They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
These must have been painful words for John to write. The reality of being let down by people that you put your trust in. The hurtful comments, snide remarks, circulating gossip. John's context is not our context and yet... And yet I see echoes of communities I have belonged to here. The sad straying of people always hurts. Fractures, fissures, Facebook wall posts.
But there is fight in John's words too not simply sad acceptance. This is a man for whom love of each other is the highest and oldest command. It is the thread that binds believers together. We must love one another. In all our difficulty and brokenness and imperfect and the mess that comes with messy people loving messy people.
But there is a limit. There is a time that comes to let people go. There is a necessity in allowing people to leave when the grievances they cause are too great. For the sake of his community, John allows people to leave it. To protect his flock, he lets some of the sheep run away.