by John W. Gregson
1. Introduction - 1 - 3
"The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; for the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us forever" (verses 1, 2). The elect lady (eklekte kuria) or chosen Cyria here could be a devout Christian follower; a member of one of the Christian churches during John's day. True Christians are those who know the truth (aletheian) or verity and dwell (menousan) or abide in the truth, and because of this fact their common knowledge and faith bind them closely together, though they may be separated far in time and space.
Christian love makes room for the truth, demonstrates it and commends it. When the truth of Christ comes into union with a soul, it is not for a temporary visit but to abide there. That soul is its home. Truth binds the hearts of the saved together and Christian fellowship is the result. No human fellowship can compare with that of God's children. The songwriter, John Fawcett, understood this sweet fellowship among those who know the truth, when he wrote:
"Bless be the tie that binds,
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above."
The purpose of Christian fellowship is not aimless or selfish. Its high purpose is for the truth's sake and that truth is eternal, because it has its origin in God Who is eternal.
"Grace be with you, mercy, and peace from God, the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love" (verse 3). John uses three words of salutation here that are noteworthy - grace, mercy and peace. All of these heavenly gifts have their source from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. These three gifts bless the individual who dwells in truth and love. Grace (charis) is that favor and benevolence which is out-going from the God of love. Mercy (eleos) is the exercise of that love of God toward the guilty and miserable sinner which results in his salvation. Peace (eirene) is the full effect of both grace and mercy upon the soul.
It is that pacification of conscience, the assuaging of fear and the annulment of enmity toward God resulting in spiritual health and rest. These gifts come to the born-again believer "in truth and love." Truth (aletheia) and love (agape) are noble and natural companions. Charis, the wellspring in the heart of God; eleos, its outpourings; eirene, its blessed effect (Robertson, VI, p. 251). Truth without love becomes cold, stern and even cruel; love without truth becomes unstable and capricious.
2. The importance of Truth and Love - 4 - 6
"I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father" (verse 4). In the course of his travels the writer had met many true Christians; they were walking (peripatountas) in the truth, or conducting themselves in all sincerity, in accordance with the commandment which they had received at the outset of their Christian pilgrimage. How joyful (echaren) or gladdening it is to find God's children walking in the truth! How disappointing it is to find (heureka) others walking in error!
The conditions that produce real joy are present only where God's will is honored and God's commandments are kept. The devil has warped men's minds and led people to expect joy in evil, but it is impossible for the two (joy and evil) to dwell together. Man needs to apply the truth found in Psalm 16:11, "In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
"And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we have from the beginning, that we love one another" (verse 5). Commandment is the third key word in the epistle (used four times), the other two are truth and love. God's command to walk in truth prepares the way for the commandment of love. The new commandment is the love commandment given by Jesus in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." Actually it is not a new commandment for it belongs to the beginning and comes out of eternity, from God (I John 2:7, 8). The first century Christians possessed the badge of love which set them apart from a lost and dying world. "By this (love) shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
Christian fellowship is first and last a love relationship, after the divine pattern. Love is not genuine unless it is centered in the will of God. A mere profession is not enough. Performance is a vital essential of true love.
"And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, that, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it" (verse 6). True love has its own definition; it consists of practical obedience to the commandments of God. "Obedience without love becomes servile; love without obedience becomes unreal; neither of them can flourish outside of the realm of truth" (Gingrich, p. 125). Love divorced from duty will run riot, and duty divorced from love will starve. The apostle has no sympathy with a religion of pious emotions; there must be a persevering walk according to God's commands. True Christianity means walking in the light, and it means walking in love. "Walking in love must be equated with walking according to His commandments. Love expressed contrary to truth and divine commandments is nothing but pious emotion, frothy sentimentalism" (Gingrich, p. 125, 126).
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Yeager speaks of love this way, it "is defined as walking according to His commandments, and they are defined as the life style that is guided and motivated by love" (Vol. XVII, p. 429).
1. Exhortation and Warnings - 7 - 11
"For many deceivers (planoi) or seducers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (verse 7). The spirit of antichrist was a prevailing force with which the early Christians had to contend. They were an encouragement to each other as they fellowshipped together. In this day when the great Truths of the Bible are denied on every hand, we need the strength and encouragement we receive from each other.
If God's people walk together in Christian love, we are strong against the assaults of the Evil One. There is good reason for us to hear the admonition of the writer of Hebrews, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24, 25). Christianity cannot thrive in isolation. The effectiveness of our work for Christ can be strengthened by our fellowship with other believers.
These antichrists during John's day were denying that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. This cardinal Bible doctrine would indicate that "Jesus Christ was a mortal man," but He was also immortal. In the Gospel of John (1:14) the writer writes concerning this very teaching, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth." Anyone who denies the incarnation of Christ in the flesh of Jesus is "the deceiver and the antichrist. "
"Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought (eirgasasthe), labored for or accomplished, but that we receive a full reward" (verse 8). A full reward may depend upon walking with our brothers and sisters in the service of the Lord. True believers cannot lose what God has bestowed in grace, but there is grave danger they can deprive themselves of the rewards for faithfulness if they have tampered with the errors that are taught by the deceivers and antichrists mentioned in verse seven. "To pay attention to such deceivers and follow them on the path of error would involve the waste of all their Christian service hitherto and the loss of the fruit properly accruing from it" (Bruce, p. 141).
Christians should seek the full fruition of the work of grace in their souls. John is very seriously warning his readers that it is possible for them to lose some rewards because of an infection with the poison of false teachings. "Take care of yourselves; don't throw away all the labor that has been spent on you, but persevere till you receive your full reward" (Phillips translation). John does not wish his labors with them to be lost, nor does he want them to have labored in vain.
"Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrines of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (verse 9). The true believer abides in the teaching that is as old as Christ Himself and he has both the Father and the Son. There is to be no participation with these deceivers, those who deny that the virgin-born Son of God died for sins on the cross. John seems to place a distinction between the advanced thinkers (those who always seek after new truths) and the conservatives of his day.
These "new truth seekers" by their own admission, have not found the Truth - Who is Jesus Christ. This "doctrine of Christ" can mean what Christ taught or the truth about Christ. Regardless Christianity is Christ in essence and vitality. Certainly our growth and advance must be IN the teaching of Christ, as the Spirit of Truth leads us step by step into all the fullness of its meanings and its implications, but to advance BEYOND the teaching of Christ is to wander about aimlessly in the misty region of unaided human speculation. The true doctrine of Christ is the very opposite of the false doctrine of antichrist. The Gnostics of John's day were the so-called "truth seekers," who went on ahead into heresy. Robertson says, "These Gnostics claimed to be the progressives, the advanced thinkers, and were anxious to relegate Christ to the past in their onward march...Progress we all desire, but progress toward Christ, not away from him...Jesus Christ is still ahead of us all calling us to come on to him" (VI, p. 254).
"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed; for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds" (verses 10, 11). Broadness of mind, as usually considered, is not a Christian virtue; it is a reflection upon the Savior. John positively forbids a true Christian to show any fellowship whatever with a teacher of soul-destroying error. These deceivers are not entitled to the hospitality of believers who owe everything to the Savior whom these deceivers blaspheme. Today "John's teaching is looked upon as social bigotry and theological intolerance, but no true Christian can tolerate a teaching or teacher that denigrates the Son of God and questions the mystery of the incarnation" (Yeager, Vol. XVII, p. 434).
Jesus did not tolerate the advocates of error; why should His followers? The one wishing the deceiver well (chairein) or God bless you is a partaker of his evil works. Right here is the Bible's clear-cut denunciation of fraternization with the workers of evil. The entire history of the Hebrew nation in the Old Testament is a commentary of this danger, in guarding true fellowship; certain types of fellowship should be avoided. Hospitality to travelers was important in the early Christian mission. Before the days of public hotels and motels, itinerant prophets depended upon the local hospitality as they propagated their beliefs. "For a professed teacher, who is actually a propagator of an error which strikes at a foundation truth of the faith, and therefore is not a Christian, to be received into a believer's house as if the errorist was himself a believer, firstly, is disloyalty to Christ, secondly, makes it possible for him to do incalculable harm to the saints, thirdly, tends to establish him in his false teaching, and, fourthly, means personal fellowship in the evil by condoning false doctrine (verse 11)" (Vine, p. 119).
2. Personal Notes - 12, 13
"Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink, but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen." Face to face fellowship in the things of the Lord alone satisfies. The great apostle expresses his desire for this fellowship with the one to whom he writes. In this expression, he not only indicates his desire to protect his friend from the false teachers, he also indicates something of the satisfaction that comes to those who enjoy fellowship in Christ.
The writer looks forward with the fondest anticipation to their meeting - face to face (stoma pros stoma) or literally, mouth to mouth. It will be a joyful occasion in which he entertains hope that he may be able to help his friend to advance a little nearer to that fullness of joy which he wants the readers of the First Epistle to have when he said, "And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (I John 1:4).