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Neglected Epistles: Living for Truth
John tells us how to live for the truth of the Gospel.
If you follow sports, you know that it was about two weeks ago that the Freeh report was released 7.12.12 on the results of the investigation into the child abuse that happened at Penn State. It concluded that “reverence for the football program” contributed to multiple molestations over a decade. It revealed that the president, the AD, and the head football coach, Joe Paterno, were aware of allegations against Jerry Sandusky (an assistant coach), but lied and refused to tell the truth when further allegations were made three short years later. The report alleges that they knew the truth and failed to act on it.
The consequences to Penn State and the men involved have been disastrous. Though Paterno died in January, the NCAA has removed fourteen years of wins by him from the record books, meaning that he no longer holds the record for most wins by a college football coach. The AD is being indicted for lying to a grand jury. Penn State has been fined $60 million, must forfeit 80 football scholarships, allow players to transfer to other schools, and has been banned from bowl games for the next four years.
The abuse that took place is horrible, and resulted in a life sentence in prison. But the penalties to Paterno and Penn State came because of a failure to tell the truth. Throughout the world, we recognize that truth matters. Our politicians deny it. We don’t always want to own up to it, but the actions of the world towards wrong reveal that truth matters. How you live matters. What you say and what you do matters.
When you’re filling out your quarterly taxes, you’re tempted to think it doesn’t. When you’re flirting with the attentive coworker, you’re tempted to think it doesn’t. When you’re given too much change back at the store, the truth doesn’t seem to matter. When you’re being entertained by a strongly “R” rated movie, biblical truth may matter less to you.
We live in a world that tries to make truth subjective–how you feel about it matters. But you can’t tell me what’s right or wrong. We are among the few people left in our world who claim that there are absolute truths. What does it look like in your life to honor and live for those truths? As Christians, we’re called to live for the truth. And that’s not a simple call to moral living. Sure, we’re not to lie. But when the Bible calls us to live for the truth and walk in truth, it’s saying something more than don’t lie.
Today, we’re going to look at what it means to live for the truth–to live for biblical truth. What does it mean to love the truth and live for the truth? Do you know? Are you sure? The answer comes from a small postcard in the back of your Bible. If you can find it, turn to 2 John. We’re going to look this week and next at a couple of neglected epistles. Second and Third John are the two shortest books in the Bible.
Some of you may remember the days before the internet–books were popular. Do you remember those? And then, as the internet grew up, blogs seemed to take over. People read blogs instead of books. And then we moved from blogs to Facebook. People post status updates on their lives, their children and their cats. And now there’s a migration from status updates to a simple picture.
If you think of it like that, the Bible has books, blogs and Facebook updates, all spread through it. In Luke, we have 24 chapters and 1151 verses. In Ephesians, we have six chapters and 155 verses. In 2 John, we have one chapter with thirteen verses–303 words in length. That’s three tweets or one extended Facebook status update. Second John is the Facebook message of the Bible.
Chris is preaching through the book of Mark. We often study Paul’s letters. What we have here in 2 John is a postcard. And maybe because it’s so short, it is often neglected. Maybe it’s because it’s in the back of the book. If you open your Bible randomly, you’re not likely going to hit it. But I think you’ll be surprised at the incredibly helpful instruction John gives us.
So let’s set this up. Look at 2 John 1. It’s written by the apostle John, the man who never identifies himself. In the gospels, he is simply described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He would later care for Jesus’s mother after Christ’s crucifixion. He’s writing near the end of his life, around the same time that he writes 1 John. He’s likely in Ephesus, ministering in a church that he knew and loved.
He’s writing to “the chosen lady and her children.” There is lots of debate, whether this is an unnamed woman, or a church (the bride of Christ). Either way, he shields their identity, which tells us that he was protecting them. The plain reading is that this is a woman, but neither choice alters the meaning of what he writes.
But now look at how he describes them in verse 1—“to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth.” Everybody loves this lady, and everybody loves her kids.
So John is nearing the end of his life–he’s probably somewhere in his 80s. He’s lived a long time through many trials. He’s writing to someone he loves dearly. These are some of the last words that he wrote. What does he say? What would you say if you had only a postcard to record your thoughts? These are some of the apostle John’s last words that he shared with people he loved deeply.
He reminds us of three priorities for life, three ways that we’re to walk in the truth.
At this point in his life, the truth is what’s driving him. It’s all about the truth. Look at the first four verses. Let me read it and you count the number of times the word “truth” comes up.
“The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.”
He writes for the sake of the truth which abides in us–the truth which will be with us forever. The truth is what matters. John uses “the truth” to describe the Christian faith. In verse 9, he calls it “the teaching of Christ.” The truth which John cares about is not simple honesty. “The truth” describes all that Jesus taught about Himself, and knowing and loving God.
John says the truths which Jesus taught abide in us. The person and work of Jesus will not change and will be with us forever. I’m writing for the sake of these truths, and I’m glad that some of your children are walking in them. And then he commands three ways to live for the sake of the truth.
1. Love Others Verses 5 to 7
“Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which 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, that you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
Love one another. If you’ve read 1 John, it sounds familiar–1 John 3:11, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” And John says, you’ve heard this before, “to the lady” (to us, to Christians then) no shock here–John says, this is not a new commandment. I’m not saying anything revelatory. But I’m going to keep saying it—“love one another.”
This is a core emphasis of his Gospel, of his epistles and of his life. Chris Mueller often relates how, at the end of John’s life, when he had to be carried in and out of church, and was too weak to preach, church history describes how he would be brought to the front of the church and would simply say, “Children, love one another.” This was a core priority for all Christians–love one another. Jesus commanded it of us.
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” Jesus commanded that we die to self, give up what we want and live for the good of others. John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love was to be the mark of all Jesus’s followers.
Love for one another would make Christians look so radically different from the world that “all men will know that you” follow Christ. Because your care, your affection, your hospitality, your forgiveness, your love would look so different than what the world offers. Love was manifested by God in creation, and in the fall. It has been on display throughout the history of the world. It’s most dramatically visible in the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. And now Christians are commanded to love one another.
But as Inigo Montoya once said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In verse 6, John defines love in a way that may be different than how you’re thinking. We often think of love as warm emotions. You think of love as feeling and trust and fluttery stomachs, butterflies, and sweetness. In verse 6, John defines love. This is love that we walk according to His commandments.
Do you want to love other people? Do you feel like a failure sometimes because your emotions towards certain people aren’t what you feel they should be? You look at somebody and think, “I should want to be around you more than I do.” John moves our view of love from emotion to action. Love obedience to God’s commands. If you want to love others, then you will love them best by simply obeying what God commands. To love is to obey.
If you love someone, you strive to serve them and fulfill their wishes and desires. Do you remember the time right after you got married? Your top desire was not the promotion or to have kids or to retire. Your greatest desire was to do what you thought your spouse wanted. Maybe you made your husband a big breakfast every morning. Maybe you rubbed your wife’s feet every night. You did things you thought they loved. You wanted to serve the one you loved. Love and obedience go hand-in-hand.
Jesus makes the same connection. John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Love for God is manifest in obedience to God. Now there is a lie that developed in Christian circles about a hundred years ago. The lie was that you could have Jesus as your Savior without Him being your Lord. You could be saved without any real change in your life or in your lifestyle, completely contrary to all that Scripture says about how love for Jesus is manifest in action.
John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” For every Christian, we are called to love God and to obey God. Love is demonstrated by a lifestyle of obedience to the commands of Christ. Do you love others by obeying God? Get the connection? When somebody tears you down, you can fight back, guns blazing, or you can think 1 Corinthians 13:7, “love bears all things, love endures all things.” Christ endured my hate–I can follow Him. When somebody cheats you, you can call for justice and go after them. Or you can think 1 Corinthians 13:5, “love does not take into account a wrong suffered,” and Rom 12:21, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And you fear for them because of God’s wrath, rather than hate them.
When you’re tempted to sin, you can indulge your own desires. Or you can think 1 Corinthians 13:6, “love does not rejoice in unrighteousness,” and 1 Peter 3:16, “keep a good conscience so that those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” In his love for me, Christ lived without sin so that I could not be enslaved. Love is demonstrated by a lifestyle of obedience to the commands of Christ. There is a tangible connection between your obedience to Christ and your love for others. Obeying Him will always result in loving others.
John warns her and he warns us–there are many who deny this. Look at verse 7. “A deceiver is one who has wandered from the truth of Scripture. He has corrupted it. He leads others astray from it. He professes Christ but is an imposter.”
There are many in the world who profess Christ, but are deceived and deceiving, and it’s important to realize that John’s not just talking about guys on TBN. He’s talking about people in your workplace who call themselves Christians, but don’t obey God’s commands. He’s talking about writers of books and blogs that advocate Christianity in general, but believe that God will also save people, even without Christ. He’s talking about the many who push for good ethics, based on cultural standards. He’s talking about preachers who preach moralistic, encouraging sermons without Christ.
All of them fail to acknowledge Christ in the flesh–that His righteousness was necessary, that our righteousness is dreadfully, horribly, damningly inadequate. Andy Backlund last week related how he spoke to a Uganda man who was studying the Bible and living as moral as could be, with the hopes that God would accept him. Perhaps that’s how you have lived. You do your best each day, and hope that God is pleased. You are deceived about the Gospel, and you are deceiving others if you perpetuate that lie.
The terror and the beauty of the Gospel is that God will never be pleased by your efforts. He is only satisfied by Jesus, coming in the flesh, living the perfect life that you never could, and then dying on the cross so that your sins could be paid for, so that for those who believe, Jesus’s perfect sinless life in the flesh is counted as theirs. God looks at us and, on account of our faith in Christ no longer sees our sins and efforts, but instead sees Christ’s righteousness in us rather than our own unrighteousness.
Do not be deceived. Do not think that God will accept your life as you live it. Your only hope is in Christ. And when you have hoped in Him alone for salvation, you receive the Spirit of God, who enables you to walk in obedience and love one another. It’s not anything new, but it’s the sign of every true Christian–a love for others that’s marked by a lifestyle of obedience.
2. Watch Yourself Verses 8 to 9
Look at verses 8 to 9, and notice how he says this in two different ways. “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.”
The first way that we’re to watch ourselves is by guarding what we’ve learned and done so far. We are to watch that we do not lose what has been accomplished. Do not do things that demolish your spiritual growth, or undermine the spiritual fruit borne in your life. And John is pleading with them on this. Notice how he doesn’t say, “don’t lose what you have accomplished.” He says, “don’t lose what we have accomplished.”
He’s reminding them of how he and other missionaries brought the Gospel to them, and stood as spiritual fathers over all the changed lives and ministry done. He’s appealing to them not to lose that. He wants you to watch your life. Don’t be the guy who loses his testimony at work because of one night at a bar on a trip. Don’t be the woman who abandons years of ministry to her family and church to pursue an exciting new guy. Don’t be the student who witnesses on campus, and then goes to college and takes a break. Don’t be the grandparent who served faithfully, and now wants to fade away in his retirement. Paul says watch yourself–don’t let your life now negate the earlier fruits of your ministry.
I think about the Greek triple jumper who was expelled from the team a week before the Olympics. After years and years of practice, she broadcast a racist message via twitter that caused her to be pulled off the Olympic team. “After so many years of hurt and sacrifices to try and get to my first Olympics, I am very bitter and upset.” She lost much of what had been accomplished–she had the talent, but lost the ability to compete and be rewarded.
Now John makes clear in verse 8 that he is not describing the loss of your salvation. He wants them to receive their “full reward.” The wording indicates that there will be loss, but not condemnation. God prepared good works for us to do. As a Christian, you will be rewarded according to your labors for Christ.
First Corinthians 3:14, “If any man’s work which he has built on [the foundation of Christ] remains, he will receive a reward.” John warns us that your lifestyle can undo the rewards you would have received. And then he goes further in verse 9 and describes even greater reason to watch yourself.
This is the second way that we need to watch ourselves. He says that you need to watch yourself and not abandon the teaching of Christ. Not only is there a danger that you could undo the spiritual fruit of your ministry to others. There is an even greater danger that your compromise goes so far that you abandon the Gospel. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God.
Now, does God draw you to Himself and keep you in His hands? Yes. No one who God has called to Himself will abandon their Savior. But, are we culpable for our actions and responsible for our rejection of Him? Yes. Scripture presents you as ultimately liable for your actions. So John says, watch yourself that you don’t move away from the Gospel and abandon Christ.
Very similar to what Paul wrote is 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” To the Corinthians, Paul would even say in 11:3 to 4, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.”
So there is a great danger that we all face. We could walk away from the Gospel. We could go too far. If this happens, John says, you do not have God. You never knew him. You will not see Him. But if you abide in the teaching of Christ . . . if you persevere in your faith . . . then you have the Father and the Son, you will see them one day in heaven. So he commands us to watch ourselves–he puts the responsibility solely on us.
There are no victims–there is no one to blame but yourself. Don’t abandon Christ. Don’t destroy the eternals rewards that await you. Watch out that you don’t hurt other people, that the words you speak bring harm and hinder their desire for God. Watch out that you don’t undo the work done by other Christians–that you undermine the convictions that they’ve developed, or provide them with earthly wisdom that’s opposed to biblical counsel.
Watch out that you move towards Christ, rather than slowly away–that your own time in the Word feeds your soul. That you reflect on Christ and your need for salvation during communion. That you consider the words preached, rather than the Olympics schedule. That you find friends who love Jesus more than this life.
Watch yourself! Your faithfulness now will be richly blessed later. Watch yourself now so that your joy in heaven is huge! So in some of his last words to people he loves, John says:
1. Love one another
2. Watch yourself
3. Guard your house Verses 10 to 11
Now let me be clear . . . he’s not talking about keep a glock on top of the fridge. He’s not talking about making your own clothes and keeping a fallout shelter stocked with food. He’s not even talking about how to educate your children. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
John wants us to be on guard against people who profess Christ with their mouths, but deny Him with their teaching or their lives. He doesn’t want them to misapply the command of love by supporting false teachers. Love has boundaries. Love uses wisdom. Tolerating false teaching is not Christian love. Tolerating bad doctrine does not display faith in Christ. What somebody believes about Jesus matters to God and should matter to you. What somebody believes about what Jesus taught matters to God. It should matter to you.
Now here’s why John had to write this. The Roman Empire made it safe to travel, and the Roman highway system created the opportunity to move pretty fast for thousands of miles. But where do you stay? There was no Hilton or Comfort Inn. Ancients inns were not far distant from brothels. To be an innkeeper was dishonorable, and their low moral fiber was mentioned in many Roman laws. If you stayed in one, you had a good chance of being robbed, or even murdered.
So Christians opened their homes to other Christians, and such hospitality was easy to abuse. John’s concern is not for people traveling from one place to another. His concern is really for men who would roam from area to area, living off Christians and teaching in the churches. When I’ve been in Russia, they have three sermons every Sunday. The leaders and anyone special from out-of-town will gather about fifteen minutes before service starts, and they will arrange who speaks that morning. The first guy goes for ten, the next guy gets 25 minutes, and the last guy gets about 45. And they always give opportunity to hear from the new guy, who will usually get the middle or the longest time.
Now that’s Russia–but the practice in John’s time wasn’t that different. Out-of-town teachers were always given the opportunity to speak. And John writes to his friends and says, do not be hospitable to those who are false teachers. “Guard your house. Do not receive them. Do not even greet them.” Having them in your home gives the appearance of affirmation–you lend credibility towards their message, however wrong it is.
If I’m always playing music by U2 at my house whenever you visit, you’re going to assume I’m a fan. If you see Betsy Baird and my wife at Starbucks every couple days, you’re going to and assume that she Betsy must be friends (or that I’m hard to live with). If you trust me, then you will tend to give credit to those whom I trust. If you see me wave to Benny Hinn at Chipotle, and then later you hear him on TV about spending Thanksgiving at my house, you can’t help but assume that I buy into and support the junk he teaches.
John says that we need to guard our houses, and not receive such people into them. This is not somebody who has a different view of the role of deacons, or even the rapture. John is describing men who have moved on beyond the teaching of Christ–people who are wrong on the core issues of the faith. They professed Christ, but they didn’t know him (verse 9). They had taken what was written in Scripture, and then moved beyond it. This is always a danger.
First Corinthians 4:6, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written.” In the apostles’ time and today, there is a unified understanding of what Christ taught and what we are to believe. Jude 3, “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
John wants us to guard our homes against professing Christians who deny sound doctrine, whether by their words or their lives. So think about this–can you have an unbeliever in your home? Fair game. Buddhist? Definitely. Muslim? Please. Professing Christian who denies Gospel? No way! Having them in your home gave the appearance of affirmation and lent credibility. Greeting them in the streets and acting like brothers in Christ does the same thing.
So Christian–if you have a coworker who professes Christ but denies Him with their lifestyle, then be very careful to not do things that communicate you’re on the same team. Students–if you have a teacher who claims Christ but advocates soul-destroying doctrine, then you should try to get another class and another teacher. Have nothing to do with such men.
In our day, we are encouraged to be nice, to say nothing, to tolerate any differences. John says in verse 11 that there is a risk of participation by our toleration of severe error. You can participate by remaining silent and complacent. You can participate by appearing to affirm what’s being said. You can participate by allowing him to offend others with his false doctrine.
Guard your house, not against the world. Guard your house against make-believers, fake believers and false teachers. John believes that they may be a greater danger to you than even the world. Beware of bad doctrine. If you’re committed to living for the truth, it will be manifest in your relationships–who you keep close to you, who you keep away from. You will guard your house, you will watch yourself, and you will love one another. And the result of all this is living for the truth–a godly lifestyle results in joy.
Look at verse 12. “Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face-to-face, so that your joy may be made full.” John says that joy will be the result of hearing and obeying His words. This is a plain promise by God.
So often we feel like obedience is hard. Following the commands of Christ is hard. Dying to self is hard. And we forget, in the moment, about the great joy that comes from God to us in obedience. He desires good for us. He has told us in His word what will bring us the greatest joy.
John 15:11 says, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” And Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Will you choose to find your ultimate joy in Him? That’s done by confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, taking ownership for all the sin and rebellion in your life against God and others, realizing that God will never be pleased with your life and your attempts to be good.
And so you place all your hope and all your trust in Jesus Christ and His righteousness. You trust that God’s sacrifice of His own Son on the cross absorbed the wrath of God against your sins. You cry out to God for Him to change you and make you new. And He does–He puts His Spirit in you and He changes you and makes you new. He gives you joy and peace in ways that are tough to even imagine. God becomes the greatest pleasure of your life, and living for truth just means living for Him. So let’s pray and take communion together to celebrate the life we have in Him.