John identifies himself as the elder in his second letter written to an elect lady and her children. An Elder (overseer) was a position of responsibility in the new church structure, 1 Timothy states that the duties of an elder are: to teach and preach, to direct the affairs of the church, to shepherd the flock of God and to guard the church from error.
We don’t know who the chosen lady was, she is not identified by name and she could refer to the church itself with her children being the believers in that region. Either way the letter became a circular letter read in the churches of Asia Minor.
The main body of this short letter addresses the same Gnostic heresy that John addressed in 1 John. The Gnostics were teaching that Jesus was not fully God and fully human (flesh) – John seems almost exasperated when he writes: people who do not confess Jesus as coming in the flesh are deceivers and the antichrist. Continuing in that vein he warns the believers against welcoming into their homes and fellowship the traveling teachers who teach and promote this false teaching. He states that providing food and shelter to false teachers would give public approval and endorsement of their teachings – don’t do it!
John third letter is addressed to Gaius who is suffering from something possibly health issues and praising him for his spiritual health through his trials. John delights in hearing that his children are living according to the truth. John challenges the church to practice hospitality with strangers, which is interesting considering the warnings in the previous letter. John encourages the believers to welcome people into their homes and send them on their way with experiences of love within the church.
John then calls out a church leader by name who was exercising dictatorial power in the local church, even going so far to exclude people who didn’t agree with him from the fellowship. John teaching is very clear, do not imitate his bad behavior, only do what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does what is bad has not seen God.
Our last letter for this year is Jude; Jude identifies himself as a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James. Jude is also the brother of Jesus, we know that Jesus had brothers they are mentioned in Matthew, John, Acts, 1 Corinthians and Galatians and that they did not become followers of Jesus Christ until after His resurrection. Jude is very similar to 2 Peter, using the same phrases and topics, so we can date Jude to the same general time period as 2 Peter, 65-70AD. Jude addresses the same heresy as the letters of John, which is spreading in the church. Jude quotes Jewish literature and scripture, which leads to the impression that his recipients were of Jewish culture now being influenced by Greek heresy, possibly Jewish Christians who have escaped the growing persecution and tensions in Israel. The Jewish rebellion against Rome began in 66 AD which would fit into the same time frame as Jude.
Jude states that he planned to write a general letter about salvation but instead is compelled to urge them to contend for the Faith. The Faith is the body of truth that is held by believers everywhere, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Truth was under attack and had to be defended.
The false teaching was that it doesn’t really matter if we sin repeatedly and unrepentantly; Jude calls this teaching a license for evil. “They assume that salvation by grace gives them the right to sin without restraint, either because God in his grace will forgive all their sins or because sin by contrast magnifies the grace of God” from The Message. This way of thinking is referred to as Cheap Grace; Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines Cheap Grace: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.”
This continues to be an influential teaching today, instead of repenting of our sins, we declare that our sins are no longer sin; we redefine sin according to what we want or is culturally acceptable. When we declare that our sins are no longer serious we deny the need for the cross and Jesus as our Savior – that is Cheap Grace.
Jude cites examples from the Old Testament to prove his point, that those who refuse to believe will receive divine punishment. He calls these godless men dreamers who claim to receive a special revelation, that are out of touch with the Truth, they defile their bodies with sinful behaviors and reject the authority of the prophets and apostles teachings. Jude condemns them harshly calling them irrational animals, guided by mere instinct. Finally, he states clearly that the Lord is coming to execute judgment and convict every person who commits these ungodly deeds.
Jude concludes by encouraging the believers to build yourself up in the Holy Faith, praying by the Holy Spirit and maintain the fellowship community in love. Jude’s benediction is familiar and a blessing for us: “Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power and authority, before all time and now and for all eternity” Amen.