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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Living in Truth (vv. 7-11)
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Living in Truth (vv. 7-11)

If Christian existence can be characterized as "living in love," it can equally be designated as a life that is lived in truth, where truth is the opposite of deception and wickedness. Truth is both doctrinal and moral in scope. The previous section (vv. 4-6) dealt with the moral aspect of truth; the present section turns to the question of doctrinal truth and, specifically, true confession of Jesus Christ.

The confession Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is identical in em phasis, although not in wording, to the confession of 1 John 4:2. This confession calls attention to Jesus' true and full humanity and to the significance of his life in the flesh. For it was as the one who became flesh (Jn 1:14) that he revealed the glory of God, and it was his flesh that he gave for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). It was also as a human being that he modeled the life of obedience to God and love for others that is commanded throughout the epistles (2 Jn 6; 1 Jn 3:23). In short, this confession summarizes who Jesus is and what he has done for our salvation: he became flesh, and he gave that flesh in death so that we might have life. Those who are called deceivers and antichrists have left the sphere of truth for the sphere known as the world—that arena which rejects the work of Christ on its behalf. By leaving the church and going out into the world, they have shown that they rejected the salvation that Jesus brings and have disobeyed the commandment to maintain the bonds of love with other Christians.

The Elder urges his readers not to commit the same error as those who have gone out into the world, but to see that you do not lose what you have worked for. This admonition can be illuminated by setting it against the Gospel of John. The verb that is translated lose is found in several instances in the Gospel, where it refers to being lost (6:39; 17:12; 18:9) and to perishing (3:16; 10:28). Those whom Jesus has chosen cannot be lost; those who do not accept Jesus as God's provision for salvation are perishing. These are the only options. There is no way to have a little bit of life or death; one either lives or dies. To lose what you have worked for is to lose life. It would be to abandon one's commitment to God. For the work in view is the act of faith. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, the "work of God" is "believing in the one [whom God] has sent" (6:29). The deceivers who have gone out into the world have not continued in believing "in the one [whom God] has sent."

So the Elder cautions his readers not to follow their example or to be swayed by their superficially progressive teaching. Even more, the Johan nine Christians are not to welcome into their house anyone who comes with this deceptive teaching. The refusal to welcome the false teachers into one's home is a sign of judgment upon their teaching and life. And if the house in question is not merely a personal residence but rather a house church, then the Elder forbids them to be given entrance into the church so as to teach the people.

Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work means more than "you are known by the company you keep." Rather, to give false teachers a hearing is to further their work and so to be equally guilty of false teaching. The word translated by the NIV as shares is more literally translated "to share fellowship with," and it is an important idea in the Johannine community. First John spoke of having fellowship with God and his Son, just as Christians have fellowship with each other (1:3). These are not passing acquaintances, but deep and life-shaping relation ships. The Johannine Christians are not to share such fellowship with those who do not speak the truth.

This brings us back to the question that C. H. Dodd raised: "Does truth prevail the more if we are not on speaking terms with those whose view of the truth differs from ours—however disastrous their error may be?" Dodd's query raises an important point, but is it the right question? It is difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly what the personal and social relationships were between the Christians of the Elder's congre gation and those who had withdrawn from it. Were the Christians of John's community actually "not on speaking terms" with those who had left the church? Had they tried to win back those under the sway of the false teachers? Were their attitudes and actions cold and judgmental? We have no way of answering these kinds of questions.

We do know, however, that the Elder categorically refused to compro mise his beliefs or to allow the false teachers to gain a hearing at all. Some might label such actions intolerant and haughty. After all, how can the Elder be sure that he indeed knows the truth? In fact, his confidence rests in his belief that God has revealed what is true in the Son, Jesus Christ (v. 3), and that the Holy Spirit enables him to know and hold to his confession of faith. Truth is neither an arbitrary construct of the human mind nor impossibly obscure. Christians need not fear that they have somehow missed the truth or failed to understand it, that there is some key that unlocks the mysteries of knowing God that they have been missing all along. Such a "key" may have been promised by the false teachers, but to John they are not revealing the heart of the truth but are rather run[ning] ahead of (or "going beyond," RSV) the truth.

And what of the charge of intolerance? As Kysar notes, "Tolerance must finally have its limits, if the church is to have integrity" (1986:133). We would do well to take note of the corporate focus of the Elder's concern, for he is particularly worried lest the false teachers be granted an open ing to teach and propagate their doctrine within the church. It is the church's responsibility to teach people and to nurture them in faith, righteousness and love. As a church, it must draw the lines that exclude teaching and practice it deems out of harmony with the revelation of the Scripture. It has this right and responsibility. To be sure, in the effort to guard truth with zeal, some churches draw the lines too soon and too narrowly. But in the effort to exhibit Christian charity and tolerance, some churches refuse to draw the line at all. The continuing challenge to the church is to "speak the truth in love." Unfortunately, as one wag has said, this generally leads to a lot of speaking, little truth and even less love!

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