Guilt or Innocence by Association
2 John 1:1-13 The Elder: To the elect lady and her children: I love all of you in the truth-- and not only I, but also all who have come to know the truth-- 2 because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever. 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in the truth, in keeping with a command we have received from the Father. 5 So now I urge you, dear lady-- not as if I were writing you a new command, but one we have had from the beginning-- that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk according to His commands. This is the command as you have heard it from the beginning: you must walk in love. 7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves so you don't lose what we have worked for, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who does not remain in Christ's teaching but goes beyond it, does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don't say, "Welcome," to him; 11 for the one who says, "Welcome," to him shares in his evil works. 12 Though I have many things to write to you, I don't want to do so with paper and ink. Instead, I hope to be with you and talk face to face so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your elect sister send you greetings.
There’s a 7-Eleven up here on the corner. It’s literally a convenience store. I happen to stop there often out of convenience. And it’s really a land of guilty pleasures. Chocolate bars, donuts, candies of all varieties, ice cream tubs, frozen pizzas, fried chicken, slurpees, and the list goes on. As I thought about it, I don’t think there’s really any healthy options at 7-Eleven. Maybe a fruit cup, maybe? It’s not surprising though, 7- Eleven has its niche and it’s not the same as Whole Foods. They are who they are, and they don’t hide it. But, here’s the point. When I go to 7-Eleven, I always feel a certain amount of guilt. I know that what I’m getting there is not very healthy for me. I know I probably shouldn’t walk in the door. But, it’s convenient and in the end, with moderation, it’s probably not going to kill me.
7-Eleven works, even though everyone knows they don’t sell the best stuff. Even though healthier alternatives exist, and probably more cost-effective alternatives, 7-Eleven works because we have the freedom to choose. We have the right to choose options that aren’t the best for our bodies, even though we know inside that it’s not healthy for us. But what does it mean to our freedom when someone tells us that? What happens if someone warns us that we probably shouldn’t indulge in that “Super Gulp”, that 64 oz. slurpee, or the hot dogs that have been shimmering under the heat lamps all day? Well, even though they have that right warn us, it doesn’t change our freedom. And, in terms of stuff and 7-Eleven, what others say really isn’t a big deal. Yet, at the end of the day, even in a simple example like 7-Eleven, there is still truth to every situation. Freedom does not change the truth even though the truth doesn’t always mean we must change our freedom.
The line between truth and freedom gets more difficult when things involve our souls and not just our bodies. What happens when that warning voice comes from God? What does His truth mean for our freedom? Sometimes God gives us a broad command, like taking care of our bodies, and allows us the freedom to follow that command in our lives when it comes to applying that command – like whether or not to go to 7-Eleven. That’s why, though I may feel some guilt when I enter 7-Eleven, I don’t need to confess that guilt before God. That’s why I can warn myself and others that there are better options, but I can’t judge – because God hasn’t. The truth is obvious – options at 7-Eleven aren’t very healthy for me. No debating there. Yet, God does not judge so I can’t either.
But, what happens when life presents a situation where God does speak directly? What happens when God restricts my freedom? You see, the world wants to treat these areas the same as 7-Eleven. They want freedom to reign supreme – to change God’s truth.
Today, we see an example where God does judge. And as His followers, God wants us to stand firm in His Word and declare what He says – even at the cost of our own freedom and they way others think about us. This is important because, obviously, God says it is. He wants His children to provide a good witness to the world. But, it’s also important because association matters to God. He says that who we associate with affects our faith. God’s warning is not just given to those who directly engage in wickedness, but also to those who indirectly condone, support, or tolerate it.
Guilt by association is a familiar concept to us. Take this example, if a group of thieves are caught in the act, they are all equally guilty. It’s not just the guy who enters the bank and holds a gun to the teller. It’s also the lookout guy at the door, the getaway driver, the mastermind behind the operation, and even the one who financed it. They are all guilty of the robbery – some directly, some by association.
Likewise, John warns in this letter of guiltiness to false teaching by association. He writes, 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don't say, "Welcome," to him; 11 for the one who says, "Welcome," to him shares in his evil works. These are a couple of the hardest verses to understand in the entire New Testament. A Christian wonders, is it really a betrayal of Christ to say “Hi” to a false teacher? If someone doesn’t belong to my church, am I not allowed to have them over to my house?
The context of these verses is key. John was writing to people who expressed their support of a teacher by having him enter their home. It was a sign of agreement. Perhaps we might call it an expression of fellowship. It was an aspect of their culture. Think of Zacchaeus who invited Jesus into his home. Think of Mary and Martha who regularly hosted the Lord. These individuals were not just trying to be socially polite to Jesus, they were expressing their desire to learn from Him. They agreed with what He stood for, and rightfully so. These were not just casual encounters with no religious significance, which are far more common in our culture. John speaks to this cultural tradition in his letter. If a teacher is preaching falsely, do not show support of His teaching – even indirectly. The parable of the Good Samaritan speaks to the opposite extreme. Certainly, if you see someone in need, help them, even if they’re your enemy. But, that is much different than welcoming someone in your home to teach you and doing a public at that supports the teacher. The language here also specifies something much more than a mere social encounter. Literally, the text says, don’t “rejoice” with one who brings a teaching that is contrary to Christ. This is more than a simple greeting on the street.
John says this is dangerous because there is guilt by association. “He who greets (rejoices with) him shares in his evil works.” Here’s an example where God draws a hard line for us. He’s telling us that this situation is unhealthy for our souls and therefore we should avoid it. Freedom is restricted, the truth is clear. The mere association with evil, even if we think we can control it, is dangerous for our faith and can be a disastrous witness to others.
What we have to ask ourselves is what the modern equivalent to inviting a teacher into our home is.
-Tolerance and even celebration of sin and false teaching; not just accepting its reality but embracing and supporting it.
-Turning a blind eye to sins in our lives or in the lives of those whom God has entrusted to us.
-Providing financial assistance to churches or institutions that promote false teaching. Having the mindset of, “my church is okay so it doesn’t matter what the synod is doing.”
-Choosing a church because of their programs, or because your friends are there, or because of location, or because you were married or baptized there. The number one priority that John stresses is the teaching – both what you receive directly and that which you support.
-Choosing a church because the pastor really speaks to me; using that to overlook things you know to be false.
Consider some of the things Jesus said that reinforce the warning:
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Matthew 18:7 "Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (sometimes we think, people can believe what they want, it’s their right. I shouldn’t speak against that. I should respect that. Plus, what can I change, this is their life, there will always be differences? Jesus said similarly, there will always be offenses in the world – things contrary to God and objectionable to faith. Yet, He also warned believers that we should not be part of these offenses. Reality is one thing. What you associate with is another. God wants His followers to speak for Him – to be part of the solution and not to give in just because there will always be sin and unbelief. If we think that way, like Jesus said, Woe to us!)
Mark 3:25 “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Matthew 10:32-33 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
These are all direct quotes from Jesus. There are plenty of other passages that speak to the same thing. When God is direct, He expects us to be direct too. Sometimes we’re duped by the world into thinking that if someone has the right to do something, we need to support that right. Yet, even personal right can become a self-idol. God makes is clear that when that right conflicts with His Word, we are not even to give them impression that we support it. Our highest loyalty ought to be to God – especially when the given right is not a matter of opinion but an area where He has spoken. Sometimes truth doesn’t affect freedom. But, God’s truth does.
Association is clearly important to God. Obviously, first as a defensive measure – He warns us about guilt by association. That is common. But, here’s where the grace of God takes over. The greater importance here is that with God there is also innocence by association. Logically, this makes no sense. A lawless person does not get off the hook by simply being associated with good people. God is strict too, He says we must be holy ourselves. But, Christ has the power to apply His holiness to us. His atonement gives that blessing by associating us with Him. John says, The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. A believer is not holy of themselves. They are simply associated with God through His Son, and by the teaching of the Son.
Jesus put it another way, which is very parallel to our text and which was also recorded by John: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Home means acceptance and support, just as we see in our text. We don’t want to make a home with those who oppose Christ. Yet, we can’t make a home with God on our own, either. Without a Savior we are God’s enemy! Jesus promises that His Word, the true teaching, has the power to bring God to us and the Holy Spirit will establish the home of faith. God will create a dwelling place of safety where we can support and defend His truth – both for the protection and growth of faith and for the proper witness to others. That home of faith is built on truth and love as John also declared in verse 3: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Heed this message. It’s not only the protection for your soul – but the very life of faith for your soul. God’s truth can feel complicated and outdated, but it’s just as important today as it was back then.
Freedom abounds in so many areas of life. Sometimes, we can give our warning and leave it at that. Sometimes, you might be correct – but you don’t have the right to judge. But, there are other times when God is the one speaking. In those situations, we have the command to stand for the truth, not because it’s our opinion against someone else’s, but because it’s God’s divine Word. And not just because the world needs to hear it; but because it’s how we have life with Christ. Amen.