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Arno Clement Gaebelein

In the Public Domain



     We treat these small documents together. No intelligent person can
doubt that both Epistles were written by the same person. We do not need to
investigate the objections and inventions of rationalists like
Bretschneider, those of the so-called Tuebingen school and the modern
critics, who deny the Johannine authorship and teach that the fictitious
"John the Presbyter of Ephesus" wrote these two letters.

     But all these modern conceptions are answered by the ancient
authorities which ascribe both Epistles to the writer of the First Epistle,
that is, the Apostle John. Irenaeus, who as a boy had listened to Polycarp,
who knew John personally, bears witness to the genuineness of the Second
Epistle, so does Clement of Alexandria, the Muratorian fragment, Dionysius
of Alexandria, and others. Both Epistles seem to have been accepted from
the very beginning as the inspired testimony of John.

     The internal evidence is conclusive. Both Epistles are in tone, style
and vocabulary like the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John. The
great characteristic words of the other writings of John (the Gospel and
John 1) "Love," "truth," "world," etc., are found in these two Epistles.
They are, indeed, complementary to the First Epistle and give some of the
truths contained in the First Epistle in a practical way. The warning
contained in the Second Epistle concerning receiving one who does not bring
the doctrine of Christ, that is, an antichrist, connects closely with the
instructions of 1 John 4. There is no question but both Epistles are
appendices to the First Epistle.

                            THE SECOND EPISTLE

     The Second Epistle is addressed by the elder unto the elect lady and
her children. The word elder has the same meaning as it has in 1 Peter 5.
Some take it that the elect lady means an assembly, and her children the
members of the assembly. But this is a very strained application.

     The word "Kyria" (lady) excludes this meaning, besides other reasons
which we do not follow here. She was a Christian woman of note generally
known and beloved, having children, whom the apostle had found walking in
the truth. She had also a sister with children, who seems to have been in
the same place where the apostle was, probably in Ephesus. This is
indicated by the last verse of the Epistle, "The children of thy elect
sister greet thee." The keynote of this message to the elect lady, unknown
by name, is the word "truth." The apostle lets them know that he loves
them, as well as all other believers in the truth. That is the ground of
real love; every child of God--man, woman or child--is best beloved for the
sake of the truth, the blessed truth so abundantly poured forth in the
First Epistle, the truth which is Christ Himself And that truth "dwelleth
in us, and shall be with us forever." Thus the truth Known binds together
in closest fellowship all who know Him.

     Then follows a blessed greeting, "Grace, mercy and peace shall be with
you, from the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the
Father, in truth and love." The statement, "the Son of the Father" is
unique; it is not found elsewhere in the New Testament and is in full
keeping with the object of this little Epistle, for the denial of Christ
coming in the flesh, and the warning against these deceivers, is the chief
message of the Epistle. The great joy of the Apostle was that he found them
walking in the truth, that the children of the elect lady walked according
to the commandment received from the Father (1 John 3:24). Having the truth
necessitates walking in the truth. One who claims to have the truth and
does not walk in it, shows that he does not know the truth in his heart.
But walking in the truth is the result of having and knowing the truth.

     What we have stated before, that these two Epistles are appendices of
the First Epistle, is seen by the fifth verse (1 John 3:23-24). It is the
old and new commandment. It was old because it was manifested in Christ
Himself; new because it is just as true in us as in Him. Divine love flows
from love, and reproduces itself in all who know the truth, that is, who
know Christ. And this is love that we walk after His commandments. It means
obedience to Him, and what else is obedience but love in exercise?

     But why does he write all this? With the seventh verse he gives the
reason and it is a very solemn one, indeed. Well may we look to these words
in our own days for they have a great meaning for the children of God
living in these closing days, as they had a meaning in the beginning of the
dispensation. "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess
not that Jesus Christ is come into the flesh. This is a deceiver and an
antichrist." This was true in the beginning of the age, and all through the
present age the old serpent has made its many attempts to attack Christ and
foster the lies concerning His person and glory, but never before has this
been so evident as in our own days. The reason is that the age is about to
end. Denying that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh was mentioned by John
in his First Epistle (chapter 4). It includes all phases of evil doctrines
concerning Christ, the Son of the Father. It is a denial of His essential
deity, His true humanity, His Virgin birth, His infallibility, His holy
character, His physical resurrection, and His bodily presence in glory.

     We need not mention again how many such antichrists are about in these
days. And John brands them in plain words as deceivers. No matter what
names they have, what scholarship and honors they claim, what beautiful
characters they have assumed as natural men, if they deny anything about
Christ, they are deceivers. He calls, therefore, to look diligently whether
some of this awful leaven is not affecting them. If in any way they were
contaminated with it they, John and the fellow teachers, might lose the
full reward. (See 1 John 2:28). Then follow the instructions in verses

     "Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ
hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the
Father and the Son." Even the smallest error about the person of Christ is
a transgression of the doctrine of Christ and if followed will lead to a
complete rejection of the truth, as it has been so often seen in cases of
apostates. Such deniers have not God, while he who abideth in the doctrine
of Christ hath both the Father and the Son. After this declaration comes a
divine command which is just as binding as any other command in the Word of
God. "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him
not in your house, neither bid him Godspeed; for he that biddeth him
Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds."

     This is strong language and yet not too strong when we remember what
is at stake. Any one who brings not the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine as
unfolded in the previous Epistle, concerning Christ the Son of God come in
the flesh, dying for sinners and all that clusters around it, is an
antichrist. Furthermore he makes God a liar and in denying the doctrine of
Christ robs God of His glory and man of his salvation. And every man who
denies the virgin birth, or teaches the peccability of Christ, or denies
His physical resurrection is such a one. He must be shunned. Fellowship
with him is an impossibility. He is not to be welcomed to any Christian
home, nor is he to be given the common greeting. If met anywhere there is
to be no acknowledgement whatever, not even a "Good Morning" or "Good
Night." This is the meaning of the expression "Godspeed."

     But is not this intolerant? Yes, the intolerance of divine love. If
such deceivers are welcomed and fellowship is had with them even in the
slightest degree, the believer puts his sanction on a denier of Christ. God
will hold all responsible who fellowship any man, any set of men, any
institution or anything else, which deny His Son and His glory. This is
unpalatable to many. Nowadays it is called "Christian charity and
broadmindedness" to mingle with Unitarians, critics, and baptized infidels
of various descriptions. His honor and glory is in the background. Happy
are we if we stand firm and refuse such fellowship practicing this divinely
given injunction by the Apostle of love. God will be our rewarder.

     "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 the elect sister greet thee. Amen." Thus ends
the Second Epistle.

                             THE THIRD EPISTLE

     The Third Epistle is addressed by the elder, the aged Apostle John, to
a brother by name of Gaius. A Gaius is mentioned in Acts 19:29, 20:4,
Romans 16:23 and 1 Corinthians 1:14. It is impossible to say whether this
is the same. John calls him well-beloved, whom he loved in the truth. Thus
he emphasizes the truth once more as he had done before. He wishes that he
might prosper in his body, in health, as even his soul prospered. He had
heard from the brethren who testified of the truth in him and that he
walked in the truth. He rejoiced in this and declares "I have no greater
joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." And this is not only the
aged apostle's joy, but it is the joy of the Lord. How He must rejoice when
His beloved children in whom He dwells walk in truth! Gaius had been very
gracious and hospitable. Perhaps the brethren who gave such a good report
to John were the recipients of Gaius's kindness. They had witnessed before
the assembly how faithful he was in entertaining them, helping them on
their journey in every way possible. He had done this not only with the
brethren in his locality, but with brethren who were strangers, ministering
servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, who went forth for His Name's sake,
taking nothing of the Gentiles. In going forth in ministering the Word they
depended on the Lord.

     The evil of today, even among those who preach the truth, of demanding
so much money for so much service was unknown in the Church. Nowhere do we
read in the New Testament of a salaried" ministry. The evils of going to
the world for support of the Lord's work, or using the methods of the world
are widespread and detrimental to true faith and a true testimony to the
truth. The work of the Lord and the servants of Christ are to be supported
only by the Lord's people and not by the unsaved. Such, then, who go forth
for His Name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles (those who are
outside) are to be received and those who receive them, help them on their
journey as Gaius did, are fellow helpers to the truth. They are going to
share in that coming day in the fruit of their labors. This is the true
fellowship in the truth, as Paul expressed it in Galatians, "Let him that
is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teaches in all good things"
(Galatians 6:6). It is in contrast from what the Second Epistle
demanded--withdrawal from those who bring not the doctrine of Christ, a
complete separation from them; but here it is identification with those who
know the truth and teach the truth.

     This is a bright picture presented in Gaius. Alas! there is another
side in this Third Epistle. There was one by name of Diotrephes. His name
means "Nourished of God." Of him John writes as follows: "I wrote unto the
church, but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them,
received us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he
doeth, prating against us with malicious words; and not content therewith,
neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and casteth them out of the
church." We let another speak on this. "We have another evil designated
very clearly here. Diotrephes is the scriptural example of the clerical
tribe, as contra-distinguished from the ministry of Christ. There is no
service, because there is no love. He is the representative of the spirit
which opposes the free action of the Holy Spirit, setting itself even
against apostolic authority in order to gain or maintain his own individual

     "Self-importance, jealousy of those over us, impatience of others
equally called to serve, scorn of the assembly, yet sometimes humoring the
least worthy for its own ends--such are the characteristics of clericalism.
I do not mean in clergymen only; for there are men of God incomparably
better than their position tends to make them; as on the other hand this
evil thing is nowhere so offensive as where the truth that is owned, wholly
condemns it" (William Kelly). Diotrephes wanted to be the leader of the
assembly, a kind of a pope in embryo. He loved the preeminence and this
self-love and seeking to maintain his position led him to act so
outrageously that he excommunicated the brethren and dared to rise up
against the apostle himself. What harm such jealousies, self-seeking,
self-glorification and ecclesiastical bossism have worked and are working
in the body of Christ! and nowhere so much as in circles where the full
truth is known and confessed. But why did Diotrephes love to have the
preeminence? Because, unlike the apostle and the beloved Gaius, he did not
give the Lord Jesus Christ the preeminence in all things; he did not walk
in the truth. When the Lord comes, before His judgment-seat, all these
things will be brought to light and dealt with by Him.

     John does not leave us with the sad picture of Diotrephes. "Beloved,
follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good
is of God; but he that doeth evil hath not seen God." It is another one of
the tests as we found them in the First Epistle. Doing good is the active
service of love. God does not do evil, but He does good, hence if we do
good as believers in truth, we are of God. Then he mentions Demetrius.
Perhaps he was one of the servants who went about doing good, preaching the
truth, and whom Diotrephes would not receive. How blessed that the Holy
Spirit through John's letter endorses and recommends him. "Demetrius hath
good report of all, and of the truth itself; yea, and we also bear record,
and ye know that our record is true. " Such is the comfort of all true
servants who walk in the truth, that the Lord knoweth. "I have many things
to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee. But I trust I
shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee.
Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name." Both Epistles end,
with a coming face to face meeting. Let us remember there is to be some
blessed day a "face to face" meeting, when the saints of God will meet
together for eternal fellowship, but above all when we shall be face to
face with Him. How soon it may be! But while we wait for that meeting may
we walk in the light and in the fullest enjoyment of our fellowship with
the Father and with His Son, our blessed Lord. To Him be glory and dominion
for ever. Amen.

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