We're looking once again today at the "elect lady" of II John. Not only was she chosen by God, and gifted with His salvation (as are we), but she was a wonderful example for her family and others in the faith community.
We've noted that she was hospitable -- this brings us to John's teaching to her regarding false prophets. She was highly privileged to have the elderly apostle as her guide in spiritual matters. He called himself "the elder," or the "aged man," and instructed her in many truths. These verses also warned her against the evil work of false teachers -- those who may have looked just like the other believers, but were disguised in sheep's clothing. You remember the old tale about the wolf who wanted to dine on mutton, right? He couldn't get close to the sheep when they could look over and know, "Oh, that's the wolf -- let's vamoose!"
However, when he put a sheep's wool over himself, and disguised himself as one of them, he could walk right in among them, and select the one he wanted for dinner!
The false teachers would do that, too.
And they do that today.
They disguise themselves so that believers are unaware of their real motives.
John wanted to safeguard this lady and her family against the perils these decievers brought in; dangers to both the heart and to their lives. It seems a little out of place to hear John, the disciple of love, who usually was measured, reasoned, and full of charity, being so strong in these verses. But here is the thing: these wolves in sheep clothing were not only guilty of intellectual errors, which affected themselves, they were also leading other people astray in their conduct. Their "wrong thinking" was resulting in "wrong living," so they were terrible influences!
I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. (I John 2:26)
Many Bible scholars say that the error John was pointing to, was related to the fact and the reality of Christ's incarnation. These "wolves" steadfastly denied that Jesus was the Christ -- God in the flesh. That is the heart of our faith, that God came as a wee babe, lived a sinless life in human flesh, and then carried out the work of salvation by dying on the cross and rising again to defeat Satan. It is Satan, of course, who started this false belief, knowing just how destructive it could be to the believers.
So, John urged the lady and her children to beware; he told them to guard themselves in two ways. First, he told them to cling tightly to what they already possessed: their relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They were firm in the truth, and in the present, they had the peace that passes all understanding. In the future, they would receive the reward promised to overcomers in John's Revelation.
Secondly, John told them that as sincere Christians, they must not extend the hand of fellowship to these deceivers, and that she should not entertain them in her home. They would be dangerous.
Now, John was not forbidding them to be polite, in the meeting and greeting of these people. He would not have wanted them to be uncivil in their dealings with them. (II Timothy 3:5b-8)
Let's translate that: don't be rude! (Grin)
But he IS saying that they should not extend that close Christian intimacy, the spiritual communion; seeking a deep and personal acquaintance was a no-no. That sort of brotherly love can only work in the same atmosphere of love for Christ. If someone doesn't know our Savior, or doesn't believe that He is truly God, then offering a close friendship will harm our witness, and may injure our faith.
Kind of a thin line to walk, eh? To be polite, but not to have close communion. To be civil, but not to fellowship. How can we know these "wolves," anyway? John tells our lady of the week that the only way to safeguard against the deceivers is to have an ever-widening knowledge of the truth, and a determined obedience to it. We must find the truths that we need in God's Word, and as the Spirit teaches us, we must cling to that wisdom.
They are in sharp contrast to the believer who wishes to glorify his Savior:
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8)We must ask God for discernment, so that we can be as Jesus said:
Jesus instructs us to be wise, yet innocent. That is how we can deal with the powers of this world. That is how we can tell if a person is a sheep or a wolf!
Our world, as was theirs, is openly hostile to Christianity. We've noted before that the gospel often uses a soft voice instead of a strident one, to accomplish His will. As witnesses to a hostile world, we must be wise enough to avoid the traps set for us, and innocent -- serving the Lord blamelessly. Jesus didn't mean that we should use deception as the serpent in Eden, but that we could model some of his famous shrewdness and knowledge of character in a positive way. And that while we want to serve Him without causing blame to His kingdom, that doesn't mean that we are gullible. If we watch for the fruits of the people around us, we will see if they are true or false believers.
Let us be determined to be like the elect lady -- chosen and redeemed by the Savior, living as an example to others each day, being hospitable to believers, but also being wise to discern deceivers. That's a tall order, but it's one that we can handle if we fully rely on Him!