Posts Tagged 'False Teachers'

The Master Multiplier, Part 6

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 | TNIV)

I’ve come to the end of another series, and, as they say, I saved the best for last. Throughout this series, we discovered that God is a giver. He’s the greatest giver ever. God gives His people:

• Abundant grace – more grace than enough!
• Life – and He sustains all life
• Victory – over death, hell, and the grave
• Wisdom – in the midst of all of life’s difficulties, God gives us perspective
• Gifts – and the ability to use them in His service

God is simply amazing, and He gives us so much. The final gift I want to look at is the most amazing gift all: He gives us everything for our enjoyment! It doesn’t get better than EVERYTHING, does it?!

Paul wrote this verse to a young pastor. I was a young pastor once, and I can tell you it wasn’t easy. If I was told that God could give me “everything for my enjoyment,” I’d wonder when He was going to get around to it! Barely scraping by in small churches, living paycheck to paycheck is hardly enjoyable! There were lots of things I could have used to make my life more enjoyable that I never got – from God or anybody else, for that matter.

So, what was Paul getting at when he made that statement? Let’s take a look.

Letters to pastors

Paul was a prolific letter-writer. Had be been active in our time, he likely would have been the kind of person who is constantly checking his email, responding to emails, sending out text messages or tweeting all day long. We have only a fraction – a small fraction – of his letters, preserved for us in the Bible. Almost all of the letters we have were written by Paul were written to various churches, with the exception of Philemon, which was written to person, and a small group of letters that have come be known as “the Pastorals.” They were written to pastors, whose names are forever a part of our Bible theology: Timothy and Titus.

Paul’s letters were meant to be read aloud to the congregations they were sent to, and even Philemon, addressed to a man, was to be read out loud to the congregation that met in his home. And even these personal letters written to pastors were obviously copied and circulated since we have them collected in our Bible. Paul probably wrote letters to other pastors and church leaders. We could easily imagine the apostle scribbling out a letter or two to Barnabas and Luke, Mark and Apollos. We don’t have those letters, but we do have these letters written to Timothy and Titus. The Holy Spirit thought enough of what Paul wrote to these men in these letters that He supernaturally preserved them for us. That means that we should take special note of his advice. You may or may not be a pastor or church worker, but his advice and counsel is timeless and of great import for all believers.

The Pastorals were written by Paul late in his career, probably after his first Roman imprisonment, around 61 or 62 AD. Tradition tells us that Paul was martyred in the late 60’s, so we’re reading things that were on the great apostle’s mind near the end of his life. Most scholars think that Paul wrote 1 Timothy, followed by his letter to Titus, and then a second letter to Timothy.

Who was Timothy?

To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2 | TNIV)

That’s how this letter is addressed. Timothy was Paul’s “true son in the faith.” Naturally Timothy wasn’t Paul’s real son. He didn’t have children as far as we know. Timothy was his “son in the faith,” or his “spiritual son,” meaning that Paul was instrumental in leading this young man to the Lord and then disciplining him in the faith.

The first mention of Timothy is all the way back in the book of Acts, a history of the early church:

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1 – 3 | TNIV)

This chapter tells the story of Paul’s second visit to Derbe and Lystry, and it’s not unreasonable to think that he was directly responsible for leading Timothy’s mother (Eunice) and grandmother (Lois) to the Lord. If you know your Bible, then you know that it was here in Lystra that Paul faced some bitter opposition and persecution and it was in the home of Eunice that he likely found solace and safety.

Timothy was around 17 years of age when all this happened, so assuming he was led to the Lord during this period, then he would have been in his mid-30’s when Paul wrote his first letter to him. But in the years inbetween, Timothy traveled with Paul and others as they took the Gospel to the known world.

It’s evident that this young man was special to Paul and to his ministry. Timothy was fiercely loyal to Paul and to the work of the ministry and devoted to believers in all churches. Here’s Paul’s appraisal of this young man’s worth:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. (Philippians 2:19 – 22 | TNIV)

The pastor’s potential problem

We get the impression that all early Christians were poor – unemployed, persecuted, world-weary men and women who had virtually no resources of their own. That’s just not true. There were many converts to Christianity who were had been wealthy, influential people who gave up some or all to follow Christ, but they didn’t stay that way. There were poor and down-trodden Christians to be sure, but there were church members who were middle class, upper middle class, and wealthy people. All kinds of people were reached and transformed by the Gospel. And that’s why Paul wrote this piece of advice to Pastor Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 | TNIV)

It seems clear that Timothy had some of “those who are rich” in his church. This verse occurs in the midst of a very important issue: How people in the various strata of society ought to live out their faith in the world.

Christian slaves and Christian masters, 6:1, 2

The first two groups of people that made up Timothy’s congregation were slaves and slave owners. Here’s his advice to these two very disparate groups:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.

Today’s Christian may cringe when they read the words “slave” and “master,” but they shouldn’t impose our 21st century values upon those living in the first century. Those “slaves” back then would be roughly equivalent to today’s employee or perhaps “household help,” and the “master” would be the “employer,” for the sake of making a reasonable application. Timothy was to teach and insist upon proper behavior from both employee and employer. Dr McGee summarizes the duty of the slave like this:

The Christian is to turn in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.

And if the slave owner – the boss – is a believer who employs fellow believers, he shouldn’t take advantage of them just because they have a common faith. As one scholar put it,

It must have called for an amazing degree of forbearance on the part of both parties to this relationship to make it work.

• False teachers, 6:3 – 5

If you know 1 Timothy, then you know that the young pastor must have been contending with false teaching and false teachers within his own congregation. False teachers are sometimes obvious about it, other times a false teacher may be an otherwise commendable member who has happened to glom onto a bit of false teaching, who then re-teaches it to other members of the church. He’s ignorant; he has no idea that what he’s doing is dangerous.

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions. (1 Timothy 6:3, 4 | TNIV)

Sounds like some people in your church? You know the type: To people like this, everything the church does is wrong – it’s wrong to put up a Christmas tree or sing Christmas carols; Easter is a pagan holiday; Sunday is a pagan day; Christians should only read the KJV; and the list goes on. These people think they know more than you do or more than the pastor does. Paul’s characterization of this type of person is picturesque to say the least: “a pompous ignoramus,” “a swollen headed idiot,” and a “conceited idiot.” The great Martin Luther, whose insults are as legendary as his “reform” theology, said this about such people:

I would not dream of judging or punishing you, except to say that you were born from the behind of the devil, are full of devils, lies, blasphemy, and idolatry; are the instigator of these things, God’s enemy, Antichrist, desolater of Christendom, and steward of Sodom.

And sometimes these false teachers equate monetary gain is a sign of God’s blessing:

who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (1 Timothy 6:5b | TNIV)

The worst kind of false teacher is the one who makes money off of his bad teaching. And Paul’s advice to Pastor Timothy is classic:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11 | TNIV)

Now we get a glimmer of a potential problem with Timothy, and it’s the common affliction of most young preachers, and maybe old ones, too. Often times there isn’t a lot of financial reward in preaching the Gospel. If the pastor of a church isn’t careful, he can start to resent the wealthy members of his church because of their wealth. It might be tempting to latch onto the popular preaching of the day – the pop psychology dressed up and baptized as Christian theology that is so popular nowadays – and make a few extra bucks. It’s tempting. And it’s tempting for the average Christian to grab hold of the kind of theology that promises easy blessings and a kind of faith that makes you rich.
Pastors and all true believers need to “flee from all this” and have nothing to do with false teachers and teachings. True faith may not pay rich dividends to those of us who are trying to practice it, but true faith does bring peace and satisfaction and contentment. And that’s why Paul wrote this famous verse that is often misquoted:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10 | TNIV)

Paul’s concern was not for the rich people in Timothy’s church necessarily, although he was told to teach those people to keep things in perspective. The apostle’s main concern was for young pastor Timothy; he’s the one in danger. It’s so easy for all Christians to look at what others have, especially other Chritians, and to become discouraged because they don’t seem to be as prosperous. People in that state of mind are ripe pickings for false teachers and fall pray to all manner of false teachings.  And people like that often accuse those prosperous Christians of sinful practices because, after all, only in doing something wrong or questionable can a person acquire so much  (that’s a sarcastic statement).

And this is why Paul told Timothy – and us – that God gives us everything for our enjoyment. God is the Great Provider; from Him all good things descend. Timothy’s church was in Ephesus, a place full of prosperous people; full of businesses, and he had lots of these people in his church. To those people, and to people like himself, Timothy was to drive home the point that ALL IS OF GOD, both wealth, the ability to acquire it, and the ability to enjoy it.

 

 

 

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TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, Part 5

Jesus keeps the believer safe.

JUDE: STICKING WITH THE FAITH!

Jude, an English version of Judas and Judah, was such a common name during the New Testament era, it’s difficult to know who the author of this letter could have been with 100% certainty. There are no less than six Judes or Judases mentioned in the New Testament, and the writer of this short letter was probably one of them. Of the six, scholars believe the author to have been either the apostle Jude (not Iscariot) or Judas, the brother of Jesus. Out of those two, it seems highly probable that Jude, the brother of Jesus wrote this marvelous, little letter.

It’s also difficult to ascertain when Jude wrote his letter and virtually impossible to know whom it was written. It is likely, though, it was written late in the first century, sometime between 60 and 80 AD.

The point of the letter is to contend for the faith. Heretics, Antinomians by name, had come to prominence in the Church and were influencing otherwise godly leaders. These false teachers were Gnostics who believed in a kind of cosmic dualism: the material universe was evil, but the spirit was good. They denied the divinity of Christ and had no respect for spiritual things or even good manners. Jude wrote to encourage his readers to “stay the course” and remain faithful to the Gospel.

1. Contend for the faith, verses 1—4

a. Called, loved, kept, vs. 1, 2

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

Assuming the writer to have been the half-brother of Jesus, Jude was a late-comer to the cause. None of Jesus’ brothers followed our Lord during His lifetime. It wasn’t until after Pentecost that they finally saw Jesus for Who He really was and became major influences in the early Church.

We don’t know much about Jude, the brother of Jesus, but we gather he must have been a humble man. Notice how he refrains from mentioning his family relationship to Jesus, preferring to call Himself “a servant of Jesus.” Barclay observes:

Few things tell more about a man than the way in which a man speaks of himself.

The greeting makes three important points about Christians:

  • Christians are called. The Greek word is kletois, which in the New Testament stresses the sovereignty of God’s grace in “calling” the sinner to salvation. As Jesus taught, “Many are called,” but only a “few” actually accept the terms of the call to become the “chosen.”

  • Christians are loved by God. Believers are called by love, to be loved, to love.

  • Christians are kept by Jesus Christ. The word translated “kept” is teteremenois, in the present tense, suggesting an ongoing preservation of the believer. Jesus promised to never leave us or foresake us. No matter how “alone” we may feel, we are never truly alone nor are we ever expected to somehow “fend for ourselves.” He who calls us and loves us also looks after us.

b. The Christian faith, vs. 3

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

This verse begins Jude’s earnest appeal for his readers to stick with the faith. But from this one verse we glean four important aspects of our salvation.

  • It’s a salvation that was entrusted to us. The KJV’s “delivered” gives us deeper understanding of the Gospel of salvation. It did not come to by way of the clever innovations of man. God’s plan of salvation did not spring from the mind of Moses or the mind of some false teacher. It was a divine plan given to man; entrusted to his care.

  • It’s a salvation given once for all. That’s really the key thought: one word in the Greek, hapax, a word full of urgency, meaning the Gospel was given one time and it will never be repeated. There is ONE faith, in other words. It has never been altered or added to an it can never be altered or added to at any time in the future.

  • It’s a salvation given to the saints. The Word of life was given to those who had been set apart by God for Himself. The faith we cherish today was handed down to us by men and women set apart by God, just as we have been set apart by God.

  • It’s a salvation that must be contended for. The faith must be, from time to time, be defended by those who possess it. The word translated “contend for” comes from the Greek root agona, a strong word suggesting a fight or contest.

Verse three is really a “call to arms.” There may be a time when the saints of God must vigorously fight for the faith. To fight for the faith, though, must never be done using man’s weapons. Paul’s teaching on this is important to note:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3—5)

c. Enemies of the faith, vs. 4

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Here is why Jude felt compelled to write his letter. These were a slippery bunch of false teachers who “secretly slipped in among you.” That’s actually one Greek word that always suggests a secret, subtle insinuation of something wicked into a larger group or situation. That’s how false teachers work; they appear to be something they aren’t.

There weren’t a large number of these false teachers—Jude uses the word “certain,” inferring just a few. Their arrival on the scene should not have been a surprise to Jude’s readers. These false teachers had been written about for centuries. There have always been false teachers among God’s people, even back in the Old Testament era. And God cuts false teachers no slack: they are condemned even while they peddle they evil wares.

There is no hope for a false teacher, especially these perverts. The Gnostics believed the body to be a tool of evil, and so according to their thinking, it didn’t matter what a person did in the body. One could live to satisfy any appetite or desire or passion and it didn’t matter because God’s grace would take care of it. God’s grace, in other words, was being perverted into a justification for sin.

2. Expect God’s judgments, verses 5—16

a. Past examples, vs. 5—7

Jude’s readers knew what he was about to write, but that wasn’t going to stop him from reminding them of that which they knew so well. These godless men, too, should have learned their lesson from history. Jude uses three examples of how God dealt sternly with those who rebelled against Him.

  • Unbelieving Israel, vs. 5. When God delivered His people out of Egypt, when God revealed Himself at Mt Sinai, they witnessed the greatest display of divine grace up to that time in history. In spite of the deliverance, the Law, the care and provision during the wilderness wanderings, some Israelites disbelieved and rebelled against God. Even within the covenant family of God, there was a minority of unbelievers and that minority did not escape God’s judgment. Similarly, these ungodly men within the Church will be destroyed because of their unbelief.

  • Unfaithful angels, vs. 6. Even father back in history were the angels that rebelled against God. This likely refers to the “sons of God” who came to earth and mingled with women (Genesis 6:4; Job 1:6; 2:1). These unfaithful angels didn’t do what they were supposed to do and are even now bound over for judgment.

  • Immoral cities, vs 7. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is always cited in Scripture as an example of God’s wrath against sin. Those twin cities were judged and punished about 2,000 BC, but they remain to this very day a type of punishment that will befall all the ungodly: eternal fire.

b. Filthy dreamers and brute beasts, vs. 8—11

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

These were not only false teachers, they were thoroughly nasty men. Because their judgment is certain, Jude pronounces a stern “woe” on them. He gives examples of three others who faced certain judgment.

  • The false teachers have “taken the way of Cain.” The Greek verb Jude used describes one’s religious walk: they walked the way Cain walked. Cain’s walk was a walk devoid of faith; a walk that eventually led to murdering his brother, Abel. Cain’s “religion” was one of his own invention; he made up a way to approach God that God did not approve of.

  • The false teachers involved themselves in Balaam’s error. Balaam is like a prototype of every false teacher, false prophet, and preacher-for-hire down through history. Like Balaam, who prophesied for money, these false teachers were consumed with greed.

  • The false teachers were destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16 and it tells the sad story of the punishment that befell Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 others who rebelled against Moses’ authority. Of course, these false teachers of Jude’s day had not yet been destroyed, their doom was so certain, it is as though they had already been destroyed.

Another way to view this trio of religious rebels is like this: (1) Cain—the man who sacrificed too little; (2) Balaam—the man who prayed too often for the wrong reasons; (3) Korah and the men who professed too much.

c. Empty clouds and wandering stars, vs. 12—16

With unparalleled eloquence, Jude piles figure upon figure to describe these false teachers. Six figures in all, they all add up to one thing:

These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (verse 16)

They were selfish, hypocritical, delusional, deceivers. Bennet characterized them well:

When it was safe to do so, they blustered and bullied, and played the superior person, but they cringed to rich men, and flattered them for the sake of dinners and presents.

3. Remember, build, keep, and rescue, verses 17—25

a. Remember what the apostles said, vs. 17—19

Naturally the New Testament didn’t exist when Jude wrote this letter, but the teachings of the apostles were well known, both from letters written by the likes of Paul and Peter, to the evangelistic efforts of Paul, Barnabas, Mark, Luke, and all the early missionaries who carried the Gospel to the four corners of the earth.

These false teachers, unlike the apostles, did not walk as Christ walked but rather walked in a way that satisfied their own “ungodly desires.” They had no “code of ethics,” but could be considered “spiritual anarchists.” They, like all false teachers do, divided congregations to create schisms and factions, pitting believer against believer.

How could they behave like this? Because they did not have the Spirit of God dwelling within them.

In spite of how wicked these men were, the apostles all knew they were coming; it should be no surprise that false teachers are in the Church.

b. Build and keep, vs. 20, 21

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

This is the burden of Jude! “Keep” comes from the Greek teresate, a terribly urgent word. It is absolutely imperative to “keep yourself in God’s love.” But does God hold us, or do we hold God? Scripture goes both ways, but leave it to Spurgeon to put this idea into a pithy saying: Holding I am held. It’s a mutual holding. We cling to God, and God holds us. Jesus said much the same thing:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. (John 15:4a)

While we are “holding and being held,” we are to be actively building ourselves up in the faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. In regard to the second admonition, we should pray all the time, but when the Holy Spirit takes charge, we pray as we should pray. Praying in the Spirit means that we pray in His strength, and in His wisdom. The Spirit moves our hearts and directs our minds. We build ourselves up in the faith by fellowship with God through His Word and with His people.

c. Rescue those in danger, vs. 22, 23

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

These verses are a powerful reminder of what we owe the other person. What is our response to the overwhelming love and mercy we have experienced in Jesus Christ? We are to show that same love and mercy to those whose walk with Christ isn’t as strong as ours. Stephen Grellet was thought to penned these words, and it should be the hallmark of our lives as Christians:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to my fellow creature. let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

d. The doxology, vs. 24, 24

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

There are many doxologies in the New Testament, but Jude’s is, to some, the most powerful. His warnings about false teachers and their doom could be considered depressing and discouraging. One wonders how overcoming these false teachers is possible! Can the believer ever just serve the Lord in peace and safety? Yes! The believer has nothing whatsoever to fear from any false teacher because God is looking out for them. God the Father is able to keep us from falling. Think of that! God is able to keep us from stumbling or falling; He is able to help us persevere in the faith so that one day we may stand before God without any fear that we have come up short. What a relief! None of us has to live using our own devices.

Jude’s conclusion stirs the soul and should be memorized by all Christians. It’s very easy to distracted by the machinations of man. It’s easy to get discouraged by the evil that’s all around us. Sometimes we wonder if our faith will ever prevail over anything in this life. Jude’s words, when taken to heart, lift us up, beyond the petty conflicts and problems of this life and enables us to gain a glimpse into the heavenly realms where we may see God firmly seated on His throne, in complete control. God’s plan for His people will be carried out. No false teacher will stop Him for fulfilling His will for us.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, PART 4

CLASSIC EXAMPLES OF GOOD AND BAD LEADERSHIP

3 JOHN

John probably wrote his letters after he wrote the Book of Revelation. If this is the case, then these epistles were written at the close of the first century, close to 100 AD when John was an old man. Even though all three letters were written by the same man, and probably written close together, and have similar themes, they are all quite different. The first letter stresses the importance of the love that holds the family of God together. In his second letter, John warns about the treacherous nature of false teachers and false teaching. As we come to the third letter, we note that it is similar to the second one in that t is also a personal letter, addressed to an individal. It’s theme is also the importance of truth. But it is different. 3 John deals with personalities; with three real people who influenced the church.

1. Gaius: Faithful and helpful, verses 1-8

To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. (vs. 1)

This is address on the envelope. Like in his second letter, John refers to himself as “the elder.”

a. Heartfelt expressions, vs. 1, 2

“Gaius” was a very common name in the New Testament era. In fact, Paul knew  three of them! Whoever this Gaius was, John thought a lot of him; his relationship with him was founded on love and trust. Four times the elder refers to this Gaius as “beloved” or “(my) dear friend.” He must have had a wonderful, Christ-like character, and this impressed John. When John wrote that he loved Gaius “in the truth” he is indicating that Gaius was a man of sound doctrine. He believed in the deity of Jesus Christ; he believed in the teaching of the apostles. This must have been refreshing to John who, like Paul, spent so much of his time fighting false teachers and encouraging believers to remain faithful. Here was man who was faithful! John’s wish for Gaius is something we ought to wish for all believers:

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

John is hoping that Gaius would continue to be healthy and prosperous; he  was interested in Gaius’ whole life, not just his spiritual life. There is nothing wrong with praying for either good health or prosperity.

b. Reasons to rejoice, vs. 3-8

The “brothers” whom John refers to in verse 3 were probably traveling evangelists or missionaries. They apparently ministered in Gaius’ church and eventually met up with John and told him all about Gaius. Obviously they impressed the brothers greatly. But what was it that impressed these men so much? A clue is given in verses 5-8:

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.

John praises Gaius for this man’s faithful conduct. Not only did Gaius believe the right things, but his conduct grew out of his beliefs. He had given visible proof that he was walking in the truth. These traveling preachers had told John about the kindness of Gaius. Gaius received these “strangers” as friends; as brothers in the Lord. He opened not only his heart to these strangers, but also his home. He showed them “hospitality,” putting these strangers up for a time. This was a big deal, even though it seems like such a simple thing. Traveling preachers and missionaries depended on the hospitality believers, which they didn’t always receive. Recall what Paul, a traveling preacher, asked of Philemon:

And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. (vs. 22)

An interesting piece of extra-biblical writing shows how missionaries and evangelists should both behave and be treated. From “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” we read this:

Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet.

Those who devote themselves to the ministry deserve to be cared for by the Church. Verse 7 seems to indicate that John considered it admirable that these itinerant peachers devoted themselves completely to God’s work, literally not engaging in any kind of secular work at all. Not all members of the church are called to be traveling preachers or missionaries. But helping to support such individuals makes those who stay behind “partners.” Every single believer is a priest, we are all responsible for doing the work of “the ministry” and taking Jesus to the lost. Those who write the check or provide lodging are all involved in doing just that.

2. Diotrephes: Sinfully ambitious, verses 9-11

After heaping much praise on Gaius, John gets to the heart of the matter: a jerk named Diotrephes. He is totally different than Gaius; a polar opposite, in fact. Obviously, Diotrephes was an arrogant person, but elder John comes short of judging him. Instead, John says he will try to visit the church personlly and deal with him in person.

a. Beware of this person, vs. 9-10

We know nothing about this man, except that his name means “foster child of Zeus,” which suggests he was of Greek ancestry. He was leader in Gaius’ church, but he appeared to be using his position for his own personal advanage.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

Diotrephes “loves to be first,” meaning that instead of serving his congregation, this man was proud man didn’t recognize any other authority and did what he pleased. His behavior was exactly contrary to the admonition of Jesus found in Matthew 20:26, 27–

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…

To make matters worse, refusing to recognize John’s credentials, Diotrephes was making it impossible for the elder to do his job by spreading false stories and tall tales about both John and the other disciples. Not only that, while Gaius behaved like a true believer, Diotrephes did his best to stop any other preachers from coming to “his” church.” He was a meddler at best, and dictator at worst. We may wonder why John felt the need to discuss Diotrephes with Gaius when both men are members of the same church. One possible explanation could be the fact that Gauis freely submitted to the authority of John, while Diotrephes wanted to assume full authority of the church. This little “power struggle” was probably playing out in churches all over the world at this time, as the death of the apostples was leaving a kind of “leadership vacuum.”

b. Following godly examples, vs. 11

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Diotrephes was a terrible example for any believer to follow, so John warns Gauis accordingly. John is not saying that Gauis is following a bad example, but evil is powerful. Every believer needs to be reminded to shun evil.

3. Demetrius: Highly respected, verses 12-14

Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

a. A man of integrity, vs. 12

Here is a man sound in the faith! Dependable and reliable; the kind of man you’d like to have as a friend. Demetrius was probably one of the members whom Diotrephes was giving a hard time; likely a missionary made to feel unwelcome in Gaius’ church. This is the only time he is mentioned in ScriptureWe know only these things about him for sure:

  • His good reputation preceded him. Notice that “everyone” spoke well of this man.
  • His devotion to the Gospel was obvious to all. He lived according to the teachings of Scripture, and people noticed that.
  • Other elders like John, thought highly of Demetrius.

Given what Demetrius had going for him, Gaius should feel comfortable in not only receiving Demetrius and extending him hospitality.

b. Final words, vs. 13, 14

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

Even though John wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, two of the longest books of the New Testament, he writes here that he would rather rather talk “face to face” than send a letter. 3 John is a true gem that gives us some powerful insights on personal relationships in the church. The koinonia—fellowship—of 1 John is not easily achieved within a local church and its even harder to maintain. It was even more difficult in the first century. But in these three letters, we see the ideal and the way to achieve it. Godly fellowship is made possible only through the way of love. Fellowship cannot be built on any other foundation.

(c) 2012, WitzEnd

GOD’S CHURCH, GOD’S WAY, Part 2

Fight Against False Teachers, 1:3—11

Very quickly Paul gets into the main reasons for writing this letter.  He spent all of two verses on the niceties, and with verse three he jumps right into why he is writing this letter to Pastor Timothy.  Verse three begins with an urgent plea for Timothy to stay put in Ephesus, and so we will begin this teaching with the same urgency.

1.  Stay where you are!  1:3, 4

3As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith.

The very first thing Paul urges Timothy to do was clearly the most urgent thing Timothy must do:  remain in Ephesus.  Literally, Paul wrote this:  “Remain still there in Ephesus.”  It is a vigorous command; we might say, “I want you to stay put where you are for now!”

We don’t know a whole a lot about what Paul was doing during these concluding years of his life and ministry, but we are able to deduce that he was drawn to Macedonia and it seemed as though Timothy wanted to travel with him there.   This makes sense because Paul was elderly and in poor health and Timothy was young and vigorous and had proven himself to be a great asset to Paul’s preaching ministry.  It would have made perfect common sense for Timothy to travel with Paul into Macedonia.  However, sometimes the Lord wants His people to do things that go against our much lauded “common sense.”

There are times in life when it is easier to pack it in and move on than to remain in a difficult or uncomfortable situation.  There is an instinct buried deep within all of us to escape from seemingly impossible situations or onerous responsibilities.  The easy way out, or the path of least resistance, often looks very attractive to us and “common sense” would dictate that it would be better to move on than to continue banging our heads against a brick wall.  To escape to greener pastures and have a fresh start just seems to be the right thing to do under certain circumstances.  But when God says, “Stay put!” He has good reasons for it!  Sometimes God says “Go” and sometimes He says “Stay,” but whatever He says, God always has good reasons and we must be sure that we are obedient to His Word and will regardless of how we feel about it or whether or not it makes sense to us.  God’s will always makes perfect sense to Him.

Paul had been released from his two-year stay in a Roman prison and he apparently made a missionary visit to Ephesus.  While he was there, he encountered a problem that needed immediate attention, so he left Timothy there to pastor this important first century church and to correct the problem.  The problem was a common one:  certain men had come into the church teaching false doctrines.  The church has always had false teachers; within a few scant years of its founding, in fact, false teachers had infiltrated its ranks.   Paul does not mention their names, referring to them only as “certain men.”  Probably Timothy knew full well who these “certain men” were so Paul tactfully does not name them.   In verse 20 Paul mentions the names of two trouble makers—Hymenaeus and Alexander—who had succumbed to false teaching, so maybe they are included in the “certain men.”

What was the nature of their false teaching?  Paul gives us a hint, saying it involved “myths and genealogies.”   Most scholars believe these false teachers who wanted to be the “big shots” at the Ephesian church were Gnostics, who peddled a warped combination of Christian/Jewish/pagan mythology.  Verse 7 suggests that they were actually Jewish teachers who were caught up in ancient Jewish myths and legends found in various apocryphal writings during the Old Testament period.  In a parallel passage, we read this—

…pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.  (Titus 1:14)

Paul makes it clear that these new teachings were controversial and did nothing to promote the genuine work of the Gospel.  It may seem hard to imagine that people who had sat under the teachings of a man like Paul could be swayed by the ramblings of “wanna-bees,” but there is a segment of the church that is always anxious to welcome whatever is “new” or different.  The situation in Ephesus brings to mind two other situations, one in Galatia and the other in Athens—

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  (Galatians 1:6—7)

21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)  (Acts 17:21)

In Galatia, false teachers had been welcomed into the church and were in the process of stealing its members.  Here were people who had heard the Gospel, responded to it in faith, had been growing in their faith, yet when the “new” and “exciting” teachings came along, they too easily jumped ship to run after them.  In Athens, the people liked to debate and pit their ideologies against whatever they considered to be old fashioned notions taught by “fuddy duddies,” like the Apostle Paul.

In every age there are people who love to indulge in strange mixtures of truth and error.  And it was Timothy’s job as pastor to guard his congregation against such teachings by teaching the truth and by administering discipline to those who went against the truth;   that is “God’s work.”  The word translated “work” is oikonomian, which literally means “stewardship.”  The objective of every pastor and church leader should be faith-centered stewardship based on the Word of God.   Any teaching that gets in the way of that objective or any individual that leads others away from that objective needs to be dealt with accordingly.

2.  Practice brotherly love, 1:5—7

5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

All church discipline should be administered in love.  The highest goal of all preaching and teaching is love—agape love.  It is the Word of God that draws God’s people together.  For church leaders, an expression of that love is combating error with truth through the faithful teaching and exposition of God’s Word and the protection of their congregation from false teachers.

For their part, the false teachers seemed to have gotten a foothold in Ephesus, and while their “new” teachings fascinated some, they only served to cause trouble and push the people apart.   That is a distinguishing mark of false teachers and false teaching:  controversy and consternation.

According to Dr. McGee, there three things that every church should manifest:

  1. Faith.  A church should manifest faith in both God and in His Word.
  2. Love.  Love is more than a word or an emotion; it is an active concern for others in the Body of Christ.  It means that you treat your fellows with respect and concern; you don’t gossip and tell tales.  It means you build them up, not tear them down.
  3. A good conscience.  Conscience is man’s “moral intuition.”  Although your conscience should never be your guide—that task should be left up to the Holy Spirit—it can serve as a kind of umpire, passing judgment on your current state, your thoughts, and your emotions.  In the believer, God often uses the conscience to “produce godly sorrow” which leads to repentance, 2 Corinthians 7:10.

These three things, according to Paul, needed to be manifested first by Timothy, then by his congregation.  These false teachers, though, had completely missed the mark and turned from the truth to “meaningless talk.”  The Greek word is very descriptive and used only here in the New Testament; it means “empty babbling.”  Nothing is emptier than teaching devoid of God’s Word.  Somebody can stand behind a pulpit, look the part, speak well and sound impressive, but if what they are teaching is not of God, they are mere “wordmongers,” saying nothing of value to anybody.  Paul’s opinion of these men couldn’t be clearer:  they thought they are so smart, but in reality they knew nothing, they didn’t even understand what they were trying to teach others.  They deluded people for they themselves were deluded.

3.  Proper teaching, taught properly, yields results, 1:8—11

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Paul had identified the false teachers at Ephesus as men who had appointed themselves as learned teachers of the Law, and now he points out that HE knew all about the Law, and that the Law was good, but that these false teachers had taken it and perverted it.  God never gave the Law to His people as a means of salvation, which was part of the false teaching.

An interesting phrase that needs our attention is:  “[the] law is not made for the righteous.”  What was Paul getting at?  Did he mean that the righteous no longer need to concern themselves with mundane things like right and wrong?  Of course not!  As Paul taught elsewhere, the Law served our “schoolmaster” to lead us to Christ, and to know Christ is to have that Law inscribed on our hearts.  This is part of the “new covenant” as prophesied by Jeremiah—

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”  (Jeremiah 31:33)

But that written Law condemns sinners; it points out the wrong in their lives.  Paul gives a list of the kinds of sin and behavior the Law condemns.  As if to drive his point home, at the end of his list, Paul adds, probably with a twinkle in his eye:  and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. In other words, the teaching of these false teachers directed at Timothy and his congregation would be better directed at themselves!   The false teachers immersed themselves in wild and fanciful teachings because they never saw their true state:  sinners in need of the Gospel.  Christians who fall for false teaching need to take heed of this fact.  What does it say about a Christian who is so easily swayed by a phony Gospel?  What does it say about their conscience?  What does it say about the Law that is supposedly inscribed on their hearts?

It is difficult to imagine any teaching more powerful than the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.”  This was the teaching entrusted to Paul and to Timothy.  Sound doctrine demands that a person keep God’s Law.  At the same time, sound doctrine declares that a person cannot keep it; it reveals that without Christ that person is lost.   The Gospel is glorious, and sound doctrine must be taught because people need to know their true condition and the only remedy for it:  the pure Word of God.  False teaching is attractive because it never demands that a person see themselves as God sees them:  a hopeless sinner, lost forever.  Nobody wants to see themselves like that, so they cling to the kind of teachings that make them feel good about themselves.

God loves you and He values your soul to the point where He would rather make you feel uncomfortable  about yourself so that you’ll change than stroke your ego and let you go on living in a fool’s paradise.

God’s church, done God’s way promotes real love founded on the truth of God’s Word and the proclamation of sound doctrine.  It’s easy to manipulate people’s feelings and emotions, but God calls for changed lives and He wants His truth written on our hearts so that we will manifest love for Him and for each other, faith, and be able sleep at night with a clear conscience.

Don’t get flim flammed by false teahers.

(c)  2010 Witzend

THE CHURCH’S CALL TO EXCELLENCE, Part 3

wolf in sheeps skin

Dealing With An Ever-Present Threat, Titus 1:10—16

With these seven verses, Paul gives the reason for the sense of urgency in appointing godly elders who were able to teach the truth.   Apparently the island of Crete was full of false teachers.  It seems that every generation produces its own brand of false teaching spread by false teachers.  False teaching is deadly to the Church of Jesus Christ because otherwise good and decent Christians can find themselves ensnared in it before they even realize what they are into is false teaching.  Surely one of the greatest needs of Christians today is the ability to discern false teaching from true.

1.  Description of these false teachers, Titus 1:10—13a

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision groupThey must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.

The word “for” shows us that elders have a lot of work to do.  The New English Bible translates this verse a little differently, with a much more pointed meaning—

There are all too many, especially among the Jewish converts, who are out of all control.

“These” people, “those of the circumcision group,” are not referring to Judaizers; Paul’s letter to the Galatians deals with them.  In the context of this letter, Paul is simply referring to Jews who had converted to Christianity.  These people, Paul says, are “many,” and they are dangerous.  What could be dangerous about a person becoming a Christian?   We would expect the Apostle to be happy that there were so many Jewish converts.  The problem with these converts was that they refused to accept the teachings of their new faith; instead they sought to attach aspects of their old Jewish faith onto their new Christian faith, producing a kind of hybrid religion.  And they were infiltrating the local churches on Crete, pushing their morphed out faith on others.

Paul describes these false teachers using three words:

  • Rebellious.  These men refused to subordinate themselves to any Christian authority, including the Word of God.
  • Mere talkers.  They were smooth talkers; what they taught sounded so good that they were able to fool many people.  Their words, however, were really meaningless and empty.
  • Deceivers.  Their empty words held a dangerous fascination to genuine believers who were led astray far too easily from the truth.

Paul, in referring to them as part of a “circumcision group,” suggests that they themselves used this moniker as way to show their superiority over other Christians, especially the Cretans.  If they were superior by virtue of their circumcision, then it followed that their teachings were superior to the teachings of others.  Little wonder these false teachers were so destructive!

Naturally, Paul could see right through these false teachers and in telling Titus what he should do with them—“they must be silenced”—he used a very rare Greek verb that means “to stop the mouth by means of a bridle, muzzle, or gag.”  The false teachers must not be tolerated but they must be silenced, and given the context of this letter, this must be done by Titus and the elders.

We are told exactly how Paul expected Titus and the elders to stop these false teachers.  Because these errorists were ostensibly Christians, in keeping with Paul’s other teachings they would have been quietly, gently admonished and shown the error of their teachings.  If they refused to listen, then the next step would have been to sternly reprimand them publicly and insist that they cease and desist in their false teaching.  At last, a person who persists in their evil ways needed to be shunned by the church and excommunicated in hope that these extreme measures would lead to their repentance.   As one commentator quipped:

In the church of God, there is no such thing as “freedom of misleading speech.”

Why were these false teachers to be dealt with so sternly?  Simply because their false teaching was so dangerous, it was ripping families apart.  Any teaching that confuses people or leaves people worse off for listening to it is false.   Truth, though, is like a mighty force of nature that grabs hold of a person’s mind forcing them, sometimes, to rethink some of their old ideas.  Barclay wrote:

Christianity does not run away from doubts and questions, but faces them fairly and squarely.  It is true that the truth often mentally takes a man by the scruff of the neck and shakes them; but it is also true that teaching which ends in nothing but doubts and questions is bad teaching.

Verse 12 is provocative.  The island of Crete had a large Jewish population, but they were largely secular Jews who had been heavily influenced by the pagan Cretans.  Paul quotes from Epimenides, a Cretan poet and prophet, whose judgment of the wayward Cretans was commonly held.  That judgment was—

“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”

By quoting from a well-known Cretan poet, Paul was effectively deflecting any criticism that he was being racist or anti-Cretan in any way.  However, his point should have hit home:  don’t allow these Cretan false teachers to tear the church apart!

2.  A measured response, 1:13—14

He has surely told the truth! Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.

Apparently Paul wholeheartedly agreed with Epimenides!  This situation demanded some immediate action on Titus’ part.  Like a skilled surgeon cutting away cancerous tissue, Titus must rebuke these false teachers sharply.  The word for “rebuke” can also mean “convict,” meaning Titus had to expose not only the false teachers but explain the error of their teachings.  What Paul did not want Titus to do was act with a heavy hand.  No, the way to handle this was with tact and firm resolve.  In other words, good reasons had to be given for publicly rebuking the errorists.

The goal of the stern rebuke was that the false teachers might see the error of the teachings and be restored to good spiritual health.  That should be the goal of all church discipline; we do not discipline in order to break a person’s heart, but rather in hopes of making the individual strong in the faith.  All discipline, including Titus’ discipline of the troublemaking Cretans needs to be done in grace and love.

With verse 14, we may be given a glimpse into what the false teachers were promoting.  Paul refers to “Jewish myths.”  Scholars are divided as to just what Paul meant.  He may have been referring to the general nature of the Jewish faith as it had evolved in Paul’s day.  Thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations had become more important than the words of the Law itself.  In some quarters, Judaism and Gnosticism had become mingled together, creating a strange version of Judaism that barely resembled the faith of the patriarchs.  While this could be what Paul was thinking of, it is more likely that Paul had in mind the wild Jewish myths found in some of the Apocryphal books.  The Cretan teachers latched on to these fanciful stories and were preaching them as fact.  It’s human nature to be attracted to the romantic, speculative notions of man while finding the Gospel dry and boring.

3.  Final words of condemnation, 1:15—16

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

These false teachers stand condemned by two things: (1)  the test of character, verse 15, and (2) the test of conduct, verse 16.

On the surface, verse 15 is bit confusing.  What is Paul trying to say?  Not only is this verse a bit hard to understand, it is very often abused.  Morrison wrote:

The commonest misuse of [verse 15] is this.  Something offensive has been spoken, something coarse or allusively indecent, and one of the company with a hot heart has protested against the evil utterance; whereupon immediately, sometimes with a smile, he is told that unto the pure all things are pure.

In other words, this verse is often used to excuse a dirty joke or some other questionable thing.   But Paul is restating a principle first put forth by Jesus Himself concerning Jewish food laws—

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into your mouth does not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth that is what defiles you.”  (Matthew 15:10)

The false teachers were preaching against the freedom that comes from having faith in Christ and were trying to get new converts into the habit of obeying the old Jewish dietary laws and observing all kinds of ceremonies and rites.  However, true devotion and purity is not found in what one eats or wears or in the style of worship.  Rather, true purity is found in the heart.   This is the positive aspect of this wonderful teaching, but here on Crete, it was the negative aspect that really troubled Paul.  Note what he wrote—

to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  (verse 15b)

What Paul is staying is actually very simple:  to people who are “defiled and unbelieving” (KJV), everything is bad, nothing is pure.  Again, Barclay’s comments are spot on:

Such a man can take the loveliest things and cover them with a smutted uncleanness.  He can see uncleanness where there is no uncleanness.  But the man whose mind is pure finds all things pure.  It is a terrible thing to have that film of uncleanness and impurity in the mind.

Those who tell others what kind of clothes to wear or what they should and should not drink or eat, or the kind of music they should listen to are the ones with the impure minds.  Real believers are people who have been cleansed from their guilt by the blood of Christ and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.  To these regenerated people, food and clothing (for example) do not determine one’s level of purity; that level has been established in their hearts and minds by the Spirit of God dwelling within them.

So, the character of the false teachers condemned them.  Then also their conduct condemned them.  They publicly confessed to knowing God, they obviously had some knowledge of God and of Christianity and given the order of the words in the Greek (“God” is emphatic), they truly did have a relationship with Him.  These false teachers were not pagans or practitioners of the occult; they were Christians.  However,  they were practitioners of a very dangerous form of Christianity:  the legalistic kind.   However, while they preached and taught what appeared on the surface to be a very moral and upright faith, their actions told another story.  Even they could not live up to the standards they foisted upon others.   In they way they lived, they denied God.  1 John 2:6 establishes a “golden rule” for all those who claim to be Christians—

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

J.B. Philips translates this verse in a much more cutting way—

The life of a man who professes to be living in God must bear the stamp of Christ.

This “stamp” was totally missing from the false teachers.  Paul describes them three ways:

  • Detestable.  The false teachers were loathsome,they  caused jaws to drop because of their obvious hypocrisy.  The Greek word comes from a noun that describes something causing “horror and disgust” to God.
  • Disobedient.  They put their own thoughts and ideas ahead of the Word of God.  They made up all kinds of rules and regulations and adhered to them in place of Scripture.
  • Unfit for doing any good.  This phrase is in stark contrast with what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:17 where he describes the people of God this way—

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

Only the Word of God can change a heart.  Rules and regulations can give a person the appearance of being holy, but, as in the case of these false teachers, eventually their true character will be revealed by their conduct.  But when a heart is changed, a person’s life will testify to that fact.  James wrote—

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:26)

But they must be the right deeds performed for the right reasons.  Calvin remarked:

Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is not alone.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Letters From an Old Man

A World Passing Away, 1 John 2:18—28

So far in John’s first letter, he had given his readers a number of “tests” to ensure that they themselves were truly “walking in the light.” He was also confronting his opponents—false teachers—by showing how they failed each of these “tests” of discipleship. In this section, gentle John puts the screws to the false teachers and pulls out all the stops and labels these false teachers for what they are: antichrists. These are despicable men who lie and deny the deity of Jesus Christ. But their treacherous teachings were threatening the church, so John gives some advice to his readers about how to hold tight to the faith.

1. A proper perspective, 2:18—19

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

John has already dealt with the transitoriness of the world in verse 17—

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

This is emphasized with the phrase “this is the last hour,” in verse 18. This is the only time we see this phrase in the New Testament, although similar phrases are seen many times throughout Biblical writings, where “last days” or “day of the Lord” may be considered counterparts. John is not meaning to say that he thought the world was coming to an end soon, but he has in mind this present dispensation in which we are living; the time between the first and second comings of our Lord. In fact, John Stott thinks John is indicating that we are in the “last hours of the last days.”

As proof that his readers—including we—are living in the “last hours of the last days,” John points to the appearance of the false teachers that he has been referring to, only this time he calls them “antichrists.” In the context of his letter, John is giving us a hint as to exactly who these false teachers were: they were not members of some other religious cult but former church members who had come to deny the deity of Christ! Notice how John describes their arrival—

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.

In John’s view, the fact that they left the fellowship of believers was an indication that their devotion to Christ was only external. In these verses, John is not describing the personal Antichrist of the Revelation. Early Christians believed that at some time in the future, the Antichrist would appear as a single person, described by Paul like this—

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3—4)

The Thessalonians, like the readers of this letter, knew that this vile man would come. But here, John is making sure his readers knew that there are, in fact, many antichrists in the world, even now. The men who were causing so many problems for them once belonged to the Church, but had left. Those who he refers to as “antichrists” left the church—us— because they never really belonged to it in the first place. True believers, in other words, remain in the Church, but phony believers leave. Apparently these men were known to the readers of this letter; John simply says they “went out from us,” but offers no details. He uses the word “us” five times in this verse; so many times it seems awkward, but its frequency stresses John’s point: antichrists leave the Church, we stay. Could this be another “test?” Perhaps, for anybody can claim to be a Christian. The proof is in their obedience to God’s righteous commands, one of which is regular corporate worship.

For those of us who love the Lord, it seems impossible to conceive of people who would claim to be genuine Christians, then up and leave the Church, proving they never really belonged to the family of God. The writer to the Hebrews describes a similar situation—

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4—6)

Theologians, who love to use labels in describing simple Biblical doctrines, call this particular doctrine perseverance. These unbelievers, who denied Christ’s nature, were never part of the “universal” or “invisible” Church because they did not really belong to Christ. The fact that they were temporarily part of the visible church was meaningless, for they failed in their perseverance. They left.

2. Anointing and discernment, 2:20—21

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

Kistemaker, in introducing these verses, notes a contrast. These antichrists denied that Jesus was the Christ, whose name means “Anointed One.” Christians believe in Christ, because they have received an anointing from Him!

Christians not only bear the name of Jesus Christ; they also share in his anointing. (Kistemaker)

Under the Mosaic law, anointing with oil symbolically showed the consecration and dedication to God of only three types of men: prophets, priests, and kings. Under Christ, though, the anointing of the Holy Spirit is the privilege of all believers. One result of this anointing is knowledge of the truth. This was important for John to say because his opponents the false teachers claimed a “superior” spiritual knowledge unavailable to normal men. John has already wrote about this anointing before, in his Gospel—

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)

This must have been a tremendous encouragement to the Christians of John’s day, as it should be to us today. There is a tendency for modern believers almost “idolize” cultural icons, likes athletes and entertainers. In the Church, we do the same thing with preachers and teachers and especially authors. John makes it clear that no matter how impressive these Christian icons may be, their knowledge of God is not beyond the reach of other believers. While some may be gifted teachers or expositors, knowledge of the Holy One comes from the anointing, available to all. Darby comments—

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit as an unction and spiritual intelligence in them, and the truth which they had received at the beginning—the prefect revelation of Christ—these were the safeguards against seducers and seductions. Now this unction is the portion of even the youngest babes in Christ.

With this anointing comes not only knowledge of the truth, but also discernment. True believers know the truth, John writes, and true believers know that lies cannot come from God. The false teachers and their disciples were liars, and so there was no possibility they could have come from God. There was never a more timely message that that one. Whenever someone comes along with new teachings that add to the Scripture or take the place of Scripture, we need to beware! We should have nothing to do with doctrines that do not originate in the Word of God.

3. Denials and discipleship, 2:22—25

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

John asks a rhetorical question and then answers it by pointing to the antichrists who are determined to perpetuate the pernicious lie that Jesus is not the Christ. John is not looking his Jewish friends who denied that Jesus was the Messiah, but rather the Gnostics who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. These false teachers taught that Christ, the divine spirit, descended upon Jesus the man and then Jesus the man became divine at his baptism. When Jesus the man was on the cross dying, that divine Christ-spirit left him, and Jesus the man died. That kind of teaching sounds so good, and some who don’t know the Word would be tempted to believe it. But it was a lie, spread by antichrists. It strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith that says Jesus is perfect God and perfect man. Denying the Sonship of Christ denied the Fatherhood of God as well.

Of course such teaching originates in man’s imagination, not in the Word of God. John’s statement in verse 23, No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also, shows the dependence true believers have, or should have, on orthodox theology found in the Bible. The linchpin theological statement upon which all Christian theology hangs is simply this: Jesus is the Son of God. There can be no deviation, no leeway on this. Jesus did not become the Son of God. The Son of God did not come into existence when Jesus was born. The Son of God did not cease to exist on the Cross. The Son of God; the Second Person of the Trinity always was and always will be. And anybody who teachers otherwise, is an antichrist.

John’s admonitions to his readers would be well-directed towards the Church of today, filled with believers who all-too-often are a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of their knowledge of proper doctrine. John says to hold fast to the teachings you heard first; hold fast to the eternal truths found in the Bible. The Trinity is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not some other combination of words. God is the Father; He is not an elderly black woman. Antichrist’s come in all shapes and sizes and their words always sound better to our carnal ears than does God’s Word. But we must hold fast to what the Bible teaches, not to what any man teaches. That is true discipleship; following the Lord, not some teacher or preacher.

4. A warning and a promise, 2:26—29

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

Lest any of his readers think he is being mean-spirited, John makes it very clear that all he is doing is warning his readers. There is nothing more important than the state of a person’s soul, not even their feelings. Nobody likes to be told that what they believe is wrong, but John, like any good pastor, lays it on the line. In fact, John goes on to say something really stunning—

…you do not need anyone to teach you…

What does he mean by this? Does he mean that believers shouldn’t listen to their pastors? Or buy good Christian book? Of course not! Even Jesus Christ told His disciples as part of ‘the Great Commission” to “go and teach.” And He gave pastors/teachers to the Church to teach the saints. Kistemaker comments—

Effective preaching of the Word, faithful teaching in Sunday school or catechism class, and daily reading of the Scriptures—all this is necessary for the spiritual growth of Christians.

What believers do NOT need are false teachers and false teaching; believers have the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads them into all truth. John adds this about the indwelling anointing—

…his anointing teaches you about all things…

When I read this, I ask two questions: (1) How does He teach us? And (2) What are “all things?” The answer to both of these questions is found in Hebrews 10—

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:15—17)

The Holy Spirit, as evidenced in Hebrews 10:15—17, testifies to believers (speaks to our spirits) the Words of Scripture. The anointing kicks in—God communes to our spirits—when we study the Word of God. The Word of God is our best weapon against false teaching because in it are teachings about “all things” necessary for our faith. We do NOT need Christian self-help books, nor do we need to attend seminars on how to have a good Christian life. What we DO need is the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit to illumine the Word of God to our spirits.

Not only does that anointing keep us safe from false teaching and false teachers, but according to John, that anointing enables a true Christian to determine if another is a true Christian. This is discerned by watching how they act, by observing whether their actions are righteous or not. The true Christian will be like Jesus; they will keep His commandments and walk as Jesus walked.

Through the ascended and glorified Christ, God has given to all Christians the Holy Spirit, but it is the believer’s responsibility to remain in Christ. God’s will has its counterpart in our responsibility. God provides His Spirit to lead and to teach believers everything necessary for salvation, but God expects the believer to remain in Christ.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Letters From an Old Man

Knowing the Father, 2:12—17

In the final years of the first century, Christians faced an insidious enemy: false teachers who invaded their churches preaching attractive Gnostic doctrines that sounded so good yet opposed the Gospel. It is no accident that throughout his letter, John advised his readers to “walk in the light” and to live by faith, obeying God’s commands. Like a good pastor who wants his congregation to spiritually healthy, John had given them some tests to determine if who they were listening to were genuine believers or false teachers.

This section of 1 John may be broken into two short segments. The first, verses 12—14, contrasts the position of the believer who walks in the light with the position of the false teachers who walk in the darkness. The second part, verses 14—17, he warns his readers not to fall into the seductive trap of worldliness as the false teachers had.

1. Children, fathers, young men, 2:12—14

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

A/ All Readers, verse 12, 14a

John begins his thoughts to all the readers of his letter by saying, “I write to you.” That seems like a strange thing to write, since obviously John is writing to them! He means more than just that he is putting pen to paper; he means that he is writing words down that he wants them to remember; they are permanent. John could easily make the trip to visit them personally and tell them what he wants them to know, but writing them down serves the purpose of making his readers not only take notice of what he has written, but also to discuss it and learn it.

His initial thought is addressed to “dear children.” Teknia seems to be John’s pet name for believers in general, so this verse is for all believers—

Your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (verse 12)

Forgiveness from sins is not the whole plan of salvation, but it is the very entrance into the Christian life; it is the beginning step of “walking in the light.” Forgiveness of sins is one of the first things a believer experiences when they come to the Lord. Forgiveness of sins is not based on our asking for it or our desperate need for it. John indicates that our sins are forgiven “on account of his name,” that is, on account of Jesus’ name. In Hebrew thought, “The name” always stood for the character of an individual; so “on account of his name” is a way of saying that they were forgiven through the work and person of Christ. This is the best news a person could ever get! Everyone who believes in Jesus and repents receives remission of sin.

In verse 14, John goes further. Because their sins are forgiven, believers can now know the Father—

You know the Father.

John uses a different Greek word this time, but he is still addressing believers in general. As a result of God’s free forgiveness, all believers are able to “know the Father.” This is a privilege unbelievers can never experience; only believers may “know the Father.” Note that John does not say “know God.” Of course, the terms are synonymous, but by using the more personal “Father,” John is emphasizing the personal nature of the believer’s new relationship with God. No longer are we viewed by God as merely “followers,” because our sins have been forgiven through what Jesus did, God now views us as His children.

B/ Fathers, verse 13a, 14a

You know him who is from the beginning.

According to Jewish custom, this form of address would refer to those who had responsibility for authority. Sometimes, it was used to refer to leaders of Israel’s past, like the father’s of Israel, the patriarchs, and so on. Here, though, John likely has in view older and more mature members of the congregation. John appeals to these older men because the implication is that with age comes spiritual enlightenment—deeper knowledge of God and Jesus Christ through His Word.

We may take John’s words to “fathers” in two ways. All people like to be praised, and gaining spiritual knowledge and a closer walk with God are indeed desirable and even enviable traits in a Christian. But the implication that with maturity comes spiritual maturity may sound threatening to some. God cannot make a person grow. The Holy Spirit will not force anybody to learn the Word of God. These things are the responsibility of the believer. How many “fathers” are still spiritually immature in the Church of Jesus Christ today? How many so-called mature Christians are as ignorant of God and His Word today as the day of their new birth?

We grow grace as we learn and study and pray. Spiritual grown is not automatic; we make it happen. Mature believers are desperately needed within the Church today; to teach the younger believers, to care for their spiritual children. Mature believers are responsible to “hand the torch of the gospel light to the next generation, the young men of the church.” (Hendriksen)

C/ Young men, verse 13b, 14b

You have overcome the evil one. (verse 13b)

You are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one. (verse 14b)

The final group of believers addressed is “young men.” While some scholars think John is referring to the youth of the church, my sense is that John is actually thinking about young believers, that is, new converts or those who have not been in the Church for a lifetime. It is sad but true that the longer one is a Christian, the cooler their love grows for both God and His family; the exuberance they have for spiritual things dims. It seems as we grow in our faith we all too often become cynical about the Church, we become jaded about our spiritual leaders and the things of God become common place. But notice what characterizes exuberant Christians: they have overcome the evil one and they are strong. Their strength comes from a diet of the Word of God. Weak and anemic believers are those who starve theirs souls of the Word.

Those of us who have been Christians for years and years should take a lesson from young Christians. May we pray as David prayed—

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

2. The world and the will of God, 2:15—17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

As we read John’s warning not to love the world in verse 15, we are reminded of the words of James:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

John’s language is particularly strong in verse 15, “Do not love the world.” Those who aspire to the high standard of Christian living described by John so far in his letter must not “love” the world. The word he uses is the same word he used back in verse 10, where he writes about the person who loves his brother. That kind of love is the love that forms attachments, intimate fellowship, and loyal devotion. This is the kind of that should be reserved only for God and His Church. Christians have no business having those kinds of feelings for the things of the world. This is because the world is in darkness, but we are supposed to be people who walk in the light.

There is no contradiction between what John wrote here in verse 15—

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him

And what he wrote in his Gospel—

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Plummer comments:

[T]he world which the Father loves is the whole human race. The world which we are told not to love is all that is alienated from Him, all that prevents men from loving Him in return…The world which we are not to love is His rival.

This world is a system of life created, not by God, but by unregenerate man, therefore to give that world our affection is to commit spiritual adultery. This is something God will not tolerate in those who claim to love Him.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24)

Not only is God described as jealous, look carefully at Exodus 34:14—

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

“Jealous” is also one of His names. It is part of His character, although not sinful, that describes how protective He is of His relationship with you. Are we that protective of our relationship with Him?

From not loving the world, John moves onto the positive admonition to do the will of God. In verse 16, John again seems to echo what James wrote in his epistle; that which is created in the world does not come from God but from the devil.

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:15)

What are the so-called things of the world? John spells them out in a memorable triad: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.”

  1. The cravings of sinful man. This literally means “the desires of the flesh” and an outlook on life that is oriented towards self. In other words, these cravings serve only yourself and demonstrate a self-sufficient independence from God. That, according to John, is what a sinful man is like.
  2. The lust of his eyes. Some commentators suggest John has in mind specifically sexual lust, but the phrase probably carries with it the thought “everything that entices the eyes” (Bultmann). It has been rightly observed that the eyes are are the windows to man’s soul. When one is enticed by lust, their eyes become instruments that cause them to sin.
  3. Boasting of what he has and does. This last tendency of a sinful man is not easily translated, which accounts for the numerous differences of translation among various translations of Scripture. The key word in the Greek is alazoneia, and it is used only one other time in the NT, James 4:16. A variation of the word is used in Romans 1:13 and 2 Timothy 3:2 to describe a “pretentious hypocrite who glories in himself or in his possessions” (Barker). F.F. Bruce wrote,

If my reputation, my public image, matters more to me than the glory of God or the well-being of my followers, the pretentiousness of life has become the object of my idol-worship.

The reason why true believers should not live like the alazon is summed up in verse 17—

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

How utterly foolish it is to be fixated on temporal things that pass away. It is beyond stupidity for an eternal being, created in God’s own image, to obsess over things that rot and disintegrate with the passing of time. The world and all it’s trinkets have already begun to putrefy. The world is corpse waiting to be buried. But those of us who endeavor to do the will of God will live forever.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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