Have you ever met a false teacher? Most likely you have but didn’t know it. They don’t walk around with pitchforks and horns growing out of their heads. No, they are charming, winsome, and speak silky smooth words. They often come bearing gifts, enjoying your company, and even doing kind deeds. Yet, their real work is undercover. Their end-game is to sink their roots deep into the heart of unsuspecting souls. They masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15), but behind their Dr. Jekyll façade rages a Mr. Hyde in all his wickedness. Much of the NT is concerned with the corruptive efforts of such bloodthirsty wolves. 2 John, specifically, shares that concern.
My first significant interaction with 2 John occurred when I visited a small group in Texas. Oh, I’d read it many times—it being a short letter—but I’d never seriously studied it. The group soon came to an impasse. John advocates: If anyone comes to you who is not teaching the correct Christ correctly, then “do not receive him into your house.” Two people in the class voiced opposing opinions: (1) one felt that this command no longer applies today because it would be rude behavior (especially to someone who needs the gospel); (2) the other person felt it did, indeed, apply today, and that we should forbid having people in our homes who might disagree with us on spiritual matters. Which one is correct?
Let us apply our hermeneutical and homiletical principles, and see where it leads.
- What does the canonical analysis tell us?
- This is one of the last letters written in the NT. Before this, the author wrote the Gospel of John and 1 John, both of which we should consult when necessary.
- What does the book analysis tell us?
- Who is the author? Most scholars accept John as author, the fisherman and apostle of Jesus Christ.
- Who is the audience? We don’t know the audience with certainty. It is addressed to the “elect lady.” However, much of the letter addresses the “elect lady” in the 2nd person plural. Therefore, it seems likely he is writing to a congregation.
- When was it written? Most scholars date it late 1st century.
- Are there any unique syntactical markings? Verses 1-4 are a typical greeting, and then the letter neatly breaks into 3 parts: (1) God’s request (vv. 5-6); (2) God’s warning (vv. 7-9); and, (3) God’s wisdom (vv. 10-11). John closes with a somewhat urgent salutation in verses 12-13.
- What is the author’s single purpose? John doesn’t state his purpose precisely, as he does in his Gospel or in 1 John. However, his clear emphasis is a stern warning concerning false teachers. Simply put: John warned against being hoodwinked by false teachers.
- What does the sectional context tell us?
- This letter is only 245 words. It’s short enough for one sermon (although it could be broken into smaller units). Two ideas are prominent: (1) keep loving one another and (2) do not be duped by false teachers. Those two ideas really dovetail into one: An extremely practical show of love is to protect one another from false teachers. John appears to be saying that—if they band together in Christian love—it will be difficult for false teachers to penetrate their congregation.
- What does the immediate context tell us?
- John aims to unify the congregation to combat deceptive teachers. A study of 1st century hospitality informs the context. Hospitality was expected in general. Christians, specifically, showed Christ’s love by being extra hospitable, even housing guests for long periods of time. In John’s day, a true dilemma arose. Christians were expected to show overly generous hospitality, but false teachers were quick to hold them hostage to that. MacArthur even states they were setting up headquarters in the homes of members and guilting them into longer stays. What’s worse, MacArthur suggests the false teacher may have stayed in the house where the congregation met for worship; which (if true) adds a degree of urgency. The false teacher, quite literally, could have been living in the church. The natural question arose, “How are we to express Christ-like love to those seeking to undermine the faith?”
Single Meaning: John encouraged the saints to love one another by protecting against false teachers.
Timeless Principle: Love fellow believers by exposing false teachers.
Major Objective of the Sermon (MOS): To highlight the importance of exposing false teachers.
Sermon Title: “Should I Have a Heretic in My House?”
True love has a dimension often ignored. It can be uncomfortable and confrontational. We call it “tough love.” An example: I spoke to a parent whose child was homeless, destitute, and down-and-out. It always led to the same place. Parental help, even with good intentions, enabled the child’s accelerated degeneration. This situation called for “tough love.” Another: Even more heart-wrenching: I spoke with a person who had to take away the car keys of their aging parent. Love has a gentle side, but love has a firm side, too. John speaks to the latter here.
- Background Setting (vv. 1-4)
- God’s Request: Love One Another (vv. 5-6)
- God’s Warning: Watch for False Teachers (vv. 7-9)
- God’s Wisdom: Do Not Aid or Abet False Teachers (vv. 10-11)
- Salutation (vv. 12-13).
Illustration: Think of an example of the far-reaching impact of corruptive false teaching.
The 1st century context of hospitality gives direction to the specific application. Within your points, adjudicate your time in proportion to John’s emphasis. Use the first point to set the 1st century context of hospitality. Practically speaking, I would aim for the following allocations: Point 1 (5 min.), Point 2 (5 min.), Point 3 (15 min.), Point 4 (15 min.), Point 5 (1 min.). The justification for these time allocations is not always the “number” of verses, but rather the “thrust” of the verses. Clearly, John roots the issue in self-sacrificial love, but his “thrust” is to address the false teachers specifically and how to treat them. More exegetical work is required in Point 3 (theology of “Christ in the flesh,” defining “antichrist,” etc.) and Point 4 (exegeting the term, “greeting,” and making modern-day application).
Back to the small group. Which position was correct? Our exegesis reveals a couple of things:
- John is not speaking of teachers who may be “confused” on certain doctrinal matters. Rather, he is speaking about those who bring a clear set of false teachings. They have wicked motives. Oftener than not, the motive is to accumulate riches for themselves. Beware of those types. Yet, we must distinguish between those who might be “confused” on Christ’s teachings (i.e., Apollos, Acts 18:26) from those who are wickedly opposed to them (1 Tim. 1:20). Sometimes in the NT, Paul removed false teachers from the church. Other times, he advises to patiently endure, correcting them with gentleness (2 Tim. 4:2). We must make careful and wise distinctions.
- May we allow someone into our home who might disagree with us on doctrine? Yes, we can. Otherwise, you could not allow the pagan plumber into your home to fix your busted pipe! However, if we truly love other believers, we must exercise extreme caution not to endorse, aid, abet, or encourage people whose motivation is to lead others away from Christ. And we must never allow them to gain a foothold in the congregation. Remember, these n’er-do-well’s may have been living in the corporate worship meeting place, but at the least they were living amongst the members. Finally, God makes no call here to be rude, disrespectful, or uncivil to anyone. Rather, “greeting” them (in John’s day) would be to endorse them, offer them financial support, or do anything to advance their cause. We can be polite and civil, but firm. We must never aid or abet false teachers . . . or even give the appearance of doing so.
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