The apostle John wrote these “general epistles”. He was the last living apostle. During John's time, the most prevalent heresy was Gnosticism, and Plato was one if it's main advocates. Gnostics believed that matter was evil and spirit was good – which led to man's ideas judging God's revelation.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 John 2:15-16 (ESV)
Some gnostics said that Jesus' body wasn't actually real, but only seemed to be physical (the Docetism movement). John reminded his readers that he knew better – he actually saw and touched Jesus.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)
Another form of Gnosticism was led by Cerinthus. This group said that Jesus was human, and that Jesus' godly spirit came into Him at His baptism – and left just before His crucifixion. That's why John said...
This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 1 John 5:6 (ESV)
These heresies sound much like what we hear today! According to some, Jesus wasn't really human. Others say that He was human but that He didn't really come back to life.
Because of these heresies, some said that sin didn't exist and God's law was not important.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 (ESV)
Believers are characterized by love (even towards those who do not believe yet), and the false teachers of John's day weren't very loving toward the disbelieving. Like today's cults, those false teachers separated their followers from the faithful believers. John says that this type of separation proves that a “believer” had not been genuinely saved. Christians, he contended, proved their love for the Savior by loving one another.
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:10-18 (ESV)
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 (ESV)
John's second epistle deals with the same issues, but this time his focus is on the false teachers that were targeting John's own congregation. Although we are to show hospitality, John warns against giving hospitality to someone who is clearly deceiving. John's words seem very harsh, but he was simply trying to protect his flock from being sucked into false teaching. We are called to be loving to others who don't yet believe, but we are NOT called to be accepting. This goes against today's trends toward “let's all get along where we agree and agree to disagree on the rest” form of ecumenism.
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 2 John 1:7-11 (ESV)
While 1 John wasn't written to a particular group; 2 John was written to a church member and her family, and 3 John is even more personal – it's to “beloved Gaius”. John's focus is again on hospitality, but this time he is condemning lack of hospitality to faithful ministers. Traveling preachers approved by John were refused lodging and provision by one of the leaders in the congregation, Diotrephes, who also slandered John!
I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. 3 John 1:9-10 (ESV)
John commends Gaius' hospitality and sends this stern letter against arrogance and disobedience.
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. 3 John 1:5-8 (ESV)
We can learn much from these three little books about our mandate to serve, offer hospitality and interact with believers – and the ways that we should treat those who aren't presenting a true Gospel. Do you offer “hospitality” to some supposedly Christian books, television shows or radio broadcasts which might be mostly okay, but which pervert or twist the Gospel? We are to separate ourselves from those things! We are to offer hospitality to ministers of the true Gospel alone.
Only one book remains, Revelation. It is another deep book, and I will write one blog post per day. I pray that you take the time during this busy Christmas week to complete your Bible Challenge. You're almost there!
See you tomorrow.