But now imagine something else. Imagine that instead of welcoming people warmly, we had just unlocked the doors and let them find their way in. Instead of feeding all those people, we had just had food for ourselves. What if instead of warmly embracing them, we had chosen to ignore them. Would anyone be encouraged to return? It would be highly unlikely. Withholding hospitality sends a clear message to someone that they are not wanted and we don’t want them here. Hospitality is very powerful.
This morning we continue the study of the second and third letters of John. In this part of the second letter of John, we find an example of how the early church used hospitality to encourage the spread of the gospel and to discourage the spreading of false teaching as well. Let’s read 2 John 1-13.
I. Who are the deceivers and the antichrists that John is referring to?
In verse 7, John describes these people as those “who do not acknowledge Jesus’ coming in the flesh.” John is referring to a teaching that began around this time about Jesus’ human and divine natures. This teaching claimed that Jesus was first of all born as any other human being. But when he was baptized and the Holy Spirit came on him in the form of a dove, he at that specific time received his God-like or divine nature and became the God-man. Moreover, shortly before he was crucified the divine nature left him with the result that only Jesus the human died. Therefore, there really was no lasting God-man.
John vigorously rejects this teaching in this letter. He writes that Christians must confess or acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. He was the Son of God at his birth and his death, throughout and even in his resurrected body. Why this is so important we will see in just a few minutes.
As a result this false teaching, John labels these as “deceivers.” These teachers were going around trying to get people to follow their way. And they were doing this by trying to make Christianity “new and improved.” In verse 9, John describes these teachers as those who run ahead, those who think that they are a step ahead of everyone else. You can almost hear the false teachers saying, “You don’t still believe that old stuff, do you? We have a new and more advanced view of things!” People were being lured into following this by being deceived.
Remember the advertisement that has the tag line that says, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s ....” The so-called Priceless ads of a certain major credit-card company have been around for years. The format is simple: a short list of goods or services, each accompanied by their dollar value. Then there’s a final item: something intangible, to which no financial value could possibly be assigned - something like a weekend spent camping with your kids. The value of this final item is a single word, weightily intoned by the announcer: priceless.
It’s a pretty slick campaign. One advertising executive handling the campaign admitted how slick it really is: “What really hit home with consumers,” he said, “is that a company that is fundamentally all about money and paying for things would actually declare that the things that really count can’t be bought.” And yet, they are also telling you that you should spend the money, or better charge it, in order to get what you really want: that priceless moment. It’s very subtle and very deceptive. These teachers were also very subtle and very deceptive getting people to believe in something that seemed to be a good thing, but was not at all true.
But in fact, John says that anyone who preaches this about Jesus is the antichrist. Not THE antichrist that John refers to elsewhere in his writings. But rather anyone who holds this view and tries to deceive others is certainly an active servant of the chief Antichrist: Satan. Such activities of trying to take this central teaching out of Christianity is obviously going completely against the teaching of Christ and cuts at the very root of Christian belief. What was so dangerous about this?
He writes in verse 8, “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for.” If they follow this false teaching, everything they have been doing will crumble apart. The work in the community, building up the church, educating the young, discipling new converts all will be lost because the foundation will be lost if many stopped believing. Think about the building rebuilding project of the new One World Trade Center.
Their future reward will be in jeopardy as well. We are often a bit uncomfortable talking about future rewards for us; yet the Bible teaches that those who are faithful in the work God gives them and use God’s gifts to do that work will be rewarded. If they remain faithful, they will keep their reward. So if they abandon the truth, they will not only destroy the past and present work, they will destroy the future benefits as well. Now why does John issue such severe warnings? What was so serious about this false teaching?
John, in verse 9, answers that it is a matter of whether or not a person has God or not. What determines this is whether or not a person keeps the teaching of Christ. The teaching of Christ that is referred to in verse 9 is that whole body of Christ’s teaching handed down from Christ to the Apostles and then to the church. It is the orthodox teaching regarding the truth that John speaks of in verses 1-6.
Now those who reject this teaching “do not have God.” Why? Why must Jesus be truly God and truly man? Jesus must be human if he is to pay our penalty, our punishment for sin. Animals couldn’t do it; God can’t be our substitute either. Jesus must also be God since only a divine being, only God could bear that awful load, that terrible weight of all our sins and then restore us to God. If these teachings say Jesus was not God when he was crucified, then it was merely a man who died and that is simply not enough to pay for our sins. Then in a very real and frightening way, they do not have God. Now for the same reasons, those who believe that Jesus is God and man have assurance that sins are fully forgiven and that fellowship with God is fully restored.
III. How is the church to handle the deceivers?
In order to understand John’s instructions, we have to have a picture of life in the early church. There were no denominations, seminaries or ways of regulating who was legitimate or not. Moreover, the churches thrived on traveling preachers. This was much like the days in the late 1800's in this country with the circuit riding preachers. Not every church had qualified teachers, so teachers and preachers would travel from one church to another to preach and care for the people. In John’s day these preachers depended heavily upon the hospitality of these churches. The members would take them in, feed and care for them before they went on their way. This was the way the churches “paid” for these services.
What must these churches do then to evaluate these traveling preachers? First, they must evaluate the teaching of the one who comes to them. They must listen to what the teachers are teaching very carefully. Then they must apply the test of Jesus’ coming in the flesh. If he is representing the truth, then they can accept that person.
But if he reflects the error or heresy that John had been describing, they must not accept him. Don’t take him in means “Don’t officially accept him or allow him to preach or teach in the church.” Moreover, they are not to greet him or welcome him. This could refer to a greeting given upon arrival or leaving. Either way, do not wish him God’s blessing of the benediction for that would encourage him. What John is saying is don’t show him any support at all or you may be sharing in their wicked work. In the ancient world, there were five traditional acts or gifts of hospitality that were required for a guest once that person crossed the threshold into the home: 1. offering a drink of water; 2. washing the feet of the guest; 3. greeting the guest with a kiss; 4. anointing or washing the head; and 5. offering the guest something to eat. By withholding the greeting, there is no emotional and spiritual support. By withholding hospitality, they would be hindering their work and efforts.
Finally, John concludes by expressing his desire to speak to them in person. He likely wants to talk to them about many things that would be encouraging and joyful to them all. For now he must send these warnings for the urgency of dealing with these false teachers is very great.
Let’s first look at what this does NOT mean for churches today. John is not saying that we must disregard every person who holds a view contrary to Scripture. When a Jehovah’s Witness comes to call, don’t say, “I can’t show you any hospitality” and then kick him out. John here is referring to false teachers who want to come into the church itself. It would be like allowing a Mormon to be on the Council or to teach a Sunday School class. We must show love and respect to all people and see if in fact we can win them over. However, there is no license for rudeness here shown to individual persons we come into contact with.
Second, John is not describing how to deal with someone who disagrees with a point of theology. If someone doesn’t agree with a point of doctrine, you should not exclude hospitality from him and not give the Lord’s blessing on him. John here is referring to a very basic issue: the very nature of Jesus is at stake.
So what does this mean for the church? We must protect ourselves from false teaching. Anything we hear that goes beyond what the Bible plainly teaches should put us on the alert. When someone says that the Bible needs to be read in a new way or with the help of new revelation, we must be highly suspicious. Examples that come to mind are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses that add extra things to the Bible as well as distorted views of Christ. Many others as well in the protestant, even evangelical tradition also have views about Jesus human and divine nature that we must be on guard against. We must be aware of these things and be able to know what they say, so that we can refute it.
But the best refutation of false teaching is to be found in verses 4-6 that we looked at last week. We must love one another! We must love each other within our church. If people know that they are loved and supported within our church, if they sense the love of God here, they are not nearly as likely to be lured away to something else. And as we love each other, others outside of our church will be able to notice the love we have for one another and perhaps be drawn to Christ.
Philip Melancthon mourned in his day the divisions among Christians, and sought to bring them together by the parable of the war between the wolves and the dogs.
Is not this still true? That many professed Christians snap right and left at other Christians, when they had better save their teeth for the wolves? John knew already in the early church the power of love in keeping the church pure. We must defend the church from attack. Are we living in love so that the attacks may be effectively refuted?