Welcome to Truth for Life. We are beginning a study in 2nd and 3rd John today. We are going to take a close look at these letters along with Alistair Begg to learn what it means to walk in the truth.
Today we are focusing on learning how to know what's true in a confusing world where so many people think truth is subjective. Alistair has titled this message Truth and Love. I invite you to turn in the Bible to the second letter of John, to 2 John. And if you're unfamiliar with your way around your Bible, then if you start at Revelation and work towards the beginning, you'll come to 2 John pretty quickly. You'll actually find it in between 1 John and 3 John.
But some of you will already have figured that out. This is a bright group. 2 John 1, the elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not I only, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which lives in us and will be with us forever. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son will be with us in truth and love. It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I'm not writing you a new command, but one we've had from the beginning.
I ask that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. Many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Watch out that you do not lose what you've worked for but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
The children of your chosen sister send their greetings. Amen. Now, just a prayer before we look at this brief letter together. Father, with our Bibles open before us, we implore you that we might have the divine help that we require in order to study the Bible in a way that is authentic and thoughtful and responds properly to its instruction. Help us then, in both our speaking and in our listening, to please you in every way. For Jesus' sake we ask it.
Amen. Well, our gaze is on these opening verses of this second letter of John. This is the first of a brief series in the two shortest New Testament letters, 2 and 3 John. They both only have about three hundred words each in Greek.
They are shorter than Philemon, which we just did, and also Jude, which as yet we have not done. I have taken a title for this brief series from the fourth verse of both 2 and 3 John. It comes in the fourth verse of each of the letters, and it is the phrase, walking in the truth.
Walking in the truth. We didn't spend a long time on the context, but we do need to have some sense of where we are. It will suffice us to know that by this stage in life, John was an elderly gentleman. I think that's why he refers to himself simply as the elder. He doesn't refer to himself as the apostle. That would be presumptuous, because he was not the apostle. He was an apostle.
But once a man has reached a certain age, if he's known by dint of other things, he may actually be bold enough just to refer to himself as the old man or the elder. He has care for at least one congregation in the region of Ephesus. By dint of his age, he is not able to make visits to this group as perhaps he was once able to do. And he bemoans this, as you would have noted at the end of the letter, I want to come and talk to you face to face, but for now I have to write to you.
I don't want to continue to have to write to you. But it is by means of pen and ink that he is expressing his affection for, his interest in, and his concern for those who are under his care. He begins by commending them for the way in which their belief is translated into their behavior. And it is this juxtaposition between truth and love, which we will focus on in a moment or two from now.
Not only do these people love the truth, but they love others who love the truth, and they are doing well in this regard—at least some. Having commended them for all that is well with them, he also issues a warning to them, because there is a threat that they face. We won't get to that this morning, but it begins in verse 7, his reference to it, many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world. And you will notice that he's not mincing his words here.
This is not some marginal concern. This is a full, frontal attack on Christian faith and truth. And therefore, he refers to the individuals as deceivers, such a person who opposes the identity of Jesus, his incarnation, and his life and ministry is none other than the deceiver and the antichrist. So notice—and we'll come back to this—that he is not simply alerting his readers to individuals who are opposing peripheral issues, but rather those who are challenging the central truth of the gospel. Traveling preachers going around and seeking to encourage their listeners to imbibe this kind of stuff, and in the age of hospitality as a necessity, he says, I want to warn you about these people, and I want to tell you, I don't want you taking them into your homes.
Very straightforward. That's something that an elderly man with pastoral care is able to do. He is concerned to guard the truth. To guard the truth. He's not about to adapt it, to accommodate to the heretical views that are being promulgated amongst these people. The truth that he is urging his readers to walk in is objective, it is defined, and it is absolute. This, of course, is a fascinating notion in our contemporary circumstances, as I will point out in a moment or two. But let's be very, very clear that when John speaks about walking in the truth, he is speaking in definable terms. He is speaking of the truth that has been embodied in Jesus, that has been inscripturated, that has been left to us in the Bible, the truth of the gospel that the gospel writers have written, and the truth which now the apostles are ensuring is transmitted safely into the hands of another generation. For here they are towards the end of the first century, and already that which is vague and ill-defined, and that which is in direct opposition to the truth of the gospel, is beginning to worm its way into the community of faith. We must always remember this when people say, Oh, it must have been terrific to live in the first century.
They never had any of our problems at all, you know. But in actual fact, in every generation from the absolute get-go, every time truth as declared definable in Jesus is proclaimed and made much of, the work of the evil one is to undermine, to pick away, and to sow the seeds of confusion. And that is exactly what was taking place in the context that we find here in 2 John. Now, the fact that he speaks in such definable terms concerning the truth helps us, then, to set this not only in the context of the first century but also in the framework of the twenty-first century. Because John would never have understood the increasingly vague and undefined, ill-defined notions of Christianity which are represented within the framework of Christendom at this point in the twenty-first century, whereby people grow increasingly fearful about speaking in these definable and objective terms. You may have found the pressure on yourself.
I know that I have. It is a product, in part, of the increasingly multicultural world in which we live, whereby not only do products and pieces of manufacturing industry cross barriers in a way that they didn't before, but so ideas and concepts of spirituality and religious notions are far more in the minds of people, far removed from their origins, than ever was true before. And so you will find yourself, perhaps in conversation, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, almost catching your breath as you find yourself saying to somebody, Well, actually, Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me. And the person says to you, But for goodness' sake, you're not going to tell me for a moment that you actually believe that, do you? And the temptation is to say, Well, I mean, I understand that you have a different view, and of course I want to be tolerant of your view and so on, and of course we do want to be tolerant of the views of others. But John could never have understood a kind of Plato Christianity which, as soon as it runs up against something which challenges it, just simply reaches in and redefines the body of truth, the content of truth, so as to make it adaptable to whatever the climate is that confronts it. But that's exactly what's happening.
If you doubt that, then you haven't been paying attention. It's far more customary to hear people now talking about, Well, I'd like to tell you about my spiritual journey, as opposed to, Well, I'd like to tell you about Jesus and his exclusive claims. Your spiritual journey is no challenge to anybody, really, just as long as it's your spiritual journey. But don't, whatever you do, stand on someone's toes and endeavor to speak about the importance of walking in the definable, objective truth, which is what John is referencing here. The first century was challenged in relationship to truth. The twenty-first century is challenged in relationship to truth. Now the temptation is to shrink from doctrine and to turn from truth. And the statistics reveal the endemic nature of this.
Of course, we can always introduce a fudge factor where statistics are involved, but I think there is reason for alarm in these figures. It is estimated that only 32% of those claiming to be born again in the United States of America—only 32% of the born-againers—believe in absolutes in the realm of either truth or morality. So again, the person is prepared to say, Well, I am a follower of Jesus, and I am on a spiritual journey.
However, I don't actually believe in definable truth as it relates to morality or as it relates to theology. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that two-thirds of the people claiming to have been made new by the Spirit of God take the uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah as coming in the flesh, the uniqueness of Christ's death as an atoning sacrifice for sin, and the role of Christ's work in restoring fellowship between sinful man and a holy God—they take all of that, and they collapse it into a heap.
Now, you see, there's an obvious knock-on effect in this, isn't there? Why would there be so much immorality amongst the teenage and unmarried population of professed Christians? Well, if they don't believe in a definable statement concerning the lordship of Jesus—that we can only believe what Jesus said, that we can only behave as Jesus said to behave, that we have no right to believe anything other than what he taught, and we have no right to believe in any other way other than that which he demands. Therefore, that speaks to the issue of morality. It speaks to the issue of integrity. It speaks to the issue of homosexuality and heterosexuality. It speaks to the defining nature of marriage.
It speaks to what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. But as soon as everything goes on a sliding scale, as soon as people cease to walk in the truth, then, of course, confusion abounds. No wonder our society is confused by those who claim to be born again. They have every legitimate right to think that if this born-again thing means something, if there's actually been some kind of spiritual metamorphosis that has taken place inside of you, goodness gracious, don't I have a legitimate right to expect that both in your morality and in your theology you will be radically different? Answer, yes, you do have that right.
Why is that not the case? Now, if we're going to respond to this exhortation, to walk in the truth—here we are, dwellers in the twenty-first century—if we're going to take John's word seriously, and we're going to try and, by the help of God, walk in the truth, let's just lay it down as foundational that this is going to be an uphill walk. That this is not a stroll in the park. That if we're going to walk in the truth, it's not like Tiny Tim, you know? Tiptoe through the tulips.
Remember that guy? No, it's not going to be that at all. It's like the steepest hill you have ever encountered in your entire life, and you'll be walking up it for the rest of your life, at least in contemporary circumstances. A walk in the truth is an uphill walk.
That's why I think many people are not up for it. It's just, this is just too hard. This is just too much like taking up my cross every day and following Jesus Christ.
This means that I'm getting hammered from left and from right, from inside and from outside. But that's what he calls for. David Wells says, if the evangelical church doesn't want to lose its voice in this generation, it must remember two points in particular. One, that Christianity is about truth, and two, that those who say they are Christians must model this truth by their integrity.
Okay? That Christianity is about truth, and that those who say they are Christians must model this truth by their integrity. Well, isn't that what John is actually saying here? As he ties together the truth and the expression of truth in love. Now, as daunting as challenges this is, it's a very exciting prospect.
It's actually a wonderful opportunity. For a world that is without truth is an empty, dangerous, silly world. And that's the world in which we live.
In an empty, dangerous, silly world. And so, if we are able both to speak about truth and then to live truth, then into that emptiness and into that silliness, the Christian has an opportunity to bring something that is compelling. And in a world that is marked by spin and by hype, integrity is attractive.
Integrity is attractive. Irrespective of what you believe about the present circumstances politically in this country, this has been one fascinating few days, hasn't it? As we have all of these people on television explaining to us not only what is being said but what is actually being said in what is being said. And that what is being said is actually nothing to do with what this person actually wants to have happen, but it is a way of saying something that makes this person feel that that may be what they want—although it isn't what they want, but we should all know so that we can understand exactly what's going on. And you find yourself shouting at the television, don't you? At least I do. I just say, could somebody just say what they mean and mean what they say?
Just stand up and tell the truth, please. You see, in a world of hype and spin—and my first introduction to spin after going for a spin on my bicycle was in Tony Blair's government in the UK. That's the first time I encountered spin doctors.
I would have to check it in terms of the dictionary. I don't know when spin doctors came into common parlance, but I think it was right around the beginning of the commencement of Blair's government. But in a world of spin, what a compelling thing it is if you can meet someone that will tell the truth and live the truth in integrity, so that when you look this person in the eye, you know that they don't have seven different ulterior motives in trying to communicate what they're communicating. So John says, I decided to write this letter to you folks, and I'm really encouraged to discover that some of your children are walking in the truth. And it's really important that you're walking in the truth, because there are people around who want to dismantle the very truth that you proclaim and in which you walk. First-century reality.
Twenty-first-century reality. Now, I've taken a long time on this, and purposefully so, because I'm trying to make it clear—and I don't articulate this every so often, I don't articulate this routinely—but every so often I want to call myself to it, and one of the ways to call myself to it is to call your attention to it, and then you can hold me to it. And that is to make sure that our study of the Bible is set within our understanding of our culture. Because if we don't do that, if we don't bridge the gap between the first and the twenty-first century, then it is possible to read the Bible in a way that disengages it from the world to which each of us return tomorrow morning. So this simply becomes an exercise in biblical literacy that is disengaged from the world in which we're living. So we need to recognize that to understand what John is saying, when he is saying it, and how he is saying it two thousand years ago, at the end of the first century, needs then to be contextualized in the climate in which we are living our lives. And it is in our ability to connect those two worlds that we find ourselves in the realm of authenticity—an authenticity which John here refers to as walking in the truth.
Okay? Now, with all of that, let's turn to the text. First of all, paying attention to the identity of the writer and the recipients. The writer and the recipients. The writer simply introduces himself both in 2 and 3 John as the elder.
I've already alluded to this and betrayed my hand. I'm taking my stand with the late professor Donald Guthrie, who lived the New Testament theology that he taught me. And Guthrie was both a godly man and an intellectual theologian, and this is his summation.
I'm always looking for a good sentence that summarizes it. This is Guthrie. He says, John the son of Zebedee, known as the elder, was the author of the gospel and the epistles. John the son of Zebedee, known as the elder, was the author of the gospel and the epistles. And all that I will then say concerning these two letters is directly related to the fact that I believe the elder to be none other than the author of the gospel and the one who has written 1 John and 3 John as well. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life.
We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. If you have ever purchased a book from Truth for Life at our cost, or maybe you've listened to Alistair's teaching for free online or you've used our mobile app, you have one of your fellow listeners to thank. It is because of their giving that this free listening and these at-cost books are possible. In fact, the entire ministry of Truth for Life is funded by donations from listeners like you.
That includes the broadcasting that happens every day on more than 2,000 radio stations. So, if you've benefited from the teaching or from buying books at cost, we want to ask you to pay it forward. Your giving will help Truth for Life close out the year with the necessary funds and you'll be enabling us to begin the new year of ministry in 2024. You can donate online at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. When you give a donation today, we will invite you to request a copy of the Big Book of Questions and Answers about Jesus. This is a book written by Sinclair Ferguson. It'll guide you through how you teach a young child about the life and ministry of Jesus. Again, you can request the book when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. Tomorrow, we'll find out why it's imperative for the church to stand for the truth of the Bible, even though as Christians we may be accused of intolerance when we do. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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