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.