In reading today’s passage, I had to remind myself that John was the nice one. He was noted as being kind and most loved by Jesus. But, verses 10 and 11 make you wonder about that characterization. Even in the interpretation of these verses in “The Message” I found myself getting uncomfortable at what appeared to be a call to treat non-believers in what appeared to me to be an un-Christian way.
In reading various commentaries and studies about the 2nd letter of John, and about these verses particularly, I found other views which enabled me to retain my image of a loving John and squared with what I thought our commission of “loving our neighbor” really means.
Specifically, I was reading from commentaries written by American theologian Albert Barnes (1788-1870). He explains verse 9 (“Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God;”) as meaning that someone who has no knowledge of God. I have always thought of God being everywhere, and to me that includes places where He may not yet be welcomed. However, there are many people who have no knowledge of God, either because no one has told them about God or because they have chosen not to know God - and perhaps everywhere in between.
Barnes goes on to explain that John’s instruction to the “elect lady” (and what is widely meant to include all new Christians) in this letter was to guard their souls, which were so new in their belief and, therefore, vulnerable to evil attacks. John instructs them not to receive those who do not have God into their homes and don’t welcome anyone who does not bring the teachings of Christ. Barnes’ interpretation of John’s instructions is not to take any actions which would encourage the non-Christians’ lack of faith. Instead, be consistent and faithful in your own walk.
I’m not sure there is actually much difference between John’s audience of new Christians and the audience of today. Christianity is shrinking. There are many evil influences. Therefore, John’s instructions are just as relevant today – guard your soul, be consistent and faithful.