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in the second epistle of John

W. R. Dronsfield


The insistent teaching throughout Scripture that the faithful believer should be separate from evil (1 Thess. 5:22; Rom. 12:9) has become less heard in recent times. Indeed, one might say it has grown distinctly unpopular. In a day when Christian values are less heeded by society in general, it might have been supposed that there would be more awareness among the Lord's people of the need for separation. The opposite has proved to be the case. The 'boiled frog' syndrome1 has become evident, for the evils have grown gradually.

There are two kinds of defilement mentioned in the New Testament -moral and doctrinal. In the Old Testament there is also what might be called ceremonial defilement, but the Christian is not bound by that. Those laws were but shadows or types of spiritual truths now revealed, and under the faith system of Christianity the believer is no longer under the law. Study of these types to find their spiritual counterparts is very rewarding, but in this exposition we are confining ourselves to the New Testament, particularly the Second Epistle of John.

The subject of moral defilement is taken up in 1 Cor. 5. A case of fornication had arisen in the Corinthian assembly. Fornication seems to be a term used in the Scriptures to encompass all kinds of sexual sins. In this case it was adultery-made worse as he was sinning against his own father-incest. Such a person must be excluded by the assembly from all fellowship. A list of similar serious sins is given in verse 11 and again in chapter 6 verses 9-10. These do not seem to be comprehensive, but in 2 Tim 3:2-4 we have another list of those persons from which a Christian must turn away, which seems to fill up any that are lacking.

The Corinthians' unconcern about this sin in their midst was very serious. Paul warns them that 'a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump'. They were not all fornicators, but they were all responsible that such a sin was allowed amongst them and so shared in the sin themselves. They were defiled.  Their responsibility was to purge out the leaven, to get rid of it.  The nature of leaven is to spread throughout the whole lump, and the more delay there is in purging it out the more difficult it becomes to deal with it.  Finally, when it has been established that there is no power to purge out the leaven, then the principle of 2 Tim 2:21 comes into operation and the faithful individual must purge himself out from the company. These are the only two occasions where the word ekkathairo (purge out) occurs in the Scriptures. That it takes some time for the leaven to become inexpugnable is clear from Matt 13:33 where the leavening is a process which continues UNTIL the whole is leavened. The Corinthians, however, had not reached that stage for, although they were complacent at first, the outside influence of the apostle Paul stirred them into activity.

The principles above relating to moral defilement are repeated when we come to consider the subject of doctrinal defilement. The Galatian Christians were troubled by doctrinal defilement and they are told exactly the same thing 'A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump'. That an assembly is to be condemned if it allows false doctrine, is clear from Rev. 2:14-15.

The Second Epistle of John

This epistle was written to an elect lady. The word 'lady' here is 'kuria', the feminine form of 'kurios' which means 'lord' or 'master'. She was obviously a woman of high rank. Her husband is

not mentioned, which means that she was probably a widow. Nevertheless, she had brought her children up well, for they were 'walking in truth' showing that they had reached a responsible age. She was ruling her house and could decide whom she would receive as her guests, another indication that she was a widow. Our attention is drawn to the fact that she was 'elect'. 'Not many noble are called' (1 Cor. 1:26).

This lady was probably well known for her hospitality and put her large house at the disposal of itinerant preachers who were passing through her neighbourhood. John himself had experienced her hospitality, for he had found, not just heard, that her children were walking well, and he anticipated visiting her again (verse 12). The apostle's main reason for writing this short letter seems to have been to warn her that some of these preachers were not proclaiming the truth.

Verses 1 - 6:

The great apostle of love is emphasising the truth very much in this epistle. In the first four verses he mentions the truth five times. He loves the lady and her children in the truth with all those who have known the truth; and this was for the truth's sake. His benediction is in truth and love and he rejoices that her children are walking in truth.

He reminds her of the Lord's great commandment that we should love one another, but this love can never be at the expense of the truth. Indeed such so-called love could not be love at all, for he defines love as walking after His commandments. This seems to mean the Father's commandments, for in the previous verse he refers to walking in truth as a commandment from the Father. In the first Epistle he says, 'This is the love of God that we keep His commandments, (1 John 5:3) and the Lord Himself said, 'If ye love Me keep MY commandments' (John 14:15). Nobody can exercise love at the expense of truth; that would be only human amiability -a desire to please men. Can we show grace at the Lord's expense? We can only show grace at our own expense, and that we should show abundantly. So we are exhorted to walk in truth, walk after His commandments and walk in love.

Verse 7:

And now comes the warning! (verse 7) 'Many deceivers are entered into the world.' J.N.D's translation puts it 'Many deceivers have gone out into the world'. This is rather a strange expression. Does it not imply that these deceivers had once been in the assembly, but had now gone out? Perhaps they had gone out in company with others and had formed a party, indistinguishable outwardly from the true assemblies, but not in the Apostles' fellowship-not in fellowship with the Apostle John. After John died, the true assemblies would be characterised by continuation in the Apostles' doctrine.

This verse is very similar to the instruction of 1 John 4: 1-3: 'Many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby ye know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God; and every spirit which does not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God' (J.N.D's trans.). It is important to examine this quotation carefully. It is not simply the belief in the fact that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, as the Authorised Version puts it. It is the confession of Jesus Christ -come in flesh. It is the confession of that blessed Person, Jesus Christ, and all that that Person means to us. Then follow the words 'come in flesh' because that was the particular heresy that troubled the saints at that time; the gnostic heresy that denied that the Lord had a real human body and irreverently said that his body was an ectoplasmic materialization. Just to confess this fact would not be enough, for it does not imply His deity as some have said. It certainly implies His pre-existence before birth, but if He had been an archangel He could have been said to have come in flesh. The confession of this fact is not enough, but the confession of His person includes everything.

But it is well to notice a slight difference in 2 John 7, if we look at the literal translation. In 1 John 4: 2 it is 'Jesus Christ-come in flesh'. In 2 John 7 it is 'Jesus Christ-coming in flesh'. Does this not include the additional thought that He is coming back again in flesh? That same Person who in flesh and bones left this earth, is so coming in like manner as He left. Let us never receive anybody who denies the Lord's Second Coming to this earth. We may differ on the exact order of events, but the truth that He is coming again must not be denied.

How important these truths are to the Apostle John. In verse 8 he tells how he hopes for a full reward for his work in laying the foundations, in conjunction with the other apostles. He does not want deceivers trying to disturb these foundations.

Verse 9:

Next we read 'Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of the Christ, hath not God'. Literally this reads 'Whosoever goes forward .' It is 'advancement' beyond the truth. There can be no development. The faith is 'once for all delivered to the saints' (Jude 3). There is no thought of improvement or addition to it. The doctrine of the Christ is fixed and we must abide in it.

It is often asked, 'What exactly is the doctrine of (the) Christ?' Briefly I think it could be answered 'the foundations that were laid once for all by the apostles and (New Testament) prophets'. Of course we know that 'the foundation of God standeth sure' (2 Tim. 2:19); the false prophets can hammer away at it but cannot prevail against it.  Yet, in doing so, they can destroy the faith of some who begin to doubt. Surely the most dreadful attack against the foundations began in the 19th century when men began to criticise the Bible and say it was not the Word of God. Some said it contained the Word of God, but had mistakes. Who could say what part of it was the Word of God? Evolution, the 'sure' findings of Science-what nonsense it was!-had 'disproved' the first chapters of Genesis. But the Lord believed the first chapters of Genesis! So the Lord Himself was fallible! Millions were misled and still are.

Psalm 138: 2 states 'I will . praise Thy Name . for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy Name'. All the glories of His Name are belittled if we doubt His word. If we cannot rely on God's revelation of Himself, what is there left?

When the Brethren (so-called) movement began, nobody in the denominations or the National Church (or even the Roman Church) denied that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. Read what the bishops of the Church of England declared in writing about the Scriptures.[1] Yet now there is not a single bishop in the Church of England-in this country at any rate-who believes in the literal truth of the creation story or the fall. Nobody who doubts the Bible -who would say 'that is only what Paul taught'-is fit for the fellowship of saints.

The truth of the Person of Christ is vital. He is truly and distinctly God-really and distinctly Man-yet One Person indivisible; the Triune God-One God-three Persons-each Person distinct, yet wholly God: Eternal Divine relationships-the 3rd verse of this epistle calls Him the Son of the Father, the only place where this expression occurs: His atoning work; salvation by faith not by works-all these are surely the doctrine of Christ.

The person who abides not in these truths has not God. Now many have said that this means such a one is not a true believer; he is not saved and is still in his sins, for he has not God. But it does not say that God does not have him! Only the Lord knows those that are His. We cannot say whether there is not true devotion to the Lord in a professing believer. Every heretic thinks he is right and that his doctrine is honouring to the Lord. It is Satan that has deceived him, and God is not with him in the course he is taking, with the result that he has no real appreciation or enjoyment of God, but that does not mean he is going to hell! A sheep of the Lord will never be lost no matter how far he strays. He may go far from God, but the Lord has hold of him still. We may look at him and wonder how it is possible for such a one to be a true Christian, but only the Lord knows his heart. When we decide how to behave towards a person who brings not the doctrine of Christ, we do not attempt to judge the state of the heart; we judge his doctrine. If we cannot separate from a person without being sure that he is going to hell, how many errors would we have to tolerate! This is a specious plea for the toleration of error, but it is a false one.

On the positive side, the one who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. Take away something from the doctrine of Christ, and logically the whole truth is lost (although the heretic does not realise or admit this), but those who abide in this doctrine have a real appreciation of both the Father and the Son. For them there is joyful communion and spiritual growth.

Verse 10:

In this verse begins the practical instruction to this lady. She must not have fellowship with one who comes to her that does not bring this doctrine. The wording is sharply decisive. It does not merely indicate that one who denies the doctrine must be refused, but also one who does not bring it. He must affirm the truth. Why should he not affirm the truth if he believes it? If he will not state it, then he is hiding his negative views. Such prevarication is dishonest and he cannot be trusted. Not only must she refuse to help him by giving him lodging, but she must not even speak words to him that might encourage him in his way. Of course this refers to a mature professor, not to a babe in Christ who has not yet learned a 'form of sound words' so that he can express the truth that he holds. The babe in Christ who has the indwelling Spirit 'knows all things'
(1 John 2:20) and will instinctively react favourably when he hears the truth and adversely when he comes across error; but he will not always be able to explain his convictions.

Verse 11:

The startling statement is now made in the next verse 'He that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds'. He who has fellowship with such a one shares in his wicked ways. He is just as bad as if he transgressed against the doctrine of Christ himself. In fact, as one has said (J.N.D.) he is morally worse. For the denier of true doctrine is sincere and believes that he is speaking the truth. He is deceived and probably believes that he is honouring Christ. But the one who condones his evil way by having fellowship with him knows it is wrong and does it with his eyes open. As he partakes in the evil deeds of the false teacher, he obviously must be treated in the same way and no fellowship can be given to him. If these instructions are given to a lady with regard to the fellowship in her home, how much more are they appropriate to the holy table of the Lord! Surely no faithful assembly would allow fellowship to one who was offending in this way!

So we are coming to the subject of assembly defilement and how the faithful believers should behave in such circumstances. If a person is in an assembly and he does not bring the doctrine of Christ, that assembly is defiled. They must put the 'wicked person' away from themselves. If they will not act, and they allow that person to continue to have fellowship, then they have part in the evil deeds of the transgressor and are themselves judged in 2 John to be as bad as the transgressor himself.

Other assemblies now have concern because they have fellowship with the erring assembly and that means that they have mutual co-operation and responsibility. They endeavour to labour with that assembly to bring about repentance and restoration, but if they fail in this, they can no longer receive these brethren to the Lord's Table as they are taking part in the wicked works of one who does not bring the doctrine of Christ. In other words they are no longer in fellowship with that assembly. They must not be in fellowship if they are to obey the solemn injunction of 2 John 11.

But some fail to do this. They say they will examine each person who comes from the defiled assembly, and if he is found not to hold the false doctrine himself, they will receive him, even if he is minded to continue in fellowship with that company. This, they say, is because they have no responsibility for what goes on in another assembly. All they have to do is make sure that evil doctrine is not held in their own company. All assemblies, they say, are independent of one another and inter-fellowship means friendship and free reception, but no responsibility for the condition of the assemblies with which they have such fellowship. So, they are no longer gathered on the principles of the one body of Christ, because the members of the body are 'fitly joined together' and not independent of one another, and, being all under the direction of the Head, will act in responsible unity. (Eph. 4:3-4; 15-16). Moreover in not obeying the strict commandment of 2 John 10-11 they become defiled.

In actual fact, these assemblies cannot be sure that they do not harbour the evil doctrine themselves, because they are receiving those who see no reason why the doctrine should not be in their assembly. They will, therefore, use their influence to bring in their friends and before long the doctrine will become 'optional' and resistance to it will become 'controversial'.

One argument that these assemblies use in their own defence is the 'Chain of Defilement' theory. That is that C should not be in fellowship with B because B is in fellowship with false doctrine, (A), but if C does have fellowship with B then D should not be in fellowship with C; but if D does have fellowship with C then E should not have fellowship with D; but if E does have fellowship with D then F should not have fellowship with E; and so on until the end of the alphabet! So in the end it becomes impossible or else nobody is in fellowship with anybody. But this is all false reasoning. There is no chain of defilement principle in Scripture. Scripture only says that, if B is in fellowship with A who holds false doctrine, then B is just as bad as A. There has been many a soul worried in case he is defiled because he has some link with D, E or F, etc. but the question to be settled is simply 'Is the assembly, or would it be willing to be, in fellowship with B who is just as bad as A? If this assembly says 'yes', or refuses to answer, then it is C and is gathered on wrong principles as we have shown above. Whether the assembly is D, E, F or Z the question is still the same, 'Would you have fellowship with B?' The Scripture goes no further.

But the question is still asked, 'What about an assembly that would not have fellowship with B and yet is willing to be associated with C who would have such fellowship?' To such a one, its inconsistency must be pointed out. 'You will not partake in the evil deeds of A, nor have fellowship with those that are just as bad (B). Unlike C, you say that you acknowledge the necessity to abstain from evil associations, and do not try to evade your responsibility towards other assemblies by saying that all assemblies are independent, so denying the truth of the one body. Yet you are willing to merge with other assemblies that meet on opposite lines. How can you act responsibly in conjunction with assemblies that in principle refuse responsibility? How can you rely on letters of commendation from assemblies that receive from B and would quite likely commend them to you so that you also are in fellowship with B? You are saying one thing and doing another. You are telling us that you are not in fellowship with B and yet you are. You are really C.' The 'chain' goes no further. It only has three links. Perhaps we should stress that C is not refused because everybody in it is necessarily directly defiled, although the potential is there. (Ed.) It is because it has set up a system which is not on the true ground of the body of Christ, denying inter-assembly responsibility and the true unity of the Spirit which is according to truth. It has become a system based on the reasoning of men and not the Scriptures. Even if the doctrine of A has completely died out and has been forgotten by most, yet the false system remains, ready to receive those associate with other evils even though they do not hold the evil themselves. A person known to be walking in a godly way (not just by a letter of commendation from C) can be received if he is genuinely ignorant of the issues involved, but it is the responsibility of the receiving assembly to acquaint him of those issues. He cannot be allowed to come and go between them indefinitely after he is aware of the position. He would be deliberately flouting the truth and belittling the need for obedience, so that the assembly is compromised. If it is all right for him, then logically it would be all right for all of them.

The epistle concludes with verses 12 & 13, setting forth the joy that John anticipated when he met again with this elect lady and her children, face to face. How good and pleasant it is to follow righteousness, faith, love and peace in the company of those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart! (2 Timothy 2:22).


1 If a frog is placed suddenly in hot water it will jump out immediately. But it is said that if it is put in cold water which is very gradually heated up, it will remain happily unaware of the situation until boiled alive!

[1]This is a united statement made by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of the Church of England in 1863. 'All our hopes for eternity, the very foundations of our faith, our nearest and dearest consolations are taken from us, if one line of that Sacred Book be declared unfaithful or untrustworthy'.