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2–3 John Sermon Notes

By January 28, 2024Sermon Notes

On August 31, 1983, Korean Airlines flight 007 departed New York City headed toward Seoul, South Korea – Flight stopped in Anchorage to refuel and then resumed its journey toward Seoul – But, upon it’s departure from Anchorage, something happened with the navigation system, presumably a pilot error – A later investigation concluded that pilot likely put auto-pilot on wrong setting, a setting that would not account for wind conditions, among other issues

As a result of the error, KAL 007 was blown off course ever so slightly to north of it’s designated path – Drift was so slow and gradual – After one hour of flying, plane was only about 12 miles off course – But, five hours later, wind had blown KAL 007 right into Russian airspace – Remember, this is 1983, height of Cold War

Soviets saw KAL 007 on their radar and scrambled fighter jets were scrambled fighter jets, assuming it was a spy plane – A short time later, those same Soviet fighters shot down the commercial airline flight over Russian airspace – All 269 people on board were killed – What started as a ever so slight drift from plotted course, had devastating consequences in the end – Failing to account for winds of the day, KAL 007 had been blown off course and destroyed

It’s a tragic reminder of how we, personally, and corporately as a church, can quickly, easily, unassumingly, find ourselves in place we should not be, with devastating consequences, if we don’t stay alert and take great intention in following course that has been marked out for us – That’s what we are going to talk about this morning

Last year we were working our way through New Testament Letters but we took an intentional pause around Thanksgiving when we finished 1 John to focus on Great Commission during Advent season and then to take a few weeks to think about Daniel together at start of 2024

This morning we are going to go back to New Testament letters and take penultimate step in finishing them out as we overview 2 and 3 John

Before we jump in I want to take a couple of minutes to discuss social and historical setting of these letters – Hopefully this will sound familiar to you because 2 and 3 John share a social and historical setting with 1 John

In fact, there is a debate among scholars as to actual order in which 1, 2, 3 John were written – Regardless of exact order scholars hold to, it is widely agreed upon that they were written around same time to address same general crisis in church

This was crisis, as best we can tell – Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, John the Apostle had traveled around modern-day Turkey planting and shepherding churches in that region – With time, churches were confronted with a divisive problem, which prompted John to write these letters

Some people of influence within churches had gone off track theologically, begun to oppose John’s apostolic teaching, and were threatening purity of Gospel and unity of church – At heart of their theological error was a denial of Jesus’ humanity – They claimed that Jesus seemed to be human but was not, in fact, human – Informed by Greek beliefs, they concluded that if Jesus truly was God, He could not have been human because realm of gods and realm of humans does not and cannot overlap

This Christological deviation had two clear and devastating conclusions for faith and practice of John’s opponents: 1) Denied or at very least diminished belief in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for sin of mankind on cross – 2) Deemed that life lived in physical body was insignificant to life of spiritual faith – Belief that faith is heavenly endeavor of soul; everyday life is hedonistic endeavor of body – Those two realms do not overlap – In their thinking, you could be very spiritual and very immoral – Epitome of a two-story life

John, upon hearing of influence these opponents had gained among churches and division that had been caused, wrote these letters to oppose this group’s teaching and to encourage faithful believers to stay course

It should be no surprise, then, that we see common themes and common threads running fabric of each of these three letters – Two of those key threads that I want us to consider this morning as we overview 2 and 3 John are truth and love

Here’s what I hope to accomplish this morning: 1) To consider biblical nature of truth and love as we find it in John’s letters, 2) To identify two strategies for staying course of truth and love in a windy world

Let’s start by considering biblical nature of truth and love – Specifically, I want us to see their centrality to biblical faithfulness and their cohesiveness to one another

Let’s look first at their centrality to biblical faithfulness

Centrality of truth and love to biblical faithfulness, in John’s understanding, can be observed by frequency with which John uses those two terms – 2 John contains 13 verses – 3 John contains 15 verses – In those 28 verses combined, we find word truth used twelve times and word love used six times – Truth and love are used another over +40 times in 1 John – Sheer volume with which John uses these terms points to their importance

Not only did John signal importance of truth and love by way of frequency, but also primacy – We find truth and love at very beginning of both letters, embedded even within greeting, to signify their importance – Communication 101 tells us that what people tend to talk first and most often is what’s most important – And John talks first and most often, about truth and love – Listen to greetings:

Read 2 John 1-3 and 3 John 1-4

What John talks about first and most often in his letters is truth and love – They are both absolutely central to his understanding of biblical faithfulness

And what you may have already picked up on in seeing how John uses those two terms is that he doesn’t just view them as being central, but also cohesive – That is to say, in John’s mind, truth and love seem to be inseparably linked, so that one cannot fully love apart from a correct understanding of truth, nor can one fully grasp truth without being compelled to demonstrate godly form of love

John seems to imagine truth and love as being like concentric circles that overlap, so that, if you step outside of truth circle you have also comprised love and if you step out of love circle you have also compromised truth – There is an innate cohesiveness between these two words and concepts

Now, here’s what I think is fascinating – I think that many non-Christians in our modern context would largely agree with this idea that truth and love are cohesive, if we were to use their definition of truth and love – Many non-Christians walking around streets would say: “Love is affirming a person’s truth – And truth is affirming a person’s love” – They might agree, “If you don’t affirm a person’s truth, you are not loving them – And if you are not loving them, you are wrong”

So, our difference is not a disagreement about cohesiveness of truth and love, but how we define those two things – Our culture at large defines truth and love one way, as being relative to each person according to their preferences – But God, through John’s pen and pen of all other inspired writers by whom He gave us Scriptures, defines truth and love in fixed, objective, sacred terms – We find biblical definitions of truth and love in John’s letters

1) John defines truth as being commands of God the Father

Read 2 John 4-6

John uses term “truth” in parallel with word “command” – “walking in the truth” and “walking according to his commandments” are close parallels, if not synonymous – And notice, the referent for “his” commandments in verse 6 is “the Father” back in verse 4 – We are to walk according to commands of Father – In a minute John will bring in teachings of Christ, Son, but here is referring to commands of Father – So, needless to say, this should inform seriousness by which we approach and interpret Old Testament Scriptures – Can I just say that OT is of utmost important for church today?

Jesus, when He quotes Great Commandment in Matthew 22:37-40, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” is quoting OT – Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18

Now, we obviously have to take care how we interpret OT commandments – We must interpret them through Lens of Christ and New Covenant – But point is this: Old Testament, rightly interpreted, must come to bear on our lives, our faith, our doctrine – It is truth – And it is still God’s Word for us today

John defines truth as being commands of Father as well as teachings of Christ

Read 2 John 9-11

If “walking in truth” and “walking according to his commandments” are parallel in verses 4-6, we might add a third parallel here: “abiding in the teaching of Christ” – Those who do not abide in Christ’s teaching and in Christ, Himself, do not have God – They do not walk according to his commandments – They do not walk in truth – Their false teaching and faulty living is equated with “wicked works” – For Christ, is Himself, the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6)

So, to say it plainly, truth is encapsulated in commands of God the Father and teachings of Jesus Christ as they were received and recorded in original autographs by inspired biblical authors in what we now acknowledge as canon of Scripture – 66 books of Old and New Testaments – This is truth

So, having established a biblical definition of truth, what about love? – How does God, through John’s pen, define love? – Well, it’s connected to and contingent upon our previously established definition of truth – They are inseparably connected

Read 2 John 2-1 and 3 John 1

John says I love you in truth – We love you in truth – Not only that but we love you because of the truth – Truth informs my loving – If I had no belief in truth, I would have no good, logical reason to love – And if my belief in truth was strictly personal and preferential, I would have no good, logical reason to love anyone but myself

But John has truth – He believes in truth: commands of Father and teachings of Christ – And so he has a good, logical, moral reason, even a moral obligation to love – We see this concept exemplified in verse 6

And here it is: Read 2 John 6a

That’s reiteration of what he wrote in 1 John 5: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:2-3)

So, here’s how I would boil this down and explain it to my six-year-old: We love people by obeying truth of God’s Word – And we love God by obeying truth of God’s Word

Do you see connection? – Inseparable link? – Concentric overlap of concepts? – Truth defines love – Love expresses truth

So, we’ve considered biblical nature of truth and love – Now let’s identify two strategies for staying course of truth and love in a windy world

Remember, John was writing to refute opponents who had strayed from truth, contradicted love, and were trying to sway church toward their persuasion – These false teachers were trying to blow church off course – John warned church: Read 2 John 7

This problem for church in 1st century Turkey was not so dissimilar to our contemporary context – Churches to whom John wrote had people who, over time, for whatever reason, were blown off course – They discovered some “new, more exciting, more palatable, less archaic” information, grafted it onto their belief system while cutting away some other, very important stuff – When all was said and done, they had outright rejected Christianity and become anti (against) Christ – Throughout process, church that was trying to remain faithful to apostolic teaching was a little disoriented, peaking over fence wondering, “Are we on wrong side of truth? – Are we ones who got blown off course?”

Sounds familiar – Church today, as it was in John’s day, exists in a windy world – There is real pressure to be blown off track by false beliefs and adopt faulty ways of living – Now, some of this pressure comes from outside, from obvious and unashamedly secular sources: influence of popular culture, new theories in science and academia, new innovations in technology and media – And it’s real pressure

Some of it also comes from inside, from movements that can emerge slowly within church and take an increasingly secular turn over time – Shifting doctrines on authority Scripture, nature of Christ’s work, gender, sexuality, marriage, politics

So, how do we remain faithful to God in a windy world that threatens biblical faithfulness? – John gives two strategies: Walk in Truth and Watch Yourself

John’s consistent metaphor for being faithful to God is “walking in the truth”

Read 2 John 4, 2 John 6, 3 John 3-4

Notice that, in every instance, walking is a present, active verb – Walking in truth is not passive, but active – It’s a day-by-day way of life – A way of life that involves consistently and continually taking in Scriptures: listening, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating – And then putting Scriptures into practice through application – This process by which we see God’s plotted course for our lives and make sure we are staying on track – It’s how we walk in truth

And stay course knowing that it is going to be windy in this world – Jesus said that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 14)

We have to endure in walking in truth, in face of difficulty, in face of pressure – And we know that if walking ever stops being a present, active activity and, instead, becomes a past or passive activity, we are vulnerable to winds of world – Like KAL 007 we may drift into dangerous airspace unaware

My aim is not for you to live in fear – Perfect love drives out fear – He who is in your is greater than He who is in the world – My aim is not for you to live in fear, but do live with discernment – 19th century English pastor Charles Spurgeon famously said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” – And best way to grow discernment is to know truth

Carl Trueman who wrote a great book called Strange New World, where he shows how winds of our modern Western world came to be says, “Every age has had its darkness and its dangers. The task of the Christians is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them.” – That’s discernment – And best way to grow in discernment is to know truth

Here’s application: Are you presently and actively walking in the truth? – Are you hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, and applying Scriptures? – Do you know basics of how to interpret Scripture for yourself? – Have you read some systematic theology and built a solid Christian worldview? – Or do you need to get back on track this morning? – Do you need to start presently, actively walking?

Strategy #1 for biblical faithfulness in face of worldly pressure is to Walk in the Truth – Strategy #2 is to Watch Yourself

Immediately after John warns church about reality of deceivers and antichrists, he issues the only two commands we find in 2 John

Read 2 John 8 and 2 John 10

Those are two pure commands in 2 John – We find only 1 pure command in 3 John, in verse 11 – There, John has just described actions of a wicked, arrogant, and divisive church leader named Diotrephes

Read 3 John 11a

Now, I do want to clarify what John is not saying here – John is not saying that you should avoid having non-Christians in your home – He is not saying that you should treat non-Christians unkindly or disrespectfully – Clearly, as we consider what rest of Scriptures say, we know that all people must be treated with dignity and respect because they are made in image of God – And we know that Jesus made a clear point to dine with sinners around table – I hope you will invite non-Christians to your table and demonstrate hospitality of Christ – I hope you will treat all people with dignity and respect, even if they mock you and ridicule you

Here’s what John is saying, in context – His aim is protect a young, vulnerable church from wicked, arrogant, and divisive leaders who have bad theology – And rather than trying to address everything these false teachers might try to say, John just says, “For now, don’t even talk to them…I’m hoping to come to you soon and we’ll talk much more about all of this face to face” (v.12)

At heart of all three of these commands is this: Who do you give influence in your life? – Who is it that truly has your ear? – Who is it that you have given hospitality in your mind and your heart? – Who is it that you watch with admiration? – John wants us to make sure it’s right people: those who are resolutely walking in truth and love in pressurized world

So, here’s second application, it’s just to honestly ask yourself this question: Who do you give influence in your life?

Is it a celebrity? – A politician? – A professional athlete? – An Instragram influencer? – A big-name pastor that you’ve never met? – Some YouTube “prophet” you found in dark recesses of Internet who just reinforces what you want to hear? – Is it an anchor on CNN or Fox News?

Or is it first and foremost, Living God who has clearly revealed Himself through Scriptures – And, secondly, a small group of fellow believers within context of local church, who are committed to walking in truth and love, as Scripture defines it? – To discerning winds of time and staying course?