This sermon is number 20 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 20
by David Legge | Copyright © 2006 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
"The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; For the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father. And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it. For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen".
Now two weeks ago we began our studies of 2nd John, looking in introduction at some answers to certain questions that we asked of this little epistle that is really comprised of only one page of papyrus, which is the ancient paper that the apostle John would have written on. Of course, the first question, if you weren't with us let me recap on these, the first was: who is writing the book? We saw that it is John the elder, we believe that to be John the apostle, the oldest surviving apostle who knew the Lord Jesus Christ in His physical person here on the earth. That is the same author as the Gospel of John, 1st John, 2nd John, 3rd John, and the Apocalypse, the book of the Revelation. Then we asked the question: to whom is this little letter written? We find the answer in the first verse, that it was written to an 'elect lady' who John knew in the truth - and at least I concluded, though some of you may disagree on this point, that this is indeed a real unknown Christian lady. I believe that the church, this particular church that John is writing to, met in her home and may have comprised of some of her actual family members - but nevertheless, the church met in her home, and thus the letter is addressed to her.
We asked thirdly what the motivation of the writing of this letter was, and we see very quickly in the reading of it that there was this tradition among the early church brethren of widespread itinerant ministry - that is, wandering evangelists, preachers and teachers. They would have gone from town to town, and taken hospitality in the home of the saints - but, of course, that hospitality was open to great exploitation by charlatans and false teachers who were wanting to sow seeds of heresy among God's children. So that brings us, fourthly, to answer the question of what the message is that's contained in this little epistle. It's simply that this lady, and indeed the church that we believe inhabited her house, should know who these false teachers are, be able to recognise them, and know how to deal with them. Indeed we surmised, perhaps, that she actually had written, or at least sent embassage to the apostle John asking the question: 'How do I know whether one of these teachers coming to the church is genuine or not? How do we, as an assembly, recognise them?'.
Of course, the message is simple: those who are of the truth will know the truth, they will love the truth, and they will walk in the truth related to our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever does not manifest those characteristics is to be refused fellowship, the apostle John says. So in our first study we looked in verses 1 to 3 at the objective truth concerning who Christ is. It's outlined for us there in the form of Christ as that incarnate One, the pre-existent Son of God who came into flesh at Bethlehem's manger, lived as the Christ of God among men, went as the Christ of God to Calvary, died as the Christ of God there, was buried and rose again the third day, and is ascended on high as Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. In verse 3 we saw that the message, the objective message of truth is that this incarnate Son of God in Christ is the One who saves, and He saves by grace: 'Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love'.
Then the last week, two weeks ago before our May Day bank holiday, we looked in verse 4 following down to verse 6 at how John begins to write about subjective truth - not now the actual Christ in incarnation, or the message that Christ brought, but the incarnation of the truth of Christ in the life of the believer; how we in our walk, our personal experience of Christ Himself and His Gospel, are to manifest an incarnation of what Christ is. We saw that in a twofold manner in our last study, I hope you remember. Verse 5, the apostle's first appeal was that if we walk in truth, that will mean that we walk in love: 'And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another'. Then his second appeal was that if we walk in the truth, not only will we walk in love but, verse 6, we will walk in obedience: 'And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it'.
Now there was one more appeal from the apostle that we didn't have time to deal with, and it's found in verses 7 right through to verse 11, and in verses 12 to 13 we have the closing statement of John. We're going to look in a little bit of detail this evening at this third appeal. Here is how we know if we walk in the truth, and those who do walk in the truth: if we walk in the truth, John says, we will walk in sound doctrine. Of course, we saw that this little epistle reflects the three tests of how we know we're in fellowship with God and the assurance of salvation that we found in his first epistle. The social test, we love our brothers. The moral test, we obey God's commandments. The doctrinal test, we believe in the Christ that was sent, who came, who died, who was buried, who rose again, who is coming again, and who is encapsulated for us in the apostles' doctrine.
So verses 7 to 11 again bring us to the objective message of Christianity, that is: the actual incarnation of Jesus Christ. We took great length, as we went through the first epistle of John, to emphasise the point that Christianity is Christ - Christianity is Christ! Everything in the Christian faith relates to who Christ is, and the work Christ has accomplished. So any serious error or heresy that enters into Christianity normally relates to the doctrine concerning Christ, who He is and His work, what He has done.
So John comes with this third appeal: if you're walking in the truth, your doctrine will be sound regarding Christ. If you're going to walk in truth regarding your doctrine concerning Christ, there are some things that you need to note. That's what he gives us in verse 7 right to verse 11, and I have three of them this evening. The first is: you need to realise the threat, verse 7. Then you need to recognise the error related to the doctrine of Christ. Then thirdly you need to react appropriately to such heresies and to such heretics who bring this false doctrine.
So let's deal with the first: if you're going to walk in truth regarding the doctrine of Christ, first of all verse 7 tells us you need to realise the threat. Look at verse 7: 'For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist'. First of all you need to waken up to the threat that there are many deceivers! There are many people, John says, who have entered into the world who have a wrong, erroneous, heretical doctrine concerning Christ and His work.
Let me say right away in preface to this point that many believers do not appreciate the doctrinal dangers that exist related to Christology, that is, the doctrine of Christ and His work. Some people just simply assume, in a naive way, that if a person uses the same language that evangelical Christians use, and even if they claim to have the same experiences whatever they may be - whether it is conversion or some subsequent experience with the Holy Spirit - they assume naively and erroneously that they must be the same as we are. Now right away John is dismissing this completely. He is saying: 'Banish the thought! No! It doesn't matter what a man says, what a man claims, or what he has experienced: the test, the test is his doctrine regarding Christ!'.
Now John reiterates this for us again in his second epistle, as he did in the first, in very strong terms. He wants us to realise the threat! If you don't realise the threat tonight, you've got to listen to John's language. He says: 'Anyone who does not have the correct doctrine concerning Jesus Christ is a deceiver and an antichrist'. Now let me say that that should better be translated: 'He is the deceiver, and the antichrist'. What John is really getting at is that the antichrist is the supreme enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of course he is animated by the devil himself. But 'anti' doesn't just mean 'against', it can also, as a prefix, mean 'in place of' - that is, this one will try to take the place of Christ. False teachers, John is saying, will bring you a Christ that is not the real Christ, he may look like the real Christ, he may at times sound like the real Christ, but there is an intrinsic difference: he is taking the place of Christ, which makes him the deceiver himself, the antichrist. If you like, an effigy of the devil. That's serious stuff, isn't it? Realise the threat!
Now look again at what he says, for he goes on to say in verse 7: 'many deceivers are entered into the world'. Now that could have a twofold meaning. It could mean that they are entered in, they have gone out in a missionary capacity. In other words, these false teachers have actually entered into the world in order to proselytise and evangelise souls to their erroneous doctrine. Of course, we know that that is the case, you see the plethora, the great explosion of false prophets, false cults, false religions in our world today - and the many people that will fall at the feet of those false gospels, and even dedicate their whole life to the very point of death for it. Often we feel ashamed at the zealousness of those who proliferate their falsehood in our world - but please don't make the mistake of thinking that because they are so zealous, and even at times so successful, that that in some way is an indication of the authenticity of their message. Far from it! Indeed, it is simply a fulfilment of what John says here: many are entered into the world with their false Christ, their false gospel.
It was Mark Twain, far from a theologian, who said: 'A lie runs around the world while truth is putting on her shoes'. That's often the case! Falsehood explodes on the scene, and people often are so willing, more so, to accept it than they are the truth of the Gospel. Brigham Young University president Merrill Bateman predicted that - and he said this in the year 2000 - that by the year 2025 the number of Mormon missionaries will have more than doubled, rising to about 60,000 in the year 2000 to 125,000 in the year 2025 - 125,000 Mormon missionaries! Presently, as we speak, those missionaries are in 150 countries in our world. There's no doubt that Satan's emissaries are zealous in the preaching of their gospel.
But there's another sense in this phrase 'going out' that I think is the correct one. It's simply this: that these people have gone out of the church. We've had an indication of that already in chapter 2 of 1 John and verse 19, if you care to look back at it. John says of these false teachers there: 'They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us'. So why have they gone out? They have gone out because they cannot exist within the church among the saints, they can't go on teaching their error among those who believe in the truth. Now of course Paul warned the overseers in Ephesus of this very thing in Acts 20 and verse 30, saying: 'Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them'. By doing such they manifest the fact that they were not of them, they were not truly saved in the beginning - but please grasp the import of John's point: you need to realise the threat! Not only are there many false teachers and missionaries gone out into the world from various cults that did not find their origination in Christianity, but there are even those from your own very ranks who will go out from you and will teach this error concerning the Lord Jesus. You remember, if you were with us in our series concerning the cults and false religions that, almost to an organisation, the founders of many cults that are under the umbrella of those that worship Christ in some shape or form, or at least follow Christ, most of them came out of orthodox evangelical Protestant Christianity - a fulfilment of what both Paul said to the Ephesians elders, what John is saying here, and what the Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7: 'Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity'.
You might say: 'Why is this? Why are there are those from among the ranks of Christianity who follow a false doctrine concerning Christ?'. Second Peter 2 verse 2 gives us the answer, he says that many of these false teachers 'shall follow their', the Authorised says, 'pernicious ways' - that literally means 'their sensuality'. They are following a doctrine that appeals to their senses, not that which is revealed of God by His Holy Spirit. Now please grasp John's point, you need to realise the threat: this will come from within the church! Let me give you one example. He is a false prophet by the name of William Irvine. He professed faith in the Lord Jesus in 1895. He joined the Faith Mission, who we're all familiar with, in 1896. He was a strong leader among the Faith Mission. Indeed, we are led to believe from historical records that he was a dynamic preacher, and indeed he is supposed to have had great success in the evangelistic mission and Gospel crusades that were held around the whole of Ireland in many church halls, some of them you'll be familiar with - towns and villages around the rural countryside. All of a sudden William Irvine changed his tact, and he began denouncing all of the churches in Christianity. Then he moved himself completely away from all churches, denominations and affiliations in Christianity, and he set himself up as a special leader and teacher, and gathered a group of people around him who would later be called the 'Cooneyites' or the 'Two by Twos' - a false cult, having a false Christ, teaching a false gospel. Their Christ is false, for they're unclear whether He is God or not. Their gospel is false, they preach the 'Jesus way', that Jesus is our example and we ought to follow Him in good works to be saved. Now Jesus said 'By their fruits ye shall know them'. Eventually in 1920 Irvine went to live in Jerusalem, for he believed that he was one of the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation chapter 11 prophetically. But the story goes, of course, that in 1947 William Irvine died - and 3½ days later he didn't rise again, like the witnesses will, but he lies still in the grave: testimony to the fact that he is and was a false prophet, and spawned a false cult called the 'Cooneyites'.
Now, if you take the measuring stick that many Christians do today to measure false doctrine, you would be saying right now: 'But this man professed faith in Christ! This man was a Christian! This man was one of us! This man fellowshipped with us! He was in the Faith Mission! He was a mighty instrument of God that was used to the salvation of many lost!' - it doesn't matter! God's word says that if you err concerning the doctrine and the work of Christ, it is tantamount proof that you are not a child of God. That's what John is saying: these false teachers that came into the early church, they looked, they sounded, they operated like Christian missionaries - sure they were knocking on Christian homes looking for hospitality, they even considered themselves to be Christian evangelists. But because they erred fundamentally concerning Christ, John says they are imposters, they are heretics, they are deceivers, they are antichrist.
Now if you look at verse 9, John gives us another indication of how you recognise those who have erred concerning the doctrine of Christ. He says: 'Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son'. Now the first part of verse 9 that says: 'Whosoever transgresseth', you will know that 'transgression' means 'to step over the line of God's law', to go too far. So that could be literally translated, and some translations render it like this: 'Anyone who goes too far', or even, 'runs on ahead, hath not God'. Now the verb 'runs ahead' in the Greek is the word 'proagon' (sp?), it is made up of two words - one means 'forward', and the other means 'to lead'. 'Proagon' is a word that we derive our English word 'progress' from. So, in a sense, you could read this part of the verse: 'Whoever progresses, and abides not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God'. Now I think that John's using the word, the sense 'progress', quite ironically - because these false teachers in the churches in John's day believed that they were showing progress, intellectual progress, charismatic progress. But John is saying: 'Whatever progress you're proclaiming, if you're not abiding in the doctrine of Christ, the Christ of God that was revealed, you don't have God at all'.
Now let me say right away that in one sense progress is always a good thing in the Christian faith. John has been espousing this, you need to walk, to walk in order to love your brethren, to walk in order to keep the commandments of God, and there should be a continual progress in our lives as we conform ourselves to the image of Christ and obey His word more and more. So the progress that we want to achieve is progress that changes us, isn't that right? But there's another progress, John says, that is devilishly detrimental to the church of Jesus Christ, and that is the progress that changes the faith once delivered unto the saints. Now the founders of confusing cults and false faiths usually see themselves as progressives, don't they? They are the enlightened ones, the Buddha is the enlightened one; they are advanced thinkers, they're ahead of their time, they're bringing a new revelation that is added onto the Scriptures - like the Athenians in the book of Acts, they are hearing and telling of nothing else but some new thing. So here's an indication that if you're revealing something new about Christ, His person and His work, that has never ever been revealed before - you're not abiding in the doctrine of Christ. That is progress that is cursed of God!
But you know it's not just among the ranks of the cults that this type of progressiveness is found, for progressiveness is popular in the academic sphere in the church of Jesus Christ. Some of you may have heard of a man called C. H. Dodd. He was one of the more influential British theologians in the first half of the 20th century. He wrote a book on John's epistles entitled 'The Johanine Epistles'. On page 150 he wrote of the need to maintain loyalty to what he called 'the fundamental truths of the gospel'. Now all of us could say 'Amen' to that, couldn't we? But then he adds, and I quote him verbatim: 'It must, however, be admitted that the writer', that is John, 'has incautiously expressed himself in terms which might seem to stigmatise any kind of advance as disloyalty to the faith, and so to condemn Christian theology to sterility'. You see what he's saying: John has prohibited advance and progress in the evolution of our Christian theology so that we can't add any more to it, and therefore he has condemned Christian theology to sterility, it can no longer evolve. Dodd goes on: 'This extreme position has not, in fact, been taken by any of the great Christian communions, however strongly they have emphasised the necessity of maintaining the faith which has once and for all been delivered to the saints'. I would say that probably accounts for the doctrinal apostasy in the great Christian communions - because they have run ahead of the doctrine of Christ! They have run ahead of God's revelation!
One of the most important slogans of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase: 'Ecclesia Semper Reformanda', which means 'The church is always reforming'. Now recently I was listening, you'll forgive me, to 'Talkback' on BBC Radio Ulster, and there was a clergyman - I can't remember what church he was from or his name, I wish I could - who used this principle of the Reformation as a grounds for liberalism. 'The church is always reforming, it's always advancing, it's always progressing, it's always evolving' - in other words, these theologians are like scientists, and they're coming closer and closer and closer to the truth. They're realising that old things that they believed once, well they're really wrong, and they're discovering new truths. I wonder is that what the Reformers meant when they said 'The church is always reforming'?
How do we grapple with this? You might say: 'What are you bringing all this stuff up for?'. Well, this is what you will be faced with if you study Religious Studies at school. This is what you'll be faced with if you listen to the radio. How do you counteract it? If the Reformers believed that the church is always reforming, and that's what gave us the Gospel, well then, why don't we believe it now? Let me point out two things for your instruction. The first is this: it is the case, though sometimes we don't portray this, that we don't know everything. We certainly don't know everything about everything, and Paul testifies to that in 1 Corinthians 13: 'For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known' - and remember he was under the influence of divine inspiration. But although we do not know everything about everything, we have God's revelation on Christ His Son, and we have God's revelation concerning the salvation that is through Christ and Christ alone. Now that is sure. Oh, I know there are things we're not sure about, but God is explicit in this regard: 'God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son'.
What did John say in his first epistle in the first three verses? 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ'. In other words, this isn't an evolution of doctrine, this is God's final revelation of Himself in His Son, and that's the same thing as we have today: it is finished, it is complete in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here's the second thing that we need to note: true Christian reform is never, mark this difference, never an introduction of something new. True Christian reform is always a rediscovering of something true - there's a difference. Something old that was lost, rather than something new that was never heard of. Here's the mark of Christian reform: it always goes back to the Bible! That's what the reformers did. They didn't apply their new intellectual aptitude to God's word to interpret it according to the philosophies, the intellectual trends of the day - no! They went back to the book, back to the Greek, back to the Hebrew to see 'What saith the Scriptures'.
Truth does not evolve, the truth of the Bible does not need enlightenment from science, from philosophy, from the charisma of Pentecost charismaticism - but all we need is what is from the beginning: Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. John says, now look: anyone who goes too far, anyone who runs ahead and abides not in the doctrine of Christ - that literally means, look at it in verse 9, 'the teaching about Christ', or it can also mean 'the teaching of Christ' - does not have God. A progressive theology is regressive, do you know why? It goes back to Genesis 3 and verse 1, where the devil said: 'Yea, hath God said...?', it casts doubt on God's word.
Many don't realise what is at stake when challenged with false doctrine concerning Christ. Let me give you two things that are at stake according to John. Verse 9: if you don't abide in the doctrine of Christ, you have not God. Now this is serious stuff! Salvation is at stake! If you don't have the right Christ, you cannot be saved. I don't care what anyone says, that's what God's word says. If you abide not in the doctrine concerning Christ, you have not God. But of course he's writing to believers, and he's warning them to stay clear of this heresy. The false teachers that were propounding this obviously hadn't God, but he was worrying that those who had God would follow their false doctrine. So not only is salvation at stake for these false teachers, but reward is at stake for these believers. Look at verse 8: 'Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward'. Now when he says: 'Look to yourselves', what he is saying is simply 'Take heed'. It's what the Lord said in Mark 13: 'Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you'.
Our responsibility today is to take heed as God's people, because John is saying there are false teachers who will come, and they will offer you something that you do not have - but in reality what they're doing, by stealth, is taking away something that you already have. They're not only taking away your true understanding of Christ and His work, but potentially they're thieving your reward. Satan is a thief, isn't he? We should not be surprised that just as Lucifer is an angel of light, that these false teachers should come as angels of light as well; but neither should we be surprised when they offer us something, and when we receive it they take something away from us. What they take away is, John says, our reward. If we're truly saved we can never be lost, we believe that, but what John's talking about here, I think, is twofold. First of all he's talking about the work of the apostles and the church collectively. Look at verse 8: 'Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought', some put it 'which ye have wrought'. But Paul in Galatians 4, you remember, in verse 11 when he was speaking to the Galatian controversy, to those Judaisers who were telling the believers they had to obey the law and all the rites and rituals and legalism, he said: 'I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain'. 'I'm worried that all this time I've been labouring for you and preaching to you and teaching, that it has been a waste of time!'.
But there's a great responsibility here, I believe, that is inferred to overseers within the assembly. Hebrews 13:17 tells us that we are to: 'Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you'. Here's Paul realising: 'One day I'm going to have to give account for the church, and I don't want to have wasted my time! So I want to guard the church from false doctrine, and wolves that will come in unawares'. Overseer, that's a great responsibility, isn't it? That's why we need to be on our guard against error, because we'll have to answer for it. It's not only collective loss, I believe it's individual loss. In Matthew 25 and verse 21 in the parable of the talents: 'His lord said unto [the servant], Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord'. The principle there is that faithfulness will accrue reward, but unfaithfulness will result in loss. In John's context, he is saying: 'Listen! You need to realise the threat here! You need to realise that if you're gullible, that is tantamount to being unfaithful, and unfaithfulness will result in loss of reward'.
Now he's not talking to these false teachers any more, he's talking to the believers, and he's saying: 'Do you see if you think that this false doctrine concerning Christ and His work doesn't really matter that much? And you don't love the truth enough to stand for the truth, and walk in the truth, and be a living personification of the truth? You will lose reward!'. Paul said: 'Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire'. What is John meaning? He is meaning that a Christian who is soft on heresy will lose something, they'll lose something. If you don't watch out, John says, you'll lose it.
Realise the threat, that's the first thing that is necessary to walk in truth regarding the doctrine of Christ. The second thing is: recognise the error. It's found in verse 7 - bear with me, my voice is going, but I'll hammer on if you can listen! Recognise the error, and the error is, verse 7: 'For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh'. Recognise the error, first of all, as a denial of the incarnation. Now watch what it says, it doesn't say that Jesus came in the flesh - no, it says 'Jesus Christ'. Now that's important, because 'Jesus' is the name that Christ was given at His birth and it speaks of His humanity, it speaks of His Saviourhood, it means 'Jehovah saves'. So this is speaking of the fact that this Man would come to save humanity, on behalf of humanity, as a human being - but it wasn't just Jesus who came in the flesh, it was Jesus Christ! Now 'Christ', 'Christos', means 'anointed', it means 'Messiah', it means the divine Saviour of God. So what John is saying is that the Man Jesus is the Christ of God, and then he goes on to say that you've got to believe that Jesus Christ is, in the flesh. Now that in the Greek is literally a present participle, which means that Christ is coming in the flesh. What does that mean? It means this: that the Christ Jesus who came, is the Christ Jesus who lived, who died, who was buried, rose again, and the same Jesus Christ is coming.
Now what is the point of all that emphasis? Simply because this man Cerinthus, and his descendants who would become the Docetists and the Gnostics, they were teaching that the Man Jesus lived as you or I from His birth until His baptism, and then at His baptism the Christ-Spirit, the Word, Logos principle descended and sort of overshadowed Him; and then before the cross it disappeared again so that the man that died was not the Christ, the Son of God, and He never rose again. That's why he emphasises that it is this same Jesus that lived who is the same Jesus who will come again in like manner as you have seen Him go. It is what Paul emphasises in Colossians 2 verse 9: 'For in him all the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form' - in Jesus, Jesus Christ! John Stott puts it well when he says: 'The two natures, manhood and Godhood, were united already at His birth, never to be divided'.
Luke 2 verse 11 says: 'For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is'...Jesus the Lord? No. 'Christ the Lord'! Luke 1:35: 'The angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God'. Recognise the error - what is it? To deny the incarnation of Jesus Christ, to deny that the pre-existent Son of God came in human flesh.
Secondly: recognise the error of the denial of the Trinity. Verse 9: 'Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son'. So John says that it's necessary to be right about the Son if you're going to be right about the Father. In 1 John 2 he said the same thing in verse 23: 'Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also'. You might say: 'Well, I know folk who believe in the Son of God, but they don't believe the Trinity'. Do they believe the Son of God's doctrine as the doctrine that is here in the word of God, as once and for all delivered to the saints? Have they abided in it or have they added to it? This Christ is a Son, and this Son has a Father. Robert Govett put it better than I could when he said: 'All who are ignorant of, or hostile to the doctrine of the Trinity are ignorant of God, and entangled in Satan's meshes'.
Recognise the error: it is a denial of the incarnation, it is a denial of the Trinity. Then thirdly and finally: react appropriately. John says that if we walk in truth we should not give any cooperation whatever to a person spreading error regarding the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here's how he says we ought to react appropriately, verse 10: 'If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house' - do not receive them! Now what does that mean? Some have said: 'Well, it means don't receive unbelievers, don't have anything to do, become exclusive, with unbelievers'. Others say: 'Well, it's believers who don't agree with your particular doctrine, secondary issues. Don't have anything to do with them if they don't agree with you on prophecy, or they don't agree with you on certain other issues, don't have anything to do with them'. Some think perhaps it's not agreeing with the cultists who come to your door, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, don't even let them through the door. Others think it's a licence to be rude to them and tell them to take themselves off, because you're not to bid them God speed - is that what it means?
Let me say categorically that it's got nothing to do with mere unbelievers. We are to win the lost, we are to save them from the fire. It's got primarily to do with those who are propagating a false doctrine regarding the Lord Jesus Christ. It's got nothing to do with doctrines that are not fundamentals, though we hold many doctrines that are important. Whilst there ought to be caution when inviting people into your home from the cults, and you need to be very careful if you ever engage in conversation with them, especially young converts, it's very unlikely that that's what John was meaning - because I'm quite sure that these false teachers were not going from door to door in a district, but they were going primarily to the doors of believers seeking hospitality. Let me say that you don't have a licence in this verse to be ignorant to anybody. I know you can be stern and rebuke someone sharply, but God's word tells us in Colossians 4 and verse 6: 'Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man'.
What is the key to understanding this not receiving? I believe it's this: for this woman to receive these false teachers into her home was tantamount to receiving them into the church, because her home was the home of the church. The only grounds, John is saying, for Christian fellowship is truth - but what he's also saying to us is that love has limits. He's saying: 'Don't throw caution to the wind, inviting anyone into your house or into the church because they claim that they're a servant of God'. Paul says in Philippians 1 verse 9: 'This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in real knowledge and all discernment' - love is to abound in knowledge and in discernment!
Some people think: 'Well, if you love everybody, you've just got to accept everybody'. I think Howard Marshall gets the meaning of this verse well when he says: 'The real point is this: there's a difference between giving a person love and even hospitality, and providing him with a base'. That's what these early Christians would have been doing if they had opened up their home to them, they would have been providing them with a base to proliferate their false doctrine in that home which was a church, and further afield. So it leads on to the end of verse 10 and verse 11, where he says: 'neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds'. So he's saying that to tolerate error in that manner, to open up the church to it, which was your home, to tolerate that error is to share in the error. In Romans 1:32 Paul said: 'Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them' - well, it's the same thing regarding false doctrine. You mightn't believe it, but if you have pleasure in those that do believe it, you're guilty of that sin.
1995 was declared the 'Year of Tolerance'. A lot of Christians believe that tolerance is the highest Christian virtue, maybe the only Christian virtue, but the Bible places truth above any supposed virtues of tolerance. Yes, it is truth in love; yes, it is truth in grace; but love never compromises the truth. John Stott believes that this is referring, perhaps, from blessing them to an official visit of a false prophet to the church, or extending them an official welcome, rather than mere private hospitality. That may or may not be the case, one thing is sure: it's not a licence to stop evangelising people, or even folk in the cults, far from it. It is a warning shot not to bless them, or not to bless their works; because Christians are given an admonition to open their homes to unbelievers. Some have entertained angels unawares when they have entertained strangers, isn't that what the Scripture says? Look at 3rd John for a moment, verse 5: 'Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth'. You see this was encouraged, if you receive these true prophets you're a fellowhelper with them; but here's the contrast John is giving in verse 11 of 2 John: if you receive these false prophets, you're party to their evil deed.
So the principal here, I believe, is that nothing should be done to give the impression that offence to Jesus Christ and the doctrine of His grace has no consequences. If that is ever propounded from this pulpit, or any evangelical pulpit, it's finished. Christ is Christianity, Christ is everything, and John is saying you should never encourage false teachers in any way. Listen to what Chuck Swindoll says about it - someone might say 'That's not very loving' - Swindoll says: 'Love is the hinge on which hospitality turns to open its door, but just as a door has hinges it also has a lock. Love never opens a locked door to a wolf, even if it is dressed in sheep's clothing'. You see, that wouldn't be love! It wouldn't be love to God's people, because you're undermining their faith. It wouldn't be love to the false teacher, because you're confirming him in his error, you're giving him some credibility by offering fellowship to him. It wouldn't be love to God - how could it be love to God to actively encourage the spread of that which is destructive to His truth and the testimony of His Son?
I know these words are harsh, but perhaps our problem, as James Montgomery Boice puts it, is this: 'If the words still seem harsh, it can only be that John's concern for Christ and His glory is greater than ours, and that our so-called tolerance is in reality just an indifference to truth, and a misunderstanding of true love'. True love is not embracing false teachers concerning the person and the work of Christ, that's not Christian love. I'm not saying you hate them, no; I'm not saying you're rude to them, no; but you don't offer them fellowship, that's for sure - for it's not loving the church, it's not loving them, it's not loving God. Here's another thing: it's not loving yourself.
John closes this epistle by saying in verse 12: 'Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen'. 'Face-to-face', literally means 'mouth-to-mouth'. He was looking forward to when he didn't have to write to them, but he could speak to them, if you like, we could say 'eyeball to eyeball'. I just wonder was John thinking of the joy that it would be to see the Saviour face-to-face, to see the Saviour and to know that you've ended faithfully, you've kept the faith unto the end? You remember the apostle Paul on one occasion in his pilgrimage could say: 'No man stood with me', and sometimes that's the way we feel when we hold to truth in these days, the truth regarding the person and the work of Christ. We feel that we're all wronged, everybody else is progressing, rejecting these doctrines for other new things - but John says: 'Live for the day when you'll see Christ face-to-face'. It doesn't matter how you feel now, live for that day.
I heard a story about a missionary who in the early years of the last century, because of broken health, left a lifetime of service in Africa and he happened to be travelling home to the United States on the same boat as the President Teddy Roosevelt. Arriving home, he arrived home at the same dock where everyone was gathered to greet the President who was coming home from a hunting trip on safari in Africa. There was the big crowd, New York city it was, all on the pier to greet the President - the bands played and thousands cheered. The missionary, though he was a little excited to be part of the celebrations, deep down in his soul he felt a little bit lonely because there wasn't one soul to greet him. He went alone to a little hotel room on the east side of New York, and he began - a bit like old Elijah - to complain to the Lord: 'Lord, I served You faithfully all those years out on the mission field, and no one met me when I came home'. Then it was as if he heard a voice saying to him: 'Ah, but you're not home yet, you're not home yet'.
'Take heed', John says, 'that you lose not your reward'. Peter says: 'For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth' - present truth. Do you love your brother? Do you walk in His commands? Have you kept the faith once delivered to the saints?
Next week, God willing, we'll start 3rd John.
O Father, help us not just to sing it, or just to wish it, but help us now to realise it, to actually put into Your mouth, Lord Jesus, the judgment that You'll pronounce upon us by the lives that we live now. That we would judge ourselves, that we would not be judged. Lord, help us to always not only love our brother and obey Your commandments, but keep the doctrine pure concerning our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Saviour and Lord and God. In whose name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twentieth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Handling Heresy" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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