The Apostle John

Studies in his Life and Writings

By W. H. Griffith Thomas

Part 3. - The Three Epistles

Chapter 2


A small yet very important part of the New Testament. It probably presupposes a knowledge of the First Epistle (v. 9). Whether it was addressed to a Church or to a family is uncertain. One writer (Brooke) very strongly favors the former, thinking that several indications, like verse 4 and the use of plurals, suggest a community. But to others it seems more natural to think of the destination as that of a lady and her family so far as they were believers. But whether the one or the other, this little writing is full of spiritual counsel, with special reference to the reception of strangers. The Christians were encouraged in every way to show hospitality, and yet there was constant need of care, because of the obvious dangers of abuse. The Epistle is naturally divided thus:(1) verses 1-3, salutation; (2) verses 4-11, counsels and warnings; (3) verses 12, 13, conclusion. But it will be best to look at it with special reference to the theme that runs through it in various ways.

I. The Peril (v. 7)

It is clear that those to whom the Apostle wrote were surrounded by danger, and it was necessary for him to warn them and guard them. When he says, "many deceivers," the same word is used as in the First Epistle (2:26), implying deception of both heart and life. It was no mere intellectual error, but one that inevitably led people astray in conduct. The trouble was a deception of heart which expressed itself in wandering in life. The original word is that from which we get our word "planet." The Apostle does not hesitate to speak, as in the former Epistle, of this danger as essentially anti- Christian ( 1 John 2:26).

II. The Proof

The precise peril which evidently troubled the Apostle more than anything else was in regard to those who were not prepared to accept, but, indeed, rejected the fact and reality of our Lord's incarnation; "they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh" (1 John 4:2). The precise word "coming" suggests at once the permanence and continuance of the Incarnation in relation to human life, and the expression, moreover, implies that these deceivers did not want (Greek) to acknowledge the Incarnation. It has been well said that it is possible to say at once what a person is by discovering where he is prepared to place Jesus Christ. The danger of this denial of the Incarnation was that people were apt to go forward beyond the proper limit, and not to remain constant to the teaching of Christ (v. 9). It would seem as though there were people in that day who considered that Christianity was not "up to date," and that it was necessary to "go beyond it." But as then, so now; the simple, sufficient, and supreme test is whether men are willing to "abide in the teaching of Christ." Here again the expression implies that these erroneous teachers, in their efforts to go forward, were unwilling to be limited in the way John emphasizes.

III. The Plea

The Apostle is naturally concerned that those to whom he was writing should not be led astray, and he urges two things in particular (v. 8). First, that they should take care not to lose what they already possessed. Second, that they should enjoy full satisfaction by receiving a complete reward. Thus, negatively and positively, Christians were to watch and give heed to themselves. John knew well that only as they were faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ and his teaching could they expect blessing and power.

IV. The Protection

But all through the Epistle one thing is emphasized that clearly indicates by this prominence how in the Apostle's judgment these Christians could be safeguarded against error. In almost every verse, in a variety of expressions he lays stress on "the truth, " and it is in this connection that we see for ourselves today the adequate provision against every form of error.

1. Truth as a sphere (vs. 1, 3, 4, 9). The Apostle uses the phrase "in truth," or "in the teaching," thus showing that if we are only abiding in the teaching that we have obtained all will go well. Truth here and elsewhere in the New Testament is at' once intellectual and moral, and is intended to affect with illuminating and inspiring force every part of our being.

2. Truth as an experience (v. 1). The Apostle speaks of "them that know the truth," thereby suggesting a personal experience — and that of a permanent character. As before, so now, he emphasizes something that is far beyond any intellectual conception of Christian teaching, and refers to a personal experience and possession of the truth of God.

3. Truth as a motive (v. 2). Then he speaks of "the truth's sake, which abideth in us, and it shall be with us forever." The possession of this truth is thus shown to be a reason, perhaps the chief reason, why we are to remain faithful and not to be led astray. This truth abides in us, and will remain with us permanently, and on this account we are to be true to it.

4. Truth as a standard (v. 4). The Apostle was able to rejoice exceedingly that some of those associated with the "elect lady" were walking in truth. Walking always indicates life and progress, and "walking in truth" implies that truth was the standard, rule, and guide of their life.

5. Truth as a power (vs. 5, 6, 8). The Apostle goes on to speak of a commandment with which they had been familiar from the earliest days of their Christian life, the commandment to "love one another." Then this was seen to involve conduct according to God's commandments (v. 6), and the outcome of everything was their definite work (v. 8). Thus, in regard to the three aspects of love, obedience, and service, the Apostle shows that truth was intended to be the power of their life.

6. Truth as a home (v. 9). He had already spoken of truth abiding in us, and now he is to speak of our abiding in the teaching of Christ. Thus truth is seen to be the home of the soul, and those who thus abide are the blessed and holy possessors of the Father and the Son.

7. Truth as a test (vs. 10, 11). This truth was not only to be a power in these respects in the individual life and experience, but it was also to be used as a criterion in relation to others. H anyone should come to these Christians, and was seen to be without this teaching, he was to be left severely alone. They were not to give him hospitality; indeed, they were not even to greet him, for a greeting might easily be misunderstood to indicate approval of his evil ways. The Apostle thus does not mind his converts being regarded as "narrow," or severe, because he knows that the truth is, after all, the supreme matter, and everything, however attractive and otherwise delightful, must be tested thereby.

Looking over the Epistle, we observe three things:(1) The personal concern. The Apostle is conscious of a real danger facing these Christians, and on this account he urged them to a specific duty in regard to it. (2) The pressing claim. Beyond all else, he insisted on the Incarnation of our Lord, and we know how in all ages this has been the very heart of Christianity. Without Incarnation there could be no fellowship with God, and, of course, no salvation. "A Saviour not quite God is a bridge broken at the farther end" (Bishop Moule). (3) The practical counsel. On all these accounts he urges his friends to keep close to Christ by keeping close to the truth. For us today the same message is appropriate and necessary. We can only abide in the Incarnate Word in proportion as we keep close to the written Word of God. Thus we shall keep close to God and to all that is good.