You can fall off either side of the horse
When you consider the brief and frequently neglected letters 2 John and 3 John together, an interesting contrast comes into view. As the end of the first Christian century approaches, the church has experienced both meteoric rise and merciless repression. Propelled by the Spirit’s wind, the Good News has spread despite heavy persecution. Resilient enclaves of believers gather week by week throughout the vast Roman empire and beyond. Yet the greatest threats to the movement come not from the outside, from governmental, societal, or cultural spheres.
The enemy within
The error and ruin sown by our Adversary originate from the perversion of healthy instincts within the church itself. 2 John instructs us concerning errors of inclusion. 3 John instructs us concerning errors of exclusion.
True love never accommodates a lie
Addressed to the “elect lady”—probably a metaphor for one or a cluster of local congregations under his care—John’s second epistle warns that truth must never be compromised in the name of love. Echoing the words of Christ to His disciples in the upper room (John 15:12ff), John reasons that it can never be loving to adulterate the truth. False teachers, those who are committed to propagating doctrine that deviates from long-established, biblically grounded orthodoxy, should never be welcomed by us. By what these pseudo-saints heretically advocate, they demonstrate that they cannot claim legitimacy as true children of the Father. Such persons, John insists, must—in the name of genuine, inextricable love and truth—be refused a platform or even a place among us.
When exclusion belies envy
John’s third epistle, a touching note of encouragement addressed to his beloved protégé, Gaius (or Caius), contrasts his friend’s hospitable disposition with that of another prominent local leader, Diotrephes. While Gaius is commended for his magnanimous embrace of and generosity toward fellow believers outside his immediate ministry circle, Diotrephes is condemned for his prideful and parsimonious parochialism.
I don’t need to tell you that petty envy masquerading as godly zeal is rampant in Christian endeavor worldwide. Far too many ministries seek to emblemize their own authenticity and establish their own legitimacy by discrediting and excluding others. The New Testament does indeed instruct believers both to beware false teaching that denies the nature and work of Christ and to repudiate false teachers. Such self-deceived deceivers are truly against Christ. Scripture does not, on the other hand, sanction the sort of self-orbiting censure that characterizes far too much of Christian experience. The fragmentation of Christianity into petty fiefdoms was a disgrace in John’s day and so it is in ours. John’s two late-first-century New Testament letters clearly instruct us that we can and should safely set a course of discernment between these two extremes.
Taken together, 2 John and 3 John affirm godly zeal for the truth, pastoral care for the flock, and repudiation of false teaching while at the same time abhorring the poison of self-legitimation that feeds on the exclusion of fellow believers who come from outside the enclaves of our own making. Errors of inclusion or exclusion—only the Scripture’s channel markers and the Spirit’s piloting can keep us from a shipwreck.
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
Those of us who are in Christ must not shrug off the racial tensions that seem to be escalating at the moment. We will no doubt have difficulty agreeing on everything from the validity and magnitude of the problem to its causes and solutions. But we must not retreat to our corners. We belong to one another. Here’s one thoughtful analysis that may contribute something to the conversation. I hope you and your campus are engaged in it and not avoiding it.
See what you get for exercising religious liberty, freedom of conscience rights these days? Remember, What is meant as a curse is actually blessing. Don’t take my word for it. This is exactly what our Lord Jesus meant when he pronounced the “beatitudes” (see Mt. 5:11).