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Second John

The Virtue of Intolerance

2 John 1: 7-13

It is a cherished American notion that everyone is entitled to his opinion. From that we have somehow derived the idea that all such opinions are equally true and valuable. How it is that we have regressed from the right of free speech to the equality of idiots, I do not know. But in the church we are required, on specific occasions, to be intolerant. John describes such a situation here:

(2 John 1:7-13 NIV) Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. {8} Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. {9} Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. {10} If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. {11} Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. {12} I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. {13} The children of your chosen sister send their greetings.

Deception

Let us make one thing clear: John is not talking about someone whose opinion varies from ours in some minor detail. He is clearly laying out – as our Lord did – the idea that we will encounter those who will attempt to deceive us with regard to our Lord. We need, therefore, to examine this in some detail.

The Deceivers

What kind of people are these? We have a few clues from the Scripture:

  • First, these are often greedy people. With greed there comes a certain unscrupulousness – anything for money. It leads the greedy down the trail of lies for profit.
  • Next, these are those who will lie to make their point. John is very specific here. He is talking about those who add to the Scripture in one way or another. How often have we seen those who have a “special revelation” from God!
  • Finally, as our Lord said, by their fruits you will know them. They will eventually be shown as those who bring the church into disrepute.
The Deception

It’s important for us to realize that John is not talking about every little point of doctrine here. The Scripture is sufficiently deep and wide that honest, learned scholars will disagree as to its particular meaning at particular points. At the best, this reflects the fact that God is infinite and eternal, and we are not. So what, then, are the specific items that are cause for such a charge?

  • As identified here, the first is that Jesus did not come in the flesh. (The previous lesson details some of the consequences of this).
  • Next, there is also the denial that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah promised to the Jews. This specifically relates to the Atonement.
  • Finally, there is the heresy that Jesus is not the Son of God – that is, that he is not God in the flesh.

Search as you might, you will not find anything else which causes this charge of being a deceiver and Antichrist. Here are the lines in the sand, drawn with the sword of God.

Deceit versus disagreement

It must be stressed: reasonable Christians can (and do) disagree about a large number of things. This is unfortunate, but no reason for incivility. Our reaction to disagreement is very different:

  • John is quite clear that those who are deceivers are to be completely shunned by the church.
  • But all others with whom we disagree we are to reason with, in love.
  • It may be useful to note that some people are not to be persuaded. We need to recognize when our disagreements need to be left alone, so that our relationship may be continued in Christian love.

Consequences

It’s a logical question: “so what?” What happens if we just let things be? After all, we wouldn’t shun a Hindu that way. (We should be sharing the Gospel with that Hindu, of course). So what difference does it make here? Why is it, for example, that Christians have no fellowship with Mormons?

It’s because Mormons claim to have an additional (“secret”) revelation that tells us that Jesus is not divine – but an equal with Satan. It’s an old heresy; in this case the inventor of the tale was Joseph Smith. But why would this have an effect on us?

Judgment

We must remember that the Day of Judgment is coming, when our Lord will return to judge the living and the dead. One aspect of the judgment that is sometimes neglected is that of reward.

  • Judgment is both positive and negative. Think of it in terms of a civil, not a criminal, court case. The Last Judgment is the time when God rights the wrongs, but also rewards the righteous.
  • For example, we are told that when we give a banquet, we should invite those who can’t issue a return invitation – so that we will be rewarded at our Lord’s return.
  • Who could be fair in such a judgment? Only one who was both divine, having the wisdom of God, and human, knowing the weakness of mankind. Only Jesus, the Christ, could be this judge.

If you were going into a civil court, expecting such a reward, it would not be wise to treat the judge flippantly. On the contrary, you would address him as, “Your honor.” After all, he’s the man that’s going to make the decision! How much more, then, should you honor the judge of the living and the dead! Note, then, that the points of deceit all have to do with the person and character of Jesus. It’s as if you were saying to the judge, “I really don’t think you have the power and authority to do anything about this, nor the wisdom.” Not a very bright remark to make to a judge.

Loss of reward

So it is that John warns us in verse 8: watch out!

  • He’s talking about the reward that we have worked for – that which we have earned. That means he’s not talking about salvation.
  • It also means that this loss of reward can happen – if we are careless.
  • Careless? Careless about the essentials of the faith – who do you say that Jesus is?

If you’re going skydiving, it’s annoying to forget your watch. But I’d be really careful to pack both parachutes.

Practical Warning

Iraneus repeats a story he had from Polycarp about John: It seems that John knew such a heretic, one Cerinthus. It happened that John was about to enter a public bath house (no central plumbing in those days) when he was told that Cerinthus was inside. John refused to go in – allowing that he didn’t want to be there when the roof caved in. How, then, should we deal with such a situation?

Watch out!

The first essential is vigilance. How do we stay centered in the will of God? The steps are well known, but worth repeating:

  • First, take no one’s word for it – study the Scripture yourself. There will be some parts you don’t understand. There will be some in which you will draw the wrong conclusion. But those are bare spots in the paint of a solidly built house.
  • Listen to sound teaching – and not just from one teacher. Read those who have been called home; read those who write now; listen to those who teach now. Do not listen in blind acceptance, but compare it to your own understanding of the Scripture. I have often been challenged on my statements in class, and on occasion have changed my opinion because of it. You do your teacher no favors by sponging; scrubbing is what makes things clean.
  • Listen to the Holy Spirit – which means an active life of daily prayer. He will keep you from error, and show you the way.

Taken together, these three will be the compass you need in the course of life.

Do not support the deceivers

“Sometimes,” remarked Calvin Coolidge, “being open minded is just being too lazy to make up your mind.” Why should you shun the deceivers?

  • If you don’t, you give public approval to their deceptions – and this tends to help them deceive others.
  • Let’s understand who these people are: Antichrists. They may appear pious enough, but they are those who are actively opposed to Christ. Why would you want to help Satan?
  • If you will not shun them, what motivation do they have to repent? You do them no favors that way.
“Not mine to argue”

Note that you are not called to argue with these people. In fact, if you shun them, you won’t have the chance. There are many reasons for shunning rather than arguing; here are two:

  • First, you might not be capable of arguing with them. Why risk it?
  • Next, suppose you are mistaken. If they are true Christians, they will seek to resolve the problem in love, to preserve the unity of the church. If they are “the only real Christians,” you’ll soon find out. Either way, you will avoid petty dissension and save this technique for its important use.

One last reminder: this is a particular case. You will see it. Conduct your disagreements in love; shun only those who are the deceivers and Antichrists.

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