Archive | September, 2019

How to love deceivers and other difficult people – 2nd John, Part 5

13 Sep
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

In the previous post, John warned the Christians in the church about deceivers in their midst. But who was he talking about? Open a Bible or read online in 2nd John verses 10-11 to see how John describes them. Some scholars believe that he is talking about itinerant teachers who believed false doctrine.  There were many traveling preachers in that day.  It could be that John is only prohibiting people from investing in the work of those who were heretics, but John would have been okay with Christians in the church conversing with the false teachers and trying to win them over to faithfulness.  It is hard to know how much John covers through the words “do not take him into your house and welcome him.” 

What we see for certain is a healthy caution, a guardedness, a yellow alert of sorts.  In his epistle in 1 John 4:1, he talks about this as well when he says “test the spirits”.  Testing the spirits means that we ask the question of them: are they teaching true doctrine about Jesus?  Just like the false traveling preachers, we have people in our day and age who have all kinds of views about God.  While we have a caution and do the work of “testing the spirits,” we don’t have to overreact in fear. Instead we choose to love them. Loving them doesn’t mean buying in to what they are teaching. In fact loving them means we treat them how God would want us treat them, and if their teaching is false, that means seeking to help them see the truth.

John then concludes his letter in verses 12-13 with some greetings, mentioning that he looks forward to visiting with them.

So what have seen in this letter called 2nd John?  John teaches the principle of walking in love, which we is not by feelings or emotions, but by obeying God no matter how it affects you. 

God calls us to obey him out of love.  He doesn’t want force us to obey him like a drill sergeant does.  Instead he wants us to choose to love him.  Risky of God, isn’t it?  And yet wonderful because he wants us to have real relationship with him! 

Christians, therefore, consider how they are walking in love.

It could be a spouse that gives their life to many years of caring for a debilitated spouse. 

Or a couple that is dating and one partner develops cancer and rather than break-up, the other partner sticks with them, gets engaged and married, even knowing they might only have months or a couple years together married. 

It is a movement from selfishness to selflessness that is very similar to dating.  Dating starts with “what do I like,” “what is attractive to me” and moves to “how will I give care to the other?”  This same attitude can and should happen among people in a church family. Christians should be that loving community with one another.

I’m convinced that this is what Christians need to focus on in our post-Christian world.  We need to be known as the most loving people around, first and foremost to each other.

That means getting to know new people.  Investing quality time in them.

It means looking for people every single Sunday morning in a church’s gathering who might seem disconnected or new and reaching out to them. 

It means pushing past your own insecurities or weaknesses and connecting with people.

It means sharing your resources with those in need. 

It means a willingness to be inconvenienced for them. 

And it is rooted in Jesus, who is the embodiment of love.  Start there, with Jesus, whose Spirit lives in you, who loves you, and get to know his love, and then show your love for him by obeying his commands, one of which is to love those around you, even those who are difficult to love.

Walk in love.

How to respond to deceivers in a church – 2nd John, Part 4

12 Sep
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

How much should Christians interact with the secular world? I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is known for our Amish community, a Christian sect that practices a form of separation from the world. As I type this, I can look out my kitchen window and see my Amish neighbors wearing their traditional clothing and riding in a horse and buggy. They can look out their kitchen window and see me and my family wearing our contemporary fashions and driving cars. But we would both call ourselves followers of Jesus. I can tell you, living in this community for decades, that it works. I’m not saying that Lancaster is utopia, but for the most part, though we have a fairly diverse Christian population, we get along, allowing people the latitude to practice their faith in their unique ways, even if we might disagree.

I’ve often wondered, though, what would happen if we tried to actively convince each other that our way is right, and their way is wrong. What if we started attending each other’s worship services and gatherings trying to preach and teach them that they need to change and become like us? How would we handle that? The reality is that this very situation has happened in the past, and still does today. Not with the Amish, though! They’re not big on that kind of evangelism. Instead think of times when people might try to teach false doctrine in a church, or when a so-called cult group knocks at your door. How should you respond?

John continues teaching in the letter we call 2nd John, and he has a warning for people teaching false doctrine.  In verse 4, he wrote that he was thrilled that there were many in the church who were walking in truth, but now in verse 7 he warns them about another group, a dangerous group in the church. John calls them deceivers, those who are not in the truth, who do not practice love by obedience.

How did the deceivers deceive?  He says they did not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh.  In other words, these deceivers were teaching false views about Jesus.  John and the apostles who walked with Jesus, who actually knew Jesus, taught that Jesus was human and God.  These teachers were saying something different. 

So John calls them “antichrist”?  What does he mean?  John is not talking about a concept of THE Antichrist, who is considered to be a future world leader. Instead John is referring to a person who teaches something that is against or anti- true teaching about Jesus.  Jesus and his disciples, including John, taught that Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, while these deceivers said something else.  John comes strongly against them. 

So in verses 8-9, John has a further warning for the church about losing what they have worked for.  He calls it “running ahead,” and “not continuing in the teaching.”  What does all this mean?  To continue in the teaching is the idea of remaining faithful to the true teaching about Jesus.  If you remain faithful, or continue in the teaching, John says in verse 8 that there is a reward.  Running ahead, then, is the opposite of continuing. The deceivers were “running ahead” when they taught false concepts about Jesus.

This is another reminder, as we have seen many times in the short letters of the New Testament, that faith is not merely assent but allegiance.  Faith does not stop at belief, but absolutely must work itself out in obedience.  This is what John already said in verse 6, “this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.”  If you do not have obedience to Jesus, therefore, you do not have faith.  He goes on to clarify this in verse 9 when he writes that the person who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ, “does not have God.”

As he continues in verses 10-11, John answers the question, “What should we do about the deceivers who bring false teaching about Jesus?  Further, what should we do about about people in the church who do not obey the teaching of Jesus?”  His response is, “Do not welcome them in your home.”

Can you feel the tension in this?  I feel it. We want to guard ourselves from false teaching for sure, but aren’t Christians supposed to be welcoming? Why would John say that we shouldn’t welcome people? Maybe if we built a relationship with them, we could earn the right to talk honestly with them? But if we just deny them, it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to connect with them.

On one hand, in Psalm 1 we have a teaching that is very similar to what John says about being separate from those who call themselves people of faith but who are living a sinful live or teaching false doctrine.  On the other hand, we see Jesus himself interacting with sinners, talking with them, spending time in their homes and attending their parties.  

There are numerous examples where Jesus does this.  He attends parties with sinners.  He talks with the woman caught in adultery. He purposefully reaches out to the Samaritan woman at the well, and it is clear that her lifestyle was far from the straight and narrow.   What do we see in every one of these situations?  Jesus indulging in sin?  Of course not.  What we learn is that he called them out of a sinful lifestyle.  “Repent and sin no more.” 

Also take note that clearly Jesus did not have the attitude of “Well, I’m the savior of the world, so I don’t go to parties.”  Or “I don’t talk with people who sin.”  He did go to the parties and the places where sinners congregated. He is our example, and that means we can and should reach out as he did. He also confronted false teaching wherever he heard it, whether from the religious leaders or from his own disciples. So John’s teaching in 2nd John is in line with Jesus. While we can and should have genuine relationships with people, we shouldn’t accept false teaching into the church or our homes. When we hear it, we would be wise to graciously and lovingly respond, asking the person to consider changing their view. If they will not, we can just as lovingly agree to disagree. If a person is malicious in their attempt to push their teaching, then a church leadership team can and should respond to that person, even to the point of denying them access to the congregation.

But this requires sensitivity and self-awareness.  As we interact with people like Jesus did, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I being pulled down in the midst of those relationships?  Or am I able to maintain my faithfulness in Christ amidst the pressures and temptation, such that I can have an ability to lift people up?” We need to have honest people around us who we invite to speak into our lives, people who will confront us if we struggling with temptation.  So have a humble mindset, don’t think of yourself as a Christian superhero that rescues sinners.  Trust in God.

Love is practice? 2nd John, Part 3

11 Sep
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Are you a good lover? Many of us when we hear that question, jump in our minds to an erotic understanding of “lover,” but that is not the kind of love I’m referring to. Are you good at being loving? The problem with answering this second question (“Are you good at being loving?”), is illustrated by the confusion we can have with first question (“Are you a good lover?”). What I mean is that we so often we think we know what love is, but what if we don’t? Is it possible that we assume love is one thing, but it is actually another? In our study this week on the ancient letter in the Bible commonly called 2nd John, we’re learning what it means to walk in love. But what is love? To answer that question, we turn to Jesus as our teacher and guide.

In the previous post I suggested that rather than ask “What would Jesus do?” we should ask the question: how can I learn to love like Jesus loved? 

So let’s investigate a Jesus kind of love for a bit. 

The love that Jesus taught and lived is not emotion or feeling.  What we normally think of when we think of love is a feeling or simply an opinion, saying, “I like this or that!” but saying it very emphatically, “I love it!”  The reality is that opinions can change, even about things for which we have said, “I love that!” It is okay if our opinions change about them.  There is nothing wrong with changing your opinion.  You might like something very passionately one year, but grow bored with it another year.   Last week my brother texted me asking if I could bring some baseball cards to our family Labor Day gathering.  A couple of his sons have really been getting into baseball, and he wanted them to see our cards.  I say, “our” cards, because my brother and I collected together.  In approximately 1986-1990, when we were in upper elementary school, middle school, and into my early years of high school we blew a lot of money on baseball cards.  At that age our ability to earn money to spend on cards was fairly limited, but we still ended up with around 10,000 cards.  At the time, I would have said that I loved collecting baseball cards.  Now I look at the boxes of cards taking up space in my closet and think, “That was fun.  I really hope they’re increasing in value! But I’m not passionate about them anymore.”  I don’t like collecting baseball cards anymore. It was an opinion that changed.

Love is different from an opinion. The word John uses for “love” is “agape,” and when Jesus teaches and show us love, he, too, is using the word “agape” to depict a love that is different from opinions and feelings and emotions.  Love is a choice, a conviction, and it does not change.  Agape love is an other-focused way of life in which we care for the other person. It is what you should do, which is not always what you want to do.  It means you love enemies.  It means you love those who cannot return or repay your love.

In many contemporary societies, love is often equated with feelings and eroticism, which is not what John is talking about.  But our society’s view of love is not all bad, as it also conceives of love as commitment, which is very similar to where John goes next in his unique description of love.

Both Jesus and John do something interesting with their idea of love.  Look at verse 6.  They describe love as obedience.  “Walk in obedience to his commands.”  And at the end of verse 6, “walk in love.”  To walk in love, therefore, is to live a life of obedience to Jesus’ commands.  That’s a very different way of thinking about love.  We show our love for Jesus by how we live.  

It seems this is a theme in John’s writings because in the Gospel of John, he mentions the foundation for seeing love as obedience, when Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  (John 14:15)

So if love is obedience to Jesus’ commands, that presupposes that we must know what his commands actually are.  And we shouldn’t assume that we just know the teaching of Jesus. 

So back to the illustration of WWJD.  That’s great, but what if we don’t know what Jesus would do?  We need to learn what Jesus would do.  We need to learn his commands.  We need to learn his way of life. 

Make it a priority to get to know Jesus.  Read the Gospels.  Spend time with him.

This takes us back to verse 2 and 3, where John said that the truth lives in us and is with us forever.  I encourage you to read John’s Gospel, chapters 14 and 15.  In those chapters we probably have the clearest teaching of the idea that Jesus lives with us.  He says things like “when people show their love for me by obeying my commands, my father and I will come and make our home with them.”  That’s pretty amazing, right?  This is the theological concept called Union with Christ.  It means that Jesus is with us. He goes on in John 14 and 15 to say a good bit more about it.  First, he says that it is through his Spirit that he is with us.  The Spirit of Jesus lives within us.  And what’s more, in John 15, Jesus says that apart from abiding in him (which is sometimes called remaining in him or depending on him), we can do nothing.  That concept of abiding in him can work itself out in many different applications, but one is that we show our love for him, or we walk in love, by obeying his commands.  And when we obey his commands, when we walk in love, Jesus says, we will have the empowerment of his Spirit to bear fruit for his Kingdom.

But here’s the key: We still have a choice.  Jesus doesn’t turn us into robots who love and obey him.  We have choice.  I often wish I was a robot for Jesus, and had no choice but to obey him.  This raises a question: Which comes first, love or obedience?  Do we obey him first, and then we grow in love for him?  Or does our love for him motivate us to obey?  If love is not emotion, then it seems best to answer that we must first choose to obey.  We might say that our love is expressed in our willful choice to obey.  And there are plenty of times when we are willing ourselves to obey, not because we want to, but because we know it is the right thing to do.  Those battles of the will are difficult.  But they are real, and we can win, especially as we practice.  So much of obedience is practice.  Can we say the love is practice?  I think we can.  We practice what we care about, right?  We’re willing to work at it.  We’re willing to struggle.  That image of love as practice is not enticing.  And yet it is perhaps the foundation of love.

How Jesus redefines “love” and “truth” – 2nd John, Part 2

10 Sep

In the previous post I introduced the ancient biblical letter of 2nd John by looking at some ways that people express themselves when they are in love. Behind it all is the question, “What is love?” Though it is such a commonly used word and concept, is it possible that we might not understand it? I think most people generally understand it, but what we need to investigate, as we read this letter, is how the writer, John, used the word “love.”

What is John talking about in verse 1 when he says, “Whom I love in the truth?”  The “truth” is his way of talking about the family of Christian faith.  As we’ll see, in both short letters of 2nd and 3rd John, John regularly mentions truth.  He continues talking about it in 2nd John verse 1 when he refers to those “who know the truth” and in verse 2 when he says the truth lives in us.  So before we answer the question, “What is love?” it seems we need to answer, “What is truth?”

Truth is an important concept that I will address more fully next week when we study 3rd John, but as we consider how John starts his letter in verses 1 and 2, because he mentions truth three times in the first two verses (get ready, because he’ll mention in verse 3 and 4 and well!), it is vital that we say a few words about truth.  John is not talking about a concept or idea of truth, so much as he is talking about the fact that Jesus is the embodiment of truth.  I know that he doesn’t spell that out here in 2nd John, so how do we know this?  Because of what John has written in other places, the most famous example of which is John 14:6, in his Gospel, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  This was and still is a fairly surprising way to think of truth.  Truth is a person.  Jesus is truth.  John says, therefore, that there is an amazing reality that this truth lives in us and is with us forever.  How in the world does a person live in us? We’ll talk more about that in a post later in this series.  Hold that thought.

As we move on to verse 3, we read John’s greeting of grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son, who will be with us in truth and love.  There’s that idea of truth again, and that the truth is in us.  But now John has expanded the idea to include grace, mercy and peace and the idea that Jesus is with us in truth and love.  Clearly, what God is communicating to us is amazing.  God wants you to know grace.  God wants you to know mercy.  God wants you to know peace.  All through Jesus living with us and in us, Jesus who is truth and love.

Following John’s flow of thought into verse 4, we read him convey an encouraging word to the church, saying that it has given him great joy to find some of her children walking in the truth.  Walking is another idea that John will repeat.  As is specifically “walking in truth,” which we will focus on next week.  For now, he is overjoyed to find that some in the church are living out the truth of Jesus. 

Let’s continue, because John is about to reveal the specific purpose for writing, and we see the beginning of that in verse 5 when he says he has not a new command, but one we had from the beginning, “love one another.”

There was a time when people asked Jesus “What is the greatest command of the law?”  You can read this in Matthew 22.  He said, “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and the second greatest, Jesus said, is “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus wasn’t making these commands up.  Both of these commands were originally given way, way back in the Old Testament Law.   Leviticus 19:18 for example says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  That’s where Jesus got it from.  So these are not new commands, as John says. 

It is interesting, then, to consider that Jesus, in John 13:34-35, calls “love one another” a new command.  There he was teaching his disciples just hours before he was about to be arrested and put in trial and crucified.  He says to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

How is this a new command?  Wasn’t it actually a really, really old command?  Yes, perhaps a couple thousand years old by that point!  And Jesus clearly knew it was an old command.  So why would he call it a new command? I suspect what Jesus was getting at was the fact that he expressed it in a new way.  He says to his disciples not, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but “love one another, as I loved you.”  Do you see the difference that makes this a new command? 

Our standard for loving other people is not how we would love ourselves, our standard for loving other people is how Jesus loves us!  Do you see what Jesus did there?  He took a command from the Old Law, a very good and important command, but he put his new spin on it, and in so doing, took it to a whole new level.

No longer are we the standard for loving others, he is the standard.  That means we need to have a clear understanding of how Jesus loved.  In another place, John 15:13, John records Jesus as teaching, “There is no greater love than this, then a man lay down his life for his friends.” That’s the kind of love Jesus gave when he went to the cross. 

Remember that phrase WWJD?  What would Jesus do?  We could specify it a bit to:  HWJL?  How would Jesus love?  You could make that into a bracelet and wear it, and that bracelet could become a reminder to you all day long to love like Jesus loved.  Not a bad thing.  We need reminders to love like Jesus loved.  We can often behave in our normal patterns or habits that might not be the same patterns or habits that Jesus used for loving people.  Reminders can help us break out of our old ways and follow the new ways of Jesus. 

Here’s the problem though.  What if we don’t know how Jesus would love?  We might think, “Of course I know how Jesus would love.”  But do we?  We would do better to ask the question: how can I learn to love like Jesus loved? 

Now there’s a question to answer!  In the next post in this series, we’ll investigate Jesus’ kind of love a bit further. 

When you’re crazy in love – 2nd John, Part 1

9 Sep
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Oh the crazy, creative, wild things we’ll do for love.  Have you ever been bonkers in love and did something like that for the one you love? 

I recently heard the story of a guy who made a necklace for his girlfriend.  He carved a small pear shape out of wood, and placed a little seashell in a divot, and then attached it to a chain and gave it to her for their first anniversary.  And she wore it faithfully, daily.  Then a year later, they were out visiting one of their favorite places, he asked her for the necklace.  He broke it in half, got down on one knee, and revealed that inside, all along, was an engagement ring. 

She said, “Yes!  And then after thinking about it awhile, she said, “Wait…it was in there the whole year?  I could have lost it!”  So creative and risky, right?  That blows my proposal to my wife out of the water.  My grandmother had given me a diamond that part of another ring that her grandmother gave her.  So I had the diamond made into an engagement ring, but once I got it, I was so anxious to propose, that I did it that night in a misty rain in the gazebo in Greenfield.  I was, and am, so in love with Michelle, but I admit I wasn’t all that creative about my proposal.

I learned about another guy who was way more patient and creative. This other guy started writing love letters to the girl he was dating.  She would write back.  They didn’t live far apart, but the letters would a great way to pour out their hearts to one another, and a wonderful record to keep of their relationship.  Well, after three years, and 13 letters, he asked the girl to get all the letters out, and he started arranging them.  And this is what she saw.

image

Can you read it?  The first letter of every love note spells out “Will you marry me?”  She also said, “Yes.”  What is so amazing is that year by year as she was receiving the letters, she didn’t know they were slowly spelling a proposal.

When you’re in love it seems you can’t help it, can’t stop it, you are just flowing with it.  The emotion, the energy, the creativity. 

All summer we have been reading other people’s mail.  Ancient letters.  Not love letters.  But letters in the Bible.  As we’ll see in this next letter, there are other views on love that we need to hear.  Thus far we’ve read the letters that Paul wrote to Titus and Philemon

Today we turn to another writer.  John, who was not only a disciple of Jesus, but also possibly Jesus’ first cousin.  We’re not talking about John the Baptist, who was another cousin of Jesus.  We believe the disciple John wrote the Gospel of John, and then also the epistle of 1 John, and the short letters of 2nd and 3rd John, as well as the book of Revelation.  Going by word count, John wrote 20% of the NT, third behind Paul and Luke.  John was one of Jesus’ inner three disciples, Peter, James and John.  Because of this privilege, they had some unique experiences, such as seeing Jesus’ transfiguration.  John was the only disciple who visited Jesus at the foot of the cross, at which time Jesus asked John to care for Jesus’ mother, Mary.  John would go on to be a leader in the early church.  We believe, of all the original disciples, he passed away last.  Most scholars believe that while much of the New Testament was written around the years 50-70 AD, John wrote all of his works in the range of 85-100 AD.  Lastly, John is often called the Dr. Seuss of the New Testament because he uses the fewest variety of words and he repeats them often. 

As we’ll see, both of his very short letters of 2 and 3 John talk about truth and love, but in 2 John we’re focusing on love and next week when we study 3rd John, we’ll focus on truth.  So go ahead, open a Bible to 2nd John, and read it.

In verse 1, the writer begins by identifying himself with the title, “The elder.”  We think John was the elder or leader of the churches in Ephesus.  As you’ll see, the name John is not mentioned anywhere.  Then he mentions who he is writing to, and it is quite curious.  The recipient is “the chosen lady and her children.”  This could be a real person, but as we’ll see in the content of the letter, it seems that John is using “the chosen lady and her children” as a metaphor.  The chosen lady most likely refers to a church, probably the local congregation he is writing to.  Throughout scripture the church is often referred to in the feminine, for example when Paul calls the church the bride of Christ.  And her children, then, would be the people in the church.

Check back in to the next post, and we’ll see John begin to talk about love.