A Modern Message with Eternal Value
1) Be aware of deceivers
2) Abide/Walk in the doctrine of Christ
2 John 1:6-11 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
This letter came at a time when God’s Church was very fragile. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ were fresh in peoples’ minds. The Church was a growing Church but it was also small compared to other religions and it was new for many people. It very easily could have been snuffed out like a tiny flame, and there were certainly many present who would have loved to see that happen.
We know of Christians at this time who were imprisoned for their faith. Others who were exiled or killed, plenty were just downright mistreated. Families were broken apart, sometimes even at their own doing. Parents betrayed children. Friends turned on others. It was a difficult time. It was a painful time. But of all the things to zero in on, John chooses to write to these Christians about the spiritual pitfalls ahead of them. It may seem strange that he focuses so much on the idea of doctrine and not all of the other hardships they facing. But, John knew that the things of this world come and go. The true hope that the Christian has is found in Jesus, and He offers a gift that far surpasses any danger of bodily harm.
Part 2: Be aware of deceivers
Part 2: Be aware of deceivers
John is focused on the only thing that can take that hope away, abandonment by the individual Christian. The spiritual dangers that Christians face are indeed much more dangerous than the physical ones. Yet, we hardly ever treat them that way. John’s message is directed to modern Christians. His words may have been written thousands of years ago, but the world remains very much the same. His message has an impact on us just as much as it did on the original hearers. Partly because our dangers remain the same. But, more importantly because it has eternal value for all people.
Although the Church seemed fragile at this point in history, John’s message is really one of courage. He wants his fellow believers to stand firm in their faith and not compromise in the least. John speaks with strong language, using some terms that would be sure to offend people in the modern age. When speaking about false teachers, John instructs the Christians not even to greet them or to let them in their homes. John isn’t advocating for a theology of unkindness, rather he’s showing just how easily the danger of error can enter the Christian’s life.
In that culture, to invite someone into your home, especially a teacher, was a sign of respect and desire to learn. John isn’t talking about a simple dinner invitation; his example is tantamount to enrolling in a class. In that setting, John tells the Christians to stay away from false teaching. If you know that something is in conflict with God’s Word, don’t support it. That may be an ancient world example, but it’s a modern day truth. Christians today need to recognize the importance of these words more than any other Christian generation. The reason is because we are often numb to the danger. Not only are differences between churches disregarded, we’re even encouraged the look past the differences of false religions.
Now it’s easy to take the stance that John does in our confession. Our church is one which does that very thing. We talk a big game if you will, in our confession of God’s truth and how important it is to be on the lookout for error. However, it’s an entirely different matter to follow through in action. It’s easy to hide behind our statements of faith instead of genuinely recognizing when the danger is in our lives. As Paul would write to the Corinthians, Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).
It’s very easy to fall prey to the thinking that makes you feel like you are invincible in your spiritual life. A common them among modern Christians is that “I don’t need church or the Bible, I know what I believe,” or “That one teaching isn’t all that important, I still have faith.” Sometimes, in isolated cases, those statements in and of themselves could be true. You certainly don’t have to go to church in order to be a believer. And, yes, ultimately faith in Jesus is the most important teaching of all and the only necessary requirement for heaven.
But all too often these attitudes are used as excuses, and often by those who are weak in their faith as an option out of doing what God wants them to do. All the teachings of God’s Word are meant to work effectively in the hearts of believers and influence the way they think and act. God’s truth is not to be relegated to some cheap excuse to act or believe whatever one wants. Here we see that John’s words point directly at the modern Christian.
We can certainly be thankful that we don’t suffer the types of persecutions that the early Christians did. From an outward perspective, global Christianity is much healthier and far-reaching today than it was at the beginning. Yet, outward peace doesn’t guarantee success in matters of faith. The early Christians were certainly pinned down in many ways, but never was there a time when Christians so boldly believed and defended their faith. That’s a positive by-product of hard times. It can lead to greater trust in God and a stronger faith. These first believers thrived in this sense. They were united in the truth and because of that their witness to the world was abundantly strong.
Our modern age boasts of great outward peace and freedom, but often there is much conflict in the hearts of believers. Wherever a lack of persecution and difficulty exists, there is a tendency for Christians to get complacent. Where complacency is given room to grow, attachment to Christ will suffer. Imagine what the early Christians would have given to listen to the clear word of God read every Sunday without having to hide from the authorities. Yet, today we have that very blessings and so many forsake and despise it. We’re right around that time of year when football stadiums are sold out on Sundays, while churches are dwindling.
John warns the Christians to be aware of deceivers because it’s easy to fall victim, a lot easier that we think. In fact, the danger doesn’t even have to come from a false teacher, it can arise in the individual heart if that person is not driven in some way to the word of God. Complacency is a natural reaction, it’s the virtues of dedication and establishing a habit around God’s Word that are hard to do. It’s not loving to our neighbor, or respectful of God, to ignore the truth of the Bible because the trends of our culture have changed from John’s time to the present. In the same way as the first generation of NT Christians, we too need to be aware of those who would deceive us.
We don’t do this just for the sake of doing it, or because of some competitive nature of pride in our church vs. other churches. John reminds us why abiding by the doctrine of Christ is so important, because it gives has eternal value. Ultimately, every part of God’s teaching affects our faith and salvation in some way. Sometimes it’s not really about the actual doctrine by name but instead about our attitude. For example, I could fall into error on the doctrine of angels but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have also rejected my Savior. It is entirely possible that someone could deny the existence of angelic beings and still believe that Jesus is the Savior from sin.
When such divisions arise between Christians, it’s often argued that the difference really isn’t that big of a deal because faith in Christ is still present. But, the key point here is that the danger isn’t always just with the actual teaching. It may be about a lot more and something much more serious than just the area of angels. Any division that goes unheeded, or is underestimated, can wreak havoc in attitudes and actions. Our lives as Christians are about much more than just confession of faith. If that confession has no bearing on our lives, what good is it?
A difference in a seemingly insignificant doctrine like the existence of angels can create animosity and hatred in the heart. It can lead us to treat our fellow Christians in an unloving way if they disagree with us. It can lead us to shut off communication with those who try to show us the truth. This happens a lot in the way that divisions affect personal relationships. Again, the actual argument may be over just one doctrine that is not binding on faith in Jesus, but it so often leads to hurt feelings and refusal to communicate and forgive. We remember here what Jesus warned about when it came to forgiveness. Upon concluding the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus said, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35).” It’s kind of interesting that the other major thing that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 18 was how we communicate with those who have wronged us. It’s sad that refusal to communicate and refusal to forgive often go hand in hand when it comes to divisions. An error may indeed seem to be about something insignificant, or in the least something that we wouldn’t expect to threaten our faith, but if it leads us to refuse to talk to others or if it leads us to refuse to forgive, it automatically becomes the most serious danger. As Paul once again echoes, “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall.”
The way that error can affect our attitudes is just one example why the true teaching remains so important for us today. We could list other reasons, such as the fact that God simply says His truth is important. Really, if we had nothing else on the matter, that alone should be good enough. If God says it, we should trust it. But what we see today is how quickly something that begins as a small thing can become much bigger than we imagine and much deadlier. Any error can affect the eternal value that Jesus put on us through His death and resurrection. We are people who have great worth, both to one another and to the eternal and almighty God. He loves you so much and considers you worth enough to lay down His own life for you. That’s pretty special and worth fighting for, just as the fragile early Church did.
The slope away from this eternal value is shorter, steeper, and closer than we think. We live in a modern age that doubts the truth of God’s Word. It’s easy to buy into these arguments, or in the very least, let them affect the way we practice our faith. We keep coming to church, we remain members, but we stop pursuing the truth. We begin to let a few teachings slide. First, in our hearts, then in what we say to others, and before you know it we begin to stray from time with our fellow members or the strength of the sacrament in the public assembly. Frustrations with other Christians build, either because of some sin or other offense, or because we no longer believe something they do. We ignore the difference at first, we shut off that communication that Jesus pleads us to practice in Matthew 18. We let it build and divide us in our heart, until it manifests itself in public. Where hard feelings exist combined with an unwillingness to work on the issue, there will quickly follow a refusal to forgive. Refusing to forgive others is really the most despicable action a Christian can do. It really verifies that the danger that started so small has become so big, because it allows us to hide under the shadow of Christ’s forgiveness of our wrongs, while refusing to offer the same shelter to others. We boast of the value that Christ put on our life, but act like that doesn’t apply to someone else.
What gives us the right? Tell me what we did to earn Christ’s love and favor. What did we do to prove we deserved to be forgiven? Absolutely nothing, yet Christ didn’t hesitate to forgive us.
Take heed of this message. Take heed of how easily one error can become something more than you can control. But, also take heed of your Savior. No matter what kind of sin you may be involved in. No matter how indifferent you may have been about the danger at the door of your heart. No matter how big of a grudge you may have or have had, your life always has eternal value in Jesus Christ. There is no sin that is greater than forgiveness in Jesus. That’s comfort for you and comfort you can share with others. That’s why He implores you to live in Him and not in the ways of the world.
Doctrine is one of those words that people don’t like to hear nowadays. Doctrine sounds to stodgy, too old school, not relevant enough.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.