A sermon preached at University Church, Athens, GA, 8/28/16, by Rev. Donald T. Williams, PhD
To hear the audiofile, go here:
2 John 1:9 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. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not have 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. 12 Having many things to say 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 that your joy may be made full. 13 The children of your chosen sister greet you.
INTRODUCTION: In the beginning of this little series we were talking about Truth in the Johannine epistles. The first week we looked at its importance, its nature, and its effects.
What is the importance of Truth? It is of supreme importance if you don’t want to waste—or ruin—your life. Someone was going through the picture drawer in his grandparents’ house and came across an interesting and obviously very old shot that aroused his curiosity. Who were these people? Were they ancestors of his? And where were they? What were they doing there? So he turned the photograph over and found a helpful little note written on the back: “The whole group of us, a week ago Sunday.” Hmmm. Not terribly helpful. Well, that’s about how clear the average person is on the Great Questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is the greatest Good? How do we know? Well, we don’t know very well. Yet how are we to make any decision in our lives without an answer to these questions? Most of us seem content to be “The whole group of us, a week ago Sunday.”
What then is the nature of Truth as we saw it before? It is that which is so as opposed to the lie. Abe Lincoln was once asked, “How many legs would a cow have if you call its tail a leg?” “Four,” he answered. “Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” Truth is what is real as opposed to the fake or the counterfeit; it is what is solid and trustworthy, what holds up. The great architect Christopher Wren designed a dome which his clients feared was not adequately supported. Though he insisted that the designs were sound, they forced him to add four extra pillars to help support the dome, which he grudgingly did. Years later, some workmen went up into the dome to clean it–and discovered that the four extra pillars were free-standing. The dome was not resting on them! The pillars were not “true”–but Wren’s design was. Truth is also what is correct or straight as opposed to wrong, bent, twisted, or erroneous. The true is also what is good as opposed to the sinful or the evil; it is always practical, a path in which we walk. And it is ultimately personal, originating in and flowing from the dynamic Person of Jesus Christ, the logos or Word, the Second Person of the Trinity. Jesus not only perfectly knows, but He perfectly determines, contains, declares, embodies, and is the Truth. In this sense, the opposite of Truth is AntiChrist.
What are the effects of Truth? If we limit ourselves to the pale reflection of Truth found in abstract statements, they are too often not that great. Winston Churchill noted that “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” But when the fullness of Truth which is the Person of Christ gets ahold of you, gets inside of you, it turns you around, transforms you, saves you, and brings you from darkness into light and from death to life. The effect of indwelling truth is outworking love.
The second week we saw how in Jesus Christ as the personal embodiment of Truth the apparent conflict between Love and the Law is resolved. Walking in truth is walking in love is walking according to the Law is walking with Jesus. The Law of Moses is the manual of true love. The Ten Commandments help us distinguish loving in truth from lust or rationalized selfishness by teaching us to respect and cherish our brothers’ and sisters’ lives, property, families, and reputations. Therefore, we can see that truth without love is truth distorted; it is ultimately deceptive. And love without truth is love perverted; it is ultimately destructive. But the Law is fulfilled in Christ. He kept it perfectly, He paid the penalty for our having broken it fully, and in His very Person true love and loving truth are a perfect unity so that when He lives in us through his Spirit, indwelling truth is seen in outworking love.
Today we will see one of the practical implications of allegiance to the Truth, and one that might seem surprising. The Truth is at war with the Lie, and those who speak the lie are not to be greeted or brought into our houses. “If anyone comes to you and does not have 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.” What? What does this mean?
WE ARE AT WAR
This passage is not about being inhospitable; it is about not aiding and abetting the Enemy. It’s not about being rude; it’s about how we relate to false teachers. So the first thing we need to understand is the fact that the Truth and the Lie are at war. That is why the way we treat false teachers is so significant and the requirements surrounding it seem so unbelievably strict. To understand that, we have to understand the war we are in.
The so-called “culture war” that rages in the West today is only one front of a larger spiritual battle in which the whole universe is involved. It is a war of the Truth versus the Lie, of Good versus Evil, of the Light versus the Darkness, of Christ versus Satan. It is becoming increasingly evident that our society has largely rejected the Truth and embraced the Lie. And this is not only destroying people’s lives here and now; it is imperiling their souls for all of eternity. We must see that this Truth that is being rejected is not simply an arbitrary series of traditional propositions, nor is the Lie that is being embraced simply their opposites. The Truth is a unified view of the world as it relates to its Creator which centers in Christ who came in the flesh—it is nothing less than the dynamic of indwelling truth and outworking love we have been describing in this series—and hence the Lie which opposes it has a like unity. This conflict manifests itself in many ways. The many lies that people are accepting today, including the ones about sexual ethics and gender identity, are but facets of the one Lie which opposes Christ and all that He stands for. And these lies have many temporal consequences as well as one great eternal Consequence.
It is a lie, for example, that life is meaningless, that truth is not knowable except in fragmentary ways which have no universal validity, and that therefore we each have to find or create our own purpose in life, finding what peace we can wherever we can find it. This lie may be foundational to all the others. If you believe this, why not find what peace or escape you can in drugs or alcohol or sex of whatever kind turns you on, regardless of the consequences? It is a lie that there is no objective absolute morality, that sex is merely a natural function, so if it feels good, do it. The result of believing this lie is venereal disease, teenage pregnancy, abortion, and AIDS. It is a lie that material wealth is the greatest good and that he who dies with the most toys wins. The result of believing that lie is workaholics, broken families, and latchkey kids. It is a lie that God is loving but not just and that salvation is by sincerity. And the result of believing that lie is Hell. These lies are not unrelated. They are all facets of a way of life that flows from rejecting Christ. “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” (v. 9).
The Lie is not simply an option sitting out there that people can chose if they want. It is aggressive; it prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom it may devour. Secular Humanist John Dunphy wrote, “I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity. . . . They will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach. . . . The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new–the rotting corpse of Christianity and the new faith of humanism” (Humanist Magazine, Jan./Feb. 1983). We are at war, we have lost the initiative, and we act as if we do not even know it. If a foreign army invaded the United States today, I guarantee that every life in this room would be different tomorrow. Sacrifices that would otherwise be unthinkable would be made as a matter of course until the invader was repelled.
Evangelists, Missionaries, Teachers, So why don’t we see the same kind of sacrifice in spiritual warfare? Because we do not really believe, we are only half convinced ourselves, that the Truth and the Lie are radically and unalterably opposed and that the stakes over which wins are infinitely high. If you are in any doubt about that today, wake up and start paying attention. Trinity Western University was just forbidden by Canada to grant law degrees because it limits sexual expression to traditional marriage. (The Canadian Supreme Court just overturned that ruling, but it should never have been made in the first place.) A couple out West in our own country has been fined $135,000.00 for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Do we really think we can stand with integrity for the truth in this world that is coming into existence if we don’t have our act together? Do we really think business as usual is going to be sufficient? Do we really think that the Truth and the Lie can live in peaceful coexistence? In the church at large a huge part of our problem is that we are only half convinced ourselves, that the Truth and the Lie are radically and unalterably opposed.
A NECESSITY OF WARTIME LIVING
If we were convinced, we would understand why John asks of the Church the strange and seemingly inhospitable behavior we see in verse 11. We aren’t to have people who tell the Lie in our homes or even give them a greeting? How is this compatible with Jesus’ command to love our enemies? Well, this command is indeed serious, but it actually has nothing to do with hospitality or with being rude to people. We win this war by showing the love of Christ to his enemies–which might very well mean having non-Christians as guests in your home and will definitely mean saying “Hello” to them on the street and being polite to them generally. Hospitality to individuals, courtesy to individuals, kindness to individuals—giving it, not withholding it—is actually a major strategic weapon in this war. But this passage is referring to something very different.
John is talking about how the Church relates to its own teachers. It was common in the First Century for traveling evangelists to go from place to place preaching the Gospel. They did not stay in the Holiday Inn when they did so. They were dependent on the hospitality of the Believers in that area for a place to stay and for food to eat. This is not hospitality in general but hospitality specifically as an act of supporting Christian evangelists, missionaries, and teachers. And the “greeting” which is mentioned is not saying “Hi, how are you doing?” It was the greeting mentioned in verse 13: “The children of your chosen sister greet you.” It implied acceptance as a fellow believer. John is saying that we must first be sure that these people are really servants of the Truth and not of the Lie before we acknowledge them or support them.
Every one of the lies we have mentioned goes back to one question for John: Did Jesus come in the flesh? Remember the consequences for our view of truth that we saw in week one. If He did, then He determines what truth and reality are and we must bow to His lordship. If He did not, then there is no legitimate authority when it comes to truth and we are all on our own, so let us eat, drink, do drugs, be merry, and have sex with whomever we feel like, for tomorrow we die–and no one has a right to impose his values on anyone else. That really is the watershed: Did Jesus come in the flesh or not? Everything ultimately goes back to that.
Because the Truth is at war with the Lie, because the Church, the army of the Truth, is on a wartime footing, it is imperative that she present a united front and maintain theological integrity around the Truth. She must maintain a clear demarcation between the Church and the World, the armies of the Truth and of the Lie. Therefore we are commanded to use discernment and refuse to support or even recognize as fellow Believers those religious teachers, even if they come from allegedly “Christian” denominations, who are really on the side of the Enemy. It doesn’t mean that we cannot have them as individuals as guests in our homes. It means that we must not support their ministry either financially or even tacitly by recognizing their claim to be ministers of Christ. There are many pluralistic denominations, which, even though they may have many true believers as members, nevertheless tolerate the Lie being preached from their pulpits and taught in their colleges and seminaries, and thus broadcast the message that Truth does not matter. I think John is saying to us today that Christians in wartime cannot afford to belong to such churches. To do so is to aid and abet the Enemy and blur the distinction between the Truth and the Lie. If so-called “Christian” teachers do not affirm without compromise that Christ has come in the flesh, with all that this means, then we are forbidden to give them a forum, support them with our tithes, or even to recognize their spurious and lying claims to be true Christians, much less ministers of the Gospel of Christ. It is that serious.
We must finally and most importantly, given the recent history of our spiritual forebears in the Fundamentalist movement, remember that this commandment comes in the context of the epistle which emphasizes that walking in the Truth is walking in Love. The fact that the most stalwart champions of the Truth a couple of generations ago—our ancestors in the Fundamentalist Movement—did not remember this principle is one of the primary reasons why the war is going so badly for the side of Truth today. This means that, not only were they using unbiblical and unChristlike methods in their defense of truth, but that they also were defending a limited and superficial version of the truth itself, one that was less than the fullness of Truth which is Christ, as we covered in the previous messages. They did two kinds of damage: They gave the truth a bad name, but they also gave defending the truth a bad name. The memory of their harsh judgmentalism and legalism makes many of us intimidated about speaking out forthrightly because we don’t want to be confused with them or identified with them. But we don’t have the option of compromising the truth to avoid their errors. We must neither fail to defend it nor fail to defend it in love, May the God of Truth and Love help us to do better!
I can perhaps best summarize that part of our history and its lessons with this sonnet:
THE RISE AND FALL OF
Christ’s virgin birth, His deity, His cross,
His Word, His resurrection, His return:
Could these be given up without the loss
Of Christian faith itself? was the concern
Of those first known as “Fundamentalist.”
If their descendants’ words have proved uncouth
As if their mind had closed up like a fist,
At least they started caring for the Truth.
It’s one of mankind’s greatest tragedies
Beyond the power of the tongue to tell,
This hardening of mental arteries
Within a movement that began so well.
What they forgot should be like hand in glove:
Truth is not Truth unless we speak in love.
CONCLUSION: If we love the Truth, then we must hate the Lie. But if we love the Truth which is incarnate in Christ, then we must love the liar. But we must not allow him to masquerade as a spokesman for the Truth in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is the household of God and the pillar and support of the Truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The Truth is at war with the Lie. They are at loggerheads one with another; you cannot serve both. The sooner we put the Church on a wartime footing, the better off we will be. That means speaking the Truth in Love, without compromising either Truth or Love. And there is only one way to do that. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory—it is indwelling truth that results in out-speaking truth, in discernment, in the rejection of compromise with the lie, and in outworking love.
Here endeth the Lesson.