7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;
For the last two weeks we have explored John’s second epistle and seen that John unites things that many of us often attempt to divide. Today John tackles the topic of truth and informs his readers that truth matters and that Christianity has propositional content that enables us to evaluate false teaching.
The particular false teaching that John rejects was called docetism – docetists taught that the body is evil and that salvation is escape from the prison house of the body. They insisted, therefore, that Jesus could not have assumed a body – that would put him in the same dilemma as the rest of us. Jesus only appeared to have flesh and bones – he really was a spirit instructing us with secret knowledge on how to escape the body.
This, John tells us, is a damnable lie. If we do not get the identity of Jesus right, if we do not articulate the truth about Jesus, then we have neither the Father nor the Son. John informs us that the critical issue is not whether one believes in a person named Jesus but what one believes about him. Who is Jesus? Both Scripture and Christian tradition have always insisted that Jesus is God Himself in human flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity. He is “God of God; Light of Light; very God of very God…being of one substance with the Father.”(Nicene Creed)
Those who modify, twist, distort, or pervert this doctrine are neither Christians nor allies. Whether Unitarians who insist that Jesus was just a great man, or Muslims who insist that Jesus was just a great prophet, or Jehovah’s Witnesses who teach that Jesus was just the greatest of all god’s creations, or Mormons who teach that Jesus was just a man who earned his way to godhead – we are not to consider these nor their like as Christians or allies. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house [church] nor greet him [consider him your ally in the work of the Gospel].
Maintaining this stance is challenging in our day – we live in a religiously pluralistic society full of neighbors and friends who do not embrace historic Christianity and who consider such a devotion to truth out of touch. And so we often find ourselves tempted to compromise or downgrade Jesus’ claims. We are ashamed of the truth rather than embracing the truth.
So reminded of our call to embrace the truth and that we have at times compromised the truth instead, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5 And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
Last week we observed from John’s second epistle that while we often pit love and truth against one another, they are actually fast friends. Love and truth are like flesh and bones.
Today we observe John uniting again two things which in our day and age are often divorced from one another: love and law, love and the commandments of God. John writes that he wants us to love one another. And what is love? This is love, that we walk according to [God’s] commandments.
In the Word of God, love is tangible and concrete – it manifests itself in a wholehearted embracing and implementing of God’s righteous law. What does it mean to love God? It means to be loyal to Him, to not make any idol, to reverence His Name, and to observe the Lord’s Day faithfully. What does it mean to love others? It means to honor those in positions of authority, to preserve the lives, vows, property, and reputation of all men, to speak the truth, and to rejoice in the good gifts that God has given them. Love rejoices in God’s commandments and puts them to practice in the nitty-gritty of life.
John learned this lesson from our Lord Jesus. This is My Father’s commandment, Jesus declared, that you love one another as I have loved you. greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
Many of our countrymen, many of our fellow Christians want to pit love and law against one another. But the end result of this is cruelty and oppression. Love for God that has no bounds is not love – it is idolatry, blasphemy, and profane living. Love for others that has no bounds is not love – it is disrespect, murder, adultery, theft, slander, and covetousness.
So, brothers and sisters, our caling is to love one another and to love all men by keeping the commandments of God – even as our Lord Jesus did. I have not come to do My own will, Jesus said, but the will of the One who sent Me.
Often, however, we do not want to love others as God tells us to love, we want to love according to our terms. And so we have need of God’s forgiveness and grace. So let us kneel and confess our sins to God in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, 2 because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
The Apostle John wrote his second epistle to a Christian congregation whom he poetically calls “the elect lady.” His words to the congregation are in many respects a summary of his first epistle and help us to identify the author of both letters as the same man. In these first few verses John highlights his two primary concerns for this congregation – truth and love.
He loves this congregation “in truth” together with all those who have known “the truth” – because “the truth” abides in us and will be with us forever. Doctrine, John insists, accurate teaching about the Person and Work of Christ, is essential to the Christian faith.
But so too is love. John “loves” the elect lady and her children and prays that God would pour out “grace, mercy, and peace” upon them. Love too is essential to the Christian faith.
Unfortunately many have attempted to pit these two virtues against one another. On the one hand we have churches that are so committed to “truth” that they treat others mercilessly and harshly, failing to love them as they have been loved. On the other hand, we have churches that are so committed to “love” that they refuse to stand for the truth, refuse to stand for what is good and right.
But truth and love are not competitors – together the two shape and mould biblical wisdom as we see them displayed in our Lord Jesus. Truth and love are like the twin components of bones and flesh. Truth by itself is like a skeleton without flesh – stark, frightening, lifeless. Love by itself is like flesh without a skeleton – a big blob of goo with no structure. But together the two unite to form the living body of Christ.
So this is the challenge for us as a body of believers – to unite love and truth so that we be a light to the world and embody in our congregation the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. But often we pit one against the other – and so let us confess our distortion and pray that God would enable us to experience His grace, mercy, and peace in truth and in love.