Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beware: Impostors Abound

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 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. [NASB, 2 Jn. 7-9]

The writings of second and third John are perfect examples of first-century letters. There is an opening, a body, and a close. They were both very likely written in the early 90s from somewhere in Asia Minor, probably Ephesus. Second John may have been written to the elect lady the Church as a result of a delegation of leaders that had been sent by John to the Church. There seems to be a link between John’s concerns in 1 John and his concerns in 2 John. We think it is highly possible that 2 John is a follow up to the problem of the secessionists mentioned in 1 John 2:19. This group was led by false teachers to leave the Christian community over what appears to be a heretical Christology. It seems likely that John sent a delegation over to the Church to check on her and to provide support and encouragement over the issue. It seems that second John could very well have been John’s response to the report he received as a result of the delegation’s findings.

Building off what he had just previously said regarding love and walking in the divine commandment, John further alienates the secessionists of 1 John 2:19. He says, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world.” The impostors seem to be a clear reference back to those of 1 John 2:19 where he said that they went out from us because they were never really of us. The clause has a causal relationship with what precedes. In other words, the previous clause coupled with this one may read something like “walk in love in view of the fact that many impostors have gone out into the world.” John also helps us understand what his concept of love is: it is keeping the commandment. This helps us resist the all-too-common tendency to anachronistically read modern notions of love into the text. Who are these impostors? How do we identify them as impostors?

If we read the next clause we realize that John is using characterization in order to specify who he means: those who do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. In other words, the sect that has abandoned the Church held to a view of the person of Christ that was out of accord with apostolic teaching. It is believed by many that pagan philosophy had been mixed with apostolic teaching to produce a different kind of Jesus. Some of these influences can be traced back to the ancient teachings of Plato and others. It seems possible that an unbiblical dualism had infested certain areas of the Church and this influence led to beliefs about the humanity of Christ that were clearly beyond the teachings of the apostles. In addition to identifying the individuals, John does not hesitate to alienate this group by referring to them as: this is the deceiver and the antichrist. First the warning is issued. Second, the group related to the warning is identified. Finally, the group is marked with the most serious of marks: impostor and antichrist. Hence, we know that any teacher denying the full humanity of Christ is an impostor and an antichrist and outside the Christian community, within the sphere of the world, the sphere of Satan.

John then issues the warning to the rest of the group to keep watch over themselves. The Greek is in the imperative signaling a stern command. This is an idiom that points up to self-vigilance. The idea is that the community must be in a state of readiness, like a soldier who knows that an ambush is eminent. Such spiritual and mental sharpness requires a great deal of effort and energy. The Christian life is not like laying in a field of daisies waiting for God to bless you with you best life now. Nor is it about social and political activism where we can tally the number of homeless we helped or the elections we won. It is far more profound that any of these things. There is a darkness, an evil, that seeks to destroy the truth of God and the souls of men. It is as merciless as anything any Hollywood movie could ever imagine. This evil seeks to consume the souls of humanity and to destroy all that God calls good. In short, it seeks to destroy the gospel, the apostolic teachings and tradition of the Christian faith. John is concerned that the Church not lose what she has accomplished so far, but that she receive a full reward. In order to do this, she must reject not only the teachings of these impostors and antichrists, but she must reject them as well. This requires serious discipline and an undying loyalty to the cross, the gospel, and the teachings of Christ.

John then informs the Church that anyone who does too far and does not abide in the teachings of Christ, which the apostles have, goes too far and does not abide in God. “Does not abide in God” is an idiomatic expression designed to indict the secessionists. John is spending more time on this than usual because he wants to emphasize his point. Think about the degree of emphasis John is placing on this point. He has already called them impostors and antichrists. He has already said they went out from us. But that is not enough. This emphasis can only mean that John remains concerned with the threat to the Church even after the delegation’s visit. He now says with clarity that these people do not abide in God. For you modern readers that think belief and confessions are irrelevant and outdated, you should give special attention to this pericope of Scripture. It surely matters what you believe and confess about Jesus Christ.

Finally, John says that the one who remains in the teaching of Christ, that one has both the Father and the Son. This is surely intended to encourage the Church. The one remaining in the teaching of Christ keeps the commandment of God and engages in truly loving his neighbor. Sometimes modern Christians get this backwards. They think feeding the poor is loving their neighbor which is then defined as keeping the commandment which is then defined as being a Christian. Such thinking is turned upside down on its head by Scripture. Loving God always begins with keeping God’s commandment, not getting involved in social causes.

We learn several things from 2 John. We learn that it matters what we think and confess about Jesus Christ. We learn that there are impostors in the Church who are still walking in darkness even though they may be the most likable personality in Sunday school. We learn that false teachings and beliefs about Jesus Christ can be serious and even have eternal consequences. We learn that what someone confesses and believes about Jesus Christ can tell us something about the genuineness of their faith. We learn that submission to the teachings of the apostles is not an option for professing Christians. We learn that apostolic teaching bears the authority of Christ. We also learn that every Christian is to watch out and be on guard for false teachings and false teachers. This is a recurring theme in the NT. It is prominent throughout the teachings and commandments of nearly every book.

As a Christian, we do not have the option of tolerating false teachings in our churches nor in our homes for that matter. John wants them cut off not only from the Church, but from the community completely. He instructs the remaining Christians in the Church not even to have dinner with them or have them in their homes. He says that anyone who goes to far, that is, beyond the boundaries of apostolic teaching should be the object of rejecting and shunning should he fail to correct his thinking and submit to the authority of apostolic teachings.

This section in 2 John rarely receives serious attention in the modern Church. We are far too busy trying to grow the kingdom of God on our own to realize that we have a pasture that is crawling with wolves who are devouring the sheep right under our noses and we are too spiritually dim or too focused on our own agenda to even notice.

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. [2 Ti 1:13–14.]

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