Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 20, Beware Of Deceivers

John concludes his second letter today, the one which is written "to the dear lady and to her children". This is believed by many scholars to be a reference to a church and its members. John reminds his readers that they are commanded to love one another, then he tells them to be on guard against those who want to deceive them.

"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." (2 John 1:5-6) This is the same thing John said to the recipients of his first letter. God has commanded us to love Him and to love our fellow man ever since the beginning. If we love God, we will naturally want to obey Him, and that obedience includes loving others.

We live in a fallen world that tries to tell us our attitude should be, "Every man for himself." But this is in opposition to the holy word of God. The Lord didn't command us to do something He wasn't willing to do Himself, for if Christ had had the attitude, "Every man for himself," He would not have unselfishly come to this dark and sinful world to offer Himself in our place as payment for our sins. John knows that believers are confronted every day with the temptation to look out only for themselves, and that temptation can be especially strong when false teachers twist the word of God in order to make their message appeal to our worldly tendencies. This is why John keeps repeating the message of love, so that we will test every teaching and every temptation by these questions: "Through my actions, am I loving my neighbor as myself? Am I treating others the way I want to be treated?" John tells us his readers that his purpose in constantly reminding them to love one another is because there are those who seek to deceive them. "I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world." (2 John 1:7a)

If a teacher claims to believe in Christ, yet denies that He actually came to earth in a human body, he is a false teacher. John was trying to combat Gnosticism and the teachings of various other cults and sects whose members claimed to believe Jesus was the Christ, yet at the same time they declared that His bodily form was an illusion. They didn't think God would literally die for human beings, so they rejected the idea that Christ actually took on human flesh. They taught that He only appeared in human form so that human beings could see Him and interact with Him, but they would not accept that the Lord suffered and died in the flesh. One who does not accept that Christ came into the world as a human, and that He suffered and died as a human, and that He rose from the dead in a human body that is now immortal, cannot legitimately be called a Christian at all. To deny these things is to deny the very message of the gospel, therefore John says, "Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist." (2 John 1:7a) He said something similar in his first letter, warning his readers that the "spirit of antichrist" was already in the world. We know that there will be an actual person someday who will be known as the Antichrist, but the spirit of deception that will inhabit him is already in the world trying to deceive as many people as possible.

"Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully." (2 John 1:8) Rewards will be given to believers according to what they have accomplished for the kingdom of God. John isn't telling the believers that they are in danger of losing their salvation, but that it is possible to miss out on rewards. The Apostle Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15) Paul was talking about those who were saved "by the skin of their teeth", so to speak. They had truly accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, but then they did nothing to lead others to Him. It's not that they were wallowing in sin, but that they were content only to know that their names were in the book of life, and that they had no desire to do anything to ensure that the names of others were in the book of life. They were not living in accordance with the Lord's commandment to love others, for if we love others, we are going to want them to know the Lord. We are going to want to tell them what He has done for us and to tell them that He loves them more than He loved His own life. John doesn't want his readers to miss out on any of the joys of heaven, so he warns them not to let their guard down and let false doctrine in. False doctrine will always have an element of selfishness to it. It will appeal to our carnal natures instead of to our spiritual natures.

We aren't to put up with false teaching. John says not to even let false teachers in the door. "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. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work." (2 John 1:9-11) John isn't telling us to be deliberately rude to people, but there's nothing to be gained by allowing a false teacher to even begin sharing his or her message. It's best to cut false messages off before they even get started. Some of us were raised to feel intensely uncomfortable with the idea of being impolite. I'm from a southern state where it's very common to wave at anyone you pass on a two-lane road or to nod and smile at strangers in the grocery store. I was raised to maintain an attitude of courtesy at all times, but this doesn't mean we are to allow people to sit in our living rooms or in our church sanctuaries and fill our minds with the poison of false doctrine. John's not telling us to rudely yell, "Go peddle that nonsense somewhere else!" But he's giving us permission to say, "I'm sorry, I don't share your beliefs. I won't disrespect my Lord by listening to them."

John has further instructions for the church, but he'd rather visit with the members in person. We spoke yesterday about his need for writing "in code" by not naming himself or any of the recipients of this letter. There was a great deal of prejudice in the Roman Empire against Christians, and although the current emperor (Domitian) was not cruel toward them in the manner of Nero, a person could be banished permanently to a penal colony for proclaiming the name of Christ. One reason for not saying more in this letter could be because John doesn't want anyone caught with the letter to suffer penalties for possessing it. Another reason is that he longs to see these believers in person. He wants to hear all about what the Lord is doing for them and for their community. He wants to rejoice with them about their mutual salvation. "I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete." (2 John 1:12)

Writing "in code" again, John sends greetings from the members of the church at his current location. "The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings." (2 John 1:13) John has veiled the wording of his letter in such a way that, if a finder of the letter doesn't delve deeply into it, it looks like a personal message and not like a religious message. A finder of it might only take a quick glance at it and not realize it contains things that the emperor would consider "blasphemy" against his own gods. John lets the church members know that he hopes to visit them in person soon, and then they will be able to talk about all the things that it isn't safe to discuss in a letter.

Tomorrow we will move on to John's third letter. After we've finished our look at his third letter, we will do a comprehensive, step-by-step study of the book of Revelation.

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