Join Dr. Marty Baker as he takes us through the book of 2 John.
Having a beautiful yard involves numerous concepts you must frequently attend to. This is at the top of my list: You must always protect the perimeter. Why? Weeds typically blow into your yard from a neighbor’s yard and wind up on the edges of your yard. Haven’t you ever wondered why annual bluegrass, for instance, starts on the edges of your yard and then works its way inward if not treated?
Speaking of annual bluegrass or poa annua, do you have any? It’s a cool season “grass” with bright green leaf color and a fine texture and grows in clumps as it spreads out over your yard. It also produces fuzzy, white seed heads prolifically starting in April. Left unaddressed, however, this “grass,” which is more like a deadly disease, germinates quickly and spreads all over your once lovely lawn as you mow. And once you have it, you have it. All you can do is work hard to control it.
How? Well, you can pull it, but you merely plant microscopic seeds when you do. If you wait too long to pull it, the clumps will be quite large, meaning your turf is snuffed out. Once the lumps are removed, you will have large bare spots, which will be full of poa annua seeds. Nice, huh?
With the clumps removed, you can purchase turf rolls and cut them to fit while also laying down a pre-emergent containing Benefin, Dithiopyr, or Prodiamine. Chemicals like these l keep weed seeds from germinating; however, if you do use these products, be aware you cannot overseed in these areas, for your good grass seed won’t germinate either. It sounds like you are battling the Alien from the movie. You are.
Don’t grow complacent, thinking your herbicide will do the trick long-term. It won’t because studies show how poa annua will re-group and become resistant. You’ll need a second herbicide next fall in your arsenal, like Indaziflam(Bayer Specticle, 50# bag), to control the growth of the unwanted and invasive “grass.”
With your poa annua “controlled” and your new turf flourishing next spring, you’ll also need to constantly watch the perimeter of your yard to ensure you can quickly address any invaders that look like good grass but aren’t. Your strict attention will pay huge dividends, but always be mindful that your inattention will cost your lawn its health. So, what will it be? What kind of gardener do you want to be? What type of lawn do you want, healthy or unhealthy?
This real-life analysis provides thinking Christians with a one-to-one correspondence with how to maintain the local church body's beauty, growth, and health. As we learned from our study of First John, John, the pastor of the seven churches in Asia Minor, dealt with leaders and laypeople who had failed to protect the perimeter of their churches from deviant doctrines which, at first blush, appeared quite Christian, but were in reality from the Devil (1 John 4:1ff). Since those false teachers breached the perimeter, they created havoc in all of these churches, and within no time, they had infiltrated various levels of leadership.
In John’s first letter, he taught these beleaguered believers how to rebuild and protect their churches so they could flourish and thrive again. In his second letter, John tells us to whom it is written in the opening verse:
1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I but also all who know the truth, (2 John 1).
Was this a literal Christian lady and her believing children? Possibly. Given John’s Jewish heritage, where Israel had several female designations (“the daughter of Judah” and “the daughter of Jerusalem (Lam. 1:6, 15; 2:11-13), the term probably denoted a local church in the region. The larger Church, like Israel, had female monikers like “wife” and “bride” (Eph. 5:23-24; Rev. 19:7-8; 22:17). One could easily, therefore, see John calling a church “a chosen lady” and her “children,” would have been the parishioners. It’s also possible the term “elect lady” represented the name of a woman called Lady Electa (which represents the Greek for the word elect), and her children constituted the parishioners who met in her particular home church. Regardless, believers are counseled here regarding one central motif:
How Do You Protect The Perimeter From Destructive Deceivers? (2 John 1:1-13)
After a customary greeting in verses 1 through 3, which we don’t have time to dissect based on our purposes in this study, in verses 3 through 11, John gives us four spiritual herbicides to apply to protect the perimeter of our church from the infiltration of false teachers. From what we can see in our country, the Devil’s people disguised as God’s people are doing a number on local churches. For some, it entails saying that Jesus is just one of many ways to God, while others argue that the doctrines of all religions offer various versions of spiritual truth which God finds acceptable. Others embrace climate change as the greatest threat to humanity, and the entire ministry is built around this volatile yet vacuous cultural issue. Some permit fluid and flexible gender ideology to slip past the perimeter, take root, and color all decisions and discussions. The result is always the same: churches fight and fracture as they are pulled away from sound, biblical doctrine and do not advance the gospel. Had they only watched their perimeter.
To help churches remain on point and stay healthy and effective, John supplies us with three concepts we’d all do well to embrace and apply in our church setting.
Be Mindful Of Truth (2 John 1:4)
John’s counsel here is just as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago:
4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received the commandment to do from the Father.
A pastor has no greater joy than to hear or see his parishioners living in light of the Word of God. My job is to teach you the Word so you won’t just be a more competent Christian, but so you will conform your mind and life to the living Word (Heb. 4:12-13). If all you do is grow in knowledge, you have missed learning about what constitutes maturity and holiness. You will also have a pride problem you’ll need to confess (1 John 1:9; 1 Cor. 8:1). But when I see saints consistently applying the Scriptures to their lives, I, like John, am very glad for this is the goal of preaching and teaching. I received an email the other day from a former parishioner who now lives out of the country with her husband. She spoke of how the sermons she accesses still impact her life as she attempts to grow in Christ. Those kinds of e-mails make my day, month, and year.
The Holy Scriptures contain God’s truth about a wide variety of concepts. Both testaments tell us how the Bible contains absolute, inexorable truth. The Psalmist reminds us of this perpetual reality:
160 The sum of Thy word is truth, and every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psalm. 119).
In His High Priestly Prayer before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father:
17 Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth (John 17).
The Bible isn’t just “a truth,” but “the truth.” Concerning the nature of truth, the late Dr. Norman Geisler remarks:
- Truth is discovered, not invented. It exists independent of anyone’s knowledge of it.
- Truth is transcultural; if something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times.
- Truth is unchanging even though our beliefs about truth change.
- Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincerely they are held.
- Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it.
- All truths are absolute truth.
Having taken a class on Bibliology from Dr. Geisler in 1982 at Dallas Theological Seminary, I know he believed these words applied to the Scriptures in a big way. The Bible is God’s truth to humanity about how to think about Him, approach Him, live before Him, and where people who accept or reject Him will go at the end of their lives.
The Bible, as the epitome of truth, enjoys many metaphors:
- It is fire (Jer. 5:14)
- It is gold (Psalm 19:9-10)
- It is a hammer (Jer. 23:29)
- It is honey (Psalm 19:9-10)
- It is light (Psalm 119:105)
- It is milk (1 Cor 3:1-3)
- It is a mirror (James 1:23-25)
- It is a sword (Heb. 4:12)
- It is meat (Heb. 5:11-14)
To tap back into our gardening metaphor, the Bible is like the ultimate chart to help you identify weeds so you can keep them at bay in your life and church.
Show me a growing, mature church, and I’ll show you where the Word of God is preeminent, meaning it is read, memorized, studied, and applied. Show me a growing, mature, and healthy church, and I’ll show you where heretical teachings, be what they may, are readily identified as they seek to breach the perimeter of the church in question. Of course, the false teachings are identified as they are compared to the revelation and teaching of God’s Word. It is THE measurement of what constitutes truth before God.
Our culture, of course, has lost its way regarding truth. As I’ve said many times before, there is no longer truth with a capital T, but truths, and those truths . . . oddly enough . . . can be diametrically and logically different from each other. Those who embrace the insanity of such thinking are the wise people, while those who reject it are the unwise, problematic ones. According to one George Barna study, a whopping 80% of American adults believe our nation is morally sick; however, with 57% believing that right or wrong is a matter of personal experience, addressing the moral rot will be almost impossible. The findings are even more alarming when you drill down into the numbers. Three-quarters of Millennials (74%) believe strongly or somewhat with the statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.” Even 41% of Christians embrace this moral definition. Shocking, isn’t it?
Nations fall when they reject truth. As Isaiah observed concerning his country:
14 And justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the street, and uprightness cannot enter. 15 Yes, truth is lacking; and he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey. Now the LORD saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice (Isa. 59).
How can there be justice if truth is not absolute? And where does moral truth begin and end? With the absolute God who has spoken absolutely regarding what is acceptable and what is not. We must not only understand the presence of this cultural trend, but we must realize it will be, and is, drug into the church as a loving, lofty, and viable concept when it is just poa annua. This cultural trend we must oppose to protect the perimeter.
We must also realize that the propensity to water down morality leads to a dilution of doctrine. A 2022 Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research study unearthed some interesting findings regarding how the cultural trend of abandoning truth negatively impacts doctrine.
- 65% of Evangelicals believe everyone is born innocent in the eyes of God. What is truth? We are naturally born children of divine wrath (Eph. 2:3).
- 56% of Evangelicals believe God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. What is truth? Only Jesus is the divine Savior and the way to God (John 14:6ff).
- 26% of Evangelicals believe the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true. What is truth? The Bible is the very breath of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
- 37% of Evangelicals believe gender identity is a matter of choice. What is the truth? God created a man and a woman and there are no other gender options (Gen. 1-2).
The Devil will always attempt to sow doctrinal weeds like these in the church. Hence we must be ever mindful of this and lovingly and logically address the purveyors of these weeds so the local church can remain healthy and strong. Will you do your part? Will you not only study God’s truth but live it out? This will not only make your shepherds glad but also bring a smile to God’s face while also turning the lost toward the light of the gospel, which can save.
Be Mindful Of Love (2 John 1:5-6)
Even though John was over 90, I’m sure he knew he wasn’t repeating himself when he wrote these familiar words
5 And now I ask you, lady, not as writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
If this particular church (or lady and her children) had read John’s first circular letter, they understood the importance of agape, or divine, sacrificial love. He talked about it throughout this initial letter (1 John 2:5, 15; 3:1, 10, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18, 23; 4:7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21; 5:2, 3), so how could they have missed its emphasis?
But now John circles back to this theme of love. Why? For several reasons. One, false teaching divides people by pitting them against each other. Ever seen this happen in a church? I have, and it isn’t lovely. The saints go from loving each other to verbally devouring each other. Conversely, Biblical love confronts weeds but does it respectfully if a saint is in view. Pastor Charles Swindoll correctly concludes, “Unconditional love must be balanced by discerning truth.” Is your love balanced? Two, Christians are under divine command to love each other (John 13:34; 15:12, 17). Love is not an emotion. On the other hand, biblical love flows from a life committed to obeying the Lord’s commands. Put differently, the most significant thing you can do in this church is to know and apply the commands of Jesus to your life, for this will show you love God and other saints.
When saints love as Christ calls us to love, the weeds of heretical teaching will find it hard to germinate on the church’s perimeter. They will have an even tougher time working themselves into the inner turf of the church, for love will hold the aberrant teachers and teaching in check through loving discernment wedded to the Word of God.
So, what about it? Are you walking in love as a Christian? It starts in the home, you know. If you can’t love sacrificially at home, you certainly can’t export it to the church, or if you attempt to, there will eventually be leakage, and someone who loves you will confront you. Pragmatically, when we love each other we will forgive wrongs and not hold grudges, gladly accept any and all saints regardless of their social standing or how they look, not believe negative things about them first but the positive, perform acts of sacrificial love to meet their needs, speak lovingly (meaning we won’t use profanity toward them or send them snarky emails written in all caps), call out sin when we see it in a respectful manner, love being with them, and so on.
Since love is so essential for keeping the weeds out, I must ask you again: Are you acting in love toward other saints in this body? If not, perhaps you need to have a little talk with Jesus, and you might even need to approach the person in question and get things right with them.
Further, John counsels us that in order to protect the perimeter of the church, we must always . . .
Be Mindful Of Deceivers (2 John 1:7-9)
Why should you follow God’s commands and thereby demonstrate your love for Him as well as others? The opening “for,” which is a hoti (Ὅτι) causal clause in Greek, gives you the coveted answer:
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
John’s warning about “many deceivers” harks back to his warning about the presence in the world and church of “many false prophets” (1 John 4:1). The Greek for “deceiver” is planoi (πλάνοι ), and it denotes one who misrepresents his personal identity, viz., he’s an imposter or a fraud.
πλάνος, ον (πλανάω; Trag. et al.; LXX, Philo, Joseph.) in our lit. only in the transf. sense.: pert. to causing someone to be mistaken
ⓐ as adj., leading astray, deceitful (so Menand., Fgm. 288 Kö.; Theocr. 21, 43; Moschus 1, 28; 5, 10; Jos., Bell. 2, 259; Just., A II, 15, 1, D. 70, 5 al.) πνεύματα πλάνα deceitful spirits 1 Ti 4:1 (cp. TestBenj 6:1; Just., D. 7, 3 al.) τούτων εἰδώλων τῶν πλάνων these seductive images ApcPt Bodl.
ⓑ as subst. ὁ πλάνος deceiver, impostor (Diod S 34 + 35, Fgm. 2, 14; Vett. Val. 74, 18; Ps.-Clem., Hom. 4, 2) of Jesus Mt 27:63 (cp. TestLevi 16:3). W. ὁ ἀντίχριστος 2J 7b; pl. vs. 7a. ὡς πλάνοι καὶἀληθεῖς considered impostors, and (yet are) true 2 Cor 6:8.—DELG s.v. πλανάομαι. M-M. TW.
Jesus warned us, as I’ve said, in the Parable of the Weeds, how the Devil would send his false teachers into the world to plant his weeds purposefully, or false teachings, alongside the truth of God’s Word (Matt. 13:24-30). John merely underscores the truth of Christ’s statement in verse 7 of his second epistle. Gnostic false teachers were interwoven outside and inside the church, making them a formidable force.
What did these particular deceivers teach? They infiltrated the perimeter of the churches with a more progressive doctrine concerning the person of Jesus. He didn’t come as the God-man in the flesh. As such, they outright denied the full deity of Jesus, which ran counter to what Jesus said about Himself (John 8:58). They also denied that Jesus was the Christ or the divine Messiah (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Mic. 5:1-2). Note how John minced no words about these infiltrators. They were, in his mind, nothing short of representatives of the coming Antichrist. Powerful. If we encounter those who utterly disregard sound biblical truth, we, too, must not mince words but point out the truth in the presence of falsity.
Are deceivers plentiful in our day? This is a softball question. Of course, they are. I received two text messages this week from Pay Pal saying my account had been compromised and in order to reinstate it, I had to click on the link and type in some personal info. Right. I no longer even have a Pay Pal account. Deceivers are everywhere, and their presence in the church is no exception. You can identify them as they abandon or seek to modify doctrines the Church has held since the time of Christ.
Are you on the lookout for deceivers? John says you should be.
8 Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.
The command here is built off the verbal root, which means “to see.” Applied in this imperatival fashion means using our vernacular, “keep your eyes peeled,” or “pay attention.” Yes, scrutinize carefully those who speak, text, email, write, or call you. Don’t believe anything and everything you hear, for deceivers are out to deceive you and infiltrate your church.
What is John’s motivation for giving us this command to “watch ourselves” or “beware”? He doesn’t want you to lose your “full reward.” What does this mean? He is speaking of the Bema Seat of Christ, where Jesus will place our lives in his fire to determine the quality of our service to Him while on earth. Paul explains what will occur on this day immediately after the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:13-18):
13 each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3).
Jesus is going to test our service to give us a heavenly reward. He said this many times (Matt. 5:12, 46; 6:1, 2, 5, 16; 10:41, 42; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23, 35; 18:22). Some will gain many rewards, some a little, and some will lose some of what they would have received. How will you lose your reward? By letting yourself get duped by a deceiver. If you had a great track reward of walking well with Jesus and doing much to advance the kingdom, and then, you permitted a deceiver to infiltrate and contaminate your thinking and life, it will cost you when you see Christ.
What will this mean? It might mean you will go from ruling over two cities instead of ten cities in the Messiah’s kingdom (Luke 19:17), or a crown or two might be taken from you. Perhaps you will lose the Imperishable Crown, given to those saints who consistently subdued the flesh and walked well with Christ (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Somehow, someway the Lord will reward you with less because of your defection when He really wanted you to have everything coming to you.
John closes this warning out with this pointed statement:
9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.
Does he mean the believer loses his salvation? No. That is impossible for many reasons, one being each saint is sealed by the Spirit of God until the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:25-32). Is he talking about a professor of the faith and not a possessor? No. Contextually, John is speaking strictly to believers and warning them of the potential loss of reward. Salvation is not in view.
What does this somewhat cryptic verse mean? Since First John spoke about the importance of abiding in Christ, or maintaining an intimate relationship with Jesus through obedience (1 John 1:9), I think this is what John is alluding to here. To not have Christ is never used in John’s gospel of salvation, nor is the concept of abiding in biblical teaching related to salvation, for this would make salvation something you constantly work on, instead of it being based solely on belief/faith (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:29; 11:40; 12:36). Hence, if you aren’t paying attention and you permit a false teacher to penetrate the perimeter of your life, resulting in you becoming doctrinally confused and misled, your intimacy with the Trinity will be impaired.
What believer wants this to happen? Not I. I, hopefully like you, want a vibrant, healthy, and intimate relationship with my Lord, not a distant one. Based on this, I think the application is straightforward: We must do what we can to stay spiritually alert, so our efforts for Christ are safeguarded. How will you stay attentive?
- Pray for the Spirit to keep you awake while on watch.
- Study the Word with wise, mature believers.
- Read and study the Word on your own.
- Confess your sin, so your heart is supple and not hard.
- Always ask many questions, especially if the teaching sounds suspect.
- Bring your thoughts to Christ for analysis (2 Cor. 10:5).
- Read Systematic Theologies as a lifestyle. Their treatment of doctrine in an orderly fashion will help you see falsity when not if, it comes your way.
Each of us are spiritual soldiers on watch until Jesus calls us home. Our presence is protecting the perimeter. How are you faring on your post?
Last, John gives us some accurate practical advice about how to guard the perimeter:
Be Mindful Of Hospitality (2 John 10-11)
I love how John develops this point:
10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 1).
Are we supposed to be hospitable? Yes. Hebrews 13, verse 2 tells us this much. Aren’t we supposed to be near those who don’t know Jesus? Yes, because Jesus was. But there are, and should be limits. If someone departs from sound biblical doctrine and attempts to woo others to their warped theological position, you should not have them over for dinner. Why? To place yourself near them is to allow them to sway, distort, and tweak your thinking about doctrinal truth. By being nice to them by associating with them, you are also, by definition, inadvertently approving of the heresy they are espousing. No wise, growing believer would ever want to head down these two roads for obvious reasons.
So, how do you protect the perimeter? Realize right now there might be a person you need to stop spending time with. Sure, you can let them know why, but for the sake of the church, you can’t be around them for the doctrinal poa annua they are pushing will germinate and spread if you are not careful and radical in dealing with it.
Right now, our church’s spiritual turf is healthy and looking great. But knowing our Adversary should move us to double down on the four concepts John reveals which can help us protect our perimeter from infiltration:
- Be mindful of truth.
- Be mindful with love.
- Be mindful of deception and deceivers.
- Be mindful of hospitality.
 Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 37-38.
 George Barna, “The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code,” Barna.com, accessed November 10, 2022, https://www.barna.com/research/the-end-of-absolutes-americas-new-moral-code/.
 Ligonier Ministries, “The State of Theology,” accessed November 10, 2022, https://thestateoftheology.com/?mkt_tok=MTg5LUpMQS0yMTYAAAGHeoHNZgGCaebaAmOipZfl9K61RezE8tFH3QOTlcPwLReyTqQRLoYVlWpDQxnGXJ3FapYhPTGTo6HniwcSOK4noigwK95xNyCe7Aont3XH5ceA.
 Charles Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights: New Testament Commentary 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2018), 141.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 822.