A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Friday July 10, 2020
2 John 7-8
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
When we spend time reading through the life of Jesus as presented in the gospels, one of the first things that stands out is the way Jesus interacts with people. In almost every conversation people have with Jesus, He responds in pretty much the exact opposite that they expect Him to. When dealing with what we might call “public sinners,” Jesus spoke gentle words of grace. In John 4, when Jesus meets a serially adulterous Samaritan woman, all alone at Jacob’s well in the middle of the day due to social ostracism, He identifies her sin but does so without shaming her for it or using the knowledge of her impropriety as a weapon against her. When Jesus sees the diminutive tax-collector Zacchaeus dangling from a sycamore tree in Luke 19, rather than taking the low-hanging fruit by literally pointing out a treasonous enemy of Israel, Jesus invites Himself over for dinner. Upon scrambling out of the tree, Zacchaeus immediately confesses his sin of usury, but also immediately vows to repay four-fold all that he has stolen. In Luke 7, at another dinner party thrown by a Pharisee, a distraught “woman of the city”—a polite term for prostitute—falls down at Jesus’ feet and anoints Him with a mixture of her tears, kisses, and expensive ointment. Instead of kicking her aside or chastising her for interrupting His meal, as anyone else would have done, Jesus tenderly says “your sins are forgiven.” Rather than condemning those who readily acknowledged their brokenness, Jesus shows almost scandalous grace.
Conversely, to those who were used to heaping amounts of public praise and adulation for their publicly righteous deeds, Jesus reserved His most scathing sentiments. While the professional religious leaders long enjoyed a peerless reputation and preferential social status, Jesus saw right through their self-righteousness and pride. He called the teachers of the law and Pharisees, among other pleasantries, “white-washed tombs…full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanliness,” “blind guides leading the blind,” “hypocrites,” “children of hell,” “blind fools,” “full of greed and self indulgence,” “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” and a “brood of vipers.”
Jesus warned them of what would happen to false teachers in Matthew 18:6, saying: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Instead of praising their outward holiness, Jesus exposed their inward contamination.
Of course, the issue with the Pharisees and scribes was not their lack of familiarity with Scripture. You may recall that these were individuals who had devoted their entire lives to studying not only the law of God but also the codified oral tradition which was passed down from generation to generation of rabbis known as the Mishnah and even the commentaries written on the Mishnah by other rabbis known as the Talmud. They had more knowledge and information about God than anyone else, yet their hearts were far from Him. As Jesus began to teach and preach, it was immediately obvious that He was different not just for the content of His message, but the quality of His character, and the people of Israel “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Jesus offered exactly the message that everyone needed, regardless of what they expected or wanted to hear.
When John writes about deceivers who “have gone into the world,” he is referencing all those who, like the religious rulers of Jesus’ day, denied that Jesus was the Messiah, Christ come in the flesh. While the Pharisees and scribes erroneously taught the law without grace, the church at the end of the first century dealt with the opposite extreme, the Gnostics who taught grace without the law. Sadly, we often fall into one of these camps as well, and sometimes even both. The Pharisee within me strictly holds others up to the perfect standard that only Jesus can attain, while the Gnostic within me excuses my own sinful behavior based upon my knowledge of forgiveness through Jesus.
John says that we must be careful, not only that we would not deceive others, but primarily that we would not fall prey to deception ourselves. We can never believe the lie that we have done anything to earn the gift of grace. By definition, gifts can never be earned. We must also be quick to reject the idea that grace means freedom to live without regard to God’s commands and design for flourishing life. Because God is the one who gives us life, we can never lose God has secured on our behalf, but as John warns, and Jesus also makes clear, we are responsible for what we do with the grace we have been given. In His perfect wisdom, Jesus is the perfect combination of grace and truth. In His mercy, God gives us exactly what we need exactly when we need it, grace and truth, forgiveness and discipline. When we center our lives on Jesus, and receive all that He has for us, then our full-reward will be sure.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You for your perfect example of discipline and mercy. In our moments of shame and unworthiness You graciously offer mercy, and in our moments of pride and arrogance You give us hard truths. May You empower us to follow Your example and seek to speak grace and truth to sinners and the saints, righteous and the unrighteous. Speak to our hearts Your words of life. In Your perfect name we pray, Amen.