3 John 11

“Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”

These words of John to the well-beloved Gaius clearly divide. The division is between good and evil. At the same time, it is between them who are of God, and them who have not seen God. There are only these two groups of people. John spoke of no middle ground. One group has not seen God, and the other is of Him, or belongs to Him.

They that do evil are the ones who have not seen God. Quoting various Old Testament scriptures, Romans 3:10-18 puts it this way, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.” These words of Paul speak of the one group; the one that has not seen God, to use John’s words.

John meant something other than seeing God with the eyes. What he spoke of is taking heed to God. Is it the evil that they do that keeps them from seeing God? Or is it that they have not seen Him and so commit evil? The above words from Romans 3 tell us it is the latter. Scripture speaks of His law being written in men’s hearts. Many do not heed His law that is there. In fact, at the end of Romans 1:32 Paul ends a list of sinful behaviors with this, “… Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” It is because they don’t take heed to God that they do evil. This is not ignorance of God, but awareness of His demands, and choosing to set them aside. It is rebellion.

But, John also said that he that does good is of God. Romans 3, above, speaks of the whole human race. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no, not one. Yet something is different about certain ones. They do good and are said to be of God. Some change has come upon them. The difference is because of the LORD Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:19-22 relates, “For it pleased the Father that in (Jesus) should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight …” God has effected a reconciliation between Himself and mankind through the death, burial, and resurrection of the LORD Jesus Christ. This was the reason Jesus came to earth.

Ephesians 2:7-9 notes, “That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Paul tells the Ephesians that their works, good deeds, do not come into the equation when it comes to being saved. This is entirely the gift of God through His grace, kindness, and mercy.

For the group that has not seen (neither heeded or acknowledged) God, a change is possible. It must start with acknowledging our sin, and the person of God, and His claim on their life. And, ends with resting on the LORD Jesus Christ as Savior. Then, doing good comes, showing that they are of God.

For the group that is of God, the verse above brings a command; “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good.” It must be that though they are of God, it is possible that they could follow after evil. So, John provides this reminder. The ways of the world are still attractive to us. Praise God, His salvation is not taken back by Him when we stumble. As Paul told the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) May we strive to follow God and do that which is good.

The caution is not vain:
We may unfaithful prove,
And turn from God to sin again,
And fall from pardoning love;
Yet will we boldly press
T’ward our high calling’s prize,
And follow after holiness,
And to perfection rise.

Perfection is the good
Which wrestling saints receive,
Worthy of all to be pursued
Who in our Lord believe:
Perfection is the goal
Which terminates our race;
And comes to that, the spotless soul
Expires in his embrace. (Charles Wesley)

Revelation 2:4, 5

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

The church at Ephesus is commended for their stand for the LORD, their work and labor for Him, and their care regarding the teachers they heeded. But the above rebuke comes from our LORD, and a dire consequence was promised if things didn’t change. Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the seven churches. The LORD was promising to take away the Ephesian church. Even Laodicea, as weak as they were, was not similarly threatened.

The problem in Ephesus was they had left their first love. At this point in the passage, preachers often go into discussion and encouragement to his hearers to love one another; to care for one another and those in the world. We want to avoid the fate of the Ephesian church and being encouraged to love one another is appropriate. Many scriptures encourage us along these lines. It is important teaching. But are we missing the point if we focus on the love for those around us? Is our LORD rebuking the Ephesians for a lack of love to each other?

The LORD’s rebuke of the Ephesians is they have left their FIRST love. The Greek word translated “first” could be translated foremost, chief, or first of all. Many Christians remember their first zeal for the LORD because of His salvation. They honestly admit that their lives are not what they used to be. They recall being evangelistic, sharing the good news with those around them. Is this the first love? Is this the foremost or chief love? Is it the first-of-all love? They also remember that their heart was overwhelmed with gratitude and love for God for His great salvation.

Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29-31 suggest an answer. “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Notice His use of the words first and second. The first command is to love God with all of our being and ability, and the second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Would it be stretching Jesus’ words in Mark too much to suggest that the first love, the love of God, is the one He means in Revelation 2? According to 1 John 5:2, the evidence that we love our fellow believers is that we love God and keep His commandments. In Joshua 22:5 Joshua reminds the Israelites, “But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Note the separation between loving God and keeping His commandments. Firstly, they were to love Him, and then to walk in His ways, keep His commandments, and serve Him.

Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Luke 11:42 brings a charge that is similar to Revelation 2:4, “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” They were good about tithing and such matters, but they passed over the love of (or for) God! They were wrong in many other ways, but Jesus pointed out their lack of love for God.

Could it be that the church in Ephesus was so taken up with its works that they had forgotten Who it was that they served? Had they left their love for the LORD in pursuit of love for other things, even service for Him? The promise to remove the church, which apparently came to pass since there is not even a city of Ephesus any more, is a strong judgment. As noted before, this judgment was not put before any of the other churches in Revelation.

The Israelites of old were warned time and again to turn back to God. They refused to listen, and ultimately they lost their nation for a time. Other writers of God’s Word encouraged their readers to love their neighbors. But a judgment such as the loss of their church was not mentioned. Turning away from loving God would bring a strong judgment.

Did the believers in Ephesus set aside their love of God and the keeping of His Word in order to love their neighbors? Love for God is the first love that Jesus commanded in Mark 12, and it seems that it is the love the Ephesians left. Is the modern church becoming so focused on love for their neighbor that it is setting aside their First love? Is the second commandment being pushed ahead of the first? Churches have set aside teaching from God’s Word that might be unpopular so that they can be more appealing to their neighbors in the world. But our first love must be of God, His Word, and His ways. If that puts us at odds with the world, that is only what Jesus said would happen. If they hate us, remember that they hated Him, too. We must never set aside God’s Word and commands to accommodate the world. This is something for which the LORD ought to remove our church! How could He use or bless a church that does not love Him and keep His Word?

Is it possible for Christians to turn away from their love of God? Is it possible for Christians to commit any other sin? He is gracious and loving to us. Yet it is possible for us to become so enamored of work for Him that we miss Him altogether. Recently, a man preaching on this passage was heard to encourage his hearers to set aside theological correctness and to be working. If we do not cling to God’s Word, we have nothing to guide us. If work for God is our focus, and not Him, we miss out; we leave our first love. Let us pray that our LORD would show us if we have left our first love for Him.

O what an evil heart have I,
So cold, and hard, and blind,
With sin so ready to comply,
And cast my God behind!

So apt His mercy to forget,
So soon dissolved in ease,
So false, so full of all deceit,
And desperate wickedness!

What shall I do, my God to love,
My loving God to praise!
The length, and breadth, and height to prove
And depth of sovereign grace! (Charles Wesley)