We all want to get full value for our work. However, every contract contains clauses that, if violated, can nullify the full benefit of the contract. John is not describing our salvation but our rewards.
False teachers had invaded the churches by the end of the first century with their winsome and persuasive personalities, and their ability to do phenomenal wonders and miracles (Matt 7:21–-23) deceived many followers of Christ. The key to not being deceived by false teachers is to know the clear teachings of the written word of God.
The warning in this present command is to make a continual practice of discerning and examining all teachings, philosophies, ideas, and stories that supposedly are Spirit led. John commanded, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1NKJ). Paul wrote, “If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command” (1 Cor 14:37). Error is always based on logic, deductions, or mental impressions, which tend to add to or twist the Scripture.
All our works for the kingdom of Christ are equated to “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor 3:12). These will be tested by fire to reveal what is genuine and of acceptable “quality” (3:13). We are not told what these symbols represent, but gold, silver, and precious stones can withstand the test of fire. The other elements are consumed and disappear.
If I could speculate a moment, it sounds as if the wood, hay, and straw might represent potentially good things done for the wrong motives or for our self–centered actions, which nullify our rewards.
John revealed that believers could diminish their potential rewards if they allowed themselves to be deceived by false teachers. He wrote that true “love [means] that we walk according to his commandments” (2 Jn 6), but “many deceivers have gone out into the world” (2 Jn 7). Rather than being cautious, “everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (2 Jn 9).
The standard that everyone must be measured against is the apostolic “teaching” (2 Jn 10), which along with Jesus’s teaching, laid the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20). We must know it and live by it faithfully.
“My heart’s desire is to show You how much You mean to me for all You have done. May any reward I receive only prove to all how great it is to serve the King of kings.”