A Sermon 2 and 3 John
In Second and Third John, we actually get to read an apostle’s mail. The Second Epistle of John was written to a church with which John was intimately familiar, some time in the last decade of the first century. Very likely, this was a congregation located near the city of Ephesus, where John was an elder and the last living apostle. John personifies this church as the “elect lady” and speaks of its members as her children. The Third Epistle of John was written to a man named Gaius. Since Gaius was the most common name in Asia Minor at that time, and since there are several men with that name mentioned in the New Testament, it is impossible to identify this person with any specificity. But in any case, these two short letters tell us a great deal about both the apostolic church and the apostle John. The contents of Second and Third John remind us of the importance of sound doctrine, as well as the role of Christian charity in the lives of God’s people.
We now conclude our series on the epistles of John by turning our attention to the two shortest letters in all of the New Testament, 2 and 3 John. These letters contains less than 300 hundred words each, and from their contents, it is clear that John composed each of them on a single sheet of papyrus. Since the ink of that period was made of soot and water thickened with gum (resin made from tree/plant sap), John filled up a page, and then quit so that it could dry before being folded and then sealed with wax. A number of the same issues John has addressed in his first epistle reappear in these two epistles, although in greatly abridged form. Both are typical of letters from this period–they follow the classic epistolary style–in which John introduces himself through the use of his title–elder–not his name.
I debated about whether or not to even preach on these letters. I concluded that since God saw fit to include them in the canon, it is important that we treat them as Scripture–and they do have several interesting and important points for us as a church. Given the brevity and nature of these personal letters–there are no Old Testament citations or echoes in either of them–I thought it best to treat both of them in one sermon–hence, a first lesson and second lesson, as opposed to our usual practice of an Old Testament and a New Testament lesson. We’ll go through each of these letters rather quickly, and then we’ll draw some conclusions as we wrap up.
The immediate context in which these letters were written reflects the typical problems associated with traveling missionaries in the apostolic era. If nothing else, the Romans were great civil engineers. They managed to connect much of their empire through a series of well-constructed roads which made travel much easier than it had been previously. Christian missionaries took full advantage of that infra-structure provided them by Rome–a common language and a network of good roads. In fact, Christianity had spread throughout most of the Roman empire by the end of the first century. In the providence of God, Roman roads and the Greek language had much to do with the rapid spread of the gospel.
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