February 18, 2002

Fatherly Advice - Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 2 John


Fatherly Advice-Part Two

2 John 7-13
February 18, 2002
Pastor Randy Smith

My parents did a good job in helping to make good choices. Unfortunately, I didn't always heed their instruction. The year was1968 and I was 3 yrs old. My mom went into the cleaners briefly to pick up some clothes, and I waited in car. I loved our 1962 Pontiac. I thought it looked like Speed Racer's car! Maybe it was time for a little make believe.

I moved over to the driver's seat and shifted transmission gears just like dad. Did I say the car was on a hill, a long steep hill? Slowly the automobile began rolling down the hill, gradually picking up speed. I tried to move the transmission handle back to the original gear, but it was to no avail. When all hope was lost, I felt it best to abandon ship. I went over to passenger side, unlocked door and made a jump for it.

If you are over 30, you can probably remember that cars back then had skirts that covered the upper half of the wheel. I couldn't have done it again even if I tried, but somehow my foot got caught between the skirt and the rear tire. I was being dragged down the hill on my back. Obviously I survived, but probably shouldn't have. After dragging me some 50 yards, by the grace of God, the car turned, striking a tree and came to a crashing stop. Police and paramedics were called. The first to arrive would take my bloody body to the hospital.

Doesn't our parent's advice seem wiser as we get older? God has given us parents to serve as a support system to warn us from the potential dangers we could face in life. Often when we ignorantly reject their counsel, we heed the consequences of our actions to our own detriment.

As we discussed last week, the apostle John was a spiritual father to many churches. And as a spiritual father, John made every effort to warn his children from impending dangers. In this case the specific danger that plagued the church was false teachers. You see, false teachers began to infiltrate the church, seeking to spread their destructive heresies. Though ignoring my parents almost cost me my life, ignoring John's counsel would reap spiritual sabotage to the church, destruction greater than any physical ailment.

This morning I'd like to remind you that although the names and faces have changed, these heretics are still in full force seeking to bring spiritual ruin to you, your family and the members of this church. We'll examine John's instructions as to how to identify and resist these ravenous wolves disguised in sheep's clothing.

Last week we studied the first six verses of this short epistle. John's introduction in verses 1-6 helps establish the foundation of love and truth, two elements crucial in dealing with these destructive heresies. We'll now turn from true believers to false teachers in verses 7-13.

The outline is very simple, then and now. Each heading contains three similar sub-points. As revealed in this outline, we'll discover that God's Word was written at a specific time for a specific people with a specific purpose. However, the written Word still finds application for us today. Heresies are just as prevalent now as they were in the first century. Though the names may have changed, the danger and the remedy is still the same.


The Situation

Let me take you back to the Mediterranean world, 2,000 years ago. The false teachers, introduced as deceivers in verse 7, made their way along the Roman roads touring the house church circuit, attempting to propagate their heretical views. You can see according to verse 10 that these false teachers would not stop by chance, but rather, intentionally bring their heresy to the individual churches.

These traveling teachers were common in the ancient world, but it's important to say at this point that not all of them advanced error. Consider the Didache, a manual for church conduct written shortly after the second epistle of John. The book is not canonical, but it provides interesting historical insight. "Whosoever then comes and teaches you all these things aforesaid, receive him. If, however, the teacher himself is perverted and teaches another doctrine to destroy these things, do not listen to him; but if his teaching promotes righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord." It also lays down some practical advice. "If he stays three days, he is a false prophet…if he asks for money, he is a false prophet."

The Bible gives similar insight. "Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth" (3 Jn. 1:5).

Since many teachers traveled in such a manner, the church was expected to discern between true and apostate teachers. For those who brought error, the church was to reject, but for those who brought the truth, the church was to support through hospitality.

You may be asking, "Why was the church encouraged to support itinerant teachers who brought the true gospel?" First of all, every Christian is to practice hospitality. Hospitality is a tangible way to express our love (see 1 Jn. 3:18). Hospitality enables the teacher to continue his work of ministry. Second, there were no Holiday Inns. Staying at an ancient inn was to be avoided. Ramsay said, "The profession of the inn keeper was dishonorable, and their infamous character is often noted in Roman laws. Inns were notoriously dirty and flea infested, while innkeepers were notoriously rapacious." Therefore, it was common that these traveling teachers expected not only a hearing but also food, lodging and financial support to continue their ministry. Early Christian missionaries depended on hospitality from the beginning. Do you remember the words of Jesus in Mt. 10 when He sent out the 12?

And just as Jesus sent out the 12, with terminology reminiscent of the mission of Christ and His apostles, John identifies these false teachers as "having gone out into the world" (2 Jn. 7). As the apostles were commissioned by Christ to preach truth throughout the world, these false teachers were sent out to peach lies as missionaries of Satan, the father of lies. Very few if any false teachers realize in their own mind that they are teaching error. Most likely from their own perspective they are true Christian missionaries. Yet from John's standpoint they were on a demonic mission sent specifically to destroy the church, and function as servants of the devil

Their allegiance was so strong with the evil one that John refers to them as the antichrist at the end of verse 7. Scripture speaks of a final Antichrist who will adamantly oppose God and His people in the future after worldwide apostasy and just prior to the return of Christ. This Antichrist will be the embodiment of evil as his coming is described as being "in accord with the activity of Satan." (2 Thes. 2:9). But if the Antichrist has yet to arrive, who is the antichrist spoken of in 2 John 7?

1 John 2:18 says, "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming (Antichrist), even now many antichrists (small "a") have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour." The easiest way to explain it is that these antichrists are forerunners to the final Antichrist who shall concentrate in himself all the previous antichrist systems. The future Antichrist is like an octopus with his tentacles reaching into the present church age represented by many antichrists. In other words, anyone opposing Christ, regardless of his label or intent, through doctrine that contradicts the apostolic message is the antichrist (not "a", but according to the text "the", a personal embodiment of his character). They are a foretaste of the greater antichrist prophesized to arrive in the future.

I remind you, the churches of this time had no buildings, and they met only in houses. (See Priscilla and Aquila, 1 Cor. 16:19; Nympha, Col. 4:15 and Philemon, Philemon 2.) They were various assembled small groups with little to no organization. The cannon was not completed and each church had, at best, their Greek OT and a few NT letters. Even many of the essential doctrines of the church were still being formulated. You can imagine how defenseless these house churches were to discern truth. As these traveling teachers arrived, how were they to discern between orthodox and heretical beliefs? John provides a simple test…

The Identification

Who was the heretic? Look at verse 7, "those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh." Let's examine some parallel passages for expanded theology of these false teachers. "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn. 9). "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son" (1 Jn. 2:22). "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 Jn. 4:1). "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 Jn. 4:15).

In addition to some encouraging instructions from John, the nature of this Christological heresy appears to be one that denies incarnation of Christ. Rather than accepting Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man without sin, with two natures unchangeable, indivisible, inseparable and without distinction, the false teachers denied that that human Jesus was really the divine Christ and denied that the divine Christ had come into the flesh.

Scholars will usually postulate one of three movements to identify these false teachers as described by John. The first is Gnosticism. The Gnostics fostered a dualism between matter and spirit. To them matter was inherently evil. Humans have a spark of spirit wishing to arise through the impartation of knowledge. But, this spirit is imprisoned in evil matter, their bodies, by an evil creator. The goal is to be delivered from the flesh by the acquisition of knowledge. The second movement is Docetism. Docetism is a branch of Gnosticism. The name comes from the Greek work dokeo which means "to think or seem." Hence, Christ only seemed or appeared to be human. Their reasoning for rejecting the incarnation is the same as Gnosticism. "How can a spirit-being 'Christ' actually become flesh, which is evil by definition?" To the Docetics, a spirit-filled being could assume flesh, but never become flesh. That is contrary to John's Words, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The third possibility is the heresy of Cerinthus. The views of Cerinthus severed the man Jesus from the divine Christ. In his opinion, the Christ came upon Jesus at His baptism and then left Him to suffer alone on the cross.

Though these have been noble attempts to identify the heresy, each of the three theories has holes relating to the dates and the lack of material provided in John's epistles. At best we can only say that the heresy spoken of by John is common to these three heresies, of which we know very little.

Before we close the book on these false views, it is interesting that John identifies a false teacher, in the beginning of verse 9, as one "who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ." Most likely in borrowing the vocabulary from the false teachers themselves, John sarcastically exposes their "advanced knowledge" or "progressive thinking" as going beyond the boundaries of apostolic faith. One commentator rightly said, "They had indeed run ahead so far that they left God in the dust." Another commentator said, "To 'advance' beyond is not progress, but apostasy; not enlightenment, but darkness." It's not that John opposes spiritual growth, rather he opposes going beyond the deposit of truth delivered once and for all to the saints, God's revelation in Christ. Since rejecting the message is synonymous with rejecting Christ, those who abuse apostolic doctrine demonstrate their true colors.

I ask you, how essential is correct doctrine for salvation? Look at verse 9 again. "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; (in parallel form) the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son." John made a similar comment after describing the heresy also in 1 John. "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father" (1 Jn. 2:22-24).

One can have the deepest or simplest doctrine in the world, but if is not rooted in the historical event of the incarnation and Christ's overall teaching, he or she does not abide in Christ. For salvation, correct orthodoxy (doctrine) must lead to correct orthopraxy (lifestyle). In order for one to abide in Christ, one's doctrine must be sound, manifested in a life that bears fruit. John also makes it crystal clear that only the one who abides in Christ has the Father. Rejecting Christ is tantamount to rejecting the Father. Contrary to the notion that there is one God and many paths, John refuses to recognize any message other than the one "they have heard from the beginning." God so loved the world that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Since the Son is the only way to the Father, it is impossible to have one without the other.

The Application

Now that John has identified these false teachers and has given the church the ability to test whether or not they are from God, John provides practical application of the principle in verses 10-11, our 3rd sub-point. "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds" (2 Jn. 10-11). Our study regarding the background should prove very helpful here. Basically John is saying that if one of these traveling heretics arrives at the doorstep of your church (home), don't receive him in and don't give him a greeting! Let's examine both of these separately.

Remember, the goal of these false teachers was to propagate their erroneous ways. John is saying that once you have discovered them, don't think about giving them a platform in your assembly to lead the congregation astray. Refusing to open your home to these itinerant teachers not only protected the church, but also frustrated the spread of the heresy. Without a platform and the necessary means of hospitality, these teachers would be forced to leave and eventually put out of business.

Also, the church was forbidden to give them a greeting. The meaning of this greeting is different than we are accustomed. I.H Marshall said, "Such a greeting would have been regarded as no mere formality (i.e. "hello," "goodbye"), but a positive expression of encouragement and fellowship." Though it can refer to a warm expression of greeting upon arrival (Ac. 15:23), the fact that John listed it second seems to refer rather to an affectionate expression of farewell (2 Cor. 13:11). The term implied approval for the one so addressed. In this case it would specifically express a desire for a pleasant journey. The specific greeting, "peace be with you," was intended as a blessing or prayer to impart peace. John's saying, "Don't encourage the one bent on destroying your church and the faith which many people hold so very dear!"

In verse 11, John gives the stern reason for his prohibition. "for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds." A greeting was to encourage them, provide approval and express solidarity with them. Furthermore, financial support and hospitality would aid them in the propagation of heresy. John's logic is simple to follow. Anything we do which condones or advances their heresy makes us a participator in their evil deeds as well. Instead of refusing support and forcing their ministry to dry up, aiding the false teachers gives them an opportunity to flourish in shipwrecking the faith of many. Would you plead innocence if you drove the get-away car for a bank robber though you did not rob the bank? Or if you sent financial support to an abortion clinic though you did not perform the procedure? In the same way, aiding false teachers makes you a participator in the their evil deeds.

A couple of word studies are interesting. The Greek word for "evil" is the same term John uses all 5 times in 1 John to designate the devil as "the wicked one." "Deeds" includes not only the teaching, but also what is achieved through their efforts. In other words, furthering heresy makes one not only equally responsible for the erroneous teaching, but also the many souls that are deceived. "Participates" is the translation from the Greek verb koinoneo. The noun form koinonia is commonly translated "fellowship." The word breathes forth strong unity or a deep sense of sharing to reach a common goal. In God's eyes, you and the false teacher become as one.

Let us now make the transition from the situation 2,000 years ago to the application of this text for the evangelical church of the 21st century.

2. NOW

The Situation

I ask you, despite all the advancements of modern man, has the situation changed? Despite 2,000 years of developing orthodox theological foundations, has anything changed? Absolutely not! As long as the god of this world is active, false teachers will continue to plague God's elect church. After all, Christ prophesized their appearing. "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Mt. 7:15). "For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray" (Mk. 13:22). Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:13 "(that) evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." False teachers are a fulfillment of prophecy only to worsen as we approach the Great Tribulation. It is the responsibility of the discerning believer to detect these heretics by holding fast to the apostolic doctrine as revealed in the Scriptures.

The Identification

That brings us to our second point, identification. Where are the Gnostics today? The Docetics? The Cerinthians? Though heresies never stand the test of time, they have an interesting way of repeating themselves under the guise of a different title. For example, Athanasius defeated Arius at the Council of Nicea in 325AD. Arianism, the belief that Jesus was not co-equal with the Father and simply a created being, was dealt its final deathblow. However, modern day Arianism is still alive and kicking in the Kingdom Hall where reside Jehovah Witnesses.

With that in mind, I'd like to briefly identify the top four heresies which I believe are plaguing the modern evangelical church. The first is "Easy-Believism." The gospel in today's church is nothing more than "inviting Jesus into your heart." Personally appropriating the gospel becomes nothing more than a decision, a raised hand, an isle walked or a signature. This gospel is insufficient and therefore inadequate. It's trite and greatly deceiving by alluring thousands of lost souls into a false sense of security. What hope of salvation can anyone have without spiritual fruit and remorse over sin?

The second heresy in the evangelical church today is "Tolerance." Tolerance is not a heresy per say, but it is the permissive belief that personal offense takes precedence over sound doctrine. How many churches have ignored truth for the sake of unity, biblical marriage unions for the sake of diversity, church discipline for the sake of forgiveness, gender roles, both in the church and home, for the sake of liberation and the Gospel for the sake of acceptance. Al Mohler once said, "These days, it is considered intolerant and unloving to tell someone that without Jesus Christ, he will spend eternity in hell. To claim that Jesus Christ is the only Savior is to preach intolerance and imperialism." Today's heresy becomes tomorrow's orthodoxy. It's been said that tolerance is the last virtue of a society on the edge of moral decay.

The third is heresy is "Universalism." Universalism is kissing cousins with tolerance. A Universalist would say, "Who are we to say that those who reject Christ will spend an eternal punishment in hell? That just doesn't seem fair!" Actually it becomes a scandalous claim in postmodern America! Afterall, Christ's death covered the sins of all men. All will be saved, or at least they will be given a second chance to repent after death. The pluralist would chime in and say that Christ is only one road in the plethora of paths that lead to God. Any of the world religions are acceptable. Furthermore, any faith is acceptable so long as it is expressed with sincerity.

Finally, there's Syncretism. Syncretism is the process by which elements of one religion are assimilated into another religion resulting in a change in the fundamental tenets or nature of those religions. Many "Christians" are not Christians, but rather a conglomeration of multiple beliefs not founded in the pages of Scripture. They prepare the stew of their life with a dash of eastern orthodoxy, a pinch of Zen Buddhism, a teaspoon of the pagan nature religions and a cup of worldly philosophy. Generally, if you press people, their theology is nothing more than a combination of personal beliefs tied with the latest Hollywood releases. Don't laugh; syncretism may be closer to home than you think.

Recently, the following registration was sent to my house from the Catholic Cenacle. "Five days of Za-Zen sitting and walks of nonverbal prayer. Two conferences daily integrate the Zen experience with Christian tradition and Scripture. Silence is expected during free time as well as meals to maintain a quiet atmosphere. A Zen stool or cushion is recommended. The instructor is billed as "both a Catholic priest and a Zen master."

The Application

Now that we have identified the situation and the nature of these heresies, how may we apply John's instruction to our day and age? This is the third and final sub-point, application. We need to understand five things. First of all, recognize that not all people are false teachers. It is not only the responsibility of the elders but everybody to detect spiritual error. Though denying the incarnation, as mentioned by John, is a heresy of a false teacher, other heresies would equally find application in this category. Yet, many have jumped to conclusions by labeling anyone with a different opinion as a false teacher. John is not speaking of preferential issues or accepted differences of doctrine in areas such as eschatology and church government, but rather willful instruction, which counters the apostolic gospel. Anything else goes beyond the presented context of 2 John. Also remember that individuals in error are not necessarily false teachers themselves.

Second, recognize the difference between a house and a church. Remember, John was addressing the church! Let's use the modern day example of a Jehovah Witness. To invite a JW into the church and allow them to share their erroneous ways from this pulpit or informally amongst the congregation would be a violation of John's principle. Likewise, to encourage them in their ways or offer any material support to propagate their heresy would be a violation of John's principle. On the contrary, to invite a JW into my home for the purposes of presenting the true gospel, with no effort to condone or support their ministry, would according to John's principle be acceptable. Respected British scholar FF Bruce said it best, "It does not mean to say that a Jehovah Witness should not be invited into the house for a cup of tea in order to be shown the way of God more perfectly in the sitting-room than would be convenient on the doorstep." However, though this principle is permitted, for many reasons I would approach it with a great degree of caution.

Third, use caution with those whom you support. Realize it or not, you are an accomplice with those whom you choose partnership, either for truth or error. Fulfill your responsibility to aid true ministers of the gospel (Gal. 6:6). Avoid any support to those who propagate heresy. Research their doctrine before you send the check!

Fourth, recognize what's at stake. False teachers have the ability with their heretical doctrine to mislead many down the wide path of destruction. Even true believers are warned in verse 8 to be watchful since their final reward may be affected. John is not speaking of salvation. Salvation is a gift wholly of God's grace, but rather the rewards for faithful service and obedience at the final Bema Seat judgment. The image is drawn from employment. John doesn't want to see his fellow laborers in the 'Lord's vineyard' receive less than a full day's pay.

Fifth, recognize how to balance God's commands. At times we are told to be angry without sin, but anger is often described as a sin. At times being provoked is acceptable, but Paul said love is not provoked. At times Paul was jealous, but again, love is not jealous. In the Scriptures hospitality is greatly encouraged by God's children. Even in 3 John, the apostle offers commendation for the hospitality shown to traveling preachers. But in 2 John we are told to deny hospitality to certain traveling preachers. These situations call for wisdom birthed in prayer and a keen understanding of God's Word. Simply put, we must remember John's admonition that love is always couched in truth. Following John's directives in rejecting these false teachers would be the supreme act of love for God's expectations and for the false teachers themselves. Love can never be divorced from glorifying God and obeying His commandments.

John reaching the end of his papyrus sheet concludes the letter by saying, "Having many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that your joy may be made full. The children of your chosen sister greet you (2 Jn. 12-13). I also have many more things to say myself regarding this wonderful epistle, however my time has likewise come to an end.

Bow your heads for a time of personal meditation. Are you walking in the light? Are you joyously obeying God's commands? Are you able to discern truth from error? Are you committed to apostolic doctrine? Do you love God and others by putting them first? Do you know what it means to have a relationship with the Son? Or are you like me 33 years ago being dragged around on your back, following the Evil One, feeding on the lust of your flesh and delighting in the treasures of this world. What a life of bondage. Fortunately the car stopped for me. Will you put your foot down now before you find yourself skinned alive? Oh how numbing a sinful lifestyle can be. Unbeliever, as bloody as you are, turn to Christ. He shed His blood for sinners. Believer, have you been secretly living a lie? Turn to Christ, He is waiting with open arms to forgive, heal and restore. May we concur with John, only in Jesus will our joy be complete.

other sermons in this series

Jan 14


Fatherly Advice - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 John 1:1 Series: 2 John