We close this week with a couple of the shortest ‘books’ in our bible. The form is familiar by now: from whom, to whom, courtesies, message and closing.
‘The elder’ may well be the same writer as 1 John and 3 John. I resist the assumption that one genius wrote the Fourth Gospel and the letters, and reject the further extension of credit to Revelation. It seems sufficient to me to recognize a shared community of discourse, that sounds ‘Johannine’.
‘The elect lady’ (and her children) reads more sensibly to me as calling a specific church community by a collective feminine noun, and referring to its members and followers as its ‘children’. I imagine the early church communities as house fellowships in our terms, not yet distinctive as ekklesia from other house fellowships and synagogue groups of God-fearers.
Working in northern Canada, I never locked the door of my home – and left the keys in my vehicle. If somebody needed to get out of the cold, they should not be excluded, and if they took the car for a joyride, there was only one road out of town, and hours till the next fork in the road.
Working in inner city Canada, I did and do lock my home, and field panhandlers every day with a courteous greeting, knowing that the true face of poverty is more hidden. The strength of social service agencies on the one hand, and of 12 Step groups and recovery communities on the other, is calling ‘bullshit’ on the free-rider or user.
A minority sect with affiliated households in different towns and cities would face similar issues of people calling for hospitality – or even offering new leadership. How does a community discern whom to welcome, and whom to resist?
Christian realism acknowledges what Calvin called ‘the persistence of sin among the redeemed’, or what I’d call ‘scam artists’ who serve themselves disproportionately and do disservice to the community.
We’ll hear more tomorrow - but let’s start with permission to discern and discriminate among those who present themselves to share in the commonwealth as sisters and brothers!
This warning appears to focus on those who trade in ‘spiritual’ and ‘knowing’ stuff, so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use, and fail the test of the importance of Jesus’ flesh and blood, and our own walking the walk.
The letter closes with a collective ‘lady’ or community of faith sending greetings to the addressed ‘lady’ or community of faith.
1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, 2because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us for ever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love. 4 I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. 5But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. 6And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning— you must walk in it. 7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 8Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we*have worked for, but may receive a full reward. 9Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. 12 Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.*