2 John: Our Love
May 15, 2011 Series: Letters of John
Topic: New Testament Passage: 2 John 1:1–1:13
We’re beginning our 3rd Week in the study of the three letters of John Inserting 2John in the middle of our study might seem strange, but I felt it worked well with what John already taught in the 1st chapter of his first letter. John began his first letter establishing his credibility as eyewitness so that he might refute false teachers with the true message of Jesus. It is the truth about Jesus, he says, that establishes a true fellowship with God and brings true joy. And last week we saw that, those who have true fellowship with God walk in the light, confessing their sin and claiming forgiveness in Jesus. Those who walk in darkness, not only don’t have fellowship with God but they also cannot have true fellowship with other people. In 1John 1.7 he wrote, “IF we walk in the light, as he is the light, we have fellowship with one another.”
The light of God opens our eyes to see our sin which leads us to forgiveness in Jesus. And it is this shared confession of the gospel, and shared identity as a family of saved sinners that brings us into fellowship. But what is fellowship exactly? Are we just an association, an affinity, a club, a group of people that just happen to gather together regularly? 2John elaborates on that idea, giving us a sense of how we should interact with fellow Christians in the church. He also has some hard words about WHO we ought NOT fellowship with. And be warned, as with everything he writes, this short letter will challenge your idols, your preferences, and your practices. If it doesn’t offend you, you are probably misunderstanding it or assuming it is intended for someone else. It’s for you.
V. 1-3 Greeting1 The elder to the elect lady and her children,
2John, one of the shortest letters in the Bible, would fit on one piece of papyrus and be comparable to an email today, short and to the point. John identifies himself as “THE ELDER.” Though there is a role of “elder” or “bishop” in the church, John is not writing from a formal office or position, rather, it is more of a title of affection that carries some weight, similar to writing “your pastor”, or even, “the old man.” He writes to the ELECT LADY, which is not an actual woman, but more likely a personification of a church. God’s elect people are called His bride in the O.T. and the church is identified as the bride of Christ in the N.T. “Her children” would be the members of the church to which John is writing. At the end of his letter, we learn that John is writing from the lady’s “elect sister”, which is another church full of Christians nearby.
For me, there is a beauty even in this part of the letter. John intends to address the sense of community and fellowship among the people IN the church he is writing to. At the same time, we see a sense of fellowship and community exists even between churches. It is important for Damascus Road to maintain a sense of kinship with other churches. We have that with the SEED church right now. Even more so, we will have connection with the members of COMMUNION church. There should be a sense of love between our churches and our people. We love them, not because we are alike, because they hold to the same truth.
Love and truth
From the very first verses, you will see that John is going emphasize this connection between truth and love. He is writing to the church because he LOVES them IN TRUTH. He says ALL who know the truth LOVE this them also, because of the TRUTH is in their hearts forever. He says grace, mercy, and peace will come from God to us, IN TRUTH and LOVE.
We see then that truth and love are inseparable. In many ways, truth and love balance and qualify one another. Love and truth are both essential to any gospel-centered community. Truth without love ends up building community that is theologically strong but relationally cold, hard, and unloving toward anyone who does not know the truth. But love without truth creates a fellowship that is indiscriminate in who and how it loves. It has nothing to help people discern what is dangerous, harmful, or wrong. It is easily swayed by emotion. There have been many movements that, in an effort to have “unity”, removed the truths that offended another’s sensibilities. Compromising truth will never create true fellowship and any fellowship that fails to love is already guilty compromising the truth. Fellowship of the local church is created by truth and exhibited in love (Stott).
V. 4-6 Old Command to Love One Another
John then proceeds to report on what he has seen or heard about this church to whom he is writing.
4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
Asked an Old Commandment
John rejoices that there are people who are actually walking like Christians in the church. Now, either John is speaking only about those he has interacted with OR he is implying that there are some who are not walking as they ought. John continues to revisit this idea of walking. In 1John, he charged people to walk in the light. Now he talks about walking in the truth which, as we will see is evidenced by those walking in love. And know that walking in the light, walking in truth, and waking in love are not simply good rules of thumb, sound Christian living advice; they are commands from God.
There are many of us here who don’t like commands. We don’t like being told what to do by anyone, including God. But because we fear God, many of us are careful to adhere to the negative commands in which God forbids us to do something like lie, cheat, or steal. But we tend to ignore, dismiss, or struggle with the positive commands through which God charges us to do something—like serve, give, or love. We have creative ways of justifying our disobedience-ignorance, misunderstanding, or passive obedience (I prayed that someone would serve you…I had a loving thought).
I find it curious here that John ASKS the church. John does not give a new command. This is the role of the pastor, not to give new commands, invent new ways of living, create new kinds of Christianity, or build new kinds of churches. The role of a pastor is to point the church to what God has already commanded in His Word—to read the Bible publicly, sing the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and tell others to read their Bibles. So I am going to ask you Damascus Road, obey what God has commanded. This is what John does and he uses the word command three times in three verses. And the command is TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER, emphasizing the fact that this is not a suggestion. God has commanded us to love our neighbors, to love even our enemies, BUT we are to have a bond of love with our fellow Christians that is special. It is not because we are naturally drawn to each other by something shared in the flesh—our bond is a spiritual one created by belief in the gospel.
Love as an action: John 13
Now, this is going to be very hard for many to hear. Your sinful flesh is going to kick against this command of God. And know that it is not because God’s command is difficult to interpret, on the contrary, it is because it is too easy to understand. The command to Damascus Road Church to LOVE ONE ANOTHER is not just feelings of good will we project toward those we gather with. Love is not just an emotion. It is not some is not some involuntary, uncontrollable passion you wait to be generated so that you can act. It is UNSELFISH SERVICE that occurs with a deliberate choice. Love is an act of obedience.
But what does that look like here at Damascus Road. Let’s see what Jesus said, because the command that John refers to was given by Jesus to his disciples in John 13.34 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” What led up this command, Jesus washed his disciples feet. [EXPLAIN] But I’m not Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus dwells in your heart is he has saved you. Therefore, you possess the capacity, in Christ, to obey his command to do this.
Love at Damascus Road
As a church I am uncertain how we do at loving our brothers. Quite honestly, I am a bit concerned that attitudes in our culture have overwhelmed the attitude of Christ we are supposed to exhibiting—considering others more important than ourselves. We don’t love our brothers well. And with all gratitude to God, we have many people serving here at our church. Loving does include serving one another, but it is also a matter of caring for one another, encouraging one another, protecting one another, providing for one another, all things that we would consider loving. It feels like, unless there is a scheduled event, a formal program, or stated expectations, most of us do not initiate relationship with those whom we are a local church family. What are we doing? I fear that our church has failed where I fail initiating relationship with others.
Though we gather every week, some of us are “facebook friends”, most of us are not close enough to know each other’s names, let alone our needs, our struggles, our fears, our desires, or our hopes. Do we realize that just because we attend, give, or even serve on Sunday does not mean you are loving your brother—that we are not fulfilling Christ’s command to love one another? BUT Love for our brothers and sisters is the very characteristic that Jesus says identifies someone as a Christian. We are talking about Christian hospitality, brotherly warmth, generosity, friendliness, openness, and kindness. The kind of love for one another that is not ever seen in the world, a kind of love that makes us different.
When was the last time you had someone over to your home? If we are not loving our brothers, why would be apt to love our neighbors who are not our brothers yet?
v. 7-9 Command NOT to receive False “Brothers”
John then somewhat awkwardly transitions into talking about fellowship with false teachers. And I had to ask myself why? And I’ve come to the conviction that it’s because people in the church were loving the false teachers and their worldly “friends” better than their own brothers.. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
To begin, there WERE and ARE many false teachers in the world. They teach a new religion, lead new spiritual movements, or promote new kinds of Christianity. John calls these individuals ANTI-CHRISTS—those who deny biblical truth and sound doctrine. John is the only one who uses the title Anti-Christ in Scripture, and it is only used in his letters. This title is often identified with powerful and evil man of sin or lawlessness who rises in the end times. We will go into this further in 1John, but here John uses the title for teachers whose deceptions BEGIN with denying the incarnation of Jesus—that the Son of God took on human flesh, which we saw includes the denial of sin, and ultimately a denial of need for a savior.
In John’s day, there are actually travelling preachers or missionaries who have GONE OUT into the region and are coming into their communities. Because this is a culture of hospitality that is unfamiliar to us today, strangers would often be welcomed into their home and treated as family. Christians, especially, were expected to welcome missionaries or teachers as the Inns were notoriously bad. John warns them that these individuals intend to destroy “what they have worked for.” They are going to destroy their faith in God and His ways. This is not just truth about the identity of Christ, but about God, morality, family, the church, everything that they have worked hard to be firmly rooted in. The truth of God is always under attack and the wolves always come dressed with a little truth and a lot of lies—just like their dad satan.
How to know a false teacher
These gusy claim to have “GONE AHEAD”, meaning, they have progressed into new truth for today. They claim new kind of truth, new kind of Christianity, a new kind of church relevant for today. This does not mean methods should not be updated or language doesn’t change, but it means that whatever “progress” we make, we best abide in God and His Word—both of which do not change. The early church of the 1st and 2nd century, wrote a book called the “didache”. It amounted to the first church manual. At one point, instructs leaders how to identify a false teachers through tests of doctrine, motives, and manners:
- They have perverted teaching.
- They take advantage of one’s hospitality(stay for 3 days).
- They ask for money.
- They have bad manners.
- They do not do what they teach.
In essence they are gathering people to sell Christ as a tool to get what they want as opposed to calling people to worship the King. They traffic in Christ, peddling the gospel as a means to health, wealth, or the solution to all kinds of material issues.
V. 10-11 Do not receive him
John says DO NOT fellowship with these men. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
Fellowship with False Teachers
John gives some hard and fast words for those who bring false teaching. DO NOT bring them into your home or say HI on the street. If you even acknowledge them you participate in their wickedness. Those are hard words and may strange words for us because back in the early church, false teachers were obvious back then. For example: “When the saintly Polycarp met the heretic Marcion, Marcion said, ‘Do you recognize me? ‘I recognize Satan’s first-born,’ answered Polycarp. It was John himself who fled from the public baths when Cerinthus, the heretic, entered them. “Let us hurry away lest the building collapse on us,’ he said, “because Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is here.” (Barclay, pg. 144). We probably won’t have False Teaching Benny Hinn knocking on our door soon, but you may have a Mormon. This is not about making sure you don’t invite them in for cookies so that you can preach the true Jesus to them. It is about asking some hard questions about what false teachers you bring into your home. We allow false teachers and false teaching into our homes all the time. Some come through books, others through friends, and others through family. Because we are not watchful shepherds, through their words, actions, lifestyles, they can challenge or even destroy many of the foundational truths of our homes.
Fellowship with False Brothers
If John says “anyone” does he mean any unbeliever? It sounds like there is tension then between loving the truth and loving the world. Today’s “missional” movement often preachs the importance of connecting with non-believers. And I’ve come to the conviction that people in the church ware ere loving the false teachers and their worldly “friends” better than their own brothers.. If true community is only possible with those who love God, we need to be aware of who are in our communities. In all of our creative attempts at evangelism, let us never forget the doctrine of sin. We are totally depraved. And as we build communities or join communities that are not centered on the truth and not in fellowship with God, be aware of who is influencing who. Jesus said for the church to be a city on the hill, salt in the world, a light and a lamp on a stand, that we were called out of the world even while in the world.
As Christians, let us not be afraid or apologetic about living fully in the identity of Christ, of holding the lines that God has drawn, of following the commands that the world finds weird or offensive—of believing differently, of living differently, and loving differently.
V.12-13 Conclusion: Letters and Relationship
12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your elect sister greet you.
I would rather not use paper and ink. John could have written more, but he realized the danger of long emails and the power of face to face conversations. Letters, phone calls, emails, and facebook are not the most effective tools to walk in truth or to walk in love. Real joy comes in real relationships. I pray that our love for one another will move beyond paper and ink, beyond email and facebook, beyond attendance and even official membership—to true love for one another. God called us out of darkness into the light together; God empowers us to walk in truth together; and God commands us to walk in love together.
Now we will participate in a family meal together.
John 15.12-17 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.