“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. ~ 2 John 8
Explanation of the Text: With the seriousness of John’s warning lingering in the believer’s ear John asserts with force the need to be on guard. The prevalence of false teachers necessitates the prevailing need to observe one’s surroundings with a keen awareness. Throughout Scripture it can be seen that false teachers are lurking everywhere, elevating themselves and minimizing others through that deception. Paul’s letters often warn to be ready for a defense (1 Peter 3:15), to stand firm (1 Corinthians 16:13), and prepare for battle with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). John not only writes against false teaching in 2 John, but also in his previous epistle. Even throughout the life of Christ we see Him constantly on the ready, often defending Himself against the falsehood that was so prevalent. If the Lord Jesus Christ had to confront false teaching, surely those who call Him “Lord Jesus Christ” will need to confront it as well.
As though the warning was not serious enough, John gives reasoning to his argument. He writes “So that.” It’s as though John is saying “I want you to watch out, not only because I am concerned that you may be deceived, but because I want you to reap the full benefit of what you have worked for.” It is certain that John is not writing that one may lose their salvation, for John previously quoted Jesus to affirm that one cannot be lost once they are a believer (cf. John 6:37-40).
It is understood though, that every believer will receive some kind of reward for service (Matthew 5:12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:24; Revelation 22:12). For stewardship of the faith, believers are rewarded according to their work (but not saved by their work). Therefore, it makes sense to understand that John is not declaring that one may lose salvation, but instead it is possible to lose the reward which was to be given.
Examination & Application of the Text: A significant warning requires significant responsibility. While trusting in the sovereignty of God, verse 8 of 2 John has also placed the burden of responsibility on each individual. One cannot simply sit back and say, “I don’t need to do anything because God is sovereign.” Indeed, He is. However, His sovereignty does not negate our responsibility.
We have placed upon us, a serious burden which must be rightfully acknowledged and gainfully sustained. Even John’s use of specific words here undergirds the seriousness of the task at hand. As Donald Burdick notes, “The present tense calls for continued vigilance, for the danger is ever present that heretical teachers may rob believers of the spiritual gains which have been made” (1).
God has not left us unresistant to such attacks. In fact, He has given us the very defenses and tools that are needed to not simply endure and withstand, but to conquer the brazen attacks upon our souls. We are left without excuse because as the battle has been won, the soldier was also equipped for the victory. It requires of us the need to be in the Word everyday, for that prepares us for our defense, prepping our mind to spot the false teachings that go forth and being able to confront them. Perhaps we need to be reminded of William Gurnall’s words: “Now in order to be found true to our trust, we must plan for our defense and equip ourselves, for a vigorous resistance. We cannot without shameful ingratitude to our God, waste those aids He provides for that evil day.”
(1) Donald W. Burdick, The Epistles of John, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1970), 107.