teachers he knows – they’re brothers that he knows – but others, John says, are strangers. When they first come, he doesn’t even know them. They’re certified by the church; they’re faithful in their doctrine; but he didn’t know them before. But he takes them in and he shows them hospitality. And John in v5-6 says, ‘Well done, Gaius! That’s how we ought to be behaving towards missionaries, Gaius. Keep it up! Way to go!’"

John gives three reasons why Gaius and others should show this kind of hospitality to missionaries. First, they are working “for the sake of the Name.” They presumably left their homes, land, jobs, inheritances, and maybe even families to sow the seed, to spread the Word of God, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s a good reason to support missionaries. Second, they have no other means of support. These missionaries did not rely solely on support from their local congregation, and they wouldn’t dare ask the pagans to whom they went for money. There’s usually a catch when someone asks for money first, before telling good news. No, these evangelists gave the gospel at no charge to all who would hear. And they needed support from people like Gaius. One commentator notes, “One day when they become believers they too can support missionaries to go to unbelievers, but until then we who are believers now will be the ones who will support those who are going to tell the good news.” Third, we should support missionaries because we are all parts of one Body, sharing in the work of Christ, the advancement of God’s Kingdom. When we support missionaries, we cooperate for the truth.

John moves now into the negative reason for his writing to Gaius. He has positively encouraged him, but now he has to remind him of the reason for the positive encouragement. There was a man named Diotrephes, who apparently forbade helping missionaries – maybe for good reason, out of caution or inability to distinguish between the godly and false teachers. He went so far as to excommunicate anyone in this local congregation who dared to “welcome the brothers.”

John gives Gaius six reasons to disregard Diotrephes and to continue helping Christian missionaries. First, Diotrephes has control issues – he “loves to be first.” This is a personal attack, but it must have been the truth. Diotrephes wanted the power in this local congregation, and perhaps he saw John as trying to take it away. But submission to apostolic authority would have been the better solution. Second, he “will have nothing to do with” John and those who side with him on this issue. Again, refusal to submit to apostolic authority is a clear problem. Diotrephes is rejecting Jesus’ “last shall be first” teaching, and the contrast between him and Jesus is obvious. Third, Diotrephes is “gossiping maliciously.” A disciple of Christ should not do such a thing. Fourth, “he refuses to welcome the brothers.” Diotrephes is condemned for failing to do the very thing for which Gaius is commended. Fifth, “he also stops those who want to” help missionaries. This reminds me of Romans 1:32, which proclaims the nadir of the downward sinful spiral, when you not only practice sinful behavior but you approve of those who join you. In this case, Diotrephes is prohibiting righteous behavior. Sixth and finally, this man is excommunicating church members he finds supporting traveling missionaries.

Notice that the reasons John gives begin with attitudes and character and then extend to behavioral issues. Looking only at Diotrephes’ behavior, we might not be able to discern his motive; he may have been trying to protect the church from potential false teachers. But once we capture his selfishness and pride, we can then more clearly see that his behavior aligns negatively with his faulty character. Robert Lewis Dabney once said that “second only to Adam the most representative man is Diotrephes who wants to be first among them.” One preacher says, “There are so many Christian leaders who want to be first. They want to be preeminent. That’s what they desire. They want to be. It’s about them. And John is saying to Gaius and to this whole congregation and to us today, that is not what a Christ-wrought Christian leader looks like. A true Christian leader is here to serve the truth not his own self-interest.”

In v11, John says to do the obvious – don’t imitate evil, for “anyone who does evil has not seen God.” Instead, imitate good, for “anyone who does what is good is from God.” John is applying the moral test that he noted in 1 John, that the gospel when embraced by faith always means a transformation of character. It always shows itself forth in a morally transformed life. Diotrephes doesn’t appear from his fruits to know anything of grace or even the love of Christ. But John does point Gaius to one – Demetrius – who does exhibit the fruits of faith. “Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone.” This man is worthy of emulation. One commentator says, “He has a good testimony to his character from the whole congregation.” But even if he lacked the testimony of others, his godly character is self-evident from “the truth itself.” Demetrius had orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right behavior), coordination between the faith that he professes to believe and the life that he actually lives. Besides the evidence of others’ testimony and the truth itself, Demetrius also has the commendation of John and those with him. And Gaius can trust this testimony, knowing that John speaks the truth. Now we don’t know much about Demetrius, but he is trustworthy and emulation-worthy, and that’s a fine compliment to have your name recorded in Scripture as being such a person.

John has effectively with this letter given Gaius the task of reuniting this congregation apart from Diotrephes. John has more to say (v13), but he’d rather come and talk in person (see 2 John). So John ends with a short blessing, that of peace. It’s the shalom of God that Gaius needs to stand firm in and with this divided congregation. And the conclusion, albeit unusual, is entirely appropriate, given the context. The friends send their greetings to you; and you, Gaius, are to greet the friends by name. There were likely many fractured friendships in this congregation, but that can restored thanks to the peace we have from God. We ought to go longing for God’s blessing and at the same time longing to be the blessing of being a gospel friend. We ought to seek out gospel friends by name and bless them with the peace of God.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

3 John 1-4

V1-4 – 1The elder, to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. 2Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. 3It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

John again starts this letter by calling himself “the elder,” just as he did in 2 John. He’s writing to his “dear friend Gaius,” but we really don’t know anything about this man, except that he was a leader with some significant responsibility. John also says that he loves Gaius “in the truth.” In the words of one commentator, “John is expressing his love to Gaius but he’s noting that the bond, the deep bond they share, is bound in the truth, bound in the gospel, bound in Jesus Christ.”

In v2, John proclaims his prayer for Gaius, and it is truly humbling. John is praying that Gaius would experience physical health and good circumstances to the same degree that he already has spiritual health. In other words, Gaius is so spiritually healthy that John’s prayer is for his physical health to reach that level. Now that doesn’t mean that Gaius was physically struggling. On the contrary, it is quite a compliment to the man’s spiritual well being. I am not worthy of that prayer, for my physical health, which I don’t take for granted, is sadly far better than my spiritual health. I pray that my spiritual health would catch up to my physical health!

On another note, this verse is commonly used in proclaiming the “health and wealth gospel.” But it is misconstrued and taken out of context. Besides noting what we’ve already pointed out about Gaius strong spiritual state, we must also note that this style of greeting – to wish one well – was quite common in the Greco-Roman Empire. One commentator concludes, “John is not saying that every Christian is going to be fabulously wealthy, deliriously prosperous, and unendingly healthy. Those things would indeed be a blessing – were the Lord to give us wealth or health (to use for His glory) – but these are not things that are promised to every believer. The Lord Jesus Christ’s own life bears witness of this. At any rate, John’s point in this passage is to raise the issue of the spiritual health of Gaius, which is described in the following verses. And we too should long to have that kind of spiritual maturity and growth manifested in our lives.”

Next in v3-4, John rightly celebrates with great joy the obedience of Gaius, who is walking in the truth – exhibiting orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right behavior). John may have been Gaius’ spiritual father, just as Paul was to Timothy. And John has heard from others how faithful Gaius had been to the truth, even about his life of love (v6). One commentator points out, “Doctrine and love are often set against one another in the Christian life. You’ve heard people say, ‘Well, he loves truth more than he loves people.’ Or you’ve heard people say, ‘He cares too much about doctrine and doesn’t show enough love.’ But in Gaius we see a man who loves the truth and he loves people. He loves sound, biblical, apostolic doctrine and he is committed to living out that truth in love in his life. And it causes John’s heart to rejoice. There is this coordination of belief and practice in Gaius that causes John to rejoice. And, again, this is an example to be emulated because Jesus Himself is the One in whose image Gaius is being recreated. And what does John say about Jesus? That He was full of grace and truth. And there is the picture of the complete Christian.”

3 John - Introduction

This tiny book – written by the apostle John – is John’s personal letter to a man named Gaius, likely a leader in some respect, a person with significant responsibility. 3 John is a companion letter to 2 John, and both have similar, pastoral concerns behind them. 2 John was concerned to encourage Christians not to show hospitality to false teachers, whereas 3 John is concerned to encourage Christians to show hospitality to true, faithful Christian missionaries and evangelists. John warns these Christians against showing hospitality and giving support to and respecting false teachers, but he doesn’t want them to overreact and stop showing hospitality to and support for and encouragement of true and faithful Christian teachers, evangelists, and missionaries. That context is the backdrop of this letter. So the positive instruction of 3 John – Show hospitality to missionaries who are visiting – balances the negative instruction of 2 John – Do not show support or hospitality towards those who deny the teaching of the Bible, Jesus’ teaching about Himself, the apostles’ teaching about Him.

This letter breaks into distinct parts. First, we have a salutary greeting in v1-2 and a celebration over the news about the faithfulness of Gaius in v3-4. Second, we have an encouraging commendation for hospitality and an exhortation to cooperate for the sake of the truth in v5-8. Third, we have a reminder regarding the evil behavior and bad example of Diotrephes, along with an exhortation to do what is good in v9-11. Fourth and finally, we have a good example set forth in the commendation of Demetrius, along with a concluding blessing in v12-14. Let’s take a closer look at the text.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

2 John 7-13

V7-13 – 7Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9Anyone 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. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. 12I 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. 13The children of your chosen sister send their greetings.

John, having discussed the moral test of authentic Christianity, moves to the doctrinal test, where he spends most of his word count. Just as Jesus and the other disciples foretold, deceivers and false teachers have arisen from within the group of believers to lead astray those who are not watchful. So John says to “watch out.” These deceivers, failing to acknowledge the humanity of Jesus Christ, went out into the world, just as Christian missionaries, relying on Christian hospitality, going from city to city and meeting with the local congregations. But they weren’t sent by God; rather they literally are “of antichrist,” or Satan. Elaborating on the false teaching they were promoting, one commentator says, “They call into question what Jesus said about Himself; they call into question what the apostles preached and wrote about Jesus; they call into question the Bible’s testimony as to who Jesus was; they call into question the reality of His deity by denying the fullness of the truth of the incarnation; they call into question the truth about His full humanity by calling into question the incarnation.” They did not “continue in the teaching of Christ,” and thereby prove that they do not “have God.” Those who persevere in the teaching of Christ prove that they have God, both Father and Son (by the presence of the Holy Spirit). Many people today want God but not Jesus. John says you can’t run ahead of Jesus, because God isn’t there. When you leave Jesus behind, you leave the possibility of relationship to God behind. It’s the claim of Jesus’ exclusivity that John is making.

In v10, John is saying that believers must not dabble or mingle in false teaching, especially in that which claims to be Christian – such as JW or Mormonism. Otherwise, we may be sucked in to false teaching that’s going to cut us off from our only hope of salvation through a personal relationship with someone who doesn’t have God. One commentator says, “John is so emphatic that he even says that we shouldn’t show hospitality to a false teacher. That is an amazing statement for the New Testament that is always exhorting the Christian to show hospitality to fellow Christians. Christians are not to receive or welcome false teachers into their fellowship, because he who denies Christ forfeits God and cannot have fellowship with those whose only hope and trust is in Jesus Christ for salvation as He is offered in the gospel.” Perhaps it is because this command to abstain from hospitality to false teachers seems so contrary to Christian love that John makes sure the cover the command to love before addressing non-hospitality to false teachers. Love is concerned about truth.

John wraps up here without discussing in great detail the third evidence of true Christianity. Instead of writing paragraphs about fellowship and the tangible expression of Christian love and care for each other, John hopes to visit and engage in this right and holy behavior in person. John wants an opportunity to live out the truth that he professes and teaches. Friendship and relationship are crucial aspects of humanity; but we must not seek this out with unbelievers, lest we be drawn into their heresy. Rather fellowship is to be sought and exhibited. John is saying that the fullness of joy is experienced only in fellowship with believers. Many professing Christians today say something like, “I worship God on my own. I don’t need to come to church on Sunday.” But John would reply to that sentiment, “There is no experience of the fullness of joy in the Christian life without fellowship with other believers, without gathering around the Lord’s means of grace on the Lord’s Day, fellowshipping with one another in worship, encouraging one another to love and to good deeds; because all those who are united in Christ are united to all those who are united to Christ.” In other words, as one commentator concluded, “We can’t be indifferent about fellowship with one another. We need one another. God didn’t intend us to grow in grace or experience joy apart from one another.”

By closing with the greeting from “the children of your chosen sister,” we might conclude that another local church, which John is visiting, has members that are aware of the situation in Ephesus. That local congregation cares for Ephesus and its membership and wants the best for them. Do we consider other local congregations in this manner? Why or why not? It’s another evidence that John demands what Jesus demands. Love one another.

2 John 5-6

V5-6 – 5And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.

John moves from his encouraging greeting to the important reason for his writing. It is a reminder of the command of God, to love one another; and it’s a reminder of the second test, or evidence, of true Christianity that John noted in his first letter (1 John). This passage describes the moral test, a love for God’s commands and a walking in accordance with Scripture.

One Commentator says, “John is speaking to an issue that is a standing issue for Christians today. There are so many people who believe that Christianity doesn’t entail a call to obedient discipleship. They believe that Christianity is about freedom, freedom to do whatever you want. We’re no longer under the law. We’re no longer under obligation. We’re under grace, and rules can have nothing to do with us in the Christian life. And John so helpfully in this passage relates for us love and law in the Christian life. In fact, John calls us here to obey the commandment of love. And that phrase is not a contradiction.” Love is a command. It’s not a feeling, but an action, not an emotion, but an attitude. The commentator goes on, “Christian love is unselfish service of our Christian brothers and sisters undertaken by deliberate choice. Love is deliberately seeking the best interest of our fellow Christians and personally ministering to them out of a gospel care and concern, even at our own cost, for the sake of Christ. John is calling us; no, Jesus is calling us to a costly service of one another, a real and tangible love and care and concern for one another.”

This command to love is not new. Moses commanded love, and Jesus commanded love. “If you love Me, you will obey what I command… If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching” (John 14:15,24). In v6, John explains what love is – to obey God. And then to obey God is to love one another. It’s kind of strange, isn’t it? Love is the law; the law is love. We were set free from the law in order to love. And to love is nothing more than to obey the law. But it’s the motive that changes. Prior to freedom in Christ, we were under the law, baring its burdens; now, free in Christ, we are free to obey the law out of love for it, since it no longer condemns. Do you see how this reflects the moral test? Are we walking in accordance with God’s word? If you’re walking in love, then you are walking in accordance with God’s word. And if you are walking in accordance with God’s word, then you are walking in love. People always try and separate those things, but they belong together.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

2 John 1-4

V1-4 – 1The elder, to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth – and not I only, but also all who know the truth – 2because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: 3Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. 4It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.

John begins with words of encouragement for these individuals who are undoubtedly under pressure in the midst of this congregational trial. This congregation, despite its turmoil, was “beloved of God, beautiful in God’s sight, blessed by God in His mercy, and obedient to God in some measure.” John addresses his audience with tenderness in v1; and then in v2, he reminds his audience that love is rooted not in feelings that fade but in truth that “lives in us and will be with us forever.” In v3, John issues a threefold blessing to believers in this congregation (and beyond). And finally in v4, he reports “great joy” over the fact that some – not all – of the children are obedient, “walking in the truth.”

John calls himself “the elder.” He was likely the pastor of this church, perhaps away on church business, wanting to encourage his congregation in the midst of great trial. The trials included families torn apart by the Romans – many able-bodied Christians were essentially enslaved for their faith and taken to the salt mines in Asia, leaving elderly and disabled Christians behind to care for children. Others, like Paul, were simply martyred. And then, as if those trials weren’t hard enough, there was division within the church due to some neglecting the truth. Families not torn by persecution were divided by doctrinal disagreements. And the pagans of Ephesus saw this division within and likely mocked the Christians for their seeming hypocrisy, preaching unity and love yet appearing to show none. John writes to encourage the church during all of this turmoil.

John calls his audience the chosen lady. This audience is the elect of God. They certainly didn’t feel like chosen ones in the midst of these trials. But they ought to take heart, for “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). One commentator says, “She is beleaguered. She’s persecuted from without. Heresies are rending her asunder from within. False teachers are troubling her. Division has occurred in the congregation. But in God’s eyes she is the bride that He chose from the foundation of the world. He chose her. He sought her. He bought her.” Throughout the New Testament, the church is referred to with feminine nouns. She is the bride of Christ. Things of beauty are referred to with feminine names, right? Well the persecuted church is a beautiful, chosen lady. And she is loved. She is loved by John, her pastor, and she is loved by all who know the truth. When believers see martyrdom, they may exhibit sorrow, but deep in their heart they love that, you know? To hear a testimony of faithful witness to Christ unto death is truly a lovely thing. So John’s words are encouraging. They encourage Christians to love one another in the truth.

Again in v2, we see why Christians love one another in the truth. Mutual Christian love is not indifferent to truth; it is rooted in truth. One commentator says, “The truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ which he shares with them makes him love them. He doesn’t love them because they’re just naturally more likeable than other people. He doesn’t love them because they look the same as he does, or talk the same as he does, or have the same background and past as he does. He loves them because they share the same truth, the same faith in Jesus Christ… There’s never been a Christian who took a stand for truth that wasn’t accused of being unloving. And John is telling these Christians, ‘Friends, I want to tell you, one reason I love you is because we share the truth.’ Love without truth is not Christian love, and it is precisely that shared truth of the glorious story of God’s grace in salvation in Jesus Christ that brings us together.” This truth lives in us by the Holy Spirit and will never leave us. That’s encouraging!

In v3, John issues a benediction of grace, mercy, and peace. This part is typical of New Testament blessings; but the rest is atypical. John says that these crucial elements from God the Father and God the Son “will be with us.” Usually the New Testament authors proclaim blessing to “you,” that is, their particular audience, and they most often are issued in past or present tense. But here John includes himself and all who share in the love and truth of Christ, and he issues a future tense blessing. During trials and tribulations, we are called to exhibit patience, that most difficult fruit of the Spirit. But the great thing is that we don’t have to wait alone. All believers around the world wait together in the truth and in love for the blessings of grace, mercy, and peace that will come from God and His Son.

Finally in v4, John reports his joy that even in the midst of these trying times, this church is growing. He says that “some of your children are walking in the truth,” and that’s the test of true faith. To exhibit Christian love docked in the truth in midst of persecution gives great joy to pastors. When orthodoxy (right doctrine – truth) leads to orthopraxy (right living – love) in the lives of “some” believers, we ought to rejoice. It’s encouraging for leaders to see “some” of their followers understand the truth and live the truth, to get it and to apply it. John encourages, and John is encouraged. But truthfully, leaders and teachers and pastors want “all,” not just “some.” So when John throws in this word, it’s a call to keep working. Yes, they’re in the midst of hard times. Yes, they’re hurting. But they’re not done yet. “Some” are walking in the truth, and that’s good. But God will not be finished until “all” of His Body is complete.

2 John - Introduction

This tiny book – written by the apostle John – is John’s personal letter to “the chosen lady and her children.” It is thought likely that the lady and her children were either specific members of the church at Ephesus (who needed to be urged not to show hospitality to false teachers), or the very congregation itself (the chosen lady) and its membership (her children), since John had ties to that church late in his life. Paul had founded and pastored that church; and Timothy followed him there. Now John, as “the elder,” takes that role. And, though there is some speculation, it appears likely, as one preacher noted, that “this is a church where there has been a heart-rending, congregation-splitting schism…occasioned by certain false teachers who were denying and calling into question certain key, central elements of…who Jesus was, …the Bible’s testimony as to the divinity and humanity and Messianic lordship of Jesus Christ. They were distorting the doctrine of the person and work of Christ. And faithful members of that congregation had held fast to John’s teaching, to Paul’s teaching, to the apostolic teaching, to Bible teaching – but a split had occurred nevertheless. We’re told about the division in 1 John 2, that a whole group had left the church.”

In fact, 1 John sets forth the context for understanding 2 and 3 John. In 1 John, the author clearly and repeatedly sets forth, as one preacher clarifies, “three tests, or evidences, of true Christianity. There was a doctrinal test: that is, fidelity to what the apostles taught about Jesus Christ in His person and work. There was a moral test, a love for God’s commands and a walking in accordance with Scripture. And there was a social, or relational, test: that is, a real and tangible expression of love and care and concern on the part of believers for other believers, Christians truly loving and caring for their fellow Christians in the local congregation and elsewhere. And John brings to bear this as a test against certain false teachers.” 2 John applies many of the principles found in 1 John, in a gentle way, to a few individual Christians within a larger Christian congregation. Let’s read 2 John and take a deeper look.