Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: John 2 & 3
Today we are going to examine the second and third letters of John. We will look at the two letters together because both are extremely brief. They are generally notated as 2 John and 3 John. Second John contains only 13 verses and 3 John contains only 15 verses.
Both letters are traditionally attributed to John the Apostle. The letters appear to be written from Ephesus in the late first century. This further connects them to the Apostle John who settled in Ephesus and established the first Christian community there. Stylistically and thematically, both letters also connect well with the Gospel of John and 1 John.
Still, the author does not directly identify himself as John. Rather, he identifies himself as the “Presbyter” which means elder and is the word from which we derive the term priest. Therefore, it is possible that the letter was written by a disciple of John in his name. As discussed in our previous post examining 1 John, this was a common practice in the ancient world and indicates Johannine authority for the teaching. At any rate, the self-identification as “Presbyter” indicates that the author was not only well known but in a position of authority over this Christian community.
Both letters are individually addressed to the recipients and provide practical instruction for dealing with issues within the church community. Both recipients seem to be prominent Christians in the community as 2 John is addressed to “the chosen Lady and her children” (2 John 1) and 3 John is addressed to Gaius of whom “some of the brothers came and testified to how truly you walk in the truth.” (3 John 3) In both cases, the author is instructing them in the proper course of action and enlisting their help.
The Teaching of 2 John and 3 John
While both letters deal with highly specific issues in the Christian community, they also provide key advice regarding the battle against false teaching in the world. Second John is written specifically to address a false preaching currently circulating through the community.
“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist.” 2 John 7
While addressing a specific heresy, the author sets forth a general principle that we as Christians must always be on guard against false teaching because false teaching threatens to rob us of our reward.
“Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense. Anyone who is so 'progressive' as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.” 2 John 8-9
The author then makes a quite provocative statement which sets forth the principle for dealing with evil.
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.” 2 John 10-11
This is a zero-tolerance principle for false teaching. We ought not consort or entertain false ideas in any manner. It is an easy line to pass over. However, we must ask ourselves if we consort with evil or false ideologies any way.
An honest assessment likely leads to a challenging conclusion. Most of us do invite false ideologies into our homes and our lives on a regular basis. A self-examination of the media and television that we consume is very useful. Through these mediums we routinely “greet” characters, real and fictional, which live and proclaim a world view counter to the truth.
This realization should lead us to ask a multitude of questions. Do I spend money on movies and music that promote a culture of death and confusion? What is my cooperation when I spend my money in this way? Are there forms of entertainment that I should I give up? Am I willing to do so?
These are all very challenging questions. Most of us would prefer to ignore them. However, our eternal salvation hangs in the balance.
Third John contextualizes why it is so important not to “greet” evil in any manner.
“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does what is good is of God; whoever does what is evil has never seen God.” 3 John 11
It is important to eliminate evil from our presence because ultimately our surroundings influence us. We begin to imitate those with whom we associate. This is true of our family, friends, and even the fictional characters within the movies and shows we watch. This is what makes literature and story telling such a powerful cultural influence.
One of the gravest dangers we face as Christians today is the false stories promoted by our culture. We are immersed in them to the point of being numb. These stories have a corrosive influence on our faith.
For this reason, 2 John and 3 John are just as important today as they were in the first century. They serve as a clarion call to make no room for evil that we might inherit eternal life.