Love in its relation to faith is not a subject that is much written about. Most Christians will agree, in theory at any rate, that faith ought to be associated with love and love with faith; but there they leave it, apparently without consideration of how and how far such association flourishes among them or even whether it exists to any important extent.
Yet the two words exist in close proximity in some twenty-seven passages; surely a sufficiently noteworthy fact to justify serious consideration of it. All five references in 1. Timothy to one of them also contains the other. By contrast, there are no coincidences of the two words anywhere. till we reach 1. Corinthians, and the Abstract Noun "love" occurs only once each in Matthew and Luke and not at all in Mark and Acts. Believing as I do, on very good grounds, that the Gospels were the earliest books of the Greek Scriptures to be written; it seems to me that these first two occurrences of "love" display very plainly the distressing lack of love among mankind; for the first of all is in Matt. 24: 12: "and the love of the many shall be cooling"; and this will be "because of the multiplication of lawlessness." To go into this prophecy would be to diverge unreasonably far from the scope of this paper; but it ought to be put on record that the teaching that vv. 4-14 should be referred to the Seventieth Seven will not bear critical examination. There simply is not room in seven years, even if we were to allow a preliminary period of preparation. By this time, most of us will, I think, have accepted the idea that the Lord Jesus did not answer the question in Acts 1:6 in the direct way tradition has caused many of us to suppose. The same applies to Matt 24:3. The Son of Mankind says nothing about His presence until v. 27. The twenty four verses which preceded this refer to preliminary events; and there is nothing whatever in vv. 4 to 12 which cannot be viewed as covering the whole of "the Christian era" to date. The fulfilment of those eight verses has been going on for, centuries and is going on now. In fact, v. 6 says plainly: "but not as yet is the consummation," and we have to go on as far as v. 14 before we read "and then the consummation shall be arriving." "The multiplication of lawlessness" has also been going on for centuries and is continually increasing in our day. Small wonder, then, that the love of the many has been cooling. Yet how terrible it is that such words should be the first reference to agapE, love, in the Greek Scriptures!
The other, Luke 11:42, is in a way worse: "But woe to you, Pharisees, seeing that you are taking tithes from mint and rue and all greens, and you are passing by the judging, and the love of God. These things, now, it was binding to do, and those not to devoid of." In more modern terms, they carried out the visible accompaniments of religious observance, but ignored their duties which gave these meaning, in particular the love of God. So, much for love in their, eyes.
The first coincidence of faith and love is where one might expect it, in 1. Cor. 13:2, where the Apostle Paul is pointing out the worthlessness of even the greatest things, tongues, prophecy, perception, faith, in the absence of love. To clinch his point he concludes: "Yet now are remaining faith, expectation, love. Yet the greatest of these is love. Be pursuing love." (13:13; 14:1). This precept forms the basis of the climax of the epistle: and it is very briefly reinforced in 16:13, 14: "Be watching! Be standing firm in the faith! Be manly! Be staunch! Let all of you be coming about in love!" The last is very brief in the Greek, and most versions add something like "action" or "affairs," the point apparently being whatever you do, all of you, should come about in love and not with any other motive. 2. Cor. 8:7, is a word of praise for the Corinthians, so this lesson appears to have been learnt.
"The fruit of the spirit" is set out in Gal. 5:22; but as a prelude to this Paul reaches the climax in Gal. 5:6 of what is really the summing-up of his Evangel so far as it is related to the Law: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is availing anything, not uncircumcision; but faith, operating through love." Contrary to what many seem, to think, Paul does not contemplate faith as standing by, itself like an isolated mountain peak. Neither for him is it sterile and expressionless, but something in actual effectual operation, and in operation, not by itself, but through love. This verb energeO, operate, is worth very careful study, for its significance is out of all proportion to the number of its occurrences, which are only four each in the two epistles, Galatians and Ephesians, in which it is most frequent. In Gal. 2:8 it refers to God's operation in Peter for apostleship and Paul also; and in 3:5 to God supplying the Galatians with the Spirit and operating works of power among them. There is an echo of this in Eph. 3:20. All these are completely in harmony with what is written in James 2:14-24, except that in the last verse James, in accordance with the special aspect of faith and works, which he is presenting, emphasizes the importance of works. Many writers have contrasted faith and works in a way which is most misleading and harmful. Romans 4:1-3 certainly stresses that Abraham's righteousness was on account of faith only, yet Paul's thesis ends with a plain statement that his faith was not merely passive but a vivid and active affair: "And not, being infirm in faith. . . yet into God's promise was not made to judge differently by unbelief; but he was invigorated in faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured also that what He has promised He is able to do also. Wherefore, also, it is accounted to him as equivalent to righteousness." (Rom. 4:19-22). To suggest that here Abraham was not engaged in works at all in achieving righteousness is simply nonsense. That becomes apparent when one asks oneself: "What more could Abraham have done in the circumstances?" We can ask: "What less?" And the answer is easy. He could have judged differently in unbelief, he could have shut his mind to the promise, he could have declined to give glory to God, he could have refused to be fully assured. If any of these had gone with something like this: "So Thou sayest. We will see how it all turns out!" it would not have been real faith, so it would not have been accounted equivalent to righteousness.
What more could Abraham have done? No more! He did what he could; he did all that was, or could be, expected of him. And when, later on, the opportunity came to show further faith, he was not found wanting.
The question of works of law, of law-works, does not arise in Romans 4; neither does it arise in James 2. In each the works are works which proceed from faith—the very antithesis of the law-works of which Paul has so much to say elsewhere. Abraham's faith was accounted as equivalent to righteousness and, so far, works do not come into the matter. What Rom. 4:1-8 is saying is that, from this point of view, works are irrelevant. But once faith takes its proper place, then it cannot be divorced from works. If it be real faith it must be accompanied by real works. This is the point hammered home by James (James 2:14-26). And faith must operate through love.
Perhaps the matter would become simpler for some of us if we were to ask ourselves just what faith means in Scripture. Is it merely a matter of believing something in the mind, or does it imply belief in the whole personality, and thus belief working itself out in practise? The fact that Paul puts most emphasis on the former and James on the latter, does not imply conflict, for neither of them refuses works or denies faith.
I make no apology for once more developing this point at length; for one of the most conspicuous and harmful consequences of the campaign against James which has been in progress for years past is the widespread dissemination of the idea that, provided we have faith, whether or no we have love is unimportant. This is a most dangerous fallacy. In Christ Jesus, neither obligation to law-works is anything nor freedom from law-works is anything, but faith, operating through love. That is the central point of Gal. 5:6; but its scope is in Christ Jesus, not in other contexts. Once our standing is "in Christ Jesus," we have, or should have, passed out of the scope of law-works, as they have ceased to have any effective meaning for us; and the only thing that ought to matter in our lives is faith, operating through love. And note: that faith is operating, not something static and passive. Any who are still attempting to achieve righteousness in law fall out of grace, because they have deliberately taken their stand on lower ground than grace and faith operating through love.
Now we come to the thorny problem of the true text of Eph. 1:15. Much has been said about this, but few seem to have noticed the corresponding passage in Col. 1:4. In view of it, I cannot see why we should not read Eph. 1:15 literally and retain the quite well attested "love," thus "The faith according to you in Christ Jesus and the love into all the saints." We find in Acts 18:15: "questions about a word, and of names, and of law of the (sort) according to you." The suggestion in Eph. 1:15 is, then, that Paul's readers had made their faith their very own, so that, as in Gal. 5:6, it operates, it works out, in their love towards all the saints. The rendering chosen by the C.L.N.T. seems to me not only forced but, when one comes to analyse it, incomprehensible as well. One is forced to ask the question: "What faith did the Ephesians have when Paul wrote to them that other saints did not have?" This translation looks very much like a throw-back to the old and discredited idea that Paul's "dispensational" standing changed at some time during his ministry.
The association Paul builds up between faith and love shows very strongly in Eph. 3:17-18 and in the benediction with which he closes the epistle: "Peace to the brethren, and love with faith." (6:23). Col. 1:4, referred to above, speaks of: "when hearing (of) the faith of yours in Christ Jesus and the love which you are having into all the saints."
So the transition to 1. Thess. 1:3 is a very natural one, to "remembering your work of the faith and the toil of the love and the endurance of the expectation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Note particularly "your work of the faith." There was nothing dead about the work the Thessalonians did. So Timothy brings to the Apostles Paul and Sylvanus "the good news of your faith and love" (5:8). And in 2. Thess. 1:3 he writes: "seeing that the faith of yours is flourishing and the love of each one of you all into one another is increasing." Would that such a thing could be said to believers of our days!
Instead, in 1. Tim. 1:5-7 we come to something very much more conspicuous in actual experience: "Now the consummation of the charge is love out of a clean heart and of good conscience and of unfeigned faith; from which some, swerving, were turned aside into vain prating, wanting to be teachers of law, neither apprehending what they are saying, not that concerning which they are insisting.
Throughout the centuries the visible Church has been plagued with such men as Paul describes here. We can mark them without difficulty. They want to teach in such a way as what they teach becomes law for the disciples, who consequently soon became a sect. Such men are found to have one unvarying characteristic. Paul says, to put it in modern idiom, that they do not know what they are talking about.
They have no insight into what they are saying or insisting, so if their pronouncements are questioned they do not answer, but, instead, bring in some side issues, usually so put as to convey an impression of relevance which is not in accordance with the facts as they really are. If then, they are opposed by some genuine believer, they retire into an impregnable fortress of silence. In one respect, they are out of the reach of blame for this attitude: no one can answer a criticism if no answer is possible. Where they actually are blameworthy is that they are turned aside into vain prating. Why is this? Once again, love is lacking. Were there love out of a clean heart, of good conscience of unfeigned faith, their preoccupation would not be self, with their vain prating, their self-centred desires to retain their reputation, but with faith and truth. But if they love not these things, how can they love God or anything but their own aggrandisement? As Paul had just declared (v. 4) God's stewardship is in faith, not faith in their own capacity to prate, but faith in God.
Presently Paul refers to his own past failings and confesses that the evil he had done was "ignorantly, in unbelief." He adds, "Yet the grace of our Lord overwhelms, with faith and love, that (which is) in Christ Jesus (1. Tim. 1:14); and then he adds the faithful saying in the next verse.
The next occurrence is about the way of saving for women, and here "faith and love and holiness with sanity" come together, surely a most wonderful combination of ideas, and full of learning and comfort for all women (1. Tim. 2:15). The next (4:12) shows how Timothy was to become model of those believing, "in word, in behaviour, in love, in faith, in purity." Last in this epistle come the things from which the man of God should be fleeing (6:3-10) and those he should be pursuing: "righteousness, devoutness, faith, love, endurance, suffering with meekness." (v. 11).
The whole epistle is a wonderful compendium of the works which ought to accompany faith and love, but tragically, are so seldom found together.
Nor is even this all that the Apostle Paul has to say on these matters. In 2. Tim. 1:13 he writes: "Have a pattern of sound words which you hear from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." Behind this is an implication which, if it were seen as it should be, would greatly shock some of us who would have it that they are adequate teachers. It is not enough to have a pattern of sound words if these are not in faith and love. Those who content themselves with cold orthodoxy are very far indeed from the ideal which Paul here has in mind. The faith and love are essential if the pattern of sound words is to carry conviction. This idea lies behind Paul's further exhortation to Timothy in 2. Tim. 2:22 to "pursue righteousness, faith and love, peace, with all who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart." The corollary is "Now stupid and crude questionings refuse, being aware that they are generating fighting." How much better off we would now be if Christians had always borne this in mind!
Last in this rich epistle comes Paul's exhortation: "Now thou fully follow my teaching, motive, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings..." (3:10). Even so, Paul has not yet said his last word on this matter, which is: "The aged men are to be sober, grave, sane, sound in the faith, in love, in endurance, the aged women similarly . . ." (Titus 2:2).. after that, and rounding it all off, we read of Paul to Philemon, "hearing of the love of yours and the faith which you are having toward the Lord Jesus and into all the saints." What faith can be more intense than that which goes out "into all the saints," and what more rare and wonderful?
Of 2. Peter 1:4-7 we are writing in its proper place. There remains 1. John 5:3, 4, which largely explains itself; but to go into it in detail would involve a commentary on the whole epistle; though some discussion of what immediately precedes it will be attempted in the next paper.
At first glance it must seem extraordinary, even outrageous, that such a test should be needed; yet here are the Apostle John's very plain words, and, when we gaze at them and perceive their implications, very terrifying words, too. Because, to put the issue very bluntly, if we do not love the brethren, we have not perceived, we have not become fully aware, that we have passed from the death into the life. It is all very well to have a "pious hope" that all will come out at the end as we would wish; but is such a hope so clear and certain that we can honestly declare that we have perceived it, that there is no manner of doubt in our minds, that we have proceeded out of the death into the life?
Here many people fall back on what they call "faith" to fill the presumed deficiency; but that is not what faith means or was ever intended to mean. To use the idea of "faith" as an excuse for believing what we happen to want to believe, which is the way most people regard faith, is a complete distortion of the meaning of the idea. It is every bit as bad as refusing to believe solely because one does not desire to believe. Both are, in fact, unbelief. Also the circumstance that we want to believe some idea does not make that idea true. It merely stops us from having any rear faith at all.
Scripture tells us that "Abraham believes God," not that Abraham believes Abraham, or what Abraham would like to believe. When he first believed God his faith was instantly' rewarded by perceiving what God was doing for him. That was the reward of his faith, as sooner or later it always is for those who walk in and by faith. Generally, sooner, because genuine faith always produces results. They may not be the results we are expecting, or the results we want, or think we do; but results they are, even if they do not go beyond the willingness and the strength to go on treading the chosen path of faith. Even with that and no more, faith is translated into a measure of perception; and what is thus perceived proves in the end to be love itself.
To me, 1. John 3:14 has always been particularly sacred; because, even in the inadequate A.V. presentation of it ("We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren.") it was, over sixty years ago, a source of great comfort to me. In fact, it is no exaggeration to declare that it was the passage in Scripture which finally removed my doubts. For a long time I had been wondering if my newly-found faith in God and His Word were real, or merely an illusion, or what was a few years after to be commonly called "wishful thinking." Then, one day, I read those words, and I suddenly discovered that I actually loved certain people who had helped me to the truth. My first glimpse of these realities was when I picked up "Earth's Earliest Ages" by G. H. Pember and suddenly appreciated the sound sense of his general teaching about understanding Scripture. Intending to write to tell him of my gratitude, I wrote to his publishers and was distressed beyond words to learn that he was no longer living. That was my first taste of Christian love, and I have never forgotten it.
I went on to procure Pember's books on Prophecy, and then graduated to Sir Robert Anderson, Dr. Bullinger and A. E. Knoch. The discovery that a change had occurred within myself gave me an assurance that has never wavered since those days even though I was later to discover that such love as I had learnt was not always reciprocated. I am sorry to say, also, that later on it was not always given as it should have been.
Mercifully, I was forced by circumstances to stand alone to a large extent; and, when active service came in the First World War, this loneliness I had experienced was found to have given me stamina to stand rock-like under awful conditions and thereby help others around me. Although this made me more reserved externally, it certainly made me warmer and more secure within.
Mercifully, too, for the very long time I was spared the disillusionment of discovering how many who are supposed to be brethren fail to shed out and display that Christian love which ought to show that they really are brethren. Being by nature quiet and retiring I did not expose myself to any serious rebuffs, but only minor ones, for many years. Eventually I received a "slap in the face" which woke me to the facts of this matter as they actually are; and its effect was to dedicate me to whole-hearted love of God's Word and unswerving search for His Truth, whatever the personal cost.
From the battlefield I had come to know and to correspond with the late Alexander Thomson, and a profound friendship grew up between us, though circumstances prevented me from meeting him for some years to come. Also considerable time was to lapse before I came to know how badly he had been treated by many brethren. This was partly due to the fact that in one respect (though in little else) our natures were very similar. We were both intensely reserved and even reticent; and only gradually did I learn, the truth from him about the treatment he had received. From my point of view the effect was wholly advantageous; the blow of learning the truth was cushioned for me by two factors: it came only gradually, and at first I was quite unable to believe that a case which met with so bad a reception could be without serious flaw. This latter became apparent only when I was able to give it a thorough examination. For his candour, A.T. paid the price of suffering; whereas I reaped at least one benefit, a fore-warning of what I might expect if I taught anything contrary to prevailing opinion, as in due time I began to do.
Where did Christian love come into this experience? The answer is that when some people found themselves capable of maligning and injuring one brother, solely for the offence of not seeing eye to eye with them, it did not.
And why not? 1. John 3:14 supplies the answer; they could not have really known whether they had proceeded out of the death into the life. If they had known, they would have loved A.T. instead of unconsciously so fearing his teaching that they felt compelled to ostracise him.
That assertion is itself almost bound to provoke resentment somewhere. Yet if we clear our eyes of illusion and prejudice, and look right down into our own hearts, we cannot help seeing that if we were absolutely certain of outstanding with God, and had nothing to fear for ourselves, we would not have the smallest scrap of alarm about anything some fellow-Christian can discover in the Scriptures, and we certainly would not entertain even a scrap of hostility towards him on account of his findings. Why should we? If what he finds is true it cannot possibly do us any harm. Only if we discover on examination that it is not true do we have any occasion for worry, and then only on the most trivial of all, grounds—that it is going to involve us in some labour to investigate the evidence further. Yet is not that a most insignificant price to pay for a deeper knowledge of Him Who did not stand back from paying the price of prolonged agony and ignominious death that we might have life in Him? Can we affirm that we have proceeded out of the death into that life when we cannot even make that tiny sacrifice for Him?
Admittedly, sacrificing time and labour that others may have a deeper and better knowledge of God's Word brings no public reward in this life. That does not matter much; but when instead it brings hostility and even hatred, it is high time that we should all examine ourselves to discover what has gone wrong. Sometimes I and others have tried to console ourselves with the persuasion that we are in last days. Yes, the expectation that the Lord's call is very near in time is a great comfort; but it provides no excuse for hostility to our brethren, even if it is possibly one of the reasons for our troubles as a manifestation of general decline of standards. And, moreover, it provides no comfort unless we have a firm assurance that such a hope is justified; and this assurance cannot be firm or even rational unless we have a firm assurance of the integrity and truth of God's Word. If we lack that assurance and are, all the time, secretly worried and nagged deep down in our minds; we automatically react, sometimes with violence, against anyone who appears to us to be adding to our doubts. No matter if that person is, in actual fact, helping us against them; his questionings only furnish us with a convenient, though usually unconscious, excuse for pouncing on him as the source of our troubles, and blaming them all on him instead of on our own lack of faith. There is never any difficulty in finding a scapegoat. The struggle within ourselves begins only when we face the fear and weakness and mental laziness within our own own selves—if we ever do.
Fear! That is I am persuaded, the motive that lies beneath most, and perhaps all, the hostility that is so common
between those who profess to be Christians, and who so often are. It is one of the commonest as well as strongest and:
most ignoble of human emotions. The Apostle John uses
the word phobos, fear, in one place only in his First Epistle,
but there three times:
"Fear is not in this love, but the mature love is casting
John goes on to say something which is very pertinent to our
out the fear, seeing that the fear is having chastening.
Now he who is fearing has not become matured in the
love." (1. John 4:18).
"We are loving, God, seeing, that He first loves us. If ever
There we have before us the antithesis of love, displayed in two
forms, each of which is an aspect of the other; for when we come to
analyse our feelings, we have no choice but
to hate a brother if we also fear him, and to fear him if we also hate
him. For fear breeds suspicion, and suspicion ill-will and ill-will
eventually must turn to hatred if nothing is done
to remedy it. Strangely enough the word "hatred" does not occur at all
in the Greek Scriptures. Instead, we find the word echthra, enmity, or hatred in its active form. John does
not anywhere use the word echthros, enemy, but he does employ the verb miseO, hate,
more than any other writer in the Greek Scriptures. Paul has it only
four times to five in 1. John alone and twelve times in John's Gospel.
anyone may be saying that 'I am loving God,' and the
brother of his may be hating, that one is a liar; for he
who is not loving his brother whom he has seen, how is
he able to be loving God Whom he has not seen? And
this is the precept we are having from Him, that he who,
is loving God may be loving his brother also." (1. John
Examination of this word brings out an instructive point; for in
John's Gospel the first reference is to hating the light (John 3:20).
"Yet this is the judgment, that the light has come into
The remaining references are about hating the, Lord Jesus.
and those who are His. (John 7:7; 15:18, 19, 23, 24; 25).
In the light of all four Gospels, that is only what is to be expected.
On the other hand, the terrible thing about 1. John is that of the five
occurrences of the verb, four are about hating a brother.
(1. John 2:9, 11; 3:15; 4:20). The fifth opens the quotation at the
head of this paper. There is a tendency to regard the Apostle John as
of great mildness and gentleness in his writings—a half-truth
which tends to blind us to the underlying strain of the terrible in
what he has written. This is a case in point, for it is impossible to
discover anything more suitable for such a
description anywhere than we find when we pause to reflect on the
implications of some of the things in his epistles, such as these.
the world, and men love the darkness rather than the
light, for their works were wicked, For everyone
practising the foul is hating the light and is not coming
towards the light lest his works may be being exposed.
Yet the one doing the truth is coming toward the light,
that his works may be made manifest, that in God they
What gives the passage we quoted at the head of this paper a very special poignancy is its context. At first, there are the wicked works of Cain contrasted with the righteous works of his brother. Then, afterwards, we are reminded that "he who is not loving is remaining in the death"; and then the Apostle John speaks with the utmost plainness: "Everyone who is hating his brother is a man-killer; and you have perceived that no man-killer is having eonian life remaining in him" (1. John 3:15). We are presented here with a display of human wickedness, yet nevertheless, sandwiched in between, a glorious message of hope and assurance: "We are aware that we have proceeded out of the death into the life, seeing that we are loving the brethren."
Then, lest we should be in any doubt concerning what such love is, the Apostle John tells us how that love can be recognized: "In this we have known the love, that He lays down His soul for our sakes." That is the love displayed by the Lord Jesus; so, last of all, in view of it, comes the test of the sincerity with which we know that love: "We ought to lay down our souls for the sake of the brethren." (1. John 3:16).
The saddening thing about all this is that there are brethren who ought to be familiar with it, but who successfully insulate themselves from everything to do with it, either by ignoring what John says as "circumcision"—as if that had anything to do with it!—or by firmly closing eyes and ears and hearts to everyone who has ever had dealings with what they judge to be heresy. They seem unable to realise that, one day, they will have to meet their brethren. If they refuse now, they cannot lose the joy of meeting the Lord Jesus in air, but what of meeting the other joint-body-people?
Reluctant as I am to appear to be harping on matters that from our present point of view have receded into the dim past, I cannot refrain from writing more about the late Alexander Thomson. I had the privilege of receiving from him carbon copies of some of his correspondence; and I can testify to the vast extent of his labours for the sake of others in helping them to get a better understanding of the truth. He is an outstanding example of laying down the soul for the sake of the brethren. We should realise, too, that this was only a part of his labours; in fact, we cannot know the full extent of what he did on behalf of the Concordant Version. He has passed from us now, to rest for that full and utterly glorious life awaiting him, and ourselves, when we shall be snatched away to meet the Lord in air.
Yet his very unobtrusiveness strongly emphasises his mission when it is permitted by us to show itself at all. This comes out strongly in Acts 17 where we see the two main themes of Paul's argument from the Scriptures. The second of these: "This One is the Christ—the Jesus Whom I am announcing to you" (Acts 17:3), is a direct echo of John 20:31, "Yet these have been written that you should be believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may be having life eonian in His name." The reference is unmistakeable and could never have been ignored but for the strange theory that "Paul and Peter and most of the saints who come before us in the Scriptures" never saw John's writings.
So unsurely based is this view of John's writings that it has communicated its uncertainty to the writings themselves so that they are almost written off by some people and exaggerated in importance by others who, supposing them to be some sort of "last words," and therefore the most authoritative, rely on them in preference to anything else. This is highly irrational, particularly as they are thus treated in two contradictory ways. Some give them preference over all others for spiritual instruction. Such regard them as purely what they call "spiritual," and practically worthless in the sense of historical validity. This extreme, and the one with which this paper opens, in practice between them, destroy the Gospel and the Epistles so far as their value as part of God's Word is concerned.
Nowhere does John name himself, either in his Gospel or Epistles, but five times in the Revelation. Only four times (in his Gospel) does he mention Israel. He does not mention Jews in his Epistles and he does not mention Gentiles at all except, as some allege, in one place, 3 John 7. This last is a key fact, and like most such, it has by some been seriously misunderstood; nevertheless; adequately treated, it opens the door to a proper understanding of this group of Epistles. The problem of the translation was discussed on Page 3 of our Volume 23, 1961. The word ethnikOn, means "having the characteristics of a Gentile," or, "in a Gentile manner"; "Gentilely," to coin a word. I pointed out that Gentiles who have not received God's Word are really heathen; so I have translated the three occurrences in Matthew by "heathen" and for 3 John 7, I have "For, for the sake of the Name they went forth, nothing receiving from the heathen"; and I added the following comment: "We see that this rendering has three merits, it gives the sense, it is concordant, it avoids giving any 'dispensational' twist to 3 John 7. through abruptly injecting an idea foreign to John's Gospel and other Epistles. So we can consider now where this takes us.
At once we are delivered from any so-called "dispensational" overtones in John's Epistles. They do not concern Israel or Judah, or any group of Gentiles. The issues of circumcision or uncircumcision do not influence them at all. They are not actually addressed to any group of people. Nothing is said of Apostleship. The second is to an elect lady and her children, the third to "Gaius, the beloved." In both, the writer describes himself as "the elder." There is a Gaius who is connected with the Apostle Paul and is referred to in Acts 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1. Cor. 1:14, but whether this is the same man is not stated, so we can make no deductions. This leaves us with no definite ties of any sort except to John's Gospel itself, so we are free to study these Epistles objectively and without prejudice.
Gaius and the brethren with him set an important example. First, testimony to the truth and walking in truth; then, working "for the brethren and strangers at that"; then love, then sending them forth worthily of God. The whole of the third Epistle breathes John's love for Gauis, love shown in direct praise at first and then in gentle warning against one who also has love of a sort, but only for himself. Diotrephes is typical of the so-called "brother" who was referred to in Part 2 of these papers. He is the person who lacks all love for his brethren, and who shows his lack by his works. Nevertheless, even to him John is so full of love that he makes no direct reproaches. John's intention is to be reminding Diotrephes of the works of his which he is doing, leaving him to judge himself.
John's last Epistle is not addressed to any special class of people because it is addressed to all: "That which we have seen and heard we are repeating to you also, that you also may be having fellowship with us, yet this fellowship of ours, moreover, is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ." The word hEmeteras presents a translation problem which has to a large extent been avoided. The C.V. Concordance has "our-more, our, emphatic," but it is not always given such special emphasis, even by Rotherham. It occurs in Acts 2:11; 24:6; 26:5; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 4:16; Titus 3:14; 1. John 1:3; 2:2.
It is difficult to bring this over into English, but the attempt should be made: The best suggestion I can offer is, Our own, or our (particular) or even our particular. A similar word is humeteros, rendered by yours or your own—see Luke 16:12.
However, the important thing here is that John's readers are those who have a fellowship of their own with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. This is something private and personal to all who truly belong to the Father and to His Son; and it is in contrast to the other occurrence in this Epistle of the word hEmeteros (2:2), where we read that Jesus Christ the Righteous is "the propitiation concerned with our sins; yet not concerned with ours in particular only, but concerned with the whole world also." In both these the particular emphatic character of this word shows itself plainly. In the former, the fellowship is not vaguely general, it is something personal and private, and intimate; in the latter we have something not only personal and private but to do with the whole world. God is dealing with the sins of all, although at the moment it is our sins in particular that John has in mind, and let us have in mind that our sins, "the sins of us," tOn hamartiOn humon are not the only sin God is referring to here. And let us have in mind, too, that though originally the propitiation was part of the Law, what the Apostle Paul declares in Rom. 3:25 makes it universal for God's people, as the introductory words of John's 1st Epistle indicates.
After the opening "address on the envelope" John writes first of fellowship, koinOnia, our particular fellowship, thus calling to mind the Apostle Paul's words in 1. Cor. 1:9 : "Faithful is God, through Whom you were called into fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord." To anyone who might object that here one of the Twelve, the Apostle John, is writing, we need only point out Gal. 2:9, where James and Cephas and John gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. There is no reason whatever to suppose that this is not the fellowship, which ought to exist among all God's people, and would if some of them could bring themselves to refrain from bringing disorder and confusion into matters so simple and holy as the opening words of this Epistle. Such fellowship implies a sharing of what those concerned have in common. The five Apostles in Gal. 2:9 differed in the operations allotted to them but shared the fact that God was operating in all of them; and on the basis of that fact they had wholehearted fellowship. Consequently, in his concluding words Paul could, and did, point out that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is availing any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith, operating through love" (5:6). So we get the fact that behind. that right hand of fellowship was operating something greater and more enduring—love. This is the first reference to love in Galatians, but it is presently followed by two other, in 5:13, 22, thus sealing its testimony. Fellowship, to have any practical meaning, has to be established on the basis of love.
Paul's words here must not be taken as meaning that matters concerning the contrast between circumcision, the sign of covenant, and uncircumcision, our standing which is outside covenant, are unimportant in themselves, but that they must not override what is in essence deeper and stronger, faith operating through love. These men belonged to different callings, to Paul's Evangel, or to the Covenant Evangel which, in some future day, is to supersede it on earth; but they were able to give one another the right hand of fellowship, because on an even yet higher plane, in Christ Jesus Himself, their mutual love as His own people, transcended the differences in their callings. For us it is vitally important that we should have real and full and deep and earnest love for one another; but even that is not truly enough unless we love all God's people, unless we feel fellowship for them and are fully prepared when the time shall come to give them and accept from them the right hand of fellowship. Growing conscious of this vital matter is the driving force which has, in recent years, caused me to pay so much attention to Acts and the General Epistles.
This, lesson from Galatians is the lesson from 1. John also. First we have in view the relation between fellowship and light, then John writes about our sin and God's righteousness, then about knowing God and keeping the precepts. Then comes the first reference to love in the Epistle: "Yet whoever may be keeping His Word, truly in him the love of God has matured" 1. John 2:5). This intensely practical attitude of mind is what makes the epistle unpopular in certain quarters. John boldly declares that the test of mature love of God is keeping His Word.
This declaration brings John on to a new precept which he is Writing to us all, and this takes us back to the reference in Part 2 to hating one's brother. John writes:
For instance, one writer administers this injection at the very start by writing as if 1. John 1:6 referred to, "the Circumcision Evangel," and gives a second dose by associating 2:2 in some way with Israel and even the Law. No one has any right at all to add these ideas to this scroll. The penalties set out in Rev. 22:18, 19 certainly do not apply here but, even so, we should not allow ourselves to commit such a sin elsewhere. Inadvertence may be the excuse for it, but surely the reason lies deeper. When people begin to think in that sort of way, are they not in grave danger of reckoning their own ideas above what is declared in God's Word?
Those who offend in this manner have no need to wait for any future penalties, though these are inevitable if they fail to repent and to turn back to a way of righteousness; they have them here and now in what they lose by being in the dark. The trouble with these unfortunately however, is that, being in the dark, they are unaware of what they are losing through their tragic condition. If they have started by receiving some degree of light, and have allowed themselves to slip back into the dark, they will have some memory of what they have lost but, all too often, the pain of such memory only saddens and hardens them. We must not allow ourselves to suppose that the punishment of insensitiveness is something reserved for some of Israel at the present time.
Those who go astray seldom appreciate that they have done so. Otherwise few would care to wander from that way. Why, then, are so many wholly unscriptural ideas published far and wide as! if they were certain truth?
The reason is, I am persuaded, the widespread fear of criticism. Most people seem to think that criticism of some thing that has appeared in print is a personal attack on the individual who wrote it.
This fear is one of the chief causes of the confusion and error which are so widespread among us. That they are widespread is easily shown by comparing the variety of the teachings of the different men who are currently regarded among us as Christian leaders. Two contradictory assertions cannot possibly both be true; yet flat contradictions can be found by the dozen by the attentive reader.
Certain animals, like sheep, when frightened try to huddle together. All too often, believers follow their example. When perplexed or worried by what someone has taught, they tend to get together and try to shut out the unwelcome idea or to drown its sound by their own voices.
Worse still, their teachers get to feel that they have a reputation to maintain at all costs. Thus, they find that they simply must not permit anything that might injure that reputation. If someone should venture to disagree with them it is far pleasanter to ignore that person than to hear him and discuss the issue, and perhaps suffer the horrifying experience of finding out that he is right, after all. Few of us are big enough men to admit we can be mistaken; yet, as a matter of fact, such an admission does more to enhance a person's reputation than anything else could.
Careful, patient and unprejudiced study of Acts has been in progress for some time now, and at last we are in sight of achieving that accurate knowledge of it, and of which Luke wrote at the beginning of his former treatise.
Sad to say, against this, has come increased opposition, not in the form of any attempt to reply to the case for the truth, but in persistent reiteration of error, just as if it had never been questioned by anyone.
For a long time I have been presenting the facts in a positive way, with as little reference to error as possible; in accordance with 2 Tim. 1:13; but it seems now that the only course remaining is to follow the Apostle Paul's injunction in 2 Tim. 4:2. The opposers will, no doubt, dislike and condemn that action; but it will be Paul, not me, that they are actually condemning.
In recent papers, no references are given. This departure from my general principle is because I do not desire to expose persons but the evil doctrines into which the Slanderer has managed to lead them. Those who have gone astray, are not more capable than are the rest of us who at times have been so misled and we ought to love them all the more and revere their memory, because, in this matter, we are more fortunate than they were in being enabled to learn from their mistakes. Moreover, there should ever be in our minds the chastening thought that at some past time some of their mistakes were made and accepted by ourselves.
This ideal would be much less difficult to attain but for the mistaken zeal of those who assume that any attack on false doctrine is only a concealed attack on those who teach it, and is actuated by malice rather than love of truth. That way of thinking is extremely common among us.
Here is the touchstone whereby we can test ourselves. When we read something which at first we do not like, is our reaction governed by love of truth or hatred of the author?