Uniform 04.26.2015: A Cautious Faith

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2 John

“Trust God, but lock your doors.” I remember reading this advice years ago in one of those Life’s Little Instruction books. Sometimes the advice makes sense to me. It’s good and right to trust in God’s love and protection, but it’s plain foolish to drive around with your car doors unlocked or your seatbelt unbuckled. In this world, it’s ridiculous to let a hitchhiker into your vehicle, to invite a stranger into your home with no precautions, or to give all your money to a beggar stalking shoppers in the grocery store parking lot.

Other times, though, this advice seems selfish. It is a way to keep me safe. Who cares about the rest of the world? And honestly, I don’t really trust God to stop every single person who would wish me harm, to orchestrate car accidents so that I am always spared, or to ensure that my personal belongings will stay put. So I never stop for a person on the side of the road, I practice defensive driving, and I turn the deadbolts on my doors.

I trust God—at least with some things—but I will always lock my doors.

The writer of 2 John seems to feel a bit like I do. He gives his readers practical advice: “There are many godly people who work for the good, who give and serve and wish only the best for others. But the deceivers are around too, and you must watch out for them!” He even goes so far as to say, “Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching [that is, the true teaching of Christ]; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person” (2 John 10-11).

What are we to do with this statement? On the one hand, we have Jesus telling us to welcome the stranger, love those who hate us, and go the extra mile. Sometimes it seems as if he would have us lie on the ground and let the world walk over us, all in the name of grace and love. But can that be right? Surely not. I believe that John simply gives us some practical precautions to take as we live the life of faith. As much as Jesus wants us to love others, he would not want harm to come to us. And if we can take protective measures and still show his love, then that’s the path to follow.

Of course, it’s not always easy to see that path, and so we must frequently seek guidance along the way—from God, from Scripture, from our faith family, and from friends. Ultimately, though, I think it’s okay to trust God and still lock your doors. Cultivate a spirit of love, faith, and generosity, but be realistic about the world and use the wisdom God gives you.

Discussion

1. “Trust God, but lock your doors.” What do you think about this advice? How does it conflict with your beliefs about God? How does it support them?
2. How can we balance a life of faith with a life of caution? Do you think we should try?
3. What do you think John means by “deceivers” in this passage? Why do we need to watch out for them? How might they harm us?
4. In 2 John, the writer is talking more about spiritual dangers than about the physical dangers I discussed above. Do you think his words could apply to both kinds of dangers? Which type of danger is more threatening to you as a believer?
5. Ask God to help you recognize “deceivers.” Pray for the ability to realize when you’re being tempted to go against the way of Jesus. Trust that God will give you the strength to protect your spirit and also the grace to continue showing love to those who are lost without Christ.

Reference Shelf

These deceivers have both abandoned the church and gone out into the world, the use of the aorist tense suggesting a disruptive particular crisis during which many bolted simultaneously. They have entered the worldly realm dominated by the demonic (so 1 John 5:19). The “many” correspond to those not confessing Jesus Christ as incarnate. Verse 7b seems to be parallel to v. 7a and defined by v. 7c. See the comments on 1 John 4:2, 3 where you find the same christological controversy, the same exodus, and similar derogatory labels. “Jesus Christ coming,” present participle, may have messianic overtones but also has in mind corporeal reality (1:1-3; cf. John 1:15, 27; 3:31; 6:14; 11:27), once more suggesting a docetic and possibly gnostic threat. One line of interpretation, taking the participle “coming” as future, raises the possibility that the controversy swirled around the physicality of Jesus in a second Advent (Westcott) or even had in mind a bodily return of Christ to reign on earth. First John does evince an interest in the consummation (2:28–3:3). Its clear parallel at 1 John 4:2 and 3 is not concerned with the future. Here in 2 John the future interpretation may be defensible grammatically but not contextually. The argument that the present “coming” disproves any reference to docetic or gnostic tendency and is not a reference to incarnation (Lieu) does not seem to take “in flesh” weightily enough. It has also been suggested by a distinguished grammarian that it is intended rather as past, “having come,” given the context (Moule). It is most likely that the writer picked up on not only the characteristic expression in John but also the confession of faith of the Johannine church, “Jesus Christ come in flesh.” Interestingly, Ignatius spoke of the one Physician in present tense as fleshly and spiritual (Eph 7:2), thinking of the Christ event in holistic terms. That the incarnation continues to be true for the community could be in mind (Smalley, Schnackenburg), but the provocative suggestion that the Elder had in mind the continuing mode of the Redeemer’s existence (Brooke, Brown, Marshall) seems to outrun the context. (See also Polycarp’s To the Philippians 7:1.)

At v. 7c the text changes to the singular “any such person,” both to identify unmistakably and to generalize. The conceptuality of the antichrist derives from the world of Jewish apocalyptic and defines the crisis as eschatological. The strongest links are likely to Daniel; Mark 13; 2 Thessalonians 2; and Revelation 12, 13, 17. The term in the context of 1 and 2 John may have emerged because of the denial of the incarnation (see 1 John 2:22, 23). These opponents deceive by misrepresenting themselves and by advocating an inadequate Christology (see 1 John 2:27), apparently offering a reconstruction of their own. For the Elder it was not simply a matter of his views versus alternative opinions but fidelity to the revelations given the community from the outset.

At v. 8 he follows up the warning of v. 7 with a call to alertness reminiscent of 1 John 5:21. Warning is stock in trade in 1 John (1:6, 8, 10; 2:1, 4, 11, 15, 18). He wants them not to be swayed or led astray to become disobedient to the two essential hallmarks of mutual love and christological truth. The purpose of his imperative “[b]e on your guard” explicitly is to safeguard them from losing their full reward, making an emotional appeal to awaken them (pathos). This type of warning is often used in the New Testament regarding false teachers (Mark 13:5, 9, 23, 33; Col 2:8). Some scholars, seeing apostasy lurking in the wings, take the full reward to refer to eternal life (as Schnackenburg) while others wonder if the loss is less than everything (Painter). The word “full” opens up the possibility of the latter. With this second option the analogy of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 comes to mind. John 4:36 seems to favor this latter option. The context represented by v. 9 supports the first option, perhaps decisively as does 1 John 2:25, though breezy answers to baffling questions are less than convincing.

At v. 9 the apostolic author brings forward a typical maxim introduced by “[e]veryone who” along with characteristic thesis and antithesis alternatives. These kinds of broad statements in the letters are generally applicable. The author makes it clear that those leaving the Christian teaching lose claim to having the Father or the Son. The participle translated “going ahead” is further understood in terms of not remaining in the teaching. The picture is that of leaving a christological faith rather than being faithful, likely disregard for the love command as well. It stands in contrast with “remaining,” a persistent insistence or sign of the true believer throughout 1 John.

Reference

Peter Rhea Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 257-60.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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