June 6, 2021
Last week, I ended our time together saying, I will fiercely protect you from false teachers. You see, because I love Jesus Christ and His gospel, and because I love you His church, brothers and sisters in Christ, I will passionately protect you from those who would seek to distort the gospel of Jesus – who would seek to distract, deter or destroy you from the truth.
I am a pastor – one of 19 elders in this local church – and as we look at the responsibilities of elders in Acts 20 [you can also look at I Peter 5], we find a primary responsibility is to shepherd the flock. In Acts 20, Paul was on his way to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. He knew that arrest, imprisonment and possibly martyrdom awaited him there. So, he called for the elders of Ephesus to meet him in Miletus. He had planted the church in Ephesus, probably appointed these elders, and knew that he would likely never see them again. But that was okay. For Paul, to die was gain. He said to them, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (24) No matter the cost.
They can arrest me, they can imprison me, they can even kill me, but I will faithfully discharge my duties to testify of the gospel of grace. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, His truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.” Well, Paul went on to charge the elders of Ephesus, saying, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (28) Guard yourselves, watch out for yourselves and the flock – the church – among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers – used interchangeably with elders – to shepherd the church of God. This is your primary responsibility as elders/overseers – to shepherd the church of God.
By the way, the word shepherd is the one from which we get our word pastor – that’s what a pastor is, a shepherd of the flock. So then, what do shepherds do for the flock, for the sheep? I would summarize by saying they lead the flock, they feed the flock, and they protect the flock. They lead by overseeing, managing, holding accountable, and meeting needs. They feed primarily through teaching the Word of God. And they protect the flock from predators. I read just Friday that a farmer in Idaho has had 54 lambs killed by bald eagles. So what did he do? He’s a shepherd – he moved the flock closer to the barn – to shelter them, hoping to deter the predators. That’s what shepherds do. Listen to what Paul went on to say to these Ephesian elders:
29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31 “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
Paul knew that after he left, savage wolves – Jesus called them wolves in sheep’s clothing – would come in among you, not sparing the flock – that is, the sheep, the people of the church. They will speak perverse things – outside gospel truth which you have received – why? Seeking to draw away disciples after them. So be on the alert – be watchful – be on guard. Remember what I have taught you night and day for three years.
That was Ephesus. Interesting – remember the Apostle John spent the last decades of his life as a leader, an elder in the church at Ephesus. And from that church, he wrote I, II and III John. All those letters deal with this issue of false teachers. Predators, wolves seeking to destroy the gospel and the church, just as Paul had warned. We found in I John they had gone out – they had left the church. If they had truly been of the church, they would have remained, but by their going, they proved, that while physically in the church for a time, they were not actually of the church.
But the problem was, they didn’t just leave. Oh, we’ve had people among us deny the Christian faith – decide they didn’t believe, and leave. But that’s not what these guys were doing. They left, and as wolves, they were seeking to destroy the faith of others. They were seeking to draw away disciples after them, just as Paul had warned.
So, John wrote I John to deal with them. They denied that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh to die for our sins. They denied the necessity of obeying the commands of Christ. They denied the necessity of loving one another. So John wrote I John basically saying, don’t listen to them. This how you can know that you have eternal life – that you believe rightly – that these heretics are not right. You can know because you do believe in Jesus, you do seek to obey His commands, and you do love one another.
And now, he writes II John to a specific local church – like Alliance – to instruct them regarding interacting with these false teachers. As we saw last week, he started by reminding them that we are people of truth and love. In fact, our love is not anything goes, but is grounded in the truth – the truth about Jesus and His gospel. We are being loving by sharing the gospel with lost people. He reminded us, having believed the truth, we should live out the truth by obeying His commands, especially this command to love one another.
But…what to do about these false teachers – who were seeking to infiltrate and destroy the church? Remember, they had left the church. Which means, they had been known by, loved by the church. But now, they were disseminating their false brand of religion. What should we do with them? Should we welcome them? Have them in our homes? In the church? Listen to them? Maybe they’re onto something. What do we do about false teachers today – and they are everywhere? II John 7-11 – obey the commands of Christ, love one another, for…
These are strong words of loving shepherding protection. Because true love protects the ones loved. There are three imperatives – three commands given in this letter. Of course, he reminded them of the command they’d had from the beginning – to love one another. But it’s not technically a command, just a reminder of the command. The three commands in this letter are as follows:
- The first is found in verse 8 – watch yourselves – be on the alert, pay attention. The evil one is alive and well – and like a roaring lion seeks someone to devour.
- The second and third are related and found in verse 10 – do not receive him, that is, a false teacher; do not even give him a greeting.
So, we’ll outline the text today around those commands:
- Watch Yourselves (7-9)
- Do Not Receive or even Greet False Teachers (10-11)
And then we’ll look briefly at his closing in verses 12 and 13. Now remember, John had reminded them to walk in the truth by obeying the commands of Christ, to include the one they had heard from the beginning – to love one another. Why? For many deceivers have gone out into the world. The implication is these deceivers were not of them – they had gone out, left the church, and they no longer believed the truth, nor lived the truth. Don’t miss this: in order to withstand the attacks of the evil one through false teachers, we need each other. Do you see that? Walk in the truth, love one another – for there are those who have gone into the world. We will need each other to effectively withstand their attacks.
Now, who were these deceivers? He tells us – they are those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. In I John, he told us a little more about them – especially their Christology – their teaching about Jesus:
2:22-23 – Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
4:1-3 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world [same phrase]. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of antichrist…
4:14-15 – We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
5:1,5 – Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
5:6 – [incredibly important] This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ…[He came through His baptism and through His physical death on the cross.]
5:11-13 – And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; and he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
It is clear throughout the gospel narratives – and that John proclaims in his first letter – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who came in the flesh to die for the sins of people – to become in His flesh the propitiation for sinners. And any denial that Jesus is the Christ, any denial that Jesus is the Son of God, any denial that Jesus came in the flesh, and any denial that Jesus and Jesus alone is the atonement for our sins – that is the deceiver and the antichrist.
We noted in our study of I John that John in these two letters is the only author in the NT to use the word antichrist. Now, there is an antichrist to come – the big one – the man of lawlessness that Paul talks about who will come at the end of time, opposing God and all that is good. But John uses the term to speak of anyone who denies any essential Christological truths. There are many deceivers who have gone out into the world. Who are these deceivers? The ones who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. In some way, they were denying the incarnation. There are lots of ways people have done damage to Christ through the years:
Some have denied His essential deity – that Jesus was God in the flesh. In other words, they deny He was uniquely the only begotten Son of God. They say He was just a man, a good man, a holy man, a good teacher – but not God. There are so many variations of this one, they are hard to list them all. Some, to include contemporaries of John, said Jesus was just a man, upon whom came the Spirit of Christ at His baptism, but left Him at the crucifixion. Others deny His deity by saying He has not always existed – that there was a time that He was not. He came into being when He was born to Mary. Still others have said He was not God like the Father is God – He’s just sort of like God – not one in essence with the Father.
Today, the current trend even among those who call themselves Christians is to deny that Jesus was God in the flesh – that when He came, He emptied Himself of His deity. He lived only as a man to demonstrate what we could do if fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit. Please note, this teaching denies the deity of Jesus Christ in His humanity.
Still others have denied His essential humanity. That is, they’ve denied the incarnation – Jesus taking on flesh. They said that Jesus was just a spirit – immaterial. Of course, John deals with that here – the deceiver is the one who denies Jesus as coming in the flesh. In I John, he started his letter by telling us – our eyes saw Him, our ears heard Him, and our hands handled Him. He was flesh – He slept, He ate, He drank, He cried and He died.
Still others have denied His substitutionary atonement. They say He came and lived as a moral example – to show us how to live. One of the famous evangelists of the 19th Century was a guy by the name of Charles Finney. While today he is regarded as a good evangelist, he denied the atonement. He said, and I quote, no man could die for the sins of another. That is heresy.
Today, the most usual way that people deny the atonement, even among so-called evangelicals, is to deny its necessity. What do I mean? About half of evangelicals say Jesus is not the only way to heaven – that other religions will get you there if you faithfully follow them. That makes the death of Jesus totally unnecessary. If you can get to heaven without faith in Jesus, then Jesus died for nothing.
I could go on and on. But to deny that Jesus was fully God and fully man, to deny His death and resurrection as the only means of salvation for people – is to be the deceiver and the antichrist. It’s interesting, John uses the definite article the at the end of verse 7. To deny the person and work of Jesus is to be empowered by the antichrist, the deceiver – we call him the evil one, the devil himself.
That brings us to the first command – watch yourselves. Don’t give into these false teachings. Is this a necessary teaching today? Survey after survey in American churches are showing that Jesus was nice, but not necessary. He may or may not have been God, His death may or may not have been necessary for salvation. That is the deceiver and the antichrist. (Pluralism)
Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. What had John and the other apostles accomplished? The preaching of the gospel that saved souls. To walk away from that gospel is to lose what was accomplished. This doesn’t mean that you lose your salvation – it proves you never had it. Don’t walk away. Watch yourselves, and keep believing so that you may be fully rewarded. John is clearly talking about eschatological reward – that is, future reward and that you will make it to heaven. You don’t get there by your good works – you get there by faith in Jesus – who He alone is, and what He alone has done. And we must persevere in the faith. Keep believing.
Verse 9 – he takes us back to these false teachers who had deserted. He’s laying the groundwork for the second and third commands. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide or remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Do you see that? The ones who do not hold onto the gospel, but somehow runs on ahead, as if they’ve reached some level of greater spiritual understanding – they prove by their going on ahead that they do not have God. They never had God. The only way to have God is to have Jesus. We must cling to the truth of the gospel – there are historic biblical truths that must be held at all costs.
This so-called progressivism, this wokeness, has not just hit politics and sexuality and education. It has hit the church of Jesus Christ. Many are suggesting in our progressiveness that we’ve got to progress beyond the limitations of the church and the Christian faith. Our old notions of sin are archaic and bigoted and have to change. And John is saying, there is a way to go too far “ahead” and leave the teaching of Christ – and lose any hope of forgiveness and heaven. They want to offer you progressive truth, and John says to hold onto the truth of the gospel. I’ve said it this way before – we do not need the new and improved, we need the old and already proven.
This teaching of Christ is either Christ’s teaching, or the teaching about Christ. In the end it doesn’t really matter because the Christian faith is found in Christ alone – both what He taught and what is taught about Him.
Bringing us to the second command. This false teaching is so serious with eternal ramifications, that John says, do not receive, do not even greet false teachers. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching – the teaching of the Christ and His gospel – do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting.
I mentioned this last week. The Roman Empire allowed for travel, with Roman roads, the pax Romana, common language. It helped spread the gospel. Now, there were not hotels and inns then as there are today. So, itinerant, traveling teachers and preachers depended on the hospitality of others. These teachers would often have letters of recommendation – that will be important in III John. As they came to city, the local church would house them, feed them, care for them, even provide financial support to them. But now it appears these false teachers were doing the same thing. What should we do? Should we show them hospitality – have them into our homes – whether our individual homes or the home that housed the church – remember, there were not church buildings at this time – all churches were house churches. So, do we welcome a false teacher into our homes – where we live or where we worship? John says unequivocally no. Do not even greet them.
Why? Several reasons. First, we don’t want to give them a platform for their false teaching. (UCC or Unitarian Universalist) Second, we don’t want to expose our people to false teachers – that’s like letting the wolves in among the sheep. Third, we don’t want to provide any level of support for their false teaching, thus helping them along the way. Fourth, we don’t want to provide an endorsement for their false teaching. You see, giving them food and board, even greeting them, would become a tacit endorsement.
Further, John says by giving them a place, a platform, a hearing, any financial support (in any form) or an endorsement (intended or unintended) is to participate in their evil deeds. We become part and partner of their evil teaching.
So, how do we do that today? By reading their books, for which they earn royalties. I remember some years ago, I bought Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. It is heretical – and I knew it to be. I’ve often wondered, in some way, did I support – did I participate in his evil deeds? We participate by singing their songs, by which they receive royalties. By listening to their podcasts or Youtube channels – by which they get numbers and unintended followers and thereby receive advertisers who pay them for time to advertise. There is no reason to expose ourselves to false teachers. Stay completely away, John says.
There are strong words in the Scripture for those who would spread false teaching. For example, it would be better to tie a millstone around their necks and cast them into the depths of the sea than to allow them to cause one of His little ones to stumble. Here’s the point – false teaching is serious, and we should not allow it in any way into our church or into our homes.
But what about evangelism? There is a place for having lost people into our homes and our places of worship – our churches. It’s fine to listen to them – to hear their objections. But we do not give them a platform to share their heretical beliefs. We speak gospel truth to them – we do not entertain their false teaching. Let me say it like this – there is a knock on the door, and there they are – two Mormons or two Jehovah’s Witnesses. They deny the essential and exclusive deity of Jesus Christ. They want to come in and share their heresy with you. I am saying, don’t do it. They are there to convert you. Do not listen to them. They deny Christ – they are condemned. But what about sharing truth with them? Yes, of course. But I am issuing a warning. Be very careful. It seems a little harsh, I know. But listen to John Stott on this passage:
“If John’s instruction still seems harsh, it is probably because his concern for the glory of the Son and the good of human souls is greater than ours, and because ‘the tolerance on which we pride ourselves’ is in reality an ‘indifference to truth.’…The false teacher whom John forbids to the church to entertain is ‘the deceiver’ and ‘the antichrist.’ His teaching is derogatory to Christ and dangerous to the church. How then can we make him welcome in our home or church or wish him well on his journey? If we were to do so in the name of love, we would not be acting in the best interests either of the false teachers or of those they would pervert.”
Let’s close by reading the last two verses of the book – II John 12-13.