This little letter contains one of the strongest warnings in the NT – v. 10. If a false teacher comes to your house, do not receive him (do nothing that appears to give him support), and do not greet him (do nothing that will identify you with him or his false teaching). v.11 - God’s opinion - If you receive and greet such a person, you share in his evil deeds. These are exceedingly strong words and one can wonder why John should feel impressed to write so bluntly. I think I know the answer. The longer we condone error, the easier it is to compromise. Little by little we become conditioned to moral decline and intellectual apostasy until it no longer seems so wrong to us.
What we do not oppose, we tolerate.
What we tolerate, we accept.
What we accept, we praise.
What we praise, we practice.
This is what the “Apostle of Love” fears—that by not vigorously opposing evil, believers will end up practicing the very thing they say they reject. It may not happen overnight—in fact the process of spiritual decline may take years, decades and generations.
Famous illustration about the frog in the pot - put a frog in a pot with cold water and the frog will sit contentedly. Now slowly turn up the heat a few degrees at a time. Because the frog’s system has time to adjust, he doesn’t notice the changing temperature. When the water finally reaches a boil, the frog senses danger and tries to jump out, but it’s too late. His legs won’t move anymore. Something like that happens to us when we refuse to face evil head on and call it what it is. When we refuse to oppose that which is wrong, in the end evil doesn’t look so bad.
Many people struggle with these verses because they seem too strong, harsh and unkind. They appear to call for rude treatment of people who disagree with us. Can that be right? Is the apostle urging us to slam the door on false teachers? If he is, doesn’t that contradict the Law of Love which should guide our conduct?
I admit that these words of John do not sound right in this tolerant age. We live in a world that no longer believes in truth. In another day men and women argued passionately about the truth, today we argue or whether truths even exists, and if it does, how can anyone know the truth? We are no longer sure how to determine right from wrong—or even if we should make the effort. “Postmodernism” - simply means that truth exists in the eye of the beholder - "That’s true for you but not necessarily for me.” Truth becomes an entirely private affair with no implications for society at large. Against that growing trend we have these solemn words of John. There are many false teachers who themselves are the very spirit of antichrist. They deny the Incarnation - the central truth that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh - they travel from place to place peddling their spiritual poison. Christians must reject such teachers - to the point of refusing them any sort of personal welcome. If we do welcome them, we are guilty of sharing in their evil deeds.
Strong words, but greatly needed in this day of immense spiritual confusion. At the risk of being called narrow-minded, I agree entirely with the Apostle John. There are times when believers must aggressively oppose and refute false teaching and false teachers. To do less is to make a mockery of everything we believe. Is it ever right to be rude to an unbeliever?
1. Understanding the Background
One of the last letters written in the NT - AD 85 - 90. By that time Christianity had spread across the Roman Empire. As the faith spread, so too did numerous offshoots of genuine Christianity. Some were closer to historic Christianity and others much farther removed. John was concerned about a false teaching known as “Gnosticism” -claimed to have secret knowledge beyond that possessed by ordinary Christians - went further than the doctrines handed down from the apostles and claimed to have received secret revelation that only they could share. Such a thought appealed to many people seeking “deeper knowledge” of God.
v. 9 suggests that such people had crept into the church - John warns against those who have “run ahead” of the truth about Jesus Christ. Who wants to be stuck with “old news” when you can have “new truth” by joining an elite group? John’s concern was for those Christians who might welcome such false teachers and even support them as they subverted the work of the church.
John is writing to urge his readers to practice spiritual discrimination. Sometimes love needs to say “No.” True love makes choices. What about today? Is this still relevant? Consider the wealth of input we have that was not available 2000 years ago: TV, radio, magazines, books, CDs, DVDs and the Internet. Taken together these sources produce a vast amount of information that bombards us. Some of it is good but much of it is harmful. We need discernment lest we end up supporting heresy!
There are many today who want …God but not Jesus - Jesus but not Jesus only - Jesus of their own making - Jesus but not Jesus the Son of God - a friend but not the sovereign Lord - good example but not an Eternal Lord - gospel that promises everyone will go to heaven - religion but not a relationship with Jesus Christ - gay rights, abortion and radical feminism in the church - an end to strong Bible doctrine - bring non-Christian religions to a level equal with Christianity - do away with sin, judgment and hell - do it yourself Christianity but not the Christianity of the Bible. We must be aware of these tendencies and we must actively oppose those who promote them.
2. Staying in Balance
If this sounds too negative, see how perfectly John balances it all: v. 1 – 6. He mentions “truth” 5 times in the first 4 verses. To his readers, the “truth” was the teaching handed down to them from the apostles. To us, it is the Word of God written and revealed in the Bible. To know the Bible is to know the truth. To obey the Bible is to obey the truth. Then John mentions “love” 5 times in 6 verses. What is love? It is caring for others on the basis of the truth. Thus there is perfect balance between those 2 concepts. We are walk in truth and to live in love—both at the same time.
3. Practical Ramifications
What does this mean for us today? How do we practically apply John’s warning against false teachers and the challenge of balancing truth and love? 5 areas -
A. Loving the Lost
At this point that John’s words have been most misunderstood. Nothing he writes is meant to forbid having unsaved friends. Not only maybe, we should and we must! How else can we win the lost unless we befriend them one by one? Remember, Jesus was called a “friend of sinners.” He loved the lost and felt right at home with them. He hung out with drunkards and spent time with gluttons, fallen women felt comfortable in his presence. He also welcomed proud Pharisees and curious soldiers into his presence. He came to seek and to save that which was lost—and so must we as his people earnestly seek to save the lost around us.
You can hardly win the lost if you don’t know the lost. You can’t reach a person with whom you have no contact. Jesus met Nicodemus at night and the woman at the well in broad daylight. He made them feel welcome in his midst. Nothing in John’s warning is meant to stop us from doing the work of evangelism—including loving lost people one by one.
B. Preaching the Gospel
We must preach the gospel with all our might because it - and it alone - is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1: 16). God only has one plan of salvation—the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other plan - it’s the gospel or nothing at all. Never be ashamed of the gospel. Never be ashamed to stand up for Jesus. Never be ashamed to own his name and to confess your allegiance to him. Christians have known since the beginning that homosexuals can change - so can adulterers, abusers, murderers, rapists, swindlers and sinners of every variety. By the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ the chains of sin can be broken and men and women set free to serve God in purity.
C. Welcoming all God’s Children
It’s possible that some would read this and think that John is warning against other believers with whom we have various doctrinal disagreements. This is a warning against unsaved false teachers, not against other Christians. We are to welcome other believers with whom we have some lesser disagreements. Romans 14: 1“Accept him who is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” That means we aren’t to split hairs with believers who may see things different than we do.
I’m not suggesting these debates aren’t important or that churches shouldn’t have well-defined views or that we should just say anything goes. That would only lead to chaos. There is a huge difference between disagreeing over the timing of the Rapture and denying that Jesus is the Son of God.
D. Rejecting all False Doctrine
Warnings against false doctrine start in Matthew, end in Revelation and may be found in virtually every book in between. It is a major theme of the NT. These warnings are directed at false teachers, not confused people. Most of the unsaved people around us could hardly be called “false teachers.” The vast majority are so confused that they hardly know what they believe, much less are able to share it with anyone else. We have to live in a fallen world, but don’t have to support things we know are wrong.
One thing to…. Talk to someone at your door - Another thing to … Invite them in for a Bible study... Watch someone on TV - Send him your money...Be a friend - Be a supporter.
John isn’t warning us against being exposed to differing points of view. These things we will all do at various times and in various ways. But there is a vast gulf forever fixed between intellectual curiosity and personal support of that which is wrong.
E. Willing to be Misunderstood
John demands that we draw a line between truth and error when many people think they are basically the same thing. In some situations, this may mean refusing an invitation or even breaking a relationship for the sake of the gospel—which is easier to say than it is to do.
Many people have difficulty with the concept of refusing to welcome false teachers and we make many excuses for not obeying this command. In the end, if this teaching seems hard to us, perhaps we don’t care as much about the truth as John does.
A Spot on Your X-Ray
Suppose the doctor finds a suspicious spot on your x-ray. After studying it, he tells you that he thinks it is cancer. What do you want your doctor to do? What if he says, “Leave it alone. After all, you’ve got lots of other good tissue with no spots?” Will that answer satisfy you? I doubt it. What if he suggests ignoring it in hopes it will disappear? If you’re like most people, you’ll be justifiably unhappy with your physician.
If your doctor knows you have cancer, and if he knows something needs to be done, and if he knows what could be done but doesn’t care enough to do it, he’s guilty of malpractice. He’s not your friend. When you’ve got cancer, you need a doctor who cares enough to tell the truth and then has the courage to take action. The same is true in the spiritual realm.
Jesus, the Friend of Sinners
The one and only Person who ever perfectly followed this teaching. He loved sinners and felt comfortable around them. He routinely went places and spent time with people - He welcomed everyone and turned no one away. He encouraged every genuine seeker who crossed his path. He answered every question - the good and the bad, the honest and the insincere. But that same Jesus also rebuked the Pharisees, cleared out the temple courtyard with a whip, and repeatedly spoke hard truth to powerful people without the slightest regard for his own safety.
What was he like? John 1:14 - He was “full of grace and truth.” What a wonderful phrase that is. He was perfectly balanced at all times between truth and love. We face the same challenge today: To balance truth and love in all our relationships. We are to know the truth and to walk in love—all the time. If we emphasize only the truth, we risk becoming hard and meanspirited. That will only alienate other believers and turn away the lost from Christ.
If we emphasize only love, we risk become soft and sentimental. That soon leads us to compromise the gospel, excuse sin and welcome evildoers. Somehow we must speak the truth in love.
Some Questions to Ask
1. Do I really believe the gospel of Jesus Christ?
2. In what areas of my life am I guilty of supporting that which I know is wrong?
3. Have I been silent about evil when I should have been outspoken for the truth?
4. Have I been slowly lowering my standards of right and wrong in order to maintain friendships or to gain some personal advantage?
5. Have I been dabbling in falsehood when I really need to speak up for the truth?
6. Is there a relationship in my life that needs to be broken because it is dragging me down spiritually?
7. If my friends at church could see me during the week, would they be embarrassed by the things I do and say? Would Jesus be embarrassed?