Let's turn to the second epistle of John, if you can't find it there's something wrong - it's just after 1 John that we've been in for such a long period of time now. Some of you have been asking me already am I going to get through it tonight! You should know better than that! We're only going to get, I think, through to verse 3, 4 at the most - but we want to spend time, because this little book is packed full of truths that we need to learn. Some of them we have already encountered in our first epistle, but nevertheless they're worthy of repetition particularly in the day and age in which we live. So let's read it, we'll read the whole of this chapter - I've found that reading this chapter, when you're studying it, reading it over and over again, by the time you're finished you've memorised the whole of the chapter. So I'm hoping that will be the case for us on a Monday evening, that by the time we finish this - no matter if it takes us five or six weeks or so - that we'll know it off by heart.
"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".
If you've just come in, we're looking at the second epistle of John. We have finished our studies in the first epistle, and now we're in 2 John. This book has been called by some 'A postcard from the apostle John', due to its brevity and due to how it is packed full of great detail. It probably fitted on one sheet of papyrus, which is what the ancient writers wrote on - but although it is extremely short, one of the shortest books in the whole of the Bible, it is weighty in its doctrinal and practical content. It may be short, but it's heavy with truth and instruction for all of us.
So I want us to ask a few questions of this book this evening, and I believe as we ask them and get the answers, we will be favourably instructed. The obvious first question that I want to ask and give an answer to is: who is writing this letter? You might say: 'Well, that's obvious, it's the second epistle of John, so it is John the apostle'. Well, if you look you will see in the first verse that the one who signs it calls himself 'the elder'. John is not mentioned. 'The elder' is the word in Greek 'presbuteros', which is used in the New Testament for the word 'elder' or 'overseer', sometimes it's translated 'bishop' - but it's also used relating to a person's age. So it could be classifying here that the one who is writing is an older man. It could be a reference to age, or it could be a reference to position.
Now traditionally it has been thought that the author of this book is, as I said, the surviving apostle who accompanied the Lord Jesus, John the beloved. Yet in recent days there has been much modern debate whether or not there actually were two Johns - John the apostle and another John, John the elder. Now let me say right away that I believe that the cause for such doubt is unfounded. I'm not going to go into the details why folk think that, save to say that to the contrary the apostle Peter had no problem both calling himself an apostle and an elder. If this reference to the elder doesn't refer to his age, though John at this stage would have been a very elderly man, and refers to the fact that he was a presbyter or in overseer in the church, that's quite all right - because Peter did exactly the same thing. We read in 1 Peter chapter 5 verse 1, Peter says: 'The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed'. Peter was widely accepted and recognised as an apostle, but he also calls himself an elder.
Indeed, if you read the second epistle of John, along with the first epistle and the third epistle, you will see that they are very similar in their character and in their content - indicating that they have the same author: John the apostle, John the elder, the disciple of the Lord Jesus. In fact, these epistles are so alike that Irenaeus, the church father way back there in the early church, actually thought that the second epistle of John was part of the end of the first epistle, before these divisions of verses and chapters were interjected into our Bible.
But there's also a devotional aspect to who is writing this book, for he just calls himself 'the elder'. Whilst that causes a little bit of a problem for us in this day so many years after the event of the writing of this epistle, it's worth noting that the people who he was writing to knew exactly who he was. That adds to the intimacy of the letter, for instance: if a father writes a greeting card to his daughter, he'll probably sign it 'From Daddy', or 'Love Daddy'. The daughter knows exactly who her father is. Whilst other people, strangers who may look at the card, wouldn't have a clue of his identity, she knows. In that sense, John just addresses the church as 'the elder' - they know exactly who he is.
This is a tremendously intimate letter, it's very personal, it is a pastor's postcard to his people - because, as we read it, we see that truly the sentiment within it comes from a shepherd's heart. May I pause there for a moment: here is an apostle who sees fit to describe himself as 'the elder', and we see that he has a shepherd's heart. That is a qualification of an overseer, to have a pastor's heart, a shepherd's heart that is willing to care, and tend, and even lay their life down for the flock. John primarily deals with, as we've already seen in the first epistle, the truth concerning the family of God and the fellowship that we enjoy: how we can know that we're one of God's children. In a sense there's a similar theme within his second and third epistles - but just as he has elaborated as he went through those themes in 1 John, he does this again in 2 John.
Paul the apostle has died, and Peter, both of them sealing their testimony with their blood - and now we're getting from the oldest surviving apostle who knew the Lord Jesus Christ not only truths regarding fellowship in the family of God, but instruction regarding practical aspects to fellowship within the local church. That is extremely practical, because here we find ourselves in a local church, or from whatever local church you have come from this evening - these instructions are applicable to us today and relevant. So we can't afford to ignore them.
Who is writing the letter? It is none other than John the apostle, though he calls himself 'John the elder'. He is an overseer and he is a pastor to these people, and he shows his pastor's heart. Then secondly the question we need to ask is, obviously: to whom is this letter addressed? 'The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth'. Now, like many of the Scriptures that we ponder every Monday evening, there are several views of interpretation on them, and there are generally three views - several more, but I've summarised them into three for you tonight - regarding who this elect lady is that John is addressing the letter to. The first interpretation is that this is a figurative term for the church, you know how the church is called at times 'the bride of Christ', and some believe that this is speaking of the universal church, or indeed the local church that John was writing to, having application to many churches round about that may have received this letter.
A second interpretation is that this is actually a woman whose name is 'Elect' or 'Electa'. In the Greek language it is 'Kyria', and it's the same word corresponding to the Aramaic name 'Martha', and both 'Martha' in Aramaic and 'Kyria' in Greek mean 'lady'. So some have concluded that this is a lady called 'Kyria' or 'Electa'. Then a third interpretation is that, well, this is a personal individual, but it is an unnamed Christian lady. This lady, it is said, has a family. These are 'her children' spoken of in verse 1, but these children are not only among her family, but among the family of God - and they comprise some of the members within a local church that is actually meeting in this woman's house: all the elect of God, according to the foreknowledge of God.
Now, let me analyse at least two of these views for a moment for you, one negatively and one positively. It does seem plausible, in a sense, when you look at this woman and her children, to think that this could be referring to the church, as she is called 'the bride', and her children being members. Even in verse 13, if you care to look down to it, John sends greetings from 'the children of thy elect sister'. It would almost seem that this is a sister church whose members are greeting the members of this particular church that John is writing to. Now my first objection to that view is that it doesn't seem to be the obvious reading of the text. If I could teach you a little lesson here in the course of what I'm saying, it is the axiom of interpretation which says: 'If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense'. Sometimes we can read too deeply into some things in scripture, when the plain meaning, the most obvious meaning is the truest one. I don't think that many of the people in the church would have associated this woman with some kind of representation of the church at large.
The view I favour is the third one, and that is that this is a true lady, a real lady. John, yes, is addressing a company, for he uses the plural in verse 6, he uses plural also in verse 8, verse 10, and verse 12 - but he also uses the singular in verse 1, to this lady, verse 4 and 5, and verse 13. So we see that he's addressing both an individual and a company. I think perhaps the answer to this quandary is that John is writing, addressing first of all this lady who he loves in the truth, but he's also addressing through her a company of believers, her children both in family but also members within that church who were meeting in her house.
Now we have examples of this already in scripture. If you're quick enough you can turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 16 and verse 19 for a moment. We read there that Paul speaks of the churches in Asia saluting the Corinthians: 'Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house'. Priscilla and Aquila had a church in their house. Then when we turn to Colossians, a few pages over, to chapter 4 and verse 15, we see that Paul again brings salutation to: 'the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house' - the church in Nymphas' house. Then in Philemon and chapter 1 and verse 2 he sends greetings: 'to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house'. Philemon had a church in his own house.
Now let me bring all this together, I believe this is who he is addressing: this elect lady, who has a church in her house, some of her family are in the church but they're meeting together as a group of God's people - some of them family, some of them just general members of the assembly of God's people - and he's writing to them, warning them of false teachers, of infiltrators, and he's warning them that they could come into the church via the family, through that family into the home. You see, from a false teacher's perspective in this particular instance, to invade the home would be to infiltrate the church - do you see it? If they could get into the home, they could get into the church.
Turn with me for a moment to Titus chapter 1, because Titus faced this exact same problem in Crete. Titus chapter 1, and verses 10 and 11, Paul writes to Titus and warns him: 'For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake'. Now if you were with us yesterday morning, you would have seen in the closing chapters of the book of Judges, specifically chapter 19, that as the home goes so goes the church, or God's worshipping community, and as the church goes so goes the nation. The home and what goes on in it has a knock on effect to the church, and the church has a knock on effect to the nation. It's interesting in this particular instance to see how often Satan can use the family to bring false teaching into the church. Do you ever think about that? It's often through a family member that belongs to the church. How much more is this applicable in the case, in this first century instance, when the church was actually meeting in family homes? For if false teaching got into the family, it got into the church!
That is to whom this letter is addressed: the elect lady, her children, and the church in her home. That is why in verse 10, and we will ponder this in later weeks, John says: 'If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed'. It wasn't just a matter of refusing hospitality to false teachers, but by bringing them into the home she was effectively bringing them into the periphery of the church - and that was forbidden. So we've answered the question: 'Who is writing this letter?' - the elder, John the apostle. To whom is the letter addressed? To the elect lady.
Thirdly the question we must answer is: what motivated this letter? Now we've already touched slightly on the background circumstances that precipitated this correspondence from the apostle to this elect lady, but I want to elaborate on it for a moment or two now. There was a Christian custom that in the first century there was a widespread ministry of itinerant teachers and preachers. So in the early church, there were many who were travelling about preaching the Gospel, teaching the word of God, prophesying for God in an itinerant manner. Now immediately this posed a problem: the problem being accommodation, where would they stay? When nightfall came down and they had done their work of open airs or preaching from house-to-house, where would they lie down for a night's sleep? Who would tend for their bodily needs?
Now it appears from the reading of historical sources that inns during the first century tended to be little more than brothels. The Rabbi in the Mishna, which is a Jewish oral law and tradition, placed innkeepers on the lowest scale of human degradation. Indeed, Plato actually labelled innkeepers as pirates - they were the lowest of the low. So it was obvious that itinerant saints preaching the good news of the Lord Jesus wouldn't feel comfortable staying in such places. So these evangelists and ministers of the word of God would receive hospitality and food, and sometimes money, in Christian homes. So right away you can see how obvious it could be that this custom would be abused by false teachers and false prophets. It appears that exactly that took place.
Some of these religious charlatans saw an opening to exploit the custom of charity among God's people for their own diabolical ends, whether it was simply for an easy gain of money, or to spread their heretical doctrines such as Gnosticism, Docetism that we considered in the first epistle of John. Whatever the reason was, they got in. Now it is possible, although we don't know for sure, but it may be that this elect lady actually wrote to John the elder for guidance and advice concerning how to discern who was a true teacher and prophet of God, and who was a false. Then, after discerning whether or not they were true or false: how to handle them, how to deal with them if they came to her door wanting admittance not only to her home, but ultimately to the church.
So, understanding this historical context, this ancient Christian custom, surely you can see what a potentially great problem this lady and the early church was faced with. In fact the Didache, which is a second century book of church order, one of the earliest fragments that we have, it lays down strict rules concerning itinerant preachers and teachers. They had rules in the early church, it's like an early code of conduct, guidelines for both churches and ministers of the word to follow. Now the Didache clearly states that these individuals were only to stay one or two nights in a household, and if they were to stay any longer, or if they asked for money or anything over and above their lodging or the food that was recognised as necessary for their needs, they were to be recognised and pronounced as a false teacher!
In fact, the Didache uses the term 'they are to be viewed as a Christ-monger' - someone who is seeking to live off the reputation of the Gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ for false gain. You can see how seriously the early church considered false teaching and false teachers. I think it is also significant that this warning against antichrist and anti-Christian teachers was addressed first of all in this letter to a woman. When we consider, as Timothy tells us in his book, that sin first entered through Eve, the woman who was deceived - and I know that's not very popular among the feminists, but they've themselves to blame I'm afraid! Timothy was told by the apostle Paul that that's how sin entered into the world: first Eve was deceived. Then we find that Timothy had faced this problem in Ephesus, if you turn to 2 Timothy chapter 3 for a moment, this is a practical example of how these false teachers actually honed in on individual women in their homes. Second Timothy 3 and verses 6 and 7, Paul says to this young pastor and teacher: 'For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth'.
So Paul has outlined to Timothy how sin first entered through Eve, Satan subtly tempting her. Now he begins to expound the fact that these false teachers make a special appeal to women. They get into women's houses, they take them captive, he says, with gullible motives, women laden down with many sins, led away with various lusts - and they will listen to anyone, yet they themselves are never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Even today the cults and the false sects, they tend to call at the door in the daytime when many women are at home, and men are perhaps out at work. This is a warning that was applicable to John's day, and it's applicable to our day. We need to make sure when we go round the doors, and when we call on people's homes, that we are never misunderstood to fall into this similar category. There was a danger here, and this is what motivated the letter - especially when we consider the Christian customs of this day.
Who is this that is writing the letter? It is John. To whom is it addressed? It is the elect lady. What motivated the letter? This issue of these travelling itinerant preachers, and the danger that false teachers and prophets could use this as a means to proliferate their lies. Now fourthly, and perhaps more importantly, what message is contained within this letter? Well, ultimately we think that it is the answer to this elect lady's question: how do we discern that a man coming to our door to preach in the church is a true teacher and prophet of God? And if we find that he's not, how do we deal with him?
Now the crucial issue, as it was in 1 John, is the same in 2 and 3 John - that is, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In fact, in verse 1 and verse 2 of this epistle you will notice that he uses this word 'truth' four times in the salutation alone. He tells us: 'The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth'. He loves her in the truth, that is the fellowship of love, the church has a fellowship of truth and love. Then we see he addresses it to: 'all they that have known the truth'. That is the fellowship of knowledge, you don't only love the truth and love those who know the truth, but you have yourself a knowledge of the truth. Fellowship of truth, a fellowship of knowledge, and then we see that in verse 2 he's writing: 'For the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever'. The truth's sake is what is at stake here, and so this is a fellowship that not only loves the truth, and knows the truth, but it's a fellowship that values the truth and defends and preserves the truth - because the truth is what is at stake.
Now of course that leads us to the question: 'So what is the truth?'. I think we have it in verse 3, the fourth reference to truth in these first three verses: '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'. Grace, first of all, is the truth. What is grace? It is God's unmerited favour. We don't deserve to be forgiven of God, but this is the starting point of salvation, Ephesians 2:8-9: 'By grace are ye saved through faith'. God has lavished His love upon us in an undeserving manner. Then he greets them and salutes them by this word 'mercy'. Grace is undeserved favour, mercy is pity shown to those who are guilty and wretched. If grace gives us what we don't deserve, mercy is God withholding His hand to give us what we do deserve - wrath, judgment and eternal punishment.
So what John is saying to us is: yes, love is extremely important. He has expounded that for us numerous times in his first epistle. He has spoken already of how he loves this elect lady and her children in the truth, but this is the important factor: we are not saved by love, we are saved by grace. I believe that that is the point that John is getting to in his salutation. Yes, grace is love that pays the price, but God loving us alone is not enough: that love must be willing to stoop in grace to reach us where we are. So in order to have fellowship with God, and in order to have fellowship with each other, it's not enough to love, John is saying, we must have a knowledge of the grace and the mercy of God. Then if you look at verse 3 we'll see that the end result of God's grace and mercy imparted to us is peace, and harmoniousness that comes as a result from grace and mercy!
What does Romans 5 and verse 1 say? 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ'. Justified, being declared righteous with God, we have peace on the grounds of God's grace, and the grounds of His mercy - we enjoy this tranquillity of mind and heart. All of these three blessings: grace, mercy and peace, John says in verse 3, are 'from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ'. Now I hope you're still with me, this is what John is getting at: the grounds of our salvation is not found in love, the grounds of fellowship is not ultimately found in love - though we must love one another - but it is by grace, by the mercy of God, but that grace and mercy comes from God the Father via the Lord Jesus Christ His Son. The Father is the source of this grace, the Son is the channel of that grace, and significantly John is putting the Father and the Son as equal - so what is he saying? Now listen carefully: the fellowship we enjoy in the local church and in the universal church is not upon the aspect of love, it's not enough just to love God, it's not enough just to love one another in Christ, so-called - but it is upon the grounds of grace and mercy and peace from God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me explain it: truth, the truth that we have fellowship in, is first of all grace and mercy; secondly it brings lasting peace through justification by faith; and last but not least, it comes from God the Father via God the Son. That means that this truth is all about the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 14 verse 6 He said: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' - but there is a trinity of truth: the Son who is Truth incarnate; the Spirit who leads us into all truth, 1 John 5:6, John 14:16-17; and then there is God's word that we hold in our hands tonight, 'Thy word is truth', John 17:17 - but all of it is about Christ! In verse 2 John is getting at the point: this is the truth that sustains us, and will be with us forever.
Now what is the relevance of all this? Well, let me pin it down for you. John is saying, on the issue of the truth that is Christ and His salvation that is imparted to us by grace and by mercy, bringing peace from God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ: the Christian faith stands or falls on that! What is the truth that unites us together? It's not love - whilst love is important - but it is grace, grace that has brought us into fellowship with God and His Son. It is the truth about Christ, the Saviour of grace and the Gospel of grace - it is that truth that lives and lasts forever in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now I know I'm repeating myself over these weeks, and I'm not a bit sorry for it! Because we need to hear this, and we need to become more Christocentric in our theology, in our doctrine, in our practice - that Christ is Christianity! The truth that John is talking about that is the ground of our fellowship, it is timeless, it is dateless, it is unchanged, it is unchanging, it is constant, because it is Jesus Christ - the same yesterday, and today, and forever. He is the faith, as Jude said in 3 and 4, who 'was once and for all delivered to the saints'.
Surely you've got it by now? That means, friends, that this truth that unites believers in local assemblies and across the world, it is not subject to fashion. It cannot be subject to fad, it is not something fickle, it doesn't fluctuate, neither does it evolve - whatever theologians might try and tell us. It is fixed because it is Christ, Christ incarnate, Christ in the word, Christ coming to us in His divine influence by the Spirit - it is all about the eternal Son of God!
Now I know what people say today, and you hear it through the media - 'But when the Lord Jesus was talking about being the Son of God, He was just speaking in the manner that we're all sons and daughters of God'. This has come into vogue in the New Age movement, but it's far from new, it's an old lie of the devil that many of these early Gnostics were imbibing. They say: 'Well, Christ was just referring to Himself in that way' - no He wasn't! Even the Jews understood what He was saying when He said: 'I and my Father are one', John 10 - because the Jews, it says, took up stones to stone Him! Jesus said to them: 'Many good works have I showed you from my Father, for which of those works do you stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God'. They understood what He was saying! That is the truth of the Gospel: Christ being the eternal Son, coming and dying as such, and bearing our sin and rising again - the Jews knew what He was talking about, and we need to know what He's talking about! Sometimes I wonder!
Do you realise if He wasn't a man, He couldn't die for your sins? Without the shedding of blood there is no remission, that's why He had to take flesh and blood as children do, in order to die. But equally so: if He was not the Son of God, He could not satisfy the holy God of heaven in all of His just demands, He could not make a perfect, and also an eternal sacrifice for sins forever. Listen to this, in an age that says doctrine divides - and beware of anybody who tells you not to preach or listen to doctrine - we need to realise that the doctrine concerning Christ is everything, and if we don't have it right we're lost!
The great American statesman, Daniel Webster, one day was dining in Boston with a group of distinguished men. Some had Unitarian leanings - if you don't know what that is, a Unitarian denies the Trinity and the deity of the Son and the Spirit. When the subject of religion came up at the table, Webster boldly affirmed his belief in the deity of Jesus Christ, and his confidence in the work of His atonement at the cross. 'But Mr Webster', said one man, 'Can you comprehend how Christ could be both God and man?'. 'No sir, I cannot comprehend it', Webster replied, 'if I could comprehend Him, He would be no greater than myself. I feel that I need a superhuman Saviour' - hallelujah! We need a superhuman Saviour. Here is how to discern - it's very simple, you don't need a degree in theology to do it - how to discern that which is false and that which is true, one diagnostic question: What think ye of Christ, whose Son is He?
The truth about Christ and His word is the ground of fellowship. Not sincerity, banish the thought! Not sincerity, because this was part of the dilemma here in this church in this woman's home - what are we talking about? Well, Christians, like today, felt that they were meant to be welcoming people, they were meant to be accepting. There already had evolved this culture of hospitality, not only in Eastern society but also in the church, accepting these wandering itinerant preachers. If you multiply that and accentuate it more by the fact that he's writing to a woman - you know what some of the women are like, you feel obliged to cater and care for folk and accept them. John is saying to these folk: do you see after you discern? You've got to learn to be able to say 'No'!
Now I know that's hard to do, but John is telling them it's for the good of your family, and it's ultimately for the good of the church - because for John there was a deadly difference between truth and error. It wasn't simply diverse opinion. I wonder at times why - it just shows you how blinded people are, but sadly even folk in the church - why people say that sincerity is enough in spiritual things. Yet we don't apply that same rule to other things in life. I mean, would you say as long as your doctor is sincere, you don't really care what he believes? Going under the anaesthetic: 'Doctor, are you sincere?' - I'd rather ask him does he have his exams! I don't care how sincere he is! Or a teacher - you want to know that a teacher teaching your child knows what they're teaching, knows it to be true, and is convinced. What about a chemist? I heard the little quip:
'Shed a tear for Jimmy Brown,
Poor Jimmy is no more,
For what he thought was H2O
Was H2SO4' - that's sulphuric acid by the way!
You need to know, and there needs to be sincerity, yes - but you need to know that what you believe is right, because you can be sincerely wrong and that is fatal! So there's a dilemma here that we have in our modern day, and that is: how do you reconcile truth with love? It's still a dilemma today, because people think when you stand for truth that you're being unkind, that you're impolite - I've even heard it said that it's un-Christian! That's the way people talk, but we must beware that in zeal to love other people, there's a great danger that we lose discernment, that we lose discretion, and we lose the balance between love and truth. I know that some are guilty of being all truth and no love, and I think that that's our error here - but equally there are those who are guilty all of love but no truth. I think it's very interesting to note how much heresy and how much malpractice comes into the church through imbalance. It's not always something is wrong, but an imbalance or an extremism in one or another area.
So John - and he does it, he personifies it himself - he is expressing love, but how is he doing it? He's expressing love, warning against false doctrine! That's how he is loving these believers! I've got to bare my heart to you, because there's a namby-pampy, sentimental, tiptoe-through-the-tulips type of love that's displayed as Christian love today - and it turns my stomach! Folk who wouldn't say 'Boo' to a goose, and really wouldn't say a negative word about anything or anyone, lest they be thought of as being un-Christian. Now I'm not saying we go out arrogantly and antagonistically, and rub everybody up the wrong way - but this is evidenced, you see it yourself. You maybe go to a person who's a Christian, and you ask them a straight question, and sometimes you never get a straight answer - have you found that? Sometimes it's a fear to offend you, or not tell you what you want to hear - but here we see a loving tender shepherd coming to his beloved flock, and because he loves them he gives them straight answers! John the beloved, we're sure of straight answers from him - and praise God we've got it, because he doesn't leave us in the dark in a similar age today as what he lived in then.
Indeed, one of the Gnostics in the second century was a man by the name of Marcian - if you studied church history at school you would have heard about him. He once asked Polycarp, who was an overseer in Smyrna and also a disciple through lineage of John himself, Marcian asked him: 'Do you recognise me?'. Do you know what he said? 'I recognise you as the firstborn of Satan' - he was a heretic. That's what Polycarp said to him: 'I recognise you, yes, as the firstborn of Satan'. So much for open-ended tolerance! You see, it was important in the first century to warn people about heretics and about religious profiteers - what would the apostle have said today with the plethora of cults and cable Christian television blurting out all the vilest filth and scum of hell that you can imagine?
John is telling us, as he told them, if your home and our churches are to be true to Christ, if we are to oppose false teachers and false doctrines, you've got to know the truth - it's as simple as that. You can love till you're red in the face, it's not enough. Love is important, the greatest among faith, hope and love is charity - love - but you've got to know the truth, friends. How do you learn the truth? You learn it by carefully studying God's word. Now, can I bare my heart to you again tonight? I have a great burden and a great concern, and it's simply this: the Christian's personal study of the Bible is almost extinct in the 21st-century. Who read their Bible today? Who studied their Bible this week? I couldn't get statistics for our nation - but I'm told that 11% of Americans read the Bible every day, and there something like 40-odd percent, 50% maybe, Americans who claim to be born again. I don't know whether that's true or not.
I had a recent experience that illustrated this for me. Some folk had been very kind to give me a load of books - I don't know whether it did me much good or not, but nevertheless I had doubles of some of them. I decided I would give them to someone else, and I was thinking about folk that I could pass them on to. Do you know something? I had a hard job, because there are very few - especially among young men today - who are studying God's Word. I'm not talking about dabbling - some who think they're studying, they're not studying at all, and the shallowness of their study comes across in some of the error that they propound at times. But who is really getting to grips with God's word? Who? Studying it, reading it, don't tell me it's too difficult! I'll tell you what the problem is: laziness, apathy, affluence, the love of other things! This is why there is so much error tolerated in the church today, because people don't know the truth - but it's not only about learning the truth, it's about loving the truth. Maybe that's where the problem is: we don't love it enough to learn it.
John, as we are going to find in subsequent weeks, tells us here: it's not about learning it and loving it alone, it's also about living it - huh, that's a different thing! Do you see this word for 'truth' that John uses? It could also convey the idea of 'reality', as opposed to appearance and hypocrisy. You see, John is saying the truth that we are united in in fellowship is not some objective thing like a Bible, or even the incarnate Christ alone, but it's subjective in our experience of it in our personal lives. You see, God, when He wanted to convey His revelation of truth to men, put it in flesh! Believe it or believe it not, His intention is to do the same today with you and with me. That's why he rejoiced in verse 4, greatly, that he found the elect lady's children 'walking in the truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father'.
We're not only to know the truth and love the truth, but we're to live for the truth's sake and walk in the truth. Christian, that's what the church and the world needs more than anything today - not just your knowledge of doctrine, and even your love of it, but your life that is filled with the reality of God's truth. As a man said recently to me: 'As Christians we are selling ourselves for more than we're worth'. The words are large, the claims are great, but the lives are shallow and poor! I heard the story about a shopkeeper that said to his new employee: 'Now lad, wisdom and integrity are essential to the retail business. By integrity I mean, if you promise a customer something you have to keep that promise, even if it means you lose money'. 'And what', asked the teenager, 'is wisdom?'. He said: 'That's not making any stupid promises'.
We make a lot of claims - are they stupid promises when we see our lives measured beside them? Are we living up to them? As Christ was the living embodiment of truth on the earth, so our lives ought to be - and if we profess to know truth and love truth, we must live by truth.
Our Father, we thank You that Your Son is the Light of the world, and he that followeth Him shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. We thank You, Lord, that when He ascended He sent His Holy Spirit, who has brought light to our hearts and minds through the truth. We thank You that He moved men of old to write the pages that we have before us - Thy word which is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path. Lord God, forbid that any of us as individuals, or as churches, should lean on our own understanding - but Lord, we pray that we will be directed in our paths by our Lord Jesus and His precious word. Lord, give us a fresh love for the Bible and for the Lord Jesus. Though we lose everything else, may we cling to them. 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 eighteenth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Introduction to 2 John" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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