Patterns, groupings, clusters. They exist, though sometimes it seems they’re the elusive aliens hiding among the humans.
One pattern of groupings is the Johannine epistles. John’s three letters, together, contain a message that is greater than any single one. The apostle’s concern is not to support false teaching and to be sure to support the preaching of the gospel, by means of three imperatives.
- “Test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) — know who teaches what, instead of sticking your head in the sand;
- “Do not receive” the false teacher (2 John 10), else you are a partaker with him in his wrong teachings;
- “Support such people” like faithful evangelists, and so imitate what is good and not bad, like Diotrophes (3 John 8, 11).
The churches today need to heed this advice. Most prefer to continue as if everything was hunky-dory, but it’s not. John is adamant about practicing righteousness, cutting off support to false teachers, and supporting the brothers who preach.
The issue is who we participate with, based on what they teach. We have communion with each other because our communion is with Christ and God (1 John 1:3). So we refuse to give the false teacher greetings because doing so “shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11). And we should resist those who would prevent us from helping the faithful preachers, “so that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth” (3 John 8). These similar ideas (the first two have same root word in Greek) tie the three letters together even more closely.