2 John 7-13 – Defending Against Error
Abiding in the Truth (v. 7-11)
John becomes polemical in this section, for he must be faithful to both the positive and the negative aspects of his message. His goal is to keep believers steadfast, not even to evangelize the false teachers, but simply to keep God’s people watching for error. False teachings and false teachers must be rejected. He simplifies the error to the teacher’s view of Christ, especially His incarnation, which proto-Gnostics were denying. So then, he gives at least four keys to abiding in the truth while facing error.
The First Essential is Admitting the Existence of Deceivers (v. 7).
For many deceivers [implying we will interact with them at some point] have gone out into the world, [that is, they are tares among the wheat in the place where God desires to establish testimony] those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh [The present “coming” indicates, not only His advent, but His manhood as a perpetual reality.]. This is the deceiver and the antichrist [The embodiment of true deception and the antichrist is to deny what makes His Person Who He is. John is not saying the ultimate Antichrist has come, but that the prototype of the Antichrist was embodied in these false teachers and teachings.].
John first established the existence of the deceivers. “Many deceivers have gone out into the world” is the first statement he makes. The lady had to understand first that the deceivers existed and second that they extended into her sphere of testimony. A warning would do her no good if she did not sense its relevance. Especially in our day of mass media, there is no chance that we will avoid exposure to false teachers. They exist in real flesh and blood, and they will attempt to deceive us. There is no Christian that can rest from error. If he is resting, he is in error and doubtless deceived.
The defining mark of deceivers is their false view of Christ, particularly concerning His Person. The proto-Gnostics denied the true manhood of Christ. The problem is this: His incarnation, death, resurrection, and intercession all hinge on Christ’s humanity. Without “the man Christ Jesus,” there is no gospel, and we are eternally damned. Equally, if Christ did not exist before manhood (which “coming” implies), then His Person is inconsequential. The Scriptures express Christ. When a man cannot explain Christ he evidently does not know the Scriptures. Thus our first criterion for teachers is “What do you think of Christ?” Any deviation, any lack of balance, is destruction to the gospel.
The spirit of the false teachers characterized the Deceiver and Antichrist. John seems to have a standard pattern in mind when he says, “This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” It is like he says, “all deceivers and all antichrists share a common form.” Every deceiver is an imprint of the great Deceiver, and every antichrist is a foreshadow of the great Antichrist. This truth warfare happens on a great battlefield. All realms and ages are brought into consideration. The deceivers work on behalf of the Devil in his worldwide blinding scheme; the antichrists usher in the ultimate Opposer of Christ, the true Antichrist. We must never lose sight of the big picture. To embrace error and deception is to embrace an entire kingdom and scheme of darkness; to embrace truth and teaching is to battle in the war of the ages against all that oppose God. May we never lose the gravity of this.
The Second Essential is Admitting My Own Tendency to Error (v. 8).
Watch yourselves, [Guarding against our own errant tendencies is necessary.] that you do not lose what we [Other mss. have “you.”] have accomplished, [cf. Phil. 3:16; Rev. 3:11. God hates both slow progress and backsliding.] but that you may receive a full reward [Doctrine affects rewards, especially when the light of the truth has already been given and has been rejected.].
The present. John first tells them to “watch yourselves,” as if their enemy was equally within as it was without. Humans tend to appreciate knowledge that others do not have, probably for reasons of pride mostly. So then, often when something sounds appealing and different, people embrace it so that their wisdom can appear unique. This was the problem with proto-Gnosticism’s “higher knowledge.” John’s readers were not above its attraction. We must be humble enough to recall what we have already been taught, clarifying old truth rather than defining new truth. We are never above error.
The past. John adds gravity to his message by mentioning “what you have accomplished.” Nothing is so devastating as lost progress. Not only were John’s readers presently in the truth, but they worked hard to attain that level. Each person came from a different background and thus required special conformation to the apostles’ teaching. This took work as does any work with new believers. But they eventually did understand. If God hates slow progress in spiritual things, He especially hates negative progress in that the people should have known better, hence the seriousness of apostasy. Ignorant people are not in the greatest danger; opponents of truth are.
The future. John gives them incentive by reminding them of a full reward. In 1 John 5, John reminded his readers that God’s commandments are not burdensome. That is the negative good of God’s commands (what they are not). Here is the positive good (what they are): God’s commands result in reward. Part of His commands is faithfulness to the truth, for He says, “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). Therefore, doctrine is a part of obedience. We must never separate Christian learning from the believer’s basic duties to His God, for He must love God with all his mind just as with every other faculty. Only full obedience will yield full reward; truth must be included. One wonders how great our accountability is when we consider how much access to Biblical teaching we have.
The Third Essential is Knowing that One’s View of Christ Defines Everything (v. 9).
Anyone [even those whom it is hardest to reject] who goes too far [goes beyond the established boundaries of apostolic teaching] and does not abide in the teaching of Christ [the body of truth concerning Christ’s Person], does not have God; [explained by the next phrase] the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son [God cannot be separated from God. Also, this means Christ’s humanity assumes His divinity, when we take this with verse 7].
John begins by giving a negative pattern, that is, what false teachers look like. They are not defined by their social status or acceptance within the Christian community; they are defined by their faithfulness to the body of truth that Scripture (then, the apostles) teaches about Christ. The body of truth exists objectively, apart from any man; thus, the false teacher “goes beyond” it. His problem is dissatisfaction with “abiding” in the teaching of Christ; therefore, He rejects the God to Whom Christ is the Only Way.
John supplements that with a positive pattern, that is, what defining mark true teachers have. True teachers are able to define the boundaries of truth, where truth ends and error begins; they know where to “abide.” They abide in the teaching of Christ, that is, they advocate His humanity, Deity, and unity with the Father. Notice all the keys that John touches: the preexistence of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the deity of Christ, the mediation of Christ, and the distinction yet unity of Divine Persons. One’s view of God does not merely affect his theological research; it is his very life. “What do you think of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42) is always the defining question. We must be people of foundations.
The Fourth Essential is Rejecting Fellowship with False Teachers (v. 10-11).
If anyone comes to you [If they are coming, we are obviously not pursuing the error.] and does not bring this teaching, [What follows implies we do not separate false teachers from false teaching when it touches such fundamental themes.] do not receive him into your house, [hospitality] and do not give him a greeting; [defined by the next clause] for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds [The root problem is fellowship which is restricted to love in the truth specifically. The truth-keeper cannot even indirectly advance falsehood].
He anticipates the approach of false teachers. Even though we do not approach them, they will approach us, and we must be prepared. We must understand two things at least: (a) That they approach us implies we do not search for them. We are not “progressives” in the sense of Biblical knowledge. We are old fashioned and passionately so. (b) There is no exception to the definition of a false teacher. If he does not bring the true doctrine of Christ, he is false and must be rejected. To deny the pre-existence, deity, incarnation, humanity, death, resurrection, or ascension of Christ instantly places one in the category of “false.” We reject them altogether as a viable source of divine knowledge, even if they seem closer to the truth than others. How do we reject them? John describes further.
He forbids hospitality to false teachers: “Do not receive him into your house.” Now, it is likely that this lady hosted the assembly in her home since a plurality of people is addressed. So, by accepting the teacher into her home and making him feel welcome, she was jeopardizing an entire testimony. Of course, she was jeopardizing her home as well.
He forbids fellowship with false teachers. John goes further than expressed hospitality; he forbids expressions of fellowship, even greetings. The traditional Hebrew and Greek greetings were ones of blessing and benevolence. Apostates have no place in Christian blessing or joy. They cannot be renewed unto repentance (Hebrews 6); therefore, they are only dangerous. To embrace false teachers is to support their false teaching. Truth matters more than fellowship; in fact, fellowship only comes based on truth.
Does this forbid us from witnessing to cult members? This could be true if they are apostates. John is speaking of those who “go too far and do not abide in the teaching of Christ,” as if they held it at some point but rejected it. The danger with apostates is that they can easily manipulate previous friends with whom they shared common ground. But cult members are usually blind and have never known the truth. We must reach them with the gospel of grace and show them the kindness of God. After all, every sinner begins with a wrong view of Christ. If we rejected all who don’t believe in the Biblical Person of Christ, we would have no audience for the gospel.
Communicating The Truth (v. 12-13)
John’s Burden was to Most Effectively Deliver His Message (v. 12-13)
Though I have many things to write to you, [John wanted to be thorough.] I do not want to do so with paper and ink; [his true shepherd’s heart exposed] but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, [He wanted maximum clarity and fellowship in the truth.] so that your joy may be made full [He wanted maximum blessing]. The children of your chosen sister greet you [There is nothing wrong with this being her natural sister, perhaps who also hosted an assembly in her home.].
John wanted to be thorough and clear. However, he knew he could not convey the proper tone nor length of his message in written form. Thus, he intended to travel to see the believers face to face. For us who teach Scripture, there are a few lessons here.
- A teacher should have a volume of relevant knowledge in his mind. That John had “many things” to write tells us this. A man would not say this if he was not sensitive to the needs and well-versed in Scripture.
- A teacher must know how to condense his material. Though John wanted to be more thorough, he could condense his main message into a small letter. A teacher who does not know the difference between the main things and the peripheral things will not communicate effectively.
- A teacher cannot take shortcuts in his teaching. He must be faithful to the truth and aim for understanding in his hearers. John would not neglect those “many things”; rather, he invested time in gaining the right setting for his teaching. There are many deep concepts in Scripture. We cannot avoid them, but we must ensure that the setting is right.
- Verbal communication is the primary mode of Biblical teaching. While writing has its place, the assembly lives from preaching. They cannot be together in reading books, but they can be one under the voice of a teacher.
- Teaching should be inseparably linked with fellowship. John was practicing his message of love in the truth, for he wanted to enjoy the believers while teaching them. A teacher should always have a shepherd’s heart to be among the people.
John wanted to foster fellowship; so, he sends greetings from the sister of the elect lady. While some believe this is metaphorical, referring to a church – and it is not impossible – nothing in the text demands that this be a church. But plain language says this is most likely the lady’s literal sister. If John used this language to refer to a church, what language would he use to refer to a literal sister?
The practical lesson is this: believers should be channels of unity. We should happily greet one another. We should happily send greetings on behalf of others. We should happily receive greetings. Any opportunity for increased fellowship we must seize. Love in the truth is not completely natural (though it does come from the Spirit); it also takes work.