Today I want to do some trivia. Below you will find a statement that is sometimes taught as coming from Scripture and we are going to find out whether or not the statement actually represents Scripture well.
- “God helps those who help themselves.”
- This is actually from Aesop’s Fable, “Hercules and the Waggoner.”
- “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
- This is actually an ancient proverb that is not in Scripture. It became popular during the revivals of the Victorian era.
- “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
- Scripture reflects this idea, but this is actually a quote from Mahatma Ghandi in 1929.
- “Money is the root of all evil.”
- 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says, “…for the love of money is the root of all evil.”
- “The lion will lay down with the lamb.”
- While Isaiah tells us that the wolf will dwell with the lamb, Scripture actually does not say that the lion will lay down with the lamb, even though the phrase is used often by preachers today.
Whether or not we have actually heard some of these things, we can imagine that there are many things that come from the mouths of teachers that are not actually Scriptural. There are teachers and preachers who mean well, but are not careful about what they teach. Sometimes we are quicker to defend one of our ideas rather than to actually investigate what God has revealed. As we move to 2 John, we are going to discover what is to be said about false teachers, or those who misrepresent a Biblical Christian faith.
2 John (HCSB)
To the elect lady and her children: I love all of you in the truth — and not only I, but also all who have come to know the truth — because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever.
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.
I was very glad to find some of your children walking in the truth, in keeping with a command we have received from the Father. So now I urge you, dear lady — not as if I were writing you a new command, but one we have had from the beginning — that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk according to His commands. This is the command as you have heard it from the beginning: you must walk in love.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves so you don’t lose what we have worked for, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it, does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don’t say, “Welcome,” to him; for the one who says, “Welcome,” to him shares in his evil works.
Though I have many things to write to you, I don’t want to do so with paper and ink. Instead, I hope to be with you and talk face to face so that our joy may be complete.
The children of your elect sister send you greetings.
Truth and love reiterated
Throughout 1 John, John emphasized two ideas that are central to a Biblical faith more than anything else. These two central ideas were truth and love. Here, in his second letter, he reiterates both. He states again that people who belong to God ought to love one another. He defines love as actually walking according to the commands of Christ.
As we discovered last time, human love is conditional. Christ’s love is unconditional and eternal. If we are going to love other people without placing conditions on them, or love one another without placing conditions on one another, then we must receive the eternal and unconditional love of Christ. Because He loves us, we can love others. Christ is our reason and Christ is the one who enables us to genuinely love others. If we must rely on Christ for this love, then it makes sense that we must strive to walk in His commands in order to love Him well and to love others well. I’m not going to dedicate much space to truth and love here because we discussed those things as we looked at John’s first letter.
Deceivers in the world
After mentioning truth and love again, John begins addressing the problem of false teaching: specifically false teaching about Christ. It seems that some people believed and were teaching that Jesus Christ never existed in the flesh. John states in this letter that they do not confess, or admit, that Jesus actually came in the flesh. This was the early Gnostic movement and people who were part of this movement claimed that Jesus only existed in Spirit. If John was writing this in the 90’s A.D, and Jesus was crucified, was raised back to life and ascended into Heaven in the 30’s A.D, then it had only been 60 years since Jesus actually lived. John actually walked with Jesus. He talked with Him and leaned up against Him during the Last Supper. We can trust John when he tells us that, yes, Jesus did really exist. Just in case we question whether or not Jesus actually existed, I will provide some evidence for us here:
- Constant textual criticism of the Biblical text (particularly of the Gospels) has shown the story of Scripture to be accurate.
- There are vast Roman cities with inscriptions of political leaders, such as: Pilate, Herod and Festus.
- The tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest during Jesus physical life on earth, was found.
- The Gospel of Matthew was written 30 years after Jesus ascended by someone who knew Him personally.
- James is mentioned as Jesus’ half-brother in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus.
- An ossuary (bone box) was actually found and the inscription reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
While there is more evidence than this, and this evidence actually takes more time to discuss in detail, there is not enough space for that here. There is no evidence, however, to support the claim that Jesus never existed. Even the most critical scholars do not make the claim that Jesus did not exist. Jesus was a very real and a very physical person on this earth. Just because He really did exist does not mean He was and is God right? How can we know that Jesus is actually the messiah that we need?
God gave us clues in the form of Old Testament prophecies. More than 350 of these prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Because of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can be confident that these prophecies were written down before Jesus was born in Nazareth. Specifically, the copy of Isaiah 53, which describes the Messiah, was dated to 125 B.C. It describes Jesus more than 100 years before Jesus was born. Furthermore, Isaiah was actually written about 700 years before Jesus was born. This is the only one I mention in the interest of time.
Not only did Jesus actually exist, but He fulfilled the prophecies that the prophets foretold concerning the Messiah. We can be so confident in our faith! God has been very generous in preserving the amount of evidence that has been preserved for us. He did not have to give us this much to work with, but He has! Any less evidence would not make Him less real. We can be so confident in the promise of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! He does exist, He is alive, He is God’s Son who has the power to deliver us from sin and death! He is the only one.
John actually says that anyone who denies that Jesus Christ existed in the flesh is a deceiver and an antichrist. Then, he encourages his audience to stay on guard so that they may not lose what they have worked for: that they might receive a full reward. What is our reward? What have we worked for? What are we on guard against?
First of all, according to this text, we are to guard ourselves against false teachers and against deceivers. We ought to check the claims made against Scripture and guard ourselves from believing and perpetuating lies, specifically about Christ.
In his Gospel, John gives us the answer to the other two questions:
“’My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,’ Jesus told them. ‘Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor’” (John 4:34-38 HCSB).
Matthew, a different writer, confirms this for us as we look at his Gospel:
“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21 HCSB).
Here is what we can discern: First, our work is to make the truth about Christ known. It is to sow for the harvest. Furthermore, we lead people to Christ and actually become workers for the harvest. This is our work while we are on this earth. No matter what else we do, this is how we serve God. If we are not doing this, we are not living as children of God.
Second, our reward is not some level of prosperity on this earth. It is not fame, popularity, influence, supernatural skill, knowledge, money or power. We will receive a reward according to the work we do for the sake of the Gospel, but this reward is being reserved for us in eternity where it will never fade. This is why people who teach earthly prosperity for God’s people are false teachers. The Gospel is the same for those in poverty as it is for those who are rich. It is the same for every social class. It is the same for those who are powerful as it is for those who have no influence. We must remember that God does not depend on us and in Him we are all on equal ground. Let us not forget that God has already given us the greatest gift He could possibly give anyway: Himself. We can be content with what we have or don’t have, and still impact this community and this world with the Gospel!
John tells us that if anyone should come and teach anything other than the message of Christ, we are not to welcome him, else we share in his evil works. God’s children should not give anyone who comes and adds himself to Christ or ignores something that Christ taught a platform. Furthermore, we ought to be careful that we do not become false teachers.
If we are guilty of adding to God’s teaching, John tells us that we do not have God. Here is the stark reality for individuals like the Muslim, the Jehovah’s Witness and the Mormon. Scripture that came from God according to these three other religions states that those who add to God’s teachings do not have God. Islam seems to have added the Koran as God’s final revelation. Mormon’s have added the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to intentionally interpret Scripture wrongly from the original language, both taking away from and adding to the teachings of God. Thus, according to John, these are without God. I would also contend that any ‘Christian’ who adds to or takes away from the teachings of Christ, according to John’s words, does not have God.
This means that we ought to strive first and foremost to understand both God and others. Then, we ought to be honest about what is, what is not, and what we do not yet know. This is a call to genuine living. We don’t have to pretend to be more holy than we are. We don’t have to make stuff up about the faith to make it seem reasonable to others or to win arguments. We don’t have to keep up what we think a ‘Christian image’ might be. We are to strive for two things, understanding and honesty. These things begin as we love one another in truth. This is where genuine and beneficial community is. This is why we are family.
God is a God of amazing understanding. We should strive to be people of understanding. We should hold our teachers to be teachers of understanding and truth. Furthermore, teachers and preachers are to be accountable to those they teach, and we should all accept criticism with grace, humility and wisdom because this is how we grow in our understanding and in our love.
The Christian faith is this: that we strive to understand both God and others. We test what is taught, comparing it to Scripture, so that we might rightly know God, who is love and truth. This, and we love each other in genuine, beneficial community.