NTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND ON THE LESSON
This week’s lesson continues an exploration of the quarterly theme, Loving God, by admonishing Christians to express their love for God by genuinely loving one another. If we fervently adore God and God’s gift, Jesus Christ, then our response to God’s encompassing love should be to live our lives grounded in loving like God loves. For the Christian, authentic love for others should develop as an outgrowth of a maturing, obedient relationship with God. In Deuteronomy 6:5, God commanded us to love. Further, in John 13:34-35, Jesus commands us to love as well. Therefore, we should diligently seek to love others with a steadfast love.
The first portion of this lesson finds Paul encouraging his readers to pray for the progress of the Gospel. Just as the Gospel had caught fire in Thessalonica, Paul says that it was catching fire in other areas of the world. But in the same, way, as the Gospel had detractors in Thessalonica, so it had in other places. That this reality was inevitable, Paul understood. But the inevitability of it was not a reason to give in to Satanic influence. Demonic influence has to be fought with spiritual weaponry—prayer and love.
The purpose of the second portion of the lesson—II John—is to warn against false teachers that were introducing heresy to John’s congregation in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). A predicament in offering hospitality is addressed. It was customary to lodge teachers until they went to their next destination (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2, III John 5-8), but this created a crisis because some itinerate false teachers presented false credentials to John’s readers. From these false teachers, a form of Gnosticism (the details of it are not known) was being introduced into the Church, and the writer cautions against extending hospitality to those who were spreading this heresy and teachings that undermined the truth of the Christian love ethic. Thus, the theme of the letter is, “Do not entertain false teachers.”
INTO THE LESSON
2 Thessalonians 3 1-2 One more thing, friends: Pray for us. Pray that the Master’s Word will simply take off and race through the country to a groundswell of response, just as it did among you. And pray that we’ll be rescued from these scoundrels who are trying to do us in. I’m finding that not all “believers” are believers.
Writing from Corinth, Paul is asking the Thessalonians to pray that the same thing happen there as had occurred in Thessalonica, where God had wonderfully blessed his work. In three weeks of preaching in the synagogue, God had established a Church. Just as the Word spread rapidly among the Thessalonians, Paul now asks for prayer that the darkness of Corinth be similarly penetrated by the Gospel. We must never lose sight of the power of the Word of God. It has the ability to change lives like nothing else can.
Additionally, Paul asks for prayer for protection and deliverance from agents of evil. He suggests that the opposition he faced was coming from within the Church itself. There were people in the Church who claimed to be believers, but they had no real faith and they were making things difficult for Paul. Note that Paul does not ask for the elimination of his opposition, but only that he might be delivered through it. God does not often take our trials away. What He does promise is that He will take us through it. We do not need to give in to opposition because God has given us what it takes to overcome it.
3 But the Master never lets us down. He’ll stick by you and protect you from evil. 4-5 Because of the Master, we have great confidence in you. We know you’re doing everything we told you and will continue doing it. May the Master take you by the hand and lead you along the path of God’s love and Christ’s endurance.
God is faithful! Unlike people, we don’t have to worry about Him. He will not fail us, but will always deliver us, if we trust Him. Paul expresses confidence in the Thessalonians that they would make the choices that would release the power of God by their obedience. Thus, they would have everything they needed —the love of God and the patience of Christ. The love of God gives us security, and the patience of Christ give us consistency. Christians should be the same day in and day out. They should refuse to be-come upset and thrown off by circumstances so that they end up responding like the world around us.
God’s love gives us a sense of security and worth, of being wanted and needed. It makes no difference what others think about us, “If God is for us then who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” The patience of Christ is our willingness to wait and watch Him work things out. Jesus never became impatient with the resistance He encountered. In the same way, Paul has advised us in other places (Philippians 4:6, 7) to exercise proper patience by learning to rely upon the power of Christ, through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
2 John 4-6 I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed.
The life of the Church is founded on the truth about Jesus Christ. The heretics were deceiving people about the person of Christ, saying either that He did not have a real human body, or that “the Christ” came upon the man Jesus at His baptism and left just prior to His crucifixion. Wrong views of the person of Christ spill over into wrong views of His work on the cross. If we deny Jesus’ true humanity, then He could not be the Substitute, paying the price for our sin. For John, it was essential that the Church have sound doctrine on the person (that He is God incarnate) and work (that His sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection are the means by which our sin debt is paid and we are afforded the opportunity to enjoy eternal life) of Jesus Christ. When John talks about “some of your children living by the truth,” it implies that truth is something that every believer must continually grow in over time. John is concerned about both truth and love. He uses love four times in these six verses. Truth and love cannot be separated. But love must be extended in ways that protect and affirm the truth.
Steven J. Cole explains this distinctive this way: “If someone came to your door who was infected with a highly contagious disease…you would not be acting in love to your family to welcome him to come in and stay with you. Since false doctrine about the person and work of Christ is a deadly, infectious disease, it is not loving to welcome those who are infected with this disease [to teach] in our Church.”
Discipleship in the Church is maintained through obedience. The word commandment occurs four times in these verses. Authentic Christianity consists of believing the truth about Jesus Christ, loving one another, and obeying God’s commandments. When John emphasizes that his readers had these commandments “from the beginning,” he means that Jesus gave us these commandments and that obeying them should be basic, first-level Christian teaching.
7 There are a lot of smooth-talking charlatans loose in the world who refuse to believe that Jesus Christ was truly human, a flesh-and-blood human being. Give them their true title: Deceiver! Antichrist! 8-9 And be very careful around them so you don’t lose out on what we’ve worked so diligently in together; I want you to get every reward you have coming to you. Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God. But whoever stays with the teaching, stays faithful to both the Father and the Son. 10-11 If anyone shows up who doesn’t hold to this teaching, don’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil ways, making you his partner.
The Church must be on guard to the dangers without. These false teachers originally arose from within the Churches, but they left, showing their true intentions (I John 2:19). Now, they were coming back to recruit followers.
False teachings lure us in by appealing to our pride, telling us that we can save our-selves. Since pride is our prevailing sin, we are especially vulnerable. To be on guard to these dangers, we must…
1. Be realistic about the deceptive nature of it (verse 7). Twice John calls these false teachers deceivers. They were subtle and they probably used scripture to back up everything they taught. It is likely that their explanation of things seemed to make more sense of doctrines that were difficult to understand. But if their teaching rejects or contradicts the teaching that the apostles had given, it is false and our embracing of it means that we have been deceived.
2. Watch ourselves, to abide in the teaching of Christ (verses 8, 9). The heretics claimed to have superior knowledge that could take us farther in our Christian life than the teaching of the apostles. John is sarcastically saying, “Yes, in fact the false teachers have gone so far ahead that they have left God behind them!”
It’s very important that we properly interpret verses 8 and 9. In verse 8, John refers to those who lose part of their reward (what they have worked for), but the implica-tion is that they are truly saved. However, verse 9 refers to those who do not have God at all, and thus are not saved. Salvation is God’s free, unmerited gift to all that will receive it. It is not a reward for anything (Romans 4:4, 5; I John 5:11, 12). If we have received God’s gift of eternal life in Christ, there are rewards for serving Him. Jesus talked about those who have used well what He entrusted to them. They will be rewarded with more at the judgment (Matthew 5:12; 25:14-28).
We should be careful of Church leaders/teachers who have no concern for sound doctrine. Those who feel that way will, invariably, try to replace spiritual doctrine with human dogma, which is a death knell to a Church’s spiritual development and growth.
3. To not encourage false teachers (verse 10, 11). John is the apostle of love (verse 5). But now, he says that we should not receive a false teacher into our house or even give him a greeting, because to do so is to participate in his false teaching). While there were inns in that day, often the Church would extend hospitality to circuit teachers. According to the norms of hospitality, the host not only gave the guest food and lodging, but also provided patronage, guaranteeing the rest of the community that the guest was a worthy person. Thus, to provide hospitality, you were vouching for the stranger’s character.
John says we should not do this for false teachers. Though we may love them and pray for their deliverance, we cannot support their heresy. To do so, would be to promote it and suggest your agreement with it. This again suggests that love should be tempered with discernment. We must seek to strike a balance between tolerance of opinions that are different from our and a seeming indifference to the truth.
4. Maintain fellowship with others who serve as we do and share our doctrine (verses 12, 13). There is great joy in genuine Christian fellowship, when we share in the things of God with those who have experienced His grace, mercy, and peace. We don’t want to become so exclusive in our walk that we cut ourselves off from other Churches or individual Christians that love Christ and the truth. We are members of the same body. Thus, we impoverish ourselves and bring dishonor to Christ when we draw the lines of separation too narrowly. We should accept all that have responded to Christ’s call as His own (Romans 15:7). Again, all of this must be done with discernment and guidance from the Holy Spirit, particularly when we talk about linking up with Associations and Conventions.