Living Together in Christian Love
Little Books with a Big Message Living Together in Christian Love 2 John Pastor Pat Damiani August 5, 2018 We live in a rapidly changing world in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We have now taken those things which the Bible defines as sin and not only tolerate them, but actually celebrate them in our culture. And not only have we lost our moral compass, we see an increasing trend toward a loss of religious freedoms and governmental compulsion to adhere to unbiblical views. In many places around the world, and even here in the United States, those who espouse biblical views are often called bigoted and hateful and, in some cases, have even been prosecuted for “hate speech”. So, I suppose it’s only natural for us to long for the “good old days”. But even the good old days weren’t free from difficulties. I think many of us here would be surprised to learn that even in the very early days of the church, they faced many of the same problems we face today. And this morning, we’re going to look at a short letter that addressed how we are to live in the face of those kinds of attacks on our faith. This morning, as we continue our sermon series on “Little Books with a Big Message”, we will look at the shortest book in the Bible. And next week, we’ll look at the second shortest book. Both of these letters would have been written on a single piece of papyrus and delivered to the addressee by a trusted person who was going in that direction. So go ahead and take out your Bibles and turn to the book of 2 John, which, not surprisingly is found right after the book of 1 John. If you get to Jude or Revelation, you’ve gone a little too far. [Read 2 John 1-13] You’ll notice here that the author refers to himself merely as “the elder”. That word has several possible meanings in the underlying Greek. It can refer merely to a person who is older in age. It is also used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe a leader in the early church. Were that all we had to go on, it might be difficult to determine who wrote the letter, but a quick comparison with the Gospel of John and the other letters we call 1 John and 3 John clearly point to John the apostle as the author of the letter. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, John was likely the youngest of the apostles. He never identifies himself by name in his gospel account or his letters. In his gospel account, he refers to himself merely as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. He lived the longest of any of the apostles and was the only one who died of natural causes. This letter was likely written near the end of his life, probably toward the end of the first century AD. The letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children”. There has been a lot of speculation and debate about the identity of the addressee and since you will likely run into some of that commentary in your own studies I’m going to speak to it briefly, although, as we’ll see, it’s not really all that important in applying the message of the letter. There are three main possibilities here: 1) The letter could be addressed to some unnamed woman that John knew and had been in communication with and her children. Given that this was a time of great persecution of the church, it would make sense that neither the author nor the recipient of the letter were identified by name in case the letter ever came into the hands of those who opposed the church. 2) It is possible that the phrase “elect lady” was actually the name of a specific woman. Since the Greek of the day did not employ capitalization, it is possible the letter was addressed to a woman named Eklekte Kyria. 3) The phrase “elect lady” is code for a specific local church and “her children” were members of that church. I personally think this is the most likely case, especially given that most of the pronouns and verbs in the body of the letter are plural. For those of you who aren’t grammar experts, that just means that every time you see the word “you”, just substitute “y’all” and every time you see the word “your” you can substitute “yall’s”. But there are a lot of people way smarter than I am who think differently so I can’t be dogmatic here. Regardless of which explanation is correct, I am confident in saying that the main message is found right in the middle of the letter in verses 6 and 7. In verse 6, John exhorts his audience to love one another by walking according to the commandments. And then in verse 7, he tells them why they need to do that – because there are many deceivers who have gone out into the world. So John is really addressing the very same issue that we face today, nearly 2,000 years later – how are we to live so that we are not influenced by these deceivers in a way that we are pulled away from God and, as John writes about in verse 8, lose the rewards that we have worked for. Before we go any further, I think it’s important to understand what John is not saying in that verse. First of all, He is not referring in any way to our salvation. It is clear from all his other writings that he does not view salvation as something that any man can earn, but rather as a gift from God. So therefore it is not something that a genuine disciple of Jesus can lose. What he is referring to here are the rewards that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 5. There we learn that every believer will one day stand before God to be judged – not for the purpose of determining our eternal destiny, but rather to be rewarded for the good that we have done here on earth. That is completely different from what is known as the Great White Throne judgment where those who have never put their faith in Jesus will be judged for their sins and thrown into the lake of fire. If you have put your faith in Jesus, you will never face that judgment because Jesus has already taken the punishment you deserve for you sins upon Himself on the cross. I hope I’ve made that really clear, but if you have any questions at all on that, please don’t hesitate to ask me about that, since that is such an important idea, even though it’s not really the main theme of the letter. Here’s how I would put that main idea: Life lived together in Christian love is the best protection against deception Today, we basically face the same problem that the church faced in John’s day. There were many deceivers who were in the world. And John is going to show us why living together in Christian love is our best protection against that. I’m sure that you probably noticed that John calls the one who deceives, the “antichrist”. That’s a term that most of us are probably familiar with, but we probably have some very different ideas about what the term actually means. Interestingly, John is the only one who uses that term in the Bible, although, as we’ll see in a moment, Paul writes about the same idea using different terms and he is also described in the Book of Revelation, also with different terms. When used with the definite article – “the antichrist”, like it is here, we usually think of it in terms of a specific individual who will appear at the end of the age right before Jesus returns. And John does use the word like that in 1 John: and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3 ESV) Here John writes about “the antichrist”, who is “coming” at the end of the age. But notice that he also says that the spirit of the antichrist is already present in the world. Paul confirms this same idea using different terms: Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. (2 Thessalonians 2:3–7 ESV) Here Paul calls “the antichrist” the “man of lawlessness” and he gives us some more details about what he will do when he comes on the scene. But notice that he writes that the “mystery of lawlessness is already at work”, which is essentially the same thing that John is saying. So both John and Paul reveal that there will be one “Antichrist” – with a capital “A” – at the end of this age, but that there are many with the spirit of antichrist – antichrists with a small “a” – who are already at work in the world right now. Not surprisingly, Jesus also spoke of these deceivers: Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:23–24 ESV) None of us here know how long it will be before the “Antichrist” comes on the scene. Jesus tells us that He doesn’t even know that. But until Jesus returns, there will always be a conflict between the disciples of Jesus and those with the spirit of antichrist that will only be ended when Jesus returns and gives eternal rest to His disciples and executes eternal judgment on the deceivers. In the meantime, therefore, we need to understand how we can be protected against that deception and fortunately John tells us what we need to know about that in his letter. HOW TO LIVE TOGETHER IN CHRISTIAN LOVE Before we get to the specifics of how to do that, let me first make some general observations. First, in order to live together in Christian love, we actually have to be together. The three principles we are going to take from this letter can be practiced individually, but in the context of this letter, these are practices that are to be carried out in community, not in isolation. We need to keep in mind these familiar words from the writer of the book of Hebrews: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV) Since each day we get one day closer to the appearance of the Antichrist and the return of Jesus, this is going to be increasingly important if we are going to be protected against deception. Second, Christian love is not merely an emotion. It is not some mushy feeling toward each other. As John frequently points out in his writings, love requires action. Finally, there is obviously a connection between love and truth. John uses the word “truth” five times in the first four verses of his letter and he uses the word “love” four times in the first six verses. So it’s not surprising that living together in Christian love is a matter of three things that we need to do as a community with “the truth”. 1. Know the truth (v. 2) The first thing that is apparent here is that there is such a thing as “the truth”. But, not surprisingly that is not a view shared by most Americans. In a 2016 survey by the Barna Group, 57 percent of the people surveyed agreed that “knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience”. And the news is even worse among Millennials where nearly three quarters of them agreed with the statement that “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know. But here in verse 2, John expresses his love for those who “know the truth”. By including the definite article there – the truth – John is saying that there is such a thing as absolute truth and that one of the keys to living together in Christian love is to know that truth. So how do we do that? Earlier this morning, we read from John 8 where Jesus talked about how the truth will set us free. And in that passage, Jesus gave some clear instructions about how to know the truth. Notice that Jesus also includes the definite article as He speaks about “the truth”. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV) According to Jesus, the way that we know the truth is to abide, or to remain, in His word. As Jesus prayed with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion, he reaffirmed this idea that “the truth” is found in God’s Word: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17 ESV) Most of us are probably familiar with John 14:6, where Jesus claimed to be the truth when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. So we can’t really separate the idea of knowing the truth from knowing the one who is truth - Jesus. That is one of the reasons that Jesus was constantly telling His disciples to follow Him rather than following a bunch of rules. So we see that the truth is much more than just an abstract idea – it is relational. So because the truth is relational at its core, knowing the truth requires us to spend time in God’s Word as a community. And as most of you have probably experienced personally, studying the Bible together with our brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the most effective protections against deception that we have. But just knowing the truth is not enough, we must take the next step and… 2. Live the truth (v. 4) We’re going to see John write something very similar to what we see in verse 4 when we get to 3 John next week. He rejoiced because at least some of the woman’s children, or more likely in my opinion, some of the people in the church were walking in the truth. The verb “to walk” is used frequently by the New Testament writers to indicate a lifestyle. That idea is furthered here by the fact that all three times John uses the verb “to walk” in verses 3-6, it is in the present tense, which indicates a continuing action. In other words, the people are embracing the truth by living their lives in a way that is consistent with the truth found in God’s Word. Again, that is something that all of us can do, at least to some extent, on our own. But we can all do that much more effectively when we are regularly gathering together with other disciples to encourage each other and to hold each other accountable. And just meeting together for an hour or so on Sunday morning, probably isn’t going to be enough for that to happen. 3. Protect the truth (vv. 7-11) The first step in protecting the truth is to identify the “many deceivers” in the world. And John gives us a very simple test here. Anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh is a deceiver. John wrote essentially the same thing in 1 John: 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. (1 John 4:2–3 ESV) It is interesting that John chose this particular test. But in his culture, that was the most common deception about the nature and work of Jesus that was being taught. John is almost certainly addressing a system of belief known as Gnosticism that was beginning to threaten the early church. One of the tenants of Gnosticism was that matter was inherently evil and spirit good. So they held that anything done in the body could not be good and therefore claimed that Jesus’ physical body was not real, but only appeared to be real. They taught that His spirit descended upon Him at His baptism, but left Him before His crucifixion. Not only did such teachings deny the humanity of Jesus, but they completely destroyed the idea of Jesus atoning for our sins by physically suffering and dying on the cross. So since that was the most common heresy of John’s day, he uses that a test to identify those who were deceiving people about Jesus. Today, that is only one of a number of heresies about Jesus that are widespread in our culture. So one of the reasons that it is important to know the truth is so that we can identify the deceivers in our world. And again, that is something that is much more effective when done in community rather than just on our own. That is why we are commanded to gather together in local churches that are overseen by a group of elders who can shepherd the flock and help protect them against these wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s so much easier for these antichrists to pick off an individual who is on his or her own than an entire flock. Then once the deceivers are identified, John instructs his readers not to participate in their wicked works in any way, not even by receiving them into their homes. In order for us to properly apply what John is saying here, we need to understand what hospitality looked like in the first century in the Middle East. The idea of inviting someone into your home or even greeting a person meant spending a long period of time with that person, usually over a meal or two, and in some cases even having them stay in your home overnight. So the idea here was that the people were not to give one of these deceivers an extended opportunity to peddle their deception. In today’s culture, that does not mean that we are not to treat these people with common courtesy or even that we couldn’t invite them in for a cup of coffee and discuss the Bible. But it does mean that we need to protect the truth by not participating in their deception in any way or even by giving them a platform to introduce their heresies. Life lived together Christian love Life lived together in in Christian love is the best protection against deception is the best protection against deception Life lived together in Christian love As we talked about at the beginning of isthe it is becoming themessage, best protection against increasingly deception difficult to live as a disciple of Jesus in this culture. And that is especially true if you try to do that on your own. But the good news is that we don’t have to face that culture alone. Jesus never intended for His disciples to be “Lone Ranger” Christians, so he has placed every one of us into a body we call the church, where we can be protected against that culture as we live together in Christian love. There are many of you here this morning who are already doing a great job of that. There are those of you who stay on Sunday mornings for our Bible Roundtable, where we have a time to discuss the message in more depth and talk about how to apply it in our daily lives. Others of you are part of our family group or our Children’s Bible Club or our student Bible study that meets during that time. There are those of you men who join us each Monday morning at 6:30 to study the Bible together and learn from each other. And others of you join our Men’s Breakfast each month. Some of you do both, which is even better. There are some of you women who take part in the Bible studies on Thursdays. There are some of you getting together for coffee or spending time together in each other’s home, not just to talk about the weather or the Arizona Wildcats, but rather to talk about the Bible and to hold each other accountable for walking in the truth. We all need that kind of Biblical fellowship. So if you’re not already involved in one of those groups, you need to be. It is our goal as a church for every single person to be engaged regularly with our church family some time during the week other than just the worship service on Sunday mornings. So if you’re already part of a group, this morning would you reaffirm your commitment to be an active participant in that group on a regular basis and to make that a priority in your life? And if you’re not yet part of a group, would you commit to at least finding a group this week and giving it a try? Life lived together in Christian love is the best protection against deception Life lived together in Christian love Discussion questions is the for Bible best protection Roundtableagainst deception 1. What are some of the most common deceptions about Jesus and Christianity in our culture today? How are they similar to and different from those in John’s day? 2. What does it mean when we say, “truth is a person, not an idea”? How does that impact how we come to know the truth? 3. What are some problems that can arise when truth and love are not kept in balance? How do we prevent that from happening? 4. What are some ways that living together in community helps us to prevent developing ideas about the Bible that are not consistent with “the truth”? 5. Based on what we’ve learned today, what do you think is the proper way to engage with a member of a cult who comes to your home?