2 John 1:7-13 The Truth about Deception (Rev. Erik Veerman)
2 John 1:7-13
Rev. Erik Veerman
The Truth about Deception
Our sermon text this morning is 2 John verses 7-13. You can find that on page 1214 In the church Bibles.
Last week we considered the first half of this short letter. Even though it’s written to the elect Lady, we discussed how John was likely writing to a specific church. Given the letter’s emphasis and language, that understanding makes sense.
John opens the letter with a warm salutation. It’s very focused on truth and love. And it turns out that truth and love are the main themes of the first half. He calls on them to walk in truth and love. Not just truth, alone, and not just love, alone, but both truth and love. God’s truth and agape love, which comes from God’s unconditional covenant love for his people.
And that brings us to verse 7… where John makes a shift to now address a specific situation. False teachers, whom he calls deceivers, had been traveling around spreading false beliefs about Jesus.
In these verses, he gives this church guidance about their teaching and what they should do about it.
Let’s now come to God’s Word.
Reading of 2 John 7-13.
A few years ago, a famous Vermeer painting was on display at the High Museum of Art. So, we went to see it. It’s named The Girl with a Pearl Earing. It’s probably Johannes Vermeer’s most famous painting. He painted it in 1665. It’s worth something like $100 million dollars. One of the reasons is that there are only 36 known Vermeer paintings in the world.
In fact, back in 1937, a new painting was found. They named it Supper at Emmaus. Art critics were amazed. One well known famous expert called it “the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer.” A famous art society purchased it for a very large sum of money – millions in today’s dollars.
The interesting thing is that over the next few years, 5 more Vermeer paintings were found. And all of them found by the same person. Han van Meegeren. But it all came crashing down. Van Meegeren had sold one of the paintings to a high-ranking Nazi official. Because of that, the Dutch government arrested him. At which point he confessed that that they were all forgeries. Van Meegeren had duped all the art experts. The paint was authentic to the period. He had perfected the style. He slightly baked the paintings in an oven and rolled them on a roller to make the paintings appear old with cracks.
It’s known as one the greatest art forgeries in history. In a word, Van Meegeren was a deceiver. The thing is, the paintings looked so real. People swore that they were authentic. When you compared the brush strokes, the colors, the style, the lighting and shadows on the painted faces, the background, and the paper, it all looked authentic, but it was a great deception.
And that is the warning that the apostle John is giving this church. There were teachers who claimed to be Christians. They sounded good, looked good, and had an aura of authenticity. In fact, many of the words they spoke were probably true. But in the end, they were merely deceivers peddling false teaching…. Or to use John’s words, their “wicked works.” verse 11.
And I would say, this is still very relevant to us today. Every generation, false teachers arise who claim to be teaching truths about Jesus or the Bible or Christianity, yet the heart of their teaching is a false Gospel.
These verses answer two questions for us:
1. How do we determine when someone’s teaching is true or false? And just to be sure, John is not talking about secondary matters. No, John is referring to essential matters. How do we evaluate when someone’s teaching undermines the heart of Christianity? That’s the first question.
2. The second question is, how should we relate to these false teachers? You see, John doesn’t just give them a warning about false teaching, but he also gives them clear guidance. So, what should they do? That’s the second question these verses answer.
To give us some organization this morning, we’ll take those questions in that order. First, how do we identify false teaching? And second, how should we deal with false teachers?
Identifying False Teaching
The reason John had just emphasized walking in truth and love is because these teachers were not walking in truth and love. They claimed to be a part of the church, but their teaching contradicted their claim.
So, how should we determine whether someone’s teaching strikes at the heart of Christianity? That’s what we are talking about: a perversion of the central truths of Christianity. Beliefs that invalidate the teaching and the teacher. Notice the words that John uses to describe them at the end of verse 7. They are deceivers and antichrists. In fact, those words are not plural. He writes, “such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” He’s basically calling them the devil. He’s not saying there’s just one deceiver, he’s already said there are many. Rather, their deception originates from the great enemy of the faith. They are each the anti-Christ. He could not use a stronger word to describe them.
That word, in fact summarizes their false teaching: anti-Christ. Opposed to Christ. Their teaching undermines the Christian faith – Christ himself. This is the main problem with their teaching.
Look down at verse 7. It says, “many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Right there, he hones in on exactly the problem. These teachers do not confess that Jesus is the Christ. In other words, they do not believe that the man Jesus is the promised Messiah. Oh, they believed in Jesus, the man. They believed he was a good teacher. After all, they identified themselves as part of the church. But they did not believe in Jesus’ deity.
We talked a little bit about this in 1 John. At the time, Gnosticism was on the rise. That was a human philosophy that focused on higher spirituality. To a gnostic, all matter was evil, which included our bodies. For that reason, they did not believe that Jesus was the Christ in the flesh. How could God become something evil – flesh and blood. That was their line of thinking. Therefore, they rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. They rejected the incarnation, God becoming flesh. They did not believe that Jesus was the son of God in the flesh.
Let’s go back up to verse 3. In the salutation, John gave a preview of this central issue. Notice in that verse 3 blessing, he emphasizes that Jesus is the Christ and that he is God the Father’s Son. That’s very intentional because the truth and love of God centers around Jesus as the Son of God - God in the flesh. If you take that part away, you strip the Gospel of its power. In other words, redemption from sin requires Jesus’ fullness as God. In order for the death of Jesus on the cross to be effective as a payment for sin, Jesus needed to be fully and truly God. He also needed to be fully and truly man. Being the mediator between God and man for our sin requires a God man. Able to atone for us as a perfectly righteous man, and able pay the depth of the penalty for sin, as God himself. That is the heart of the Gospel.
Notice in verse 9… that is the teaching of Christ himself. It says, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.” Jesus himself testified over and over that he was God’s son, in the flesh. He demonstrated that. It’s why the religious leaders hated him. Jesus claimed to be God, claimed to be the Christ. Therefore, to them, he was a blasphemer and deserved death.
Let me put it this way, when someone claims to be teaching the truth of God, but denies or twists an essential element of the Gospel, that teaching is not just false in that one area, rather the whole Gospel is undermined.
Let’s set aside forged paintings. Let me give you a real example.
You’ve probably never heard of Charles Taze Russell. He grew up in the 1850s and 60s in a Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania. As a teenager, he was described as loving the Bible. When he was 18, he started a Bible study with his father.
But soon thereafter, Charles Russell began questioning central tenants of the Christian faith, including questioning the validity of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He still considered himself to be a Christian, but he denied that the Holy Spirit was God and he denied that Jesus was God in human flesh. To be sure, he believed in Jesus the man – a special created man, at that, just not Jesus’ divine nature. Russel began teaching these things. He also started a magazine and an association called The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Maybe you’ve heard of that. These false teachings began to spread rapidly. By the 1880s, 16 million copies of his literature had been published. He became very well known all throughout the eastern and northeastern United States. The movement grew. Even after Russell’s death, his disciples and other false teachers continued on. In 1931, The Watchtower Society was renamed the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It continues today with about 8 million adherents. They have a presence in Tucker.
The teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the modern-day parallel to the deceivers in John’s day. They claim to have the truth, but they do not believe that Jesus is the incarnate eternal Son of God. Rather, they believe Jesus is a created being with special powers given but not the eternal God. For that reason, as John puts it, “they do not have God.” They are deceivers. Their works are wicked. That is strong language! That’s because it is anti-Christ, as John says. The apostle Paul said it this way in Galatians 1, “if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” He repeated that twice in Galatians 1.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are just one example today. How can these deceivers be identified? The answer is if any part of their teaching undermines the person or work of Christ.
•That would include denying either Jesus as truly God or truly man.
•A false teacher would also include anyone who denies the need for the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross
•…or who denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus
•…or who denies that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.
•it would also include any kind of denial of the Trinity.
Any one of those denials, just one, would go against the teaching of Jesus himself and the apostles as recorded in the Scriptures.
And what does the apostle John warn? He writes, “watch yourselves,” verse 8, “so that you may not lose what we have worked for.” They were in a fragile time. The church was in the first few decades of growth. John was the last living disciple of Jesus. And the New Testament was not yet available. In other words, this antichrist teaching threatened to unravel the work which had begun. That is what John is referring to. These false teachers, often unknowingly, were being used by the devil to attack the church. Besides the content of their teaching being heresy, it threatened the unity and spread of the church, which they had worked for.
So, this was a matter of utmost importance.
In summary: These teachers were denying core beliefs about Jesus and true faith in him, and they therefore threatened the church.
Dealing with False Teachers
And the natural next question is this: what should they do about it?
That is the second question this morning. How should they, how should we, deal with these false teachers?
Well, John answers that. But before considering what he says, a little context would be helpful.
In that time, it was very common for pastors to travel around to different congregations in their region. Small churches didn’t have the means to have full-time pastors. These churches were scattered around in villages and towns. Remember, this was before the New Testament was complete. They had some New Testament letters and Gospel accounts but it was limited. At that time, the teaching of Jesus and the apostles was passed down orally. Apostles like John, Peter, and Paul taught their disciples, who would then teach the people.
In other words, there were more congregations than there were trained pastors and elders. So, they shared. It was a common thing for a teacher to come into town. The church was expected to greet them and provide for their needs.
And by the way, that happens today all over the world. Especially in rural settings. In fact, the seminary that I went to, RTS, has a campus in Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson is a decent size town, but when you get outside the city, it becomes very rural very fast. It’s not like Atlanta. And one of the ways that the seminary supports the smaller churches in the area is to send their divinity students to preach. It both helps the small churches and gives the students experience.
So, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of preachers or teachers travelling around. The issue was the content of their teaching.
That background helps us understand verse 10. It says, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.” They should not be supporting these travelling false teachers. The word “house” could either be hosting them (not giving them a place to stay), or it could be referring to the houses where they worshipped. Whatever the case, the church was not to accommodate them. Don’t help them. Don’t even greet them with the customary greeting as a brother. Doing either would be supporting their deception. Instead, they were to make a very clear statement that these teachers were not teaching the truth about Jesus nor his Gospel.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “ok, but how is that loving? After all, John just said to walk in truth and love. But now he’s telling them to not do loving things!” That’s a legitimate question. I think the answer is, it would be unloving to receive them. By doing so would cause confusion among the believers. Remember, these were false teachers travelling around. He’s not talking about your regular person on the street who is not a Christian, or who may have beliefs contrary to true faith. For them, the call would be to sit down and teach the truth of the Gospel… to reveal Jesus in the fulness of who he is and in the Gospel of grace.
But for the teachers, they were propagating false beliefs. In the book of James, chapter 3, it says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” That is a humbling and dauting reality for any teacher of God’s Word and truth.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit would use the rejection to shake them. To reveal to them their wicked words that they may come to know the true truth of Christ. But the main purpose in rejecting these deceivers is to protect and love the church and clearly call out their deception.
What would that look like today?
Well, here’s one example. Maybe you’ve seen the two Jehovah’s Witnesses women who are often on Main Street. They are there a couple of times per month. Sometimes right outside our office. If I were to invite them in and let them use our office as a base of operations, that would be a problem. In other words, if we support them in any way, we are participating in their false teaching. Now, that’s different than wanting to talk to them and open up God’s Word and share the truth in a loving way.
Another example would be platforming false teachers. That could be inviting a false teacher to teach or preach. It could be endorsing them, or encouraging people to read their books or listen to their podcasts and sermons. We should not do those things. Instead, we should give clear guidance on what is faithful and true versus unfaithful and false.
In fact, over the last few months, our youth group has been studying just that. They’ve been guided through false teaching in the broader American church. That has included a comparison and a contrast of faithful Biblical teaching verses teaching that has gravely strayed from the truth. The thing is, to go back where we started, false teaching can look and sound authentic. It can be packaged in the latest cultural words and ideas that may come across as winsome and relevant and good, but which merely lead people astray.
Do not receive them or greet them or platform them. Call out their wicked works.
Beloved, instead, “abide in the teaching of Christ,” end of verse 9. Believe in Jesus as the “Son of the Father,” verse 3. Confess that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” verse 7.
•Because as the author of Hebrews put it, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
•As we learn in Colossians 1, “For…all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” And then it says this: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
•As John writes in his Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” And “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”
•As Jesus himself declared, “I and the Father are one.”
•As the Angel declared in Luke 1 at Jesus birth, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”
•As the Lord himself revealed in Revelation 1 “I am the Alpha and the Omega… who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
•Really, all of the book of Revelation declares that Jesus is reigning as Lord. Seated on the throne. The heavenly hosts declared day and night, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” He is the great victor. The multitude rejoiced over the lamb who was slain but who is now reigning. They sang, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” On his heavenly robe and thigh, written “King of kings and Lord of Lords”
This is who we worship! Christ Jesus, the eternal God who has come to us in the flesh. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Tim 2, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” He is our hope, our mediator, he has accomplished in his death as God and man, redemption.
Beloved, May we lay hold of the precious truth of our Savior. May we reject anything that maligns him or twists the truth about him or his Gospel. Instead, may we believe and confess him in truth and love. Amen