Brit Hadashah Reflections 54
Hebraic understanding of the Apostolic letters
2 John 1 : 1 - 13 and 3 John 1 : 1 – 14
These two letters are quite short, and personal. Unlike the first letter, which was addressed to “ekklesia”, John writes to people whom he considers close and valued friends. There is no indication in the letters of precisely who these folk were, where they fellowshipped, the precise nature of the friendship, or even if “the Lady” and “Gaius” knew each other. We do not know where John was when he wrote these letters, nor the date of their authorship. So they have to be dealt with as they appear and take from them the lessons which are there to be learned.
“The Elder,” is John’s description of himself in both letters. That could signify both that he was of senior age, and that he considered himself to have oversight of the particular “ekklesia” where “the Elect Lady” and “Gaius” fellowshipped. Let us deal with “the Elect lady” first. As a matter of interest the word ‘elect’ may also have been translated ‘chosen’, and we are left to speculate by whom she was ‘chosen’. The obvious one is the Person of the Holy Spirit of course. This letter might be a response to a communication John had received from this person requesting counsel, and there is reason in the text to validate this. On the other hand, there is also evidence that the lady might have been hosting an “ekklesia” in her home, and this is a pastoral note encapsulating the broad message contained in John’s first general epistle. We don’t know.
The verses provide convenience, but were not put there by John! However, in those first six verses John uses the words “truth” and “love” many times. These provide the basis from which John is able to compare deception, a major concern with which he was dealing in these fledgling “ekklesias”. There is also the likelihood that this fellowship was quite small and had not yet been subjected to the attention of the false teachers which we discussed in ‘reflecting’ on John’s first epistle. Speculatively, I can see a possibility that the lady might have heard about these false teachings and wrote to John about them, so John wanted to pro-actively head this off and deal with it before it arrived. There are ‘children’ mentioned by John. They may have been the lady’s own offspring, or they may have been ‘children in the faith’, but the fact that only ‘some of them’ were ‘walking in truth’ suggests the former.
“And now I plead with you, lady, (I wonder why he didn’t use her name!) not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. This is love that we walk according to His commandments.” And immediately he launched into the fact that there were many deceivers in the world seeking to snare those who might be somewhat weak, or new, in the faith. “look to yourselves” he said, not to the ‘peddlers’ of false doctrine, “that we do not lose those things we worked for,” ( presumably referring to those who had been won to the faith and who fellowshipped with her in her home). Then, with his ‘Elders’ hat firmly showing, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine (of Christ), do not receive him into your house nor greet him.” There is some sound advice for us today as we face such antichrist doctrine in our media and in the political class, even in some churches!
There are a number of men named ‘Gaius’ in the Scriptures. One baptized by Paul (1 Cor 1 : 14), one of Macedonia (Acts 19), one of Derbe (Acts 20), and this friend of John. Two of these are noted in the Scriptures for their hospitable acts, and it is a note of trivial interest that it is said that John Bunyan, in his famous work “Pilgrims Progress”, gave the Innkeeper the name Gaius, due to that hospitable nature! In any event, some friends of John had met this Gaius whilst on a mission trip and upon their return had testified, to John, of his notably upright walk of faith, and the warmth of hospitality which he had evidently extended to them. (Isn’t that the kind of testimony to be admired and which should be coveted by all believers?) However, as John wrote to encourage Gaius for his faithfulness, he also mentioned another of the brethren, Diotrephes, who had a very different testimony. Mercifully, not every “ekklesia” had a Diotrephes in their congregation! He was one who coveted ‘position’. He must have been in a situation of leadership because he had the authority, (possibly meeting in his own home) to expel people from fellowship. He even failed to recognize John’s authority, by refusing to have his letter to the “ekklesia” read to them.
It is not difficult to imagine such a situation today, for there are many examples of folk elevated to a pastoral role, who treat that as a position of almost ‘papal like’ authoritarian anointing. That is quite unbiblical.
It is wise to consider these three epistles of John as a continuous trilogy. First is the open letter dealing with false teaching in general and a more basic entreaty to remember the call to stay with the Scriptural teaching of inclusion and obedience to the authority and commands of Almighty God. “if it does not accord with the ‘Book’, be very cautious!” And then the two more personal letters dealing with leadership and example in the confines of the smaller “ekklesia”. There is much for us to glean from John as he tries to shepherd believers to be steadfast and true to what God has revealed in the Scriptures. May it be so for each of us too.