The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


'For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward. Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work' (2 John 7-11).

For the Christian, Christ is the Truth. Many others may bring to us what is in some way true and helpful. We can be helped in many ways to gain parts of the truth. But the Christian believes that Christ is 'the Truth'. God spoke through His prophets in Old Testament days. Wise men and women of all nations have helped people towards the truth and have taught us to love the good and to hate evil. But the Christian believes that once and for all God has spoken to us and has brought the Truth to us most perfectly by sending His own Son Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 1:1-2 puts it, 'In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.' Others speak God's word as His messengers; He is the living Word of God (John 1: 1, 14, 18), the very Son of God. 'The elder' had to emphasize this because there were those who were denying the truth of Christ, and who were saying that you could go on from Christ to higher truth. He tells 'the elect lady and her children' to beware of both these teachings.

a. Beware of the denial of Christ.

In verse 7 we have something very like what we have read in 1 John 2:18-26 and 4:1-3. There are 'deceivers' and `antichrists', those who work and speak against Christ. They have 'gone out into the world' with their teaching, just as the true followers of Christ have been sent into the world to take the gospel to all people (see Matthew 28:19-20 and John 17:18). These false teachers denied what is at the very centre of Christianity, 'the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh'. That is, they denied that Jesus, the Son of God, really became Man for us. They said that He only seemed to be Man. How great our loss would be, if they were right! He would not have shared our life and known in experience, our weaknesses and temptations. He would not have suffered and died as man for us men and women. So 'the elder' needed to say, 'Beware!' 'Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward' (verse 8).

b. Beware of thinking that there is truth greater than the truth of Christ.

These false teachers were not only denying that Jesus Christ was really Man. They were also saying that you can 'go ahead' from the teaching of Christ to higher truth. J. B. Philips' way of translating verse 10 is to describe such a false teacher as one 'who is so 'advanced' that he is not content with what Christ taught'. He is not content with what Christ taught or with what Christ is. Such people were saying that Christ was only one of God's messengers, only one of those through whom people came to God. The true Christian, on the other hand, believes that he has in Christ all that he needs or could ever ask for. Others may be messengers; Christ is the living Word. Others may be servants of God; Christ is the Son of God. To think that anyone is higher than Him is to make a great mistake. For when we have Him we have God, as verse 9 puts it; we have 'both the Father and the Son' (see also 1 John 2:23 and 5:12). The only wise way for us is to 'abide in the doctrine of Christ' and let Him be the Foundation for the whole of our life of understanding, our faith, our works, our actions. The apostle Paul says this (in 1 Corinthians 3:11) when he says 'no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ'.

c. How to deal with false teaching.

Verse 10 makes a very strong statement about the way to deal with those who give this kind of wrong teaching: 'If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting.' After reading in the earlier part of this little letter about the need for both truth and love in balance together, we might ask 'Is this not truth without love?' In a wiser answer to this question, J. R. W. Stott says that we need to realize three things: 'First, John is referring to teachers of false doctrine, not merely to believers in it.' The person who is not to be received is 'an official teacher' of these misleading things. Second, John's instruction may well relate to the extending to them an 'official' welcome, rather than merely private hospitality. It is not just a matter of receiving them into one's home, but into the life of the church. 'In the third place, John is referring to teachers of false doctrine about the incarnation, and not to every false teacher.' It is those who deny the very heart of the Christian faith about whom John is writing.

We need to realize that it is by no means the way of to love to allow others to be led astray by teaching that denies the central things of the Christian faith. To encourage what a person does wrongly is to 'share his wicked work' (verse 11). We would not want to encourage a school teacher to teach that the world is not round but flat, or a doctor to tell us that deadly viruses do not harm us. So also it is wrong and not loving for us to help or encourage anyone to teach what is against the most important things that God has made known to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is loving for us rather to do all in our power to help others to stand firm in Him.


Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts,

Thou Fount of Life, Thou light of men,

From the best bliss that earth imparts,

We turn unfilled to Thee again.

Thy truth unchanged hash ever stood;

Thou savest those that on Thee call;

To them that seek Thee, Thou art good;

To them that find Thee, All in All.

(Bernard of Clairvaux)

For further thought and study.

1. Verse 8 speaks of the way that the faithful Christian can look forward to winning a 'full reward' and other passages of the New Testament speak in a similar way (see Matthew 5:12; 10:40-42; 1 Corinthians 3:14; Revelation 11:18 and 22:12). How can we have a right hope and look forward to such reward, while realizing that God's rewards are never what we deserve but always the gifts of His love and grace?

2. Is friendship always right, or are there some people to whom we should not show ourselves friendly? To whom can we offer 'fellowship', in the New Testament meaning of that word?