The Letters of John
by Peter and Vita Toon
Bible Study Starters
Servant Books, 1979
How to use the studies
Introduction to 1 John
Study 1: Fellowship 1:1–2:2
Study 2: Love and obedience 2:3–17
Study 3: Truth and error 2:18–27
Study 4: Children of God 2:28–3:10
Study 5: Love and confidence 3:11–24
Study 6: Walking in love 4:1–21
Study 7: Faith and assurance 5:1–12
Study 8: Epilogue 5:13–21
Study 9: 2 John
Study 10: 3 John
HOW TO USE THE STUDIES
Studying the Bible should be exciting, and especially so in a group of believers. The Bible is God’s gift to the church, containing his self-revelation. It is the book of God’s message to people everywhere, in all sorts of conditions. Since it is a book for God’s people (and via them to the world), it follows that the treasures and blessings it contains become available when a group of God’s people read and study it together. With sincere hearts and listening ears and in the spirit of fellowship, a group of believers becomes a microcosm of the whole church as it hears what God has to say from his word.
This study is intended to get a group of Christians started on the task of studying the Bible profitably together, though it can be used for individual study as well. It is intended to facilitate the process wherein God’s people hear God’s word today. It will have served its purpose when members of the group find the living God through the printed page of scripture. Then they will find that both attendance at the Eucharist and daily devotion is enriched.
To function well together, members of the group will want to do some preliminary reading of the book being studied. Further, the group will need a leader to get the early studies under way. He or she could be replaced at the half-way stage. Here are some suggestions for the leader(s) to help the studies run smoothly. Naturally this task will be easier if all members acquaint themselves with these suggestions.
1. Since the Bible yields its truth especially when set in the context of an atmosphere of worship, prayer, and trust, make sure that the group begins and ends its time of study and fellowship with prayer. We need to read the Bible joyfully as believers.
2. Since the Bible was written in languages which sometimes do not translate very well into modern English, always have available several translations/paraphrases (e.g., the Revised Standard Version, Jerusalem Bible, New International Version, New American Bible, Good News Bible, or Living Bible) in order to be aware of the possibilities of meaning and interpretation.
3. Always bear in mind that your first task is to understand what the text means, what God originally said through his servant who wrote the book. We are always faced with the temptation to read into the text what we want to see there. When we know what God originally said to people in a different world from our own, we can ask what he has to say today.
4. To assist in the demanding but exciting task of interpreting the Bible today, the questions at the end of each study will prove helpful. If seen in this light, they will help you understand the connection between the original meaning arrived at by exegesis and the application of that meaning today ( = hermeneutics).
5. Seek to ensure that every member contributes in one way or another. Each Christian has a spiritual gift from the Lord and when encouraged can use this for the good of others. If someone is doing too much talking, persuade that person to give others a chance.
6. Try the following method of approach, involving as many members as possible:
(i) Read the whole biblical passage
(ii) Read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a different translation
(iii) read the notes for that section
(iv) discuss the meaning of the section
(v) use the questions at the end of each section as a means of making the whole passage relevant today
(iv) use the final time of prayer as a means of bringing to God the concerns that have arisen.
INTRODUCTION TO 1 JOHN
The joy of fellowship with God within the church to which John wrote was threatened by false teaching. Those responsible for it claimed to have a superior knowledge of Jesus Christ and an enlightened morality. They believed that human flesh, as part of the physical, created world, was evil. Only spirit was good. Therefore they held that the Son of God could not have become a full human being, for that would have meant he was joining himself to evil. So they taught that Jesus Christ only appeared to be a human being; he took the form of a man but was really a phantom. Such teaching has been called Docetism (from the Greek dokein meaning “to seem to be” or “to appear to be”).
The same false teachers also taught that salvation was an escape from this evil, material world. This meant that they were not concerned with purity and wholeness of life for the human body since that body was evil. So immorality was permissible. Living a holy life in the present body had nothing to do with salvation.
It was to meet this false teaching that John insisted on the reality of the humanity of Jesus Christ. Of this fact the apostles were eye-witnesses for they had lived with him and knew him to be fully human. The Son of God wholly entered into our human condition, living as a man amongst men. He lived a perfect human life and died a human death. Through the Son of God who became man Christians have fellowship with. God.
This fellowship must be reflected in love for God and for one another. Those who are united to God must keep the commandments of Christ. John emphasized that God is both light and love; he is pure, holy love. His character is to be the basis for the character of Christians; they are to be pure, loving people.
Author and Date
The letter is anonymous. However, the similarity of the language and ideas of this letter and the gospel of John has led Christians from the earliest times to think of both as coming from the same author. He is probably John the apostle. It was probably written at the end of John’s life when Docetism was a common heresy – about A.D. 90.
These include the Jerome Biblical Commentary (Doubleday), the New Bible Commentary (Eerdmans), J. R. Stott (Tyndale Series, Eerdmans), and F. F. Bruce (Eerdmans).
Study 1: Fellowship
1. 1:1–4 Prologue
The first three-and-a-half sentences in the Greek text form one complicated sentence. The Good News Bible provides an excellent translation in three sentences. F. F. Bruce uses four sentences as follows:
Our theme is that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we beheld and our hands handled. Our theme, in short, concerns the word of Life – that Life which was made manifest. Yes, we have seen and we bear witness; we make known to you the Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifest to us. What we have seen and heard we make known to you also, in order that you in your turn may have fellowship with us. (Bruce, page 34.)
To gain insight into what John is teaching here it is wise to read the prologue of John’s gospel, 1:1–18. He wants his readers to enjoy the same fellowship with God the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit, which he and other apostles enjoy.
2. 1:5 God’s character
God is light. He is total purity. He is absolute holiness. For the theme of light read Genesis 1:3; Psalm 27:1; 104:2; John 1:4,9; 8:12; 12:35ff.
3. 1:6–2:2 Three false claims
Each of these is introduced with the words “If we say. . . .” John’s answer to each false claim made by the erring church members is clear, and should be carefully noted:
Verse 6: fellowship with God does not produce immorality.
Verse 8: to claim to have no sin is to deceive oneself.
Verse 10: to claim not to have sinned is to call God a liar.
In 2:1–2 there are some technical terms. “Advocate” means “someone who pleads on our behalf”. Here the Advocate is Jesus Christ, but in other places he is the Holy Spirit – e.g. John 14:16.
Propitiation (AV and RV) is the means by which God’s wrath towards sin is removed. Expiation (RSV) is the means by which our sins are cleansed. By the death of Christ, that is by the shedding of his blood (verse 7), the wrath of God against us as sinners is removed and the way is provided whereby the guilt of our sins can be forgiven.
4. Questions for discussion
1. The expressions “the word of life” and “eternal life” in the prologue refer to Jesus Christ. What important aspects of Jesus do these phrases convey to us?
2. Why was it necessary for the Son of God to be united with a complete and full humanity? Do we minimize his humanity in our devotion to him?
3. How does a person come to have fellowship with God, and how is this fellowship deepened and reflected in his life?
4. John teaches that God is light. In our world we have so much light – natural and artificial. Does this image of God reduce him to the ordinary level or is it still meaningful in our technological society?
Study 2: Love And Obedience
1. 2:3–6 The moral test
For the teaching of Jesus on the relation of love and obedience in the Christian life, see John 14:15. See also John 15:1–10 for the illustration he gave as to what union with God means.
2. 2:7–11 The social test
For the requirement that the Israelites were to love God, see Deuteronomy 6:5, and to love their neighbour, see Leviticus 19:18. Notice also how Paul speaks of love in Romans 13:8–10 and 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. For the “new commandment” of love, see John 13:34–35.
3. 2:12–14 Three groups
Here we have “little children” (verses 12 and 13c), “fathers” (verses 13a and 14a) and “young men” (verses 13b and 14b). Probably these are three levels of Christian maturity rather than age-groups. In many cases, of course, spiritual maturity is related to age. The “fathers” have enjoyed fellowship with God through Christ for a long time and are mature in the faith. The “young men” are growing in grace and knowledge and ready to assume positions of leadership; the “children” are young in the faith and need careful guidance and teaching.
4. 2:15–17 The world
The word “world” has at least two meanings in John’s writings. Sometimes it means the human race, created by God, and redeemed by the Son. See John 3:16–17 and 1 John 2:2.
In other places it refers to the power of sin working in the human race and in the structures of society. See John 15:18; 17:14; and 1 John 3:1. This is the godless world in which “lust” is prominent. Sin is deeply embedded in the hearts and souls of human beings, as Jesus taught in Mark 7:20–23.
In this section it is the godless world which is in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). At the end of the age this godless world will be judged and destroyed by Christ at his Second Coming.
5. Questions for discussion
1. What relationship does John see between knowing God and keeping the commandments of Christ? How is this best explained today?
2. Is the “new commandment” exactly the same as the command to love one’s neighbour? See Mark 12:28–34; John 13:34; 15:10.
3. In what ways are Christians tempted to love the godless world? In particular do affluence and the “benefits” of technology present the devil with special areas of temptation?
4. John states that “the young men” have defeated the devil (verse 14). Since the devil still tempts us, what does this mean? In your thinking pay particular attention to the temptations of Jesus (Matthew 4) and the armour of the Christian (Ephesians 6).
Study 3: Truth And Error
1. 2:18–21 Enemies of Christ
The word “antichrist” (= enemy of Christ) is only found in John’s letters: 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7. However, the same idea, if not the word, is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12. At the end of the age before the Second Coming there will appear an obvious opponent of Christ. What form this antichrist will take is not clear. Before this the churches are plagued with antichrists, human teachers who are false prophets (see Mark 13:22).
Christians are always living as though it were five minutes to midnight. They do not know when the events connected with the End will begin.
The antichrists or false teachers, whose presence reminds us that the great antichrist is yet to appear, do not possess the Holy Spirit in their souls. The true Christian has the gift of the Spirit (verse 20). Read what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:21–22.
2. 2:22–23 The nature of heresy
Those who left the church denied that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ). They denied that Jesus was a genuine man for they held that flesh is an evil substance – read 1 John 4:2–3; 2 John 7. So they also denied the Incarnation – that the eternal Son of God took to himself a full humanity and lived a truly human life.
Only the Son of God in human flesh can reveal the Father to us (see Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; 12:44–45; 14:9); and only the Son of God as Man can reconcile us to the Father (see John 14:6; 1 John 2:1–2; 1 Timothy 2:5).
3. 2:24–27 Protection against heresy
Two divine realities must live in the hearts and souls of Christians to keep them on the narrow way (Matthew 7:13–14). The first is the message of the gospel by which comes eternal life (verses 24–25). A temptation is to abandon this message in the face of the latest novelty – take note of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:1, 7; 4:3.
The second is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Read Jeremiah 31:34 and 1 Thessalonians 4:9. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth because God is truth (John 17:3; 1 John 5:20) and Jesus Christ is truth (John 14:6).
4. Questions for discussion
1. In our present church/denominational situation whom or what do you regard as antichrist? Are they usually inside the churches or outside, or on the circumference?
2. If the Holy Spirit is in us and is our teacher (verses 20 and 27) do we need human teachers in order to understand the Bible and grow in grace?
3. How is it that in denying that Jesus is the Messiah a person is rejecting both the Father and the Son (verses 22–23)?
4. What exactly is the message of the gospel which Christians are to keep and cherish in their hearts (verse 24)? In your answer avoid “the language of Zion” and seek to put it in common words.
Study 4: Children Of God
In this section John deals with further moral tests of the obedience of the Christian to Christ. Great emphasis is placed on right conduct, offered to God in the power of the Holy Spirit, in response to the love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ.
1. 2:28–3:3 The Second Coming
For the theme of abiding in Christ look again at John 15:4. When Christ returns to earth those who “abide in him” and are acting righteously will have great joy in greeting their Lord. Others will be bitterly ashamed (see Matthew 22:12 and Revelation 6:15–17).
The Lord our God is righteous (Psalm 11:7); Christ is righteous, and so righteous demands are made upon Christians (Matthew 5:20,45,48; Luke 6:35ff.).
The children of God are recipients of the amazing love of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. At his Second Coming they will experience to the full this great love of the Father and the Son – see Colossians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23.
In the light of this future they seek to live pure lives now.
2. 3:4–10 The First Coming
Sin is lawlessness. It is the breaking of the moral law of God (see Exodus 20). The Son of God lived as a sinless Man in order to take away human sin. Read John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:24. Those who abide in the Son do not habitually sin, for the sinful way of life of worldly people is not their life-style. Neither do they listen to false teachers who say that to sin is normal and that God is not bothered about immorality.
Although sin is what all human beings now commit, and although we are responsible to God for it, the origin of sin can be traced to the devil, as Genesis 3 teaches.
In his triumph over death through resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ defeated the devil – see Colossians 2:15. This victory makes the final victory at the end of the age a sure fact – just as the Battle of Hastings in 1066 made the reign of William the Conqueror in England a certainty. As Christians abide in Christ they have his power through the Spirit to overcome the devil in their own lives.
3. Questions for discussion
1. What does the Christian have to look forward to in the Second Coming of Christ and how should this affect his present life?
2. In what ways is it right to say that a Christian does not sin? In your answer compare 1:8–10 with 3:4–6, 9–10.
3. By becoming man what did the Son of God achieve and do for us? In your answer pay particular attention to verses 5 and 8, and avoid jargon if possible.
4. What is the relationship between what is said here about being a child of God and what Paul teaches in Romans 8:12–17?
Study 5: Love And Confidence
1. 3:11–18 The marks of the children of God
We find out what a tree is by its leaves and fruits. We find out what a man is by his conduct. The conduct of the man of God is righteousness. But what is righteousness? It is to love fellow human beings. To love is central to Christianity and John makes five comments on its importance in everyday Christian living.
(1) To become a Christian is to begin a life of love.
(2) To love and not to hate is the proof of being a Christian.
(3) Not to love is to become a murderer (cf. Matthew 5:21–22).
(4) Christ, our example, demonstrated what the life of love is (cf. 1 Peter 2:21).
(5) To love is to give to the person who is in need.
In verse 12 there is a reference to Cain and Abel. Christians are not to be like Cain, the murderer. But why did he murder? Because his brother’s life and works were good while his own were evil. This made him angry. Likewise today, Christians are to expect hostility when they live true Christian lives.
2. 3:19–20 The supreme test
Every Christian will always recognize that he is a sinner. However, he will also know that in his heart there is love for God and human beings. So he will rejoice that he is a child of God in whom is the love of God.
God sees and knows everything. He knows we are sinners but he also knows that in our hearts, by the presence of his Spirit, there is a measure of divine love. Men can only judge us by what we say and do, but God sees the motivation in our hearts. Read 1 Kings 8:17–18 for an example of how God knows our hearts.
3. 3:21–24 The inseparable commands
God is pleased when his people obey two commands. They believe on the name of Jesus Christ and they love one another. To believe on the name of Jesus means to be committed to the nature and character of the person bearing the name; and the command to love one another is found in John 13:34. Right belief and right conduct should go together in the healthy Christian and church life. In the last analysis, the life of loving others is only possible when it is sustained by a commitment to the Son of God.
4. Questions for discussion
1. Living in the permissive society, how can Christians be righteous and loving without becoming legalistic and puritanical?
2. If love is not merely a matter of words or talk, how can it be effective in action when it is so difficult to know the true needs of people in contemporary society?
3. Why is a clear conscience so important? Why is it that we are to obey our consciences? (Carefully read verses 19–21.)
4. Why is orthodoxy of doctrine so often not united to committed love for others – both in individuals and in churches? What can be done to unite orthodoxy and loving commitment?
Study 6: Walking In Love
1. 4:1–6 Victory through the Spirit
There were false prophets in the Old Testament. Read Deuteronomy 13:1–5. Apart from the Spirit of God there are evil spirits in the world, and they are under the control of the devil. Whenever the church is alive with the Holy Spirit these false spirits seek to delude people, as they did in the churches to which John wrote. The false prophets, inspired by evil spirits, were Gnostics; they denied that Jesus Christ was a full human being. For them the body and matter in general were evil, and so they could not see how God who is pure could take a body. For them the idea of “the Word made flesh” was impossible. True Christians, who possess the Holy Spirit and in his strength overcome evil, always confess that God has become man in Jesus Christ. (For “antichrist” see study 3.)
2. 4:7–21 Human and divine love
Here occurs one of the greatest statements in the whole Bible: “God is love” (verses 8 and 16). Several important things are said about love.
(a) All genuine love has its source in God (verse 7).
(b) Love enters the human heart when a person begins to know God and to enjoy his salvation. As that person loves others he grows in his knowledge of God. Love begins in God, enters human lives, and returns to him as he is loved by them (verses 7–8).
(c) God’s love is seen most wonderfully in the Incarnation. We did not deserve such love; rather we deserve judgement; but God entered into space and time in order to enable us to love him (verse 9).
(d) This great example of God, and the presence of the Spirit in our hearts, should lead us to love others. As people see us loving one another they will begin to “see” God who is invisible (verses 11–12). In loving attitude and action God is “seen”.
(e) God’s love in the heart of the Christian removes fear: fear of judgement, fear of the future, fear of men, and fear of the devil (verses 17–18).
(f) Love of God and love of people are closely connected in the Christian life (verses 7, 11, 20, 21). The one should lead to the other.
3. Questions for discussion
1. On what grounds need a Christian have no fear of false teachers or evil spirits?
2. God is both “light” (1:5) and “love” (4:8). He is “holy love”. Consider what these two words tell us about the nature and character of God.
3. In what ways do “love” as used here and “love” as used in popular speech today differ?
4. What are the particular “fears” of contemporary people? How does the love of God banish these fears?
Study 7: Faith And Assurance
1. 5:1–5 The Christian believer
The true Christian is one who:
(a) believes that Jesus Christ is God made man;
(b) loves God;
(c) loves God’s children;
(d) keeps God’s (Christ’s) commandments;
(e) is victorious over the godless world in which he lives.
Thus the Christian faith in Christ is practical; it issues in the victorious life, gaining victory over the temptation to behave and think as godless people do.
2. 5:6–12 The threefold testimony
Obviously “water” and “blood” have symbolic meaning for John. Read John 19:34–35. Jesus began his ministry with a water baptism, performed by John the Baptist – John 1:24ff. On the cross, where his ministry ended, his blood was shed. Obviously some false teachers were saying that Jesus had a water baptism but did not die a bloody death. For John and for Christians the cross is an essential part of the meaning of Jesus Christ.
Then there is the Spirit. When Jesus was baptized the Spirit came upon him (John 1:32–34 and Matthew 3:16–17). The mission of Jesus was to baptize with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16) and this began on the day of Pentecost after his resurrection (Acts 2). The Spirit, the water and the blood all point to the fact that Jesus was truly God’s Messiah, anointed with the Spirit at his water baptism and dying for the sins of the world on the cross.
For the idea of witness see Deuteronomy 19:15. A triple human witness must be regarded as convincing. For John “witness” is an important word – see John 1:15; 1:32–34; 5:30–32; 5:36; 5:39; 8:18; 15:26.
It is worth noting that verse 7 in the Authorized Version is not in the modern versions. It is omitted because in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament the verse does not appear. It seems that it was, in origin, a scribal comment which over the centuries found its way into the actual text of I John. By the 14th century it had become part of chapter five.
3. Questions for discussion
1. What exactly is the “victorious Christian life”?
2. If Jesus was the Son of God made man, why did he need to receive the Spirit in fullness at his water baptism?
3. How best can believers today be witnesses to Jesus Christ?
4. In what ways does eternal life, which believers have now, reveal itself in their lives?
Study 8: Epilogue
1. 5:13–15 Confidence in prayer
God hears the prayers of his children and answers such prayers as are in agreement with his perfect will. Look up for comparison John 15:7; 14:14; and 1 John 3:22. Jesus taught us to pray “thy will be done” and not “thy will be changed”. He also acted in this spirit – Matthew 26:39–44.
2. 5:16–17 Concern for the fellow Christian
Prayer must never be selfish and here we are taught that prayer is to be made for the erring Christian. Look up 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Hebrews 13:18–19; 1 Timothy 2:1.
There has been much discussion of what is “the deadly sin” or “the sin unto death”. In the context of the letter it could be the denial that Jesus is the Messiah, who is truly God made man (1 John 4:3). More likely it is that state of heart and will which a person reaches when he or she has learned to love sin and regard it as the most natural or profitable thing in the world. In other words, over a period of time a person has persistently turned away from God to sin and this has become a fixed habit so that all the heart and mind ever desire is to sin.
3. 5:18–20 Threefold assurance
In humility Christians may claim that they know (which implies that they are totally sure about) three facts:
(a) True believers, who have the Holy Spirit, are not daily victims of sin. In the power of the Spirit they gain victory over sin as they look to Christ. Compare what Paul says in Romans 6:11.
(b) True believers are conscious of belonging to the family of God, the household of faith; they are also conscious that this new humanity (cf. Romans 5:12ff.) is governed by different standards from those of the world in which it exists.
(c) True believers are united in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ with God, who is the ultimate reality. To be united to God is to share his eternal life.
4. 5:21 A final warning
In the context of John’s day this verse probably meant: “keep yourselves as the people of God from all associations with heathen worship”. As much social life was dominated by religious presuppositions and values this was not easy.
5. Questions for discussion
1. If God only answers prayers which are in accord with his will, why should we pray?
2. How can we best help our fellow Christians whom we know are falling into sin and neglecting their Christian duty and commitment?
3. In what sense is it true to say that “no child of God is a sinner” (verse 18)?
4. What are the “idols” of contemporary society against which Christians are to be on guard?
Study 9: 2 John
Both 2 John and 3 John come from the same hand: compare 2 John 12 and 3 John 13–14. Probably this is the same as that which wrote 1 John. The background of all three is similar: compare 1 John 4:3 and 2 John 7. They deal with the same situation and the same people.
“The elect lady” or “the lady chosen by God” probably means the church in one area. Christ is the bridegroom and the church is the bride. Peter wrote in a similar way in 1 Peter 5:13.
2. Verses 1–3 Christian greetings
“Elder” means “the aged one” and suggests a Christian leader advanced in years. Such a description fits the aged John. Two great Christian words are intimately associated here; they are “love” and “truth”. God’s truth teaches us the way we are to love. Note that Jesus is “the way, truth and life”.
3. Verses 4–6 Living by love
Obviously the church is divided into those who walk in love by the truth and those who do not. Again the people are reminded of the great command of Jesus in John 13:34–35, and John 14:15.
4. Verses 7–8 A warning against false teachers
This reminds us of 1 John 4:2. Both in the congregation and among the travelling prophets there were those who denied that the Son of God truly had a human soul and body. For these teachers they are to be on the lookout, and they are to reject their teaching.
5. Verses 9–11 False prophets are not to be welcomed
False teachers usually claim that they are the “progressives” or “the advanced thinkers”. The true Christian will progress and advance in the knowledge of God who became man, but he will not advance beyond this Christ. So there is to be no compromise with false teachers and prophets. They are not to be given Christian hospitality. Only by keeping the church pure in her central doctrine will Christianity be preserved.
6. Verses 12–13 Hope of a personal encounter
Letters sometimes cannot achieve what a “face to face” talk can achieve. John recognized this and therefore wanted to meet the church members. “The children of your sister” are members of the church from which John writes and this description reminds us that the church is the family of God.
7. Questions for discussion
1. What does to love in truth really mean? Give practical examples.
2. In a country it is often true that emergency regulations make bad law. Do you regard the advice of verses 10–11 as emergency regulations and bad law?
3. One way to destroy your enemies is to make them friends. How can one make false teachers who are enemies of the gospel into friends of the gospel?
4. Is it true that more can be achieved by a personal encounter than by writing many letters or making several phone calls?
Study 10: 3 John
The letter is written to a leader in a church. His name is Gaius, a common name at that time. The situation suggested by the letter suggests that the church is being regularly visited by itinerant preachers or prophets. In the church there are two attitudes towards such visitors. One is to give them hospitality and to send them on their way rejoicing. The other is not to welcome them. Perhaps behind the two attitudes lies a different evaluation of the settled leadership in the church. Some local leaders are happy to share their teaching authority with visiting “charismatics” or prophets, while others think the time has come to discourage the itinerants and emphasize the God-given nature of the settled leadership. Obviously at this point the days of the apostles are ended, or nearly ended, and the church is in a transition period.
2. Verses 1–4 John’s joy in Gains
John is concerned with both the physical and the spiritual health of Gaius. As the teacher of Gaius John can have no greater satisfaction than to know that his pupil is “living by the truth”.
3. Verses 5–8 Christian hospitality
Hospitality is emphasized in several places: read 1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Timothy 5:10 and Romans 12:13. In particular a church leader is to be hospitable – 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8. Gaius is complimented on his fine record and asked to continue the good work, for visitors are on their way to him.
4. Verses 9–15 Diotrephes and Demetrius
Obviously Diotrephes is a leader in the congregation who does not agree with John concerning the travelling preachers. He is not a heretic but a Christian who has a different viewpoint from that of John. We are told he is filled with his own importance. Demetrius is probably a leader of the itinerant preachers and of him John has a high opinion.
As in 2 John there is the expression of the hope of a personal encounter in order to settle the problem in truth and love.
5. Questions for discussion
1. Do we show sufficient joy and enthusiasm for the growth in truth and love of converts to Christianity?
2. All Christian families are required to be hospitable. Does this mean entertaining Christian friends for a meal so that they can later invite us? Or does it mean something more than this?
3. What is the right balance between the authority of the local pastor/ordained minister and other preachers/teachers in today’s situation?
4. Should we encourage the activities of evangelists and teachers who are independent of the control of any recognized church or denomination?
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