GUARD THE DOOR
By Mark E. Hardgrove, PhD
Text: 2 John 1-13, NKJV
1 The Elder,
To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, 2 because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:
3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5 And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
12 Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
13 The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.
I grew up in a very rural county in the largely rural state of West Virginia. In Doddridge County in the late 1970s there were only about 7,000 people in the entire county, or about 21 people per square mile. Compare that to Rockdale County, Georgia, which has 686 people per square mile, or Gwinnett County, Georgia, with more than 2,000 people per square mile, and it is obvious that I grew up out in the sticks, and I was related to almost all 21 people living in our square mile.
I say this to make the point that when someone came knocking on our door that wasn’t a relative, it was usually the Jehovah Witnesses. They would come all that way out to where we lived, usually dragging a little child with them to gain pity and entrance into a home so they could try to spread their false doctrines. They do not believe Jesus is God in the flesh, but an archangel, and they were very zealous in trying to infiltrate homes and communities with a false doctrine that offers no real hope for eternity.
I noticed that when they came to our home my mom would stand in the doorway, as if guarding our home from a dangerous intruder, and she would quickly (if curtly) send them on their way. She would not accept any of their literature and she would not engage in a conversation with them; she would just send them on down the road. As a boy I thought what she did was a little rude, so I asked her about it and she told me the Bible says not allow false teachers into your home, do not even greet them. She said that they were like poisonous snakes and only a fool would welcome a snake into their house to bite them. It was only years later as I read the Bible for myself, and especially 2 John, that I saw the wisdom of her approach.
This letter from the Elder is short and comes to the point quickly; the point being that we must not allow the poison of false teaching to infect our lives, our home, or the local fellowship of believers. He had already seen the damage done by the false doctrines of those denying that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, and he was determined to do all he could to protect other churches and Christian fellowships from falling prey to these charlatans who were spreading deception and error. So being perhaps the last living apostle at that time, John stepped-up and stepped-in to send a warning to the church.
This epistle is a short letter, which would fit on a single sheet of parchment. As the end of the letter indicates, John hoped to meet with them face to face, but in the meantime the danger was so great that he sent this short note ahead to provide two key points of instruction before he arrived. These two points are: First, love one another in truth; and second, have nothing to with purveyors of false doctrines.
This epistle is typical of letters of the first century, in that, it opens by identifying the sender and the recipients, provides a salutation, followed by the purpose in the body of the letter, and closes with final thoughts and a farewell. The name of the author is not given, as he identifies himself simply as “the Elder.” The literal translation of the Greek words ho presbyteros is “the old man.”
The fact that he doesn’t need to provide his name, but assumes they will know who he is with the mere opening of “the Elder” suggests a few things. It suggests that he is a well-known leader and perhaps also that he is advanced in age. Apostle John fits this description, in that, he was well-known and beloved, and he lived into his 90s. We don’t know how old he was when he wrote the epistle, but he was an elder statesman by this time. In those days older men and women were held in high regard as archives of knowledge and wisdom. As an apostle of Jesus, someone who had actually walked and talked with Jesus, John was held in particularly high regard as a primary source for the teachings of Jesus, and witness to His resurrection.
The letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children.” On the surface it would appear to be a letter from an old man to a woman with a house full of children, but it’s more than that. The “elect lady and her children” is most likely a reference to a local church. The use of feminine terms and pronouns to refer to the church is found throughout the New Testament. The church is even referred to as the bride of Christ. Often churches met in homes, and it could be that this was the home of a prominent woman who hosted the assembly of believers for worship, but most biblical scholars believe the elect lady and her children is simply referring a local assembly of Christian believers.
The Elder proceeds to express his deep affection for this church, writing “whom I love in the truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth.” As in the first epistle of John, love and truth are key themes. He opens his greeting by expressing love in truth, and ends the greeting in verse 3 by asserting that grace, mercy, and peace from the Father and Son are theirs in truth and love.
One could spend much time on each of these terms, but this formula (or something very similar) was a common style of greeting in letters of that time. I do believe it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and we could explore the meanings of these words, but John wrote a short letter to get to the point quickly. So, in keeping with John’s brevity and clarity, we press on to the body of the letter that starts in verse 4.
WALK IN TRUTH AND LOVE
In verse 4 John begins with the positive. He is joyful to hear that some of the members of the local church were walking in truth. By saying “some of your children,” he is not necessarily implying that some are not walking in the truth. By saying “I have found some of your children walking in truth,” he means essentially that he has met some of the members of the local church, and the members he met were walking in the truth, which gave John great joy.
John equates “truth” with the “commandment from the Father.” He says that the members he met were walking in the truth and that their walk was in keeping with the same commandment that the apostles had received from Jesus and taught others. The members were walking in truth, and he rejoices for that, but then he pleads with them to love one another. This isn’t a new commandment; it’s the same message John had preached from the beginning, namely, “love one another.” The church must always endeavor to keep the truth, walk in the truth, declare the truth, and guard the truth. But at the same time, the church must represent the love of God through the love we have for one another. As he said his previous epistle, this is not love in word only, but in word and in deed. His constant appeals to love suggest that even then, there was a propensity for friction and infighting in local churches, which sent the wrong message to the world.
A few years ago, there was church in Kansas that made national headlines for their aggressive and abrasive approach to evangelism. They stood on street corners with signs saying, “God Hates Fags.” They even showed up and disrupted funerals of military families because the military was allowing homosexuals to join their ranks. They may have had a point about the biblical truth that homosexuality is a sin, and indeed the Bible does say that homosexuals (along with fornicators and adulterers) will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Co 6:9) , but the approach of that church showed no love, no compassion, and no concern for the people who were in bondage to this sin.
We can be right on the point but wrong in our approach, and in the end the message is lost in the hostility and lack of love. That group in Kansas gave great occasion to the enemy to paint all believers as self-righteous, angry, and potentially dangerous people. Walking in the command to love is at the heart of the gospel, because truth without love is not equivalent to truth without compromise.
WATCH OUT FOR DECEIVERS
Point number one for the Elder is to remind the church to maintain their love for one another. Guard the truth, walk in the truth and in the commandments of the Father and the Son, but always do it love. Truth without love is legalism, but love without truth is liberalism. Satan loves to keep the pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. At one end of the spectrum are those who seem to say everything is wrong and the only good Christian is a miserable Christian, but at the other end there are those who say anything goes as long as you claim it is an act of love and it makes you happy.
Loving others does not mean we affirm deviant lifestyles or destructive behavior. I love my children, and because I love my children, I will always speak the truth in love. I will not affirm them in their sins; I will not embrace sinful actions as acceptable in the sight of God; and I will never surrender the truth of God’s Word to prove to them that I love them. In reality my love is a response to the truth and to the Word of God; because apart from truth there is no love, only hypocrisy and lies.
John affirms and reaffirms the necessity of truth and love, and these two things are foundational for any church or individual believer. Why does John repeat the themes of truth, love, and the commandments of the Father and the Son in First and Second John? He tells why us in verses 7 through 11.
In verse 7 John warns that many deceivers had gone out into the world, and at the heart of their deception was their denial that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. Docetists would argue that Christ did not come in the flesh, but only appeared to be in the flesh. Instead, they claimed He was a phantasm made of some sort of celestial substance, but at no time was Christ made of flesh and blood.
John says anyone teaching this “is a deceiver and an antichrist” (v. 7b). The word deceiver is from the Greek word plános, which means a deceiver trying to lead others off the path of truth concerning Jesus Christ as the Son of God in the flesh. There are many people trying to get others off course through cunningly devised fables and doctrines of devils. John warns the believers to stay the course so that they do not lose their reward. He writes in verse 8,
Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
By saying “we” John is identifying with the church; he is essentially saying “me and you.” John didn’t want the church to lose the eternal rewards promised to the faithful, and from John’s perspective the believers were the reward of the apostles and evangelists for faithful ministry. He didn’t want to lose any of them to the deceivers.
John reiterates the crux of the false doctrine, saying,
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.
The doctrine of Christ is that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Anyone who does not believe this does not have God. There is only One Way and His name is Jesus Christ—conceived by the Spirit, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, rose from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God. Neither is there any other name given among men whereby we must be saved (Ac 4:12). We can claim love, empathy, and concern all day long, but if we are not practicing and preaching the doctrine of Jesus Christ, we are robbing the world of the truth that can set them free.
A loving church, such as the church John writes, would have been active in ministering to those in need, and would have been open to receiving and supporting guest evangelists. This is why they are warned not to open their doors to the deceivers. What John writes applies both in terms of individual homes, as well as in the church gatherings. In verses 10 and 11 he writes rather forcefully,
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine [the doctrine of Jesus Christ in the flesh], do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
John is not telling believers to be inhospitable, or that we should not be kind to strangers, but he is saying that it should never appear that we are agreeing with, affirming, or supporting the false doctrines of the deceivers. Don’t let them in your house, don’t give them audience in the church, and do not even let it appear to others through your geniality, that you agree or are indifferent to the false teaching. There should be no doubt in the mind of anyone who sees us in the company of these deceivers that we categorically and absolutely disagree their false teaching.
People seeing us fellowshipping with, hanging around, communing, or cavorting with these false teachers may think we are agreeing with or endorsing them. In this we are sharing in their evil deeds because our favorable interaction with that man or woman may lead others to have a favorable opinion of them as well.
This is not just a message for the first-century church. This is a message for all churches in all ages, and especially the age that we are living in. So much of what is allowed in the pulpits of far too many churches has nothing to do with the Word of God. Instead, in the name of “love” churches are now marrying same-sex couples and accommodating transgender bathrooms. In the name of love, the message has morphed into one that assures everyone that they are going to heaven regardless of what path they take. But affirming people in their sins is not love; it is the opposite of love. It is like handing out roses to people headed to hell, rather than telling them to turn around.
Godly love is not ugly or hateful, but neither is it weak and placating. Godly love is strong and casts out fear. Godly love declares the truth that can set men and women free from sin and bondage. Godly love walks in truth and obeys the commandments of Jesus.
It is almost incomprehensible how quickly so many churches and denominations have embraced doctrines that are absolutely incompatible with the Word of God. They have opened their doors and pulpits to doctrines that are destroying churches. Some will remind us that Jesus said He would build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. This is true, but John would answer, “They that went out from us with these false doctrines were never one of us or they would never have departed from the truth” (1 Jn 2:19). Jesus promised to build His church upon the foundation of truth; He never promised to build churches build upon lies and false doctrines.
Others will say with a sigh of relief, “Well, I’m glad to say that I don’t let them Mormons or Jehovah-Witnesses into my house!” But then they turn on the television or fire up the internet and allow an almost uninterrupted stream of sinful, shameful, harmful content pour into their home, into their mind, and into their heart.
John said not to let deceitful doctrines or the voice of the antichrist in the door, and yet false teaching about God, the Word of God, morality, marriage, justice, and normality flows unabated and largely unmonitored into many homes of people who then will get up on Sunday and go to church. It has been a subtle shift, starting with small bites of immoral behavior, but it has grown into a constant and uninterrupted river of lies, violence, and shameful acts. Even the commercials are pushing a narrative of same-sex couples, or portraying promiscuity as normal, acceptable behavior. John said that those who welcome false doctrines and deceivers into their homes share in their evil deeds.
WAITING FOR THE RIGHT TIME
As he did at the end of the first epistle, John says he has much more to share with them, but instead of writing a long letter, he said he hoped he would have the opportunity to tell them face to face. He says that such a visit would fill him and his ministry team with joy (vv. 12-13). The letter ends with John saying in verse 13, “The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.” Most biblical scholars believe he is referring to believers at the local church from which John writes this letter. Churches should be sisters not competitors. We should love and support one another as one family of God.
This is a short and sweet letter that opens with the tandem of love and truth, implores the church to love one another (which is the commandment they heard from the beginning), and instructs them to refuse fellowship with deceivers spreading the false doctrine that Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh. This short letter was written almost two-thousand years ago, but it is as relevant to the church now as it has ever been.
There is so much misinformation going out through television and the internet, and it is a ploy of the enemy to divide the church. In contrast to the division that is so evident in the world, the church should be an oasis of Christian unity and love. We should rally around the truth that all men and women are created in the image and likeness of God and are worthy of dignity and justice. However, the church should never allow itself to be cajoled or bullied into spouting the talking points of any political party or liberal “media approved” message. Instead, we must continue to speak the truth in love and proclaim the Word of God without shame or apology, because the truth will set the captives free. God’s Word is a healing balm in a wounded world, and we are spiritual medics called to the field of battle to rescue the perishing, care for the dying, and to shine a light in the darkness.
Copyright © Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove 2017
All rights publishing rights are retained by the author. PDF files may be printed and copied as needed for use in the local church, but may not be sold. The name of the author must be retained on all copies. Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove"