What specially characterises the Epistle is the connection of the truth with the manifestation of love. Both the second and third Epistles are occupied with the receiving of these who are going about preaching. The third Epistle commends those who went forth for Christ’s sake, to the love of the faithful, who in receiving such, became fellow-helpers to the truth.
Here John warns this lady against receiving certain persons that did not bring the truth. He had pressed extremely the walking in love in the first Epistle. And so here too he says, “I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.” Then he takes these two guards of true charity: one is the truth and the other is obedience— just what Christ was when He was in the world. He was love come into the world, the witness and testimony of love, and He was the truth, and He was the obedient man. His love to His Father was shewn in His obeying Him in all things. He was the truth in shewing out everything just as it was. Besides, He came down to do the will of Him who sent Him.
John takes up these three great principles here. Love— divine charity—is insisted on, but it is always the truth, because it is Christ; and if it is not in the truth, it is denying Christ: it is saying there can be love in nature. The third thing is this obedience to the commandments of Christ. Such is the business of a Christian obeying Christ, with truth in the heart, and love as the spring of all. And that is just Christ. You cannot separate them. The flesh may put on the appearance of a thing; it may put on a great show of love; but it is not truth and obedience, it is not Christ.
Here it is a question of conscience with anyone. It is not an ecclesiastical question, but of a woman if so called on. It is a matter of personal conscience with every saint, the question of the individual receiving Christ in His members and of refusing whatsoever denies Christ. And this is the means of judging of it: “For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.” The apostle loved the lady and her children, but it was for the truth’s sake. Where there was not that, there could be no divine love.
In the next verse, again, we have “from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” “I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.” Now he brings in the obedience: it is a commandment from the Father. He will have the Son honoured, even as Himself.
“And now I beseech you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.” Just as Christ walked after the commandments of God because He loved Him. As He said (John 14:31), “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.” So it is with those that follow Him. “This is the commandment, that, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”
Then he adds, “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” If this divine love came down in a man, what was it to deny that? Christ came as a man. It could not be a mere man come in the flesh. This could not be said of a mere human being. If a man say, I am come in the flesh, I should ask, What else could you come in? That is what you are: you are a mere man. But whosoever shall “confess not Jesus Christ come in the flesh, this is a deceiver and an antichrist.” Perfect Man, He is infinitely more.
“Look to yourselves.” If they had all departed away, his work would have been burnt with fire. And therefore he says, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” The reward of labour in that sense is for the work that he has done in the souls of others. As it is said of the Lord Jesus, “he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied”; so we in our little measure receive it.
Now we have a little more. After having spoken about these deceivers, he adds, “Whosoever goeth forward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” If you have not got the true Christ, you have not God at all. That is the first great broad principle. All through John, when he is speaking of relationship, it is the Son; but if of nature, it is God, not the Father. In John 8 it is God; and Jesus takes that place— “Before Abraham was, I am.” There may be the rejection of the truth, and then I have not God in any; I am outside the whole scene in which this grace is displayed. I have not the doctrine of Christ, that is, the truth as to Christ; I have not got God at all. “He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” He gets the whole unfolding of this unspeakable grace. It is the perfect revelation of God in its own blessedness within itself, not outside, but you have God inside; and you have got here all blessedness, in which the Father loves the Son and has given the Son for us; you have got both the Father and the Son. “Truly, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” … “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” He has not communion with God, because God’s nature is light.
You have, firstly, the great fact of not having God at all; a man is absolutely without God if he has not Christ. Then, secondly, when he unfolds the truth, it is the Father and the Son. He urges decision upon these saints. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.” To do so would be encouraging and helping him; it is to tamper with my own conscience, because I am allowing something to be Christ which is a false one, and the deepest dishonour to God. If I shew this appearance of love where the truth is not, it is not Christ at all; it is denying Him, and saying that what is false is as good as what is true. It is helping the Antichrist and not the Christ. “Him that biddeth him God speed” (that is, literally salutes him on going away), “is partaker of his evil deeds.” It was a sign of recognition and companionship.
“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.” I get there another thing, that is, the kind of affection which should reign among the saints. It was not a sort of mere abstract love; but there was gladness in seeing them, real comfort in it, and rejoicing to see them doing well. The Holy Ghost always encourages this activity of love, however strong He may be for the truth. Christ has come into the world: the one point round which souls can rally and find God in grace. When anything unsettles that, there is no resource at all. If Satan cannot do anything by persecution, he tries to unsettle souls about the truth in Christ. He is a roaring lion, going about seeking whom he may devour; that is persecution. But he is not always a roaring lion. When he comes in as a serpent (that is, when he steals along, and does not roar at all), it is a great deal more dangerous. A person is tried by his violence and rage; but it is far more serious when we have to withstand the wiles of the devil. Still, wherever Christ is held to simply, all is simple. Here it is the case of a lady. It is personal faith that clings to Christ for His own sake. The person may not be wise enough to set the world right, but there is something that faith clings to. I must have Christ. The secret of all is the individual personal faith that holds fast to Christ and His truth. It is a wonderful mercy to have that which is a test of everything, and a proof of Christ’s love. To have a clear and distinct object this carries me through, according to God’s mind, this is what Christ walked in; and if we hold fast to Christ, it is always true.