Today’s reading will take us through three short letters written to unknown churches (2 & 3 John) or general churches (Jude). They’re all short, one chapter a piece. And they all deal with problems in a direct and concise way.
The author of 2 & 3 John is John the apostle, apparently later in his life and ministry. Second John deals with a doctrinal error that had apparently begun to infect a church in his sphere of ministry, probably the province of Asia, where John is said to have spent the last few years of his life. Third John deals with a personality problem that threatened to disrupt the unity of the church in the region and place one church in particular under the dominance of a self-seeking leader.
The author of Jude is identifies himself to be the brother James (presumably the one who wrote the book of James), and therefore, also the half-brother the Lord Jesus. We know that Jesus had four other brothers and that two of them are named James and Jude (Judas) — Matthew 13:55 ““Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” And similar to James’ straightforward style of exhortation, Jude seems to be quite direct, too.
Jude tells us that he had originally intended to write them about an apparently more doctrinally broad and uplifting letter about salvation. However, he had found it necessary, because of some new challenge to the faith, to encourage them to “contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Although this new challenge is not directly named, the false teachers that he seems to be addressing include 1) those who deny Christ (v.5), 2) those who reject authority (v.6), 3) those who engaged in licentious behavior (v.7), 4) those who revile angels (v. 10), and 5) the greedy and rebellious (v.11). These were invading the love feasts of the church and corrupting the church with their sins. I’m tempted to identify them as gnostics, but I don’t want you to think that I’ve got gnosticism on the brain. 🙂
With these things out of the way, let’s take a look at a few things of interest…
What to do with false teachers — 2 John
If false teachings are to be avoided, then false teachers themselves are to be avoided. Sometimes this is the hardest part of dealing with false teachers; sometimes they’re friends, sometimes they’re friendly and even charismatic. They are hard to turn away. But John warns us not to even eat with them. Harsh? Strong medicine? Over the top? Paul had a similar warning, 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” The longer you hang around them, the more likely you’ll be to be influenced by force of their winsome personality to ignore Scripture and follow their notions. “But how will we ever reach them to pull them back?” you might rightly ask. Teaching and fellowship association are different things. I would be great to win them back to the Lord, but it would be tragic to lose your salvation. Be careful!
Diotrephes who loves to be first — 3 John
Now John deals with a different issue. False doctrine isn’t the issue here, but false living is. To many of my readers it may seem beyond comprehension that someone who is a Christian would be so self-centered, so ambitious, even so competitive that he/she would actively cull out of the church anyone who posed a threat to his/her popularity or influence. But it does happen. This is the primary problem that Paul occasionally ran into in his missionary activity that always started in a synagogue. When Paul’s message became too popular — including the Gentiles — sometimes the local synagogue leadership would stir up trouble for him. The Jewish leadership was at least partially motivated by this jealousy, when they condemned Jesus and delivered Him over to Pilate for crucifixion. And there has been more than one church controversy that was really more of a power struggle than a doctrinal problem, but which got “wrapped” in doctrine to make it more legitimate. Pride is an insidious and voracious destroyer, and Diotrephes suffered from it severely. Elevated to leadership, Diotrephes couldn’t afterward stand playing second fiddle. Be careful of this one, too.
The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints — Jude 1:3
I’ve talked about this before but it bears repeating, Christianity as it has been given to us in the Bible is not a “starter kit”. It doesn’t need additions, it doesn’t need innovations, it doesn’t need extra oomph. No new doctrines, no newly discovered documents or doctrines, no “evolution” or “emergence”. The Gospel is perfect precisely as it has been given to us in the Scripture. It’s pattern is “tight” enough to please the Lord and “loose” enough fit any culture or age.
Tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll be on the “home stretch” and begin Revelation, the last book in the Bible. See you tomorrow, then, Lord willing.