September 14, 2004

Contending For The Truth

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

Transcript

Contending For The Truth

2 John 1-13
September 14, 2004  •  Jersey Shore Pastor's Fellowship
Pastor Randy Smith



As you are well aware, the church of Jesus Christ is under severe attack. Forces are striking from the outside, seeking to undermine our existence. Some, even from among ourselves (Ac. 20:30) have infiltrated our ranks internally with false teaching and divisive personalities. But throughout the ages, God has combated these flaming arrows from the Evil One with men empowered by the Holy Spirit, passionate to guard the flock (Ac. 20:28) and the deposit of truth entrusted to them by the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14).

The Apostle John was one of these men. Near the end of his life his concern for the welfare of the church led him to compose three short epistles. He wrote these letters out of a heart desirous to see God's sheep built up in apostolic doctrine whereby they may fend off the vicious wolves that sought to undermine their spiritual progress. His strategy was simple - present truth to confront error.

The great Apostle referred to himself simply and humbly as "the elder" in verse 1. He was a spiritual father to these churches, commonly identifying the people as his spiritual children (18 times in these three epistles alone). He had "no greater joy than…to hear of (his) children walking in the truth" (3 Jn. 4).

Men, I know you, like the Apostle John, have a great heart for the purity of the church. You have been called at this time for this purpose. Your assignment is eternally significant. You must be vigilant. You must be courageous. And you must rest on the truth, the sufficiency of God's Word for guidance.

Briefly this morning, I'd like to glean three principles from the letter of Second John that I trust will both assist and encourage you in your passion to jealously protect the bride of Christ from error. We must prioritize the truth, know the truth and defend the truth.

1. PRIORITIZE THE TRUTH

First of all, we must prioritize the truth. In verse one, John addresses the "chosen lady and her children" whom I believe are metaphors for the church and her congregation. He refers to them as those "whom I love in truth." Besides the warm greeting, John initially prioritizes both truth and love. Interestingly, the words "love" and "truth" will occur 9 times in 13 verses indicating the theme of the letter.

Every Christian knows the priority of love. After all, love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8). But how many would affirm that love ceases to be Christian love when it is divorced from the truth? How many would go further and stake their lives on contending for the truth? Our postmodern society despises any concept of an absolute truth and many in the church either through fear or ignorance have bought into this destructive system.

Joel Belz of World Magazine said there is "a perverse assumption now…dominant among evangelicals that feelings, attitudes and relationships are all more important than truth. Unity is a higher priority than orthodoxy. Division, even for truth's sake, becomes the most offensive of heresies" (World Magazine, 12/19/97).

How can we ever expect to protect the church from error if we negotiate on biblical truth (Jn. 17:17)?

Men, we Christians are not permitted to be dispassionate about the truth! Here's why: In verse 2 John speaks of the truth "which abides in us and will be with us forever." To me, that sounds an awful like our Lord's promise in the Upper Room concerning the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17). Incidentally, the Holy Spirit is also known as the "Spirit of Truth" (Jn. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). God the Father is identified as "full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14). Even Jesus identified Himself as "the truth" (Jn. 14:6). We could say Jesus Christ, "the Truth," abides in us through the Spirit of truth enabling us to be forever indwelt with the truth so we can worship the Father "in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:23, 24). Truth should permeate our Christian lives because of our union with the Triune God.

John Piper concludes, "Our concern with truth is an inevitable expression of our concern with God. If God exists, then He is the measure of all things, and what He thinks about things is the measure of what we should think. Not to care about truth is not to care about God. To love God passionately is to love truth passionately."

As leaders of God's people, we must not compromise truth for the sake of larger churches, popularity or even peace. We must proclaim the true Gospel as it originated with Jesus Christ and was delivered through the Apostles. We must reject the popular notions of "easy-believism" and "decisional regeneration" and recover the Gospel essentials of repentance and holiness and lordship and self-examination. We must boast in the cross, whereby we glorify God for the substitionary work of Christ. We must be men faithful to "preach the Word" (2 Tim. 4:2), which includes the "whole purpose of God" (Ac. 20:27). God wants men who according to the Puritan Richard Baxter preach "as a dying man to dying men." Men, as A. W. Tozer said, "made of the stuff of which prophets and martyrs are made."

It takes a bold man who prioritizes the truth to lead God's people in the 21st century. Our people today are inundated with mysticism, legalism, pluralism, inclusivism, universalism and syncretism. I ask you, who will help shepherd them through this maze of deception?

By way of example, the following invitation was sent to our home. "Five days of Za-Zen sitting and walks of nonverbal prayer. Two conferences daily integrate the Zen experience with Christian tradition and Scripture."

In verse 4 John said, "I was very glad (lit- "rejoiced exceedingly") to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father." When we prioritize the truth and agonize to faithfully articulate the truth, we too will find great joy to see God's precious children entrusted to our care walking according to the truth. The hireling comes to steal, kill and destroy (Jn. 10:10), but the good shepherd in the pursuit of his joy and God's glory will risk his life to protect the sheep from error. That's the heart of a pastor after God's own heart. Men, what brings you great joy? Is it increased attendance or a new building or popularity or is it shepherding a flock committed to growing in Christlikeness? Mature disciples committed to learning, applying and propagating the truth.

2. KNOW THE TRUTH

The second point is the flipside of the first point. We must prioritize the truth and we must also know the truth. The two go together. In other words, many know the truth, but they don't prioritize it. And many prioritize a content of material, but it's unfortunately not the truth.

We must remember the setting of 2 John. As far as knowing the truth, these churches were at a disadvantage. The church still met in houses (1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 2). They were various small groups with little organization. The canon was incomplete. Each church had at best their Greek Old Testament and a few New Testament letters. Many of the essential doctrines of the church were yet to be formulated. So how were these relatively defenseless communities able to confront error when they knew so little of the truth?

Well, John in this letter is going to provide some key essentials.

First of all in verse 5 and 6, John spells out the priority of love. "And now I ask you, lady, not as writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it."

Love, as you know, is the supreme of all Christian virtues (1 Cor. 13:13). It is the fulfillment of our Lord's two greatest commandments (Mt. 22:37-39). Apart from love both horizontally to others and vertically to God, we have no business even calling ourselves a Christian (1 Jn. 4:7). Without love we are nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).

Though everyone on the street defines love differently today, God defines it as walking according to His commandments. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (Jn. 14:15; cf. 14:21). John made a similar point in verse 6. "And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments."

You see, we show our love for God by a desire to emulate His holy character and do what He says. And in obeying God, we also demonstrate a love for others. For example, if we could rid ourselves of selfishness, don't you think there would be fewer divorces, fewer abortions and fewer church splits? Love therefore is a dominant indicator of those who belong to the truth. Love is always coupled with truth.

A second doctrinal truth given to the church is found in verse 7. "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist."

Though false teachers today often deny the deity of Jesus Christ, the false teachers back then denied the humanity of Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 2:22; 4:1, 15). One popular heresy back then was Docetism which comes from the Greek word dokeo, meaning "to think or seem." Many of these false teachers believed Jesus was only a spirit-being who only "seemed" to have taken on flesh. Again, this is another mark for the church to identify the truth and reject the error.

Finally in verse 9, John says, "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."

I believe a major problem in the church today is to eliminate truth. Laziness and a feelings-orientated mentality, have contributed to shallow theology. Eccumentalism and pluralism have contributed to doctrinal compromise.

But it appears the problem in the early church went in the opposite direction once again. Fueled by a desire for knowledge inherent to Gnosticism, these false teachers, according to John, went "too far." 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 remarked, "To 'advance' beyond is not progress, but apostasy; not enlightenment, but darkness." Adding to the truth "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) is equally as damning as taking away from it.

Is knowing the truth important? Do we have any right to pick and choose what we wish to believe and still call ourselves a Christian? Absolutely not! To abide in Christ we must abide in an objective and specific body of truth. Something John calls "the teaching." He concludes verse 9 by saying, "The one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son."

3. DEFEND THE TRUTH

We must prioritize the truth, know the truth and finally, defend the truth.

Verses 10-11, "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; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."

In verse 7 John identifies the false teachers as having "gone out into the world." In the Great Commission (using similar terminology), Jesus sends His children out into the world to speak His truth (Jn. 20:21). On the contrary as seen here, Satan, the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), has commissioned his emissaries to propagate falsehood. As John indicates, they have "gone out into the world" too. Christ sends His servants to build His church. Satan sends His servants to destroy the church.

The Roman roads would make it easy for these heretics to bring their false teaching to the scattered house churches. In 3rd John we hear of the Apostle encouraging the hospitality shown to true traveling teachers (3 Jn. 5-8). But here in second John, the Apostle warns the church about being hospitable to false teachers. You see, when someone knocked on the door, the church was supposed to discern truth from error. They were to support the true teachers and shun the false teachers. Refusing to give the false teachers a platform would protect the church and eventually put them out of business. They were not to give God's people to someone bent on destroying their faith!

A few years ago I read an article in Voice of the Martyrs about a large midwestern church that invited a Muslim to speak in their pulpit, who I understand had the audacity to say, "We love Jesus more than you Christians." It was the same church that had, then President, Bill Clinton speak at their leadership conference. The article written by Bill White then went on by way of contrast to present the dilemma faced by Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand. It spoke of his bold stance in communist Europe when leaders were trying to mesh Communism and Christianity. At the conference his wife, Sabrina, said, "They are shaming the face of Jesus." His comment, "If I say anything you may not have a husband." Her response, "I'd rather not have a husband, than be married to a wimp." Wurmbrand spoke up and just the title of his book "Tortured for Christ" explains the rest of the story. (Story quoted from memory, as I could not recover the source.)

There is no neutrality. Either we actively defend the truth or we do nothing and unwittingly (verse 11) "participate (koinoneo) in (their) evil deeds." We must "contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3) doing all things to promote the church "which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). Augustine once said, "One never errs more safely than when one errs by too much loving the truth." Trust me, God will never accuse you of loving the truth too much when He calls you to account (Heb. 13:17).

The church is being attacked on every front. It's not easy to be a pastor today. But by God's grace, God will empower us through the Holy Spirit to fulfill our calling. A calling as His faithful servants to prioritize the truth, know the truth and defend the truth. May God bless you in this endeavor and may you take great joy to see His church walking according to the truth (2 Jn. 4; 3 Jn. 4).


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