Hold Fast to God's Love - 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 & 2 John 4-11
Loving God by Trusting Christ • Sermon • Submitted
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Introduction/Seeing the Need
Introduction/Seeing the Need
False teaching in the church is a multimillion dollar enterprise. Since the early days of the church , accusations of false teaching have been flying. Some of the first issues, such as requiring circumcision for church membership, may seem irrelevant to us today. Other early issues seem very contemporary, such as the role of works in salvation and the authority of Scripture.
One of the constant threats from false teachers centered on the nature of Christ. The first-century church taught that Jesus was fully human and fully divine (as hard as that might be to comprehend). Church leaders knew that an overemphasis or underemphasis on either part of this doctrine would quickly lead to heresy. So they guarded both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus as cornerstone of the faith.
The authors of today’s passages, Paul and John , both needed to deal with false teachers who denied the teaching of the apostles and threatened the church’s existence. From their writings we learn ways to identify false teachers and how to deal with them.
Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians from the city of Corinth in AD 52. The intent of the letter was to help the infant congregation understand his teaching more accurately in his absence. False teachings in the first century had many faces, some more dangerous than others. One particularly dangerous heresy that threatened the church’s survival was Judaizing. It was related to the church’s emergence from Judaism and separation from the synagogue. Many early Christians were Jews, and some of them saw Christianity as the next step of the Jewish faith - a sort of super-Judaism. Such teachers believed that all aspects of the Jewish law applied to the church, even to believers of Gentile background. The error of Judaizing was a belief that salvation required keeping such laws.
2 John was written to encourage its recipients to continue living lives of love but also to be on guard against, and reject, the false teachers who have been visiting their congregation. It addresses the emerging threat against the first-century church, scholars called Docetism. The term Docetism comes from the Greek word that means “to seem.” The primary tenet of Docetism was that Christ’s sufferings were only apparent; they only seemed real, but were not. As one writer sums it up, Docetism maintained, against Christian affirmations to the contrary, that Christian’s existence was “mere semblance without any true reality.”
Direct Your Hearts -
Direct Your Hearts -
Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Paul ends the final section of 2 Thessalonians by asking for prayer, a request he also made in the first letter. He prayed for his friends, and he does not hesitate to ask them to pray for him and his companions. Paul saw prayer as a shared responsibility. Paul mentions two specific areas in which he desires prayer. His first concerns the message of the Lord, meaning the preaching of the gospel. Paul also requests that his evangelistic efforts spread rapidly, as they had with the Thessalonians themselves.
How might you identify unchurched people who are likely to be receptive to the gospel message? How can you tell when someone is mot receptive?
Paul moves quickly from unfaithful opponents to the rock of faithfulness, the Lord. Whereas the opponents bedevil Paul and the Thessalonian believers, the Lord can be counted on the protect the readers from the evil one. Paul is absent and must give over his worries to his faithful master for preserving the Thessalonians from those who would destroy their faith.
Paul bases his confidence in the Lord, but he also has confidence in the Thessalonians. God’s preserving and empowering of their congregation will result in current and future obedience to the godly teachings of Paul. Even the most challenging of Paul’s congregations engendered confidence in him.
In what ways do you participate in the spread of the Lord’s message today? What are some ways we can overcome pessimism with “confidence in the Lord?”
Verse 5a presents us with a problem of translation/understanding. What does God’s love mean - “God’s love for us” or “our love for God?” Some scholars and students propose that it’s both: the more we realize God’s love, the more we love him in return. Paul is encouraging devotion to the Lord, but the context leads us to understand this as also the reader’s expressing love by service to other people.
Walk in Truth -
Walk in Truth -
I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.
John is joyfully encouraged because these believers have continued to walk in the truth. John measures this by their adherence to a commandment, one that has it origin with the Father, God himself. In verse 5 the command to love one another is not a new teaching; believers have had this command from the beginning of their Christian walk. John does not make it complicated, he makes this commandment a cornerstone of his teaching ministry.
In what ways can our church better demonstrate the commandment to “love one another?”
In verse 6 we have the imperative to keep his commandments. Jesus taught his disciples that keeping his commandments is an expression of love for him (). John narrows this to the single command, namely to love one another. He has always taught them to love each other. This command is not an advanced teaching, but the most basic teaching of all that undergirds the Christina life.
Reject the Deceivers -
Reject the Deceivers -
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.
The mutual love that is so primary for John is sorely tested by false teachers, the many deceivers. This is not a hypothetical situation. These false teachers have gone out into the world, meaning they have their origin in the church. This is the idea of apostasy - a type of heresy that implies leaving or deserting the true faith. Therefore, John has already warned his readers to walk in the truth, because their opponents do not trade in truth.
Instead of embracing the truth, these false teachers do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a denial of the humanity of Jesus; denying this central teaching of the faith means the deceivers must be teaching a different type of salvation, because they cannot have the doctrine of the atoning death of Jesus. John will stand for this.
John dubs these deceivers as the antichrist. The term is not confined to a single person. John seems to dub these deceivers interchangeably as “false prophets”. Jesus warned against such counterfeits. False teaching does not arise spontaneously; it comes from false teachers who have something to gain by their deception. John is clear, we must reject deceivers - if we stray from the Bible’s teaching regarding the person and work of Christ, we have crossed a line that separates us from God’s truth.
John is clear, we must reject deceivers - if we stray from the Bible’s teaching regarding the person and work of Christ, we have crossed a line that separates us from God’s truth.
While the deceivers present their doctrines as new and better, John demands that his people abide in the teaching of Christ to which they have been faithful in the past. This, most specifically, is the teaching about the nature of Christ himself - his full humanity and death for our sins. To go beyond this teaching is to abandon the central promise of Christianity: forgiveness and reconciliation with God through the work of Christ.
What are some ways our church can “contend for the faith” without destroying the unity of the church in the process?
John ends his discussion of false teachers with a strong command - “walk in love” and “love one another.” They are not to allow a teacher who denies the incarnation even to enter one’s house. There is likely a double sense to this in that a “house” is not only a personal home but also the location of a church. House churches are likely the norm in John’s day. The leaders reading this letter are to offer no forum for this false teaching. To refute heresy is the responsibility of the elders of the church.
John warns that those who disregard the warning become, in effect, partners with the false teachers. This is why it is so important, in any church, to have leaders who are trained in doctrine. They are the gatekeepers of the congregation. They cannot ignore this responsibility.
If a teacher of false doctrine knocked on your door tomorrow, what level of hospitality would you offer, if any, for the purpose of engaging in dialogue?
There will always be those in the church who are looking for innovations and modifications to Bible teachings that make them uncomfortable. We sometimes must walk a tightrope between loving tolerance for such people and rigid intolerance of their false teaching.
As difficult as that may be, church leaders cannot neglect their responsibilities in this regard. When leaders allow the “love one another” mandate to suppress their duty to reject dangerous false teaching, they are not acting in love for church members as a whole - members who need the guidance of mature Christian leaders in their congregation.
O God, help us to be your gracious witnesses; help us to be motivated by love, not hate. May we love truth and reject falsehood. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who died for our sins. Amen.