Sometimes you can tell a lot about a person by what characterizes their walk. Each day while I am at school I have to monitor the hallways while students change classes. While I do that, I see a lot of kids walking up and down the hall, and I can tell a lot about them based on how they are walking. Our nonverbal behavior can say a lot about us. For example, a student walking with his or her head held high, his or her back straight, and a look of determination exudes confidence or pride. Perhaps, they are determined to get to class on time and don’t want to be late. On the other hand, a student walking slowly, with his or her head cast down, may indicate sadness, something is wrong, or at least an attitude of, “I don’t want really to be here.” Finally, a student meandering down the hall, laughing, stopping every few feet to talk someone, clearly has socializing on his or her mind. Whatever the case may be, the characteristics of how someone is walking can tell a lot about a person.
The Bible has a lot to say about walking. Not walking in a literal sense but in regards to someone’s way of life, typically either a “walk” characterized by righteousness or by wickedness. As Christians, we have a walk or way of life that, by God’s work in our lives, has certain characteristics. Fundamentally, though, it is a walk in the truth, that is, in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel that we have believed in changes our walks and our lives completely. While we once walked in wickedness and sin, when we come to Christ, he enables us to walk in righteousness and truth.
In 2 John, the apostle John has a lot to say about the walk of the church to whom he was writing. Church history tells us that in the latter part of his life he probably served as a pastor in the church at Ephesus and had contact with the churches throughout the region. Think of the seven churches he wrote about in Revelation 2-3. Though at first glance it may appear he is writing a letter to a Christian woman whom he knew, especially when he says, “elect lady and her children” in vv. 1 and 13, he is actually using a metaphor to refer to a local church and her members. A common theme in the Scriptures is to depict the people of God as a woman. For example, both Paul and John refer to the Church as the bride of Christ, and the Old Testament contains many instances of Israel being depicted as a woman as well.
After John greets the church in vv. 1-3, in v. 4 he expresses his joy at finding some of the believers of this sister church walking in the truth. He then addresses two crucial characteristics of the Christian walk in the truth. Specifically, what John was writing to these believers and what God is saying to us this evening is this: as Christians, we must love one another and avoid doctrinal deception. Let me repeat that, as Christians, we must love one another and avoid doctrinal deception. While John and we could undoubtedly list many characteristics of a believer’s walk, it is these two, love and truth, which John found the need to impress upon this church to whom he was writing. Now, I am thankful that Cornerstone is a church that does these two things well. We love one another, and we do a good job of holding to true teaching. Yet as Lee mentioned this morning, it is good to have reminders, even of things we are doing well, because we can so easily drift away. So, let us look at these two exhortations in the text.
First, let us examine the command to love. In v. 5, he encourages the church to love one another. After John had heard that “some of [the church’s members] were walking in the truth,” he felt the need to encourage them to walk in love for one another. He wanted the church to be strengthened by this in light of those who would come against it, such as the false teachers he mentions later in the letter. John writes, “And now I ask you, dear lady--not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning--that we love one another.” John was aware this command was not new to these believers. They had had it from the beginning when Jesus gave it on the night of the last supper. Yet even though they knew and were obeying this command, it was important for them to be reminded of it. As Christians, then and now, we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What, however, is the basis for our love? Often we may find ourselves united with people in the faith with whom we might otherwise not associate. Our love for other believers is based upon the truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ. This clearly motivated John’s immense love for these believers. Not only does he affirm his love for them in v. 1, in v. 12 he speaks of seeing them and speaking to them face to face as a completion of joy. He also speaks to them with great tenderness throughout the letter. Yet not only does John love these other believers, he states that all other Christians love them as well. In v. 1, he describes them as those “whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.” Note the word “because.” The cause or ground of John’s love for them and, by implication the love of all other Christians for them, is the “truth that abides in [them] and will be with [them] forever.” What is this truth? Look down at v. 9. John speaks of abiding in the teaching of Christ. Therefore, the truth that John has in view here and throughout his letter is the gospel. It is this that grounds our love for one another.
Imagine for a moment you were to meet a Christian from a far off country and from a profoundly different culture than your own. You would probably not have much in common with him or her at all. Your background, upbringing, tastes, interests, nationality, and language would all be very different. Yet despite these differences, you would have at least one thing in common: Christ. You and that believer are both united to Christ and thereby to one another. Though we may be different in various ways from other believers, we have this great thing in common: we all belong to Christ and walk in the truth. Therefore, the basis for our love for one another is our shared union with Christ our Lord and our elder brother in God’s family. We love one another because we are family and we all have placed our faith in the same gospel.
However, at this point some of you may be thinking, “I agree we need to love other believers, and I understand the basis for that love. Yet, how do we do this practically?” It is easy to say you love someone. What does it look like in practice? Well, thankfully, John fleshes out for us how we love one another. We love one another by obeying God’s commandments. In between giving the command to love one another in v. 5 and asserting it again in the latter half of v. 6, he defines this love for us. He writes, “And this is love, that we walk according to the commandments.” So to obey God’s other commands is a way of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. How does this work exactly? Think of it this way. If you were to steal from your brother or sister in Christ or covet something of theirs, would they say you were showing love to them? Of course not. If you were to commit adultery, would that demonstrate love for your spouse? Of course not. All of these acts would be unloving. Or here is a positive example. In Phil. 2, Paul calls us to a mindset of humility like Jesus. When we obey this command, we will be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ and look to their interests as well as our own. So in obeying God’s commands not only do we show our love to him, we also show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s commands to love Him and love our neighbors are very closely intertwined. Paul gets at this as well in Rom. 13:8-10. He writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Clearly there is a reciprocal relationship between obeying God and loving fellow believers. When John tells us to love one another, we do this fundamentally by obeying God’s other commands. Our acts of obedience are also acts of love. Therefore, I encourage you this evening to obey the Lord in the power of His Spirit that you might demonstrate your love not only to him but also to all of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us not just love in word only and just say we love our brothers and sisters. By God’s power, let us do it in deeds as well.
Yet, there is also the second characteristic of a Christian’s walk that John stresses in this letter in vv. 7-11. He also commands Christians to avoid doctrinal deception. During this time period, many false teachers were spreading false teachings about Christ and seeking to deceive believers. Look at v. 7. It states, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” The word “for” indicates that what follows is the reason for what preceded it. John encouraged the Christians to love one another that they might be strengthened in light of the coming attacks. In the same way that Christ sent the apostles out into the world to preach the gospel, John implies that false teachers, the “many deceivers,” have been sent out into the world as well. The false teachers John had in mind were denying fundamental truths about Jesus, such as that he truly came in the flesh. John does not mince words. “Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” Just as Jesus called Peter Satan when he suggested Jesus not die, similarly John speaks of those who deny truths about Jesus.
In light of these false teachers, John offers his strongest command in the letter. In v. 8, he says, “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” Therefore, the first aspect of avoiding doctrinal deception is just that, not being taken in by false teachers and false teaching. If we allow ourselves to be deceived, we run the risk of forfeiting our reward in eternity for our service to Christ now. John teaches that those who avoid false teaching and persevere in the truth until the end win a full reward. Therefore, let us not be deceived by false teaching and deny the great truths of the faith, such as Christ’s incarnation, death, or resurrection.
If we look around, we may quickly notice how full our world is of false teaching. Unfortunately, as in John’s day so in ours much false teaching comes from people claiming to be believers. Many people deny either on TV or in print fundamental truths about Christ. In light of this, we must be discerning about what we watch and read. We should not take in any teaching uncritically, but we should do as the Bereans did in Acts 17, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things [taught to them] were so.” The Bereans are a great example to us. When we receive teaching, we must examine it in light of Scripture. Does it line up with what the Bible teaches? If we are unsure about something, we should ask one of our pastors. I know they would be happy to point us towards good teaching and warn us about any false teaching. Does this mean we should never read or listen to anything that may be theologically questionable? No, but we must be discerning like the Bereans if we do so. Let us, therefore, be discerning about whom we read and watch and avoid doctrinal deception.
The second aspect of avoiding doctrinal deception is abiding in the truth. This is the antidote to false teaching. On the one hand we avoid it as I mentioned a moment ago and on the other hand we cling to the truths we have been taught. In v. 9, John writes, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has the Father and the Son.” These are very strong words from John. John further identifies these false teachers as those who “[go] on ahead and do not abide in the teaching of Christ.” Instead of holding to what they had been taught about Christ they seek to be innovative and offer new teachings. In our day, where the new and novel is deemed valuable, this temptation still stands strong. We as Christians, however, should not be those that move ahead but that abide in and cling to the teaching of the gospel, for those that do so have the Father and the Son. This is a blessed promise. If we persevere and hold to the truth, we will have the Father and Son; we will be in fellowship with them.
What does this abiding look like? It means holding to the Word of God. Spend time in the Word. Make sure you are sitting under those who carefully exposit it. I am so thankful for our pastors who are so gifted and faithful in preaching the Word to us. Encourage and remind one another of the truth. As John was reminding these believers of the truth, so we should remind one another as well. Hold to the gospel, the good news that God has come in the flesh in Jesus Christ, lived in perfect obedience to the law as we could not, died on the cross taking upon himself the penalty for our sins, and was raised three days later thereby conquering death. Cling to these truths in order to avoid doctrinal deception.
Finally, the third aspect of avoiding doctrinal deception is not encouraging false teachers. In the time in which John was writing, false teachers would travel around the Mediterranean seeking opportunities to teach and obtain financial support from Christians. In vv. 10-11, John addressed how to deal with these sorts of traveling false teachers. John is very explicit, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” If a false teacher came to the church or the home of one of the members looking for an opportunity to teach or to obtain financial support, the believers were to turn them away. Does this mean if a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness shows up on our doorstep should we give them cold shoulder and refuse to even speak with them? No. Not necessarily. False teachers need to hear the gospel, too. What John is speaking of here is that we should not give false teachers a platform to speak in the church or support them in their efforts to spread false teaching. You can have someone in your home to discuss the truths of the Bible with them, and Lord willing, bring them to Christ, but you are should not invite them to come share their beliefs with your small group. Nor are you going to contribute financially to their cause. This is what John meant in vv. 10-11. We should not encourage false teachers by providing an opportunity for them to spread their teaching or support them. If we do so, we “take part in their wicked works.” This is a very grave matter. So we must be wise about who we support either financially or by giving them a platform to spread their message.
In closing, let us review what John impressed on his readers and what should characterize the walk of all of us as believers. John teaches us we must love one another and avoid doctrinal deception. Now one question remains, in what strength or ability do we do this? Often, it is so easy to find our love for other believers waning or find ourselves slowly seduced by the lies of Satan. What are we to do when we face our own weakness? John does not leave us without an answer. He speaks to the root of our strength for obeying his exhortations in his greeting to this local church. Look at vv. 2. The truth of the gospel that grounds our love and that we must hold to “will be with us forever.” Furthermore, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ’s the Father’s Son, in truth and love.” John does not offer best wishes or a prayer for his readers. He states facts. God’s truth will abide with us, and he will give us grace, mercy, and peace in truth and love. He gives us these blessings, including the strength to obey his commands, in Christ. It is Christ through whom we have salvation and all of God’s blessings come to us. It is through and in Christ that we are enabled to love one another and avoid doctrinal deception.
If you are here this evening and you do not believe in Christ, let me urge you to turn from your sins and place your faith in Christ. Thus far Satan has deceived you, and I pray this morning that God would open your eyes to see the truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ lived in perfect obedience the law as we could not, died on the cross taking upon himself the penalty for sin, and was raised three days later thereby conquering death. Turn from your sins and believe in Christ, and you will be saved. Then, you can walk in the truth and love with the Father and the Son as we do. Finally, believers, as we go forth from here this evening and begin a new week out in the world, may we walk faithfully in the truth, loving one another and avoiding doctrinal deception. May the Lord empower us and strengthen us to this end. Let us pray.
Father, thank you for your word. Thank you for sending Christ to die and be raised for our sins that we might be reconciled to you. In light of this, enable us to walk in way that pleases you this week. Pour your love into hearts for you and for one another. Help us to avoid false teaching and be discerning about what we listen to and read. Thank you for your grace towards us, and thank you for inspiring the apostle John to write these encouraging words to guide your people throughout the ages. In Jesus’ name, Amen.