During a hike in the woods a troop of Boy Scouts came across an abandoned section of railroad track. Each boy in turn tried walking the rails but eventually lost his balance and tumbled off. Two boys, after considerable whispering, suddenly offered to bet that they could both walk the entire length of the track without falling off. Challenged to make good their boast, the two boys jumped up on opposite rails, extended a hand to balance each other, and walked the entire section of track with no difficulty whatever. That in a nutshell is the principle of Christian living.
The short letter of 2 John is a letter that urges a balance between bold loving and cautious thinking. John reminds us that truth that is not administered in love can be too harsh to be fully effective. But love operating without a proper regard for truth can lead to weak sentimentality. John strives for a balance in this letter.
The letter is addressed to a woman and here children. There is some debate as to whether this letter is written to an actual woman and her children or whether the “woman” is actually a church and the children represent the congregation that meets in the church. We really can’t know for sure.
The key word of the letter is the word “truth”. John is concerned about the truth or the genuineness of the gospel. John tells the woman that he has “found some of your children walking in the truth.” This is a difficult statement. It could mean that John knows that some of the children of this woman (or church) are walking faithfully in the truth of Jesus Christ but others are not. But it could also mean that of the children he has met . . . they are walking in the truth (just as the rest of them may be doing.) The key is the importance of walking in the truth and defending against error.
LIVE THE TRUTH
And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (5-6)
There are two ways that God wants us to practice the truth.
When Jesus sent His disciples out to do His work, he told them to,
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. [Mt. 28:19, 20]
Obedience is a part of discipleship. When we obey God’s commands we show that we love Him. When we obey we prove that we trust Him. When we obey we show that we honor and respect Him.
It is easy to say that you love someone. You prove that love by the way you respond to that person. When you truly love a family member you prove that love by the way you stand by them in the difficult times of life. When you love your children you give them time and provide for their needs to the best of your ability. When you love your pet you make sure the pet has food and water. When you love your job you are on time and diligent and careful in your work.
In the same way, people can say that they love God. But they show that they mean what they say when they obey His commands. In the gospel John wrote he recorded these words of Jesus “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” [John 14:15]. The person who truly loves God goes beyond profession of faith . . . they practice faith.
- They put Him first in their life
- They treat Him with honor and respect
- They don’t allow other things to take priority over Him in their lives
- They set aside a day for worship
- They treat our parents with respect and honor
- They honor and respect life
- They keep their marriage vows
- They respect the property of others
- They tell the truth
- They live grateful for what God has given rather than always wanting what the other guy has.
In other words, we are to be people who try to apply the ten commandments as well as God’s other directions in our life. You and I both know that we don’t do this very well. We are inconsistent. But,generally speaking the person who loves God is working to obey. We don’t see obedience as a burden but as a delight because of our love for the Lord.
Love Each Other
John reminds the woman that this is not a new commandment. In fact, Jesus gave this very command to the disciples. We read about it in the gospel of John.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34,35]
When we love God we will love those whom God loves. I like to think of our daily encounters with others . . . especially those who are difficult . . .as the laboratory part of our faith. We learn to show compassion, extend forgiveness, overcome resentment, and a host of other godly characteristics as a result of our encounters with each other.
The Bible is pretty clear, Christian faith should make a difference in the way that we treat each other. The loving person will,
- Seek to understand before they criticize
- Understand that people have “bad days”
- Be tuned in to the hurts and insecurities in the lives around them
- See the potential rather than the blemishes in others
- Be eager to extend forgiveness
- Share in the victories and blessings of others with joy rather than resentment
- Listen when you need to talk
Our goal is to love one another as Jesus loved us. It’s a standard I suggest none of us have reached, but one we must continually and actively strive to attain.
GUARD AGAINST ERROR
The other side of this balancing act is our caution and response toward those who distort the gospel. We are to be loving, yet we are not to be supportive to those who promote error.
John identifies the false teachers as those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. John was referring to a particular heresy that was prevalent at the time. This heresy (call gnosticism) said that all physical matter was evil. Therefore, they did not believe that God actually became a man. Jesus was either not God or He was not truly human.
We don’t hear much about gnosticism today. But John’s words do point to an important indicator of a false teacher. Anyone who diminishes the person or character of Christ is a false teacher. This kind of false teaching is manifested in many ways in our time,
- Those who say Jesus was a good man, a sterling example, a great leader, but wasn’t God.
- Jesus was God but not uniquely God. In other words, Jesus was God in the same way that all of us are Gods.
- Jesus did not live a sinless life
- Jesus did not die a sacrificial death (as a payment for our sin) but was simply a martyr who wanted to show us the nature of commitment to a cause.
- Jesus loved us and may have given His life for us (we don’t know) but He did not rise from the dead.
- Jesus is not the only way to Heaven
These are all false teachings. They pervert the gospel. You can identify a false teacher by carefully and thoroughly examining their view of Jesus. Having identified the false teachers, there are certain dangers we must guard against.
The Danger of Going Back
Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. (v.9)
The warning here is sobering. If we allow false teachers into our lives, churches, and thinking, we are in danger of losing what we have worked for. Does this mean we could lose our salvation? No, that’s not what it is saying at all.
The main reason we know that this does not refer to losing our salvation is because we are told that we will lose “what you have worked for”. We do not work for salvation. . . it is given to us as a gift.
There are however passages in the Bible that indicate that we can lose our reward even though we don’t lose our salvation. John wrote to the church in Philadelphia (not the one in Pennsylvania),
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
We see a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 (NIV)
14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
When we follow or embrace false teaching what we build is faulty and will be destroyed. We will lose our reward. We will be saved but we will lose the joy and reward that comes from faithful service. A rebellious child does not lose their place as part of the family . . . but they may be written out of the will!
So what is the danger? A story is told of a man who, because he didn’t like the cost of oats, decided to gradually substitute sawdust in the diet of his mule. Everything went fine for a while but by the time the mule was satisfied with the sawdust, he died.
The danger of the false teacher is that they are feeding us sawdust. At first is seems innocent. We feel satisfied and barely notice a difference. But as the error takes over our body we lose our intimacy with God, our confidence, our joy, and our investment in the Kingdom of God. False teaching diminishes our effectiveness and robs us of the Lord’s wonderful “Well Done!” when we get to Heaven. It destroys what we have worked hard to build.
The Danger of Going Ahead
9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son
False teachers go beyond the teaching of Scripture and therefore were “going ahead”. This was commonplace in John’s day. The Gnostics were always talking about their new revelation of truth. These “new revelations” would generally modify or contradict some of the clear teaching of scripture. These people felt that they were modern, relevant, and spiritually superior. But in truth they were watering down or contradicting God’s Word.
We must be very careful of those who tell us of their “new revelations”. If these revelations agree with the Word of God then they aren’t really “new”. If they disagree with the Word of God then they are not revelations from God but distortions from the Devil.
Sure, we should be constantly looking for new understanding and relevant application for God’s truth. But we must be careful that these understandings and applications are anchored to the Scriptures and not going “beyond” the Bible. It is very appropriate to ask yourself and each other: “Where do you find this in the Bible?”
the Danger of Going With
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (10-11)
Tradition says that these were not idle words from the apostle John. According to Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle, John practiced what he preached. Polycarp wrote that John once ran from a bathhouse when he heard that the heretic Cerinthus was inside, because he feared the house would fall in ruins since the enemy of the truth was there. John took the danger of false teachers very seriously.
After John’s earlier talk about the necessity of loving others, how do we these words fit? Let me clarify. This text is not telling us that we should not show hospitality to unbelievers. We are to be gracious and hospitable to everyone as a way of demonstrating the love of Christ. Friendship evangelism is still the most powerful way of communicating the gospel. When we open our homes to our non-Christian friends and family we reveal the love of Christ.
The text is also not telling us that we should refrain from showing hospitality to everyone who disagrees with us. We can disagree with people without having to label them “false teachers”. We may not agree on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the timetable for the second coming. We may not agree on our understanding of freewill and God’s Sovereignty. We may not agree on the best form of church government, worship styles, and spiritual gifts. Some of these disagreements come because the Bible is not specific. Some disagreements come from our personal experiences and preferences. Some come from our different levels of growth and understanding. To disagree on these things does not indicate that we are engaged in false teaching. We can and should still have fellowship with other members of the body of Christ who may disagree with us on some of these points. Our church is filled with people who are at different levels of understanding.
John warns us about those who are teaching false doctrine. They are the ones who deny or diminish the person and work of Jesus. These people should not be welcomed into our homes. When we show hospitality to a false teacher several things can happen,
- We can give the false teacher the idea that their teaching is acceptable
- We lower our defenses and open ourselves up to their influence
- We give them ammunition at the next home they stop at. They might say, “There is no reason for you not to let me in, after all I was welcomed in the home of Pastor Goettsche”. My hospitality to a false teacher might lead to someone else’s destruction. [Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary]
Let’s take these words of John and draw some conclusions. First, we are reminded that the professor of faith and the possesser of faith are not always the same. Those who profess faith but do not obey God are not true believers but merely believers in name only. Those who profess faith but do not hold to sound doctrine (which is anchored on and in the unique nature of Jesus) are not true believers but actually are false teachers. We must look beyond words. Someone can claim to have faith and not really be a true follower of Christ at all.
Second, we are reminded that our faith is evidenced most clearly in our dealings with each other. If you are like I am, this message should lead you to look at your own life. Where do you need to be more loving? Are there people in your life that you dismiss simply because they are difficult to love? Are you fostering division or working to eliminate it? Are you being critical instead of helpful? These are important questions. Our relationship with others is the laboratory of faith. Is there a place where you can be more loving? Has God prompted you or convicted you this morning? What changes do you need to make in your life?
Finally, we are reminded that before you can recognize false doctrine you must know that which is true. The Treasury Department trains their agents to spot counterfeit bills not by giving them counterfeit bills to study . . . they give them the real thing and make them so familiar with the true currency that the false currency is easy to spot.
We need to be so familiar with what is true that we can easily identify what is false. I encourage you to read your Bible regularly and carefully. I urge you to get involved in some group studies where you can learn the truth more fully. Read selectively and carefully. Immerse yourself in a study of what is true so you will be prepared to recognize what is false.
John calls us to be balanced in our living. We must love without being gullible. We must be diligent without being harsh. We must be practical and not just theoretical. This balance is necessary. Without it we may drift from the truth. We may lose our joy and the warm intimacy of God’s presence in our life. And even worse, without balance others may be hindered from finding the grace of God that can set them free and lead them to that life that can only be found in Jesus. And that possibility alone should make us attentive to this little letter to a chosen lady and her children.