Jottings from John’s Second Epistle (Paper 4)
Dennis Williamson, Belfast
'Doctrine is not really important, let's have practice', so say some impatient critics of the day, 'after all what benefit does the average believer get from listening to detailed discussions upon doctrine?' Surely this is an unwarranted intrusion of the mind of the flesh. Perhaps unwittingly, such individuals have tended to push pragmatism beyond the bounds of Scripture. Certainly the writer of this epistle did not share their view. In helpful and wholesome style he writes to this sister and her children, affirming distinctly the fundamental and indispensable value of doctrine and its vital relationship to the person of Christ.
Abiding in the Doctrine, w. 9-11. 'Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God'. Characteristically, John employs clear and unequivocal terms to convey to those to whom he is writing how seriously he views these false teachers. By the use of a particular verb, translated here 'transgresseth', but literally meaning 'to go beyond' or 'to go before', the apostle underlines very skilfully a particular mark of these men. They projected themselves as the advanced thinkers of the day. Obviously the elder here latches on to this feature of their temperament and draws our attention to the import of their philosophy, showing that the very intellectual processes they depended upon as protective armour, had been their downfall. Through this so-called advancement, they had failed to abide in the doctrine, hence they were apostates! While no true believer can become an apostate, yet there are weighty lessons here for us all. Do we confine ourselves to 'words which the Holy Spirit teacheth' when speaking about the Person of Christ? These men went beyond the pale as it were, but do we allow human reason to enter the sphere only belonging to divine revelation? When we cannot explain everything, do we bow before the majesty and beauty of the inerrant word of God? May God grant to us more holy reverence about holy things, especially those relating to 'the Son of his love'. The apostle Paul would agree with this writer. 'Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ', Col. 2.8.
Incidentally, it should be noted that this type of transgression was highlighted in Judas Iscariot, as recorded in Acts chapter 1, verse 25, revealing the serious nature of the issue. He was an apostate, sinning against the manifestation of light, and like Haman before him and many others since, he was eventually trapped in the deceitful web of his own making. Thus the thought here of abiding positively is set over against 'going beyond the doctrine', on the one hand and negatively 'not abiding in the doctrine' on the other. At this point the axe is laid to the root of the tree of many contemporary religions. They profess a knowledge of God while at the same time denying His Son. This is unreal and must end in disaster. To have God is to have Christ; to have the Father is to have the Son, for whilst the Persons of the God-head are distinct, the essence is One. How John would seek to emphasize the need to be sound in doctrine if we are to know how to give an answer concerning the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear, 1 Peter 3.15. Would adherence to this not settle our hearts as to many who call at our door? Persuasive speech, courteous manner and kindly disposition are not the criteria by which false teachers are to be judged; it is by the doctrine which they bring. If, in any way, it detracts in the slightest degree from the supreme glory of the Person of Christ, it cannot be right! With regard to the false teachers in our text, their WORD is wrong, v. 9, their WAY is wrong, v. 10 and their WORKS are wrong, v. 11.
Not only is the home a place of truth, vv. 1-4, and a place of testimony, w. 5-8, but in our section we see it can also be a place of testing, vv. 9-11. A sister does not need to leave her sphere to be tested. Many of the most severe trials have come within the confines of the home. How necessary then to heed the warning of the apostle regarding those whom we receive and the doctrine they bring. However simple and unimportant it may have seemed, Mordecai could never bow to Haman because of what he represented. Faithfulness to God and His word should govern, not only reception to the home but to the assembly. The thought in verse 11 appears to be that by 'bidding him God speed' or greeting him, tacit support or sympathy may be given to the doctrine he carries, thus meaning in the final analysis partaking of his evil deeds. In the third epistle we are reminded of those we are to receive, v. 8, and as John finishes this little letter we have an example of this, vv. 12, 13.
Assisting through the Word, w. 12-13. Even as he closes, his love for the word arises to the surface. We have looked at him appreciating the truth in verses 1-4, answering to the commandments, vv. 5-8, and abiding in the doctrine, vv. 9-11. The picture drawn for us in these last two verses is that of an aged and wise elder and teacher sitting down with this elect lady and her children and assisting them through the word. What a holy, noble and most needful exercise. 'All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works', 2 Tim. 3. 16, 17. Is this man not an elder in every sense of the word? Take a look back over his letter. See him writing with delight, v. 1, rejoicing over deportment, v. 4, beseeching about development, vv. 5-6, warning of danger, vv. 7-10, and here hoping for discussion about the things of God. Would this elder do the saints any harm? Are these not some of the features of the faithful shepherd? Note carefully, it is all based on the word. There are some lovely servants of God; may we learn from them. Communion of this nature must inevitably result in 'fulness of joy' for as the Psalmist records 'in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand arc pleasures for evermore', Psa. 16. 11.
O what is all that earth can give?
I'm called to share in God's own joy
Dead to the world, in Thee I live,
In Thee I've bliss without alloy.
Well may I earthly joys resign,
All things are mine, and I am Thine.