What sort of church member are you?
by Dave Allen
John wrote three Epistles, as we call them. Most scholars believe the first of them was more of a sermon, or a short theological tract, than a personal letter. It was written to all the Christians in his area of Ephesus and written probably about 90 AD.
What we now call II John and III John were written at the same time as that first circular letter to the churches in the area. It is these short letters we are looking at now. Though they are personal letters, they contain material of far wider interest; and even though written nearly two thousand years ago, they apply to us all today.
1. The Sender of 2 John
The writer just calls himself simply "The Elder". For a long time scholars have argued as to whether this John was John the Apostle or another John who was an Elder or senior leader in the city or district of Ephesus. It is a complex question. It was, in fact, inspired by the Holy Spirit, so who wrote it does not seriously concern us here. The majority of early Christian teachers and theologians believed it was written by the disciple beloved by Jesus, John the Apostle. In short, they believed that John the Apostle wrote the Gospel, the epistles and also Revelation. We should not spend too much time on such a problem; our main task is to apply the lessons of both these short personal letters.
2. Who were the so-called ‘elect lady and her children’?
John addresses the second letter, literally in the original Greek, to someone called the chosen lady. It is possible that the word for lady, the feminine version of the word Kyrios (Lord) i.e. Kyria, is a proper name. So does it possibly mean that a lady called Kyria is the leader or one of the leaders of that church?
3. Main points of the message
The majority of scholars believe it refers to a church personified as "the elected or chosen lady" and so the "children" are the believers or members of that local church. Verse 13 refers to greetings from "the children of a chosen sister", so it seems to mean that another assembly sends greetings along with John’s message.
The emphasis in this letter is on "the truth" and "walking in truth and love". There are a number of aspects of these Johannine "buzz words." As for John, Jesus Himself is the Truth; and "walking in truth" means being faithful to Jesus and to sound doctrine and, in addition and most importantly, to living the Christian life in righteousness and love.
John is very glad and gratified that they are all living just like that, despite heresy and loose morality, which were all around them. In verse 10 and 11 he tells them that anyone bringing a different message, and not living properly, should be refused hospitality and help. Indeed, if you help such people you are "sharing in their wickedness". John is clearly a very busy man: he has a lot to say, but it will have to wait until he visits them shortly. He obviously toured the various assemblies to both teach and to sort out any pressing problems.
4. Several Characters in 3 John
When we turn to the next letter we see three characters: Gaius, Diotrephes, Demetrius. Gaius is one of the leaders of that church and dearly beloved of John; and John begins by wishing him every blessing as he faithfully continues to "walk in the truth. Gaius is conspicuous in the friendliness and hospitality he extends to visiting faithful brethren; but he is careful not to do so for those he calls "pagans" (heretics?).
By great contrast, we find John being very angry with another of the leaders, Diotrephes by name. He spreads malicious stories about John, refuses to have anything to do with him and shuts the door to visiting brethren. Above all, this man "loves to hog the platform" as we might say. To paraphrase once again, John says, "When I come to you I will sort him out!" There is no place for a bullying or despotic Church leader. And Jesus is the supreme example - a shepherd not a dictator. John the Elder himself and Gaius were good examples.
A prominent member called Demetrius, says John, "is spoken well of by everyone" and John is of the same opinion about him.
5. So what kind of church member are you?
In summary, these are the qualities that John teaches and seeks to drive home.
We should be those who know the truth and live out the truth every day. In the same way that Jesus was the Truth Incarnate, so we too also should be minor and daily incarnations of that same truth.
We need to show hospitality with warm and loving hearts. The theophany of Genesis chapter 18 underlines the importance of hospitality, when the three strangers enjoy a meal with Abraham and Sarah; and Jesus enjoyed hospitality to the extent that his enemies could accuse him of being a glutton and a lover of wine! Holy Communion is, among a number of things, a sacramental fellowship meal when we share with the Trinity in a sacred hour.
In addition, we ought to shun the fellowship of "pagans" and those who spread "another Gospel". Docetism was a problem in John’s day- the denial of Jesus as God Incarnate. Nowadays JWs, Christadelphians and Unitarians fall into that bracket. Having said this, we need to notice that fellowship is not the same as contact. These groups, of course, need to be evangelised, along with those of other faiths and the totally unchurched. But our personal fellowship needs to be nourished and strengthened by that of others of like mind and faith. That is why we are assemblies, a biblical term for the local church.
Finally, Demetrius serves as a good model of the ideal church member: he enjoyed a good reputation of everyone, believers and unbelievers also. And that would serve as a good epitaph. But if you are not quite ready for that, surely we ought to try to earn that reputation daily.
Last but not least, we can do without leaders like Diotrephes, a bullying, inhospitable seeker of the limelight!
The Revd Dr Dave Allen is a former lecturer at Mattersey Hall
METConnexion Summer 2010 pp22-23