eluding our idols: twenty questions on 2 John

This coming Sunday (Feb. 8) at 9:00 a.m. some of our adult classes at MoSt Church will continue in a study entitled Eluding Our Idols. It’s a close look at what’s commonly known as John’s letters (1, 2 & 3 John). To help you get ready for this encounter with Scripture and our discussion of it, you’ll find the following here: (a) the text of 2 John, (b) twenty questions and exercises to go along with this reading, and (3) a selection from an ancient Christian writing known as The Didache.

receiving the word

The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.

Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

The children of your elect sister send you their greetings. (2 John NRSV)

wrestling with this word

1. Circle every occurrence of these words in the text above (2 John): abide, love, truth and walk.

2. In the text above (2 John NRSV), underline each instance of the phrase “do not.”

3. Where was this letter penned? Who wrote it and to whom? Answer with only 2 John in mind.

4. What is this letter is about? What problem does is it address? What remedy is prescribed?

5. What specifically do the false teachers John has no use for teach (vs. 7-11)?

6. What makes the specific error/problem John is talking about here so evil and dangerous?

7. Read the selection from The Didache (11-13) found below. Cf. 176-178, too.

8. Who is the “lady” and “her children” spoken of  in vs. 1,5? Who are her sister’s children (vs. 13)?

9. What is “the truth” John speaks of in this letter (vs. 1-4)? Make sure your answer fits the context.

10. What specifically are we told in this letter about God the Father (vs. 3,4,9)?

11. What exactly do we see affirmed about Jesus Christ in this letter (vs. 3,7,9)?

12. What is grace, mercy, and peace. Define each these three words with three sentences. Why use these three words in this letter’s greeting? What do they have to do with the rest of this letter?

13. John’s main point is vs. 7-11. How do vs. 4-6 anticipate/preempt a poor solution to the problem?

14. What other issue(s) are worthy of tagging someone as a “deceiver” and “antichrist” (vs. 7)? Why?

15. How does the misapplication of vs. 9 (removing it from its context) actually constitute grave error?

16. Give some specific examples of misunderstanding and problems you’ve seen arise from the misapplication of vs. 9.

17. Wouldn’t the “safe” course be to just refuse to give aid to any and all travelling teachers who seek shelter and support? That way we’d know we’d never accidently help a false one. Engage.

18. Since precious few churches today are challenged with the problem of providing support to people who claim to follow him, but who deny his incarnation, of what use is 2 John to us today?

19. What happens when we try to walk in love, but without “the truth?” What happens when we seek to walk in “the truth” but do so without love?

20. What does vs. 12 say you about how the inspiration of Scripture worked?

a similar word in The Didache

Now, you should welcome anyone who comes your way and teaches you all we have been saying. But if the teacher proves himself a renegade and by teaching otherwise contradicts all this, pay no attention to him. But if his teaching furthers the Lord’s righteousness and knowledge, welcome him as the Lord.

Now about the apostles and prophets: Act in line with the gospel precept. Welcome every apostle on arriving, as if he were the Lord. But he must not stay beyond one day. In case of necessity, however, the next day too. If he stays three days, he is a false prophet. On departing, an apostle must not accept anything save sufficient food to carry him till his next lodging. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.

While a prophet is making ecstatic utterances, you must not test or examine him. For “every sin will be forgiven,” but this sin “will not be forgiven.” However, not everybody making ecstatic utterances is a prophet, but only if he behaves like the Lord. It is by their conduct that the false prophet and the [true] prophet can be distinguished. For instance, if a prophet marks out a table in the Spirit, he must not eat from it. If he does, he is a false prophet. Again, every prophet who teaches the truth but fails to practice what he preaches is a false prophet. But every attested and genuine prophet who acts with a view to symbolizing the mystery of the Church, and does not teach you to do all he does, must not be judged by you. His judgment rests with God. For the ancient prophets too acted in this way. But if someone says in the Spirit, “Give me money, or something else,” you must not heed him. However, if he tells you to give for others in need, no one must condemn him.

Everyone “who comes” to you “in the name of the Lord” must be welcomed. Afterward, when you have tested him, you will find out about him, for you have insight into right and wrong. If it is a traveler who arrives, help him all you can. But he must not stay with you more than two days, or, if necessary, three. If he wants to settle with you and is an artisan, he must work for his living. If, however, he has no trade, use your judgment in taking steps for him to live with you as a Christian without being idle. If he refuses to do this, he is trading on Christ. You must be on your guard against such people.

Every genuine prophet who wants to settle with you “has a right to his support.” Similarly, a genuine teacher himself, just like a “workman, has a right to his support.” Hence take all the first fruits of vintage and harvest, and of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets. For they are your high priests.

If, however, you have no prophet, give them to the poor. If you make bread, take the first fruits and give in accordance with the precept. Similarly, when you open a jar of wine or oil, take the first fruits and give them to the prophets. Indeed, of money, clothes, and of all your possessions, take such first fruits as you think right, and give in accordance with the precept. (The Didache, 11-13)

eluding our idols: 20 questions on 1 John 1.1-4 & 5.21

This coming Sunday (Dec. 7) at 9:00 a.m., some of our adult classes at MoSt Church start the winter class quarter and will focus on a study of John’s letters entitled Eluding Our Idols. This study’s schedule, in the class I’ll lead (the combined 20/20 and builder-boomer class), looks like this:

1.1-4; 5.21  –  Dec. 7, 2014
1.5-2.6  –  Dec. 14
2.7-11; 3.13-24  –  Dec. 21
2.12-17  –  Dec. 28
2.18-27; 4.1-6  –  Jan. 4, 2015
2.28-3.12  –  Jan. 11
4.7-16a  –  Jan. 18
4.16b-5.5  –  Jan. 25
5.6-21  –  Feb. 1
2 John  –  Feb. 8
3 John  –  Feb. 15
summation (or catch-up)  –  Feb. 22, 2015

To start this study, we’ll reflect on two texts that stand like bookends to John’s first letter: 1 John 1.1-4 and 5.21. Two statements in these texts will powerfully shape our whole study of 1 John (and for that matter, all three of John’s letters). Those statements are “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1.3b) and “Little children, guard yourselves from idols!” (5.21)

To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, following is: (1) the text of 1 John 1.1-4 and 5.21 and (2) twenty questions and exercises go along with this reading. Catch this word from God’s Spirit and be challenged!

receiving this word in our mind

We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete. (1 John 1.1-4 CEB)

Little children, guard yourselves from idols! (1 John 5.21 CEB)

wrestling with this word with our mind

1. What does an “idol” look like today in the 21st century United States? What are some of the most common idols in our society today?

2. What are some idols to which you have found yourself strongly allured or have even served … or still sometimes serve?

3. This text (1.1-4) sounds like it was written by an eyewitness. How important is it to you that the person making these statements was a literal eyewitness of Christ? Why?

4. The apostle John is commonly understood to be the author of the letter we know as 1 John. What are some of the accounts recorded in the Gospel of John that come to your mind as to what John heard, saw with his own eyes, or touched?

5. Which is more real for you: things you’ve experienced with one or more of your “five senses” or things you experience beyond the realm of those five? Make a list of some matters that are real to you that you have never seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled.

6. Was it easier for someone who had actually seen, heard, and touched Jesus to believe? Is it easier or more difficult for us today to believe Jesus, not having literally seen, heard, or touched him? Why?

7. Read and reflect on John 1.1-5. What connects do you sense between it and 1 John 1.1-4?

8. What, or who, is this “word of life” in 1 John 1.1b? How do you know?

9. The Greek word translated “announce” (“proclaim” or “declare”) in 1 John 1.2-3 is the word anangello. What does word this word remind you of and why?

10. What, or who, is this “eternal” in 1 John 1.2 that has been revealed to us? Does the “life” mentioned in vs. 2a and the “life” mentioned in vs. 2b refer to the same thing or person or do they refer to different matters? Explain.

11. What does it mean, in this context, to have “fellowship” (1.3)?

12. Is it possible to have fellowship with the Father, but not his Son, or vice-versa? (vs. 3b) Explain. Why might a God-seeker even want to have fellowship with one, but not the other?

13. In vs. 3b, Jesus is specifically referred to as God’s “Son” and as the “Christ.” What does it mean for Jesus to be God’s “son?” What does it mean for Jesus to be “Christ?”

14. There is a question as to the exact wording of the original text of 1 John 1.4. The text could read “We write these things so that our joy can be complete” or it could read “We write these things so that your joy can be complete.” How does this small difference (“our” vs. “your”) shift your understanding of what John is saying here, or does it?

15. How might the joy of the author and the original audience not have been “complete” if it (1 John) had not been literally “written” down (vs. 4)? That is, what does the author fear could happen had he not penned this letter?

16. In vs. 4, the author of 1 John says that it is “these things” that makes for complete joy. He is thinking very specifically and apparently “these things” compose something like the greatest elements of Christian faith. Enumerate what all the author specifically has in mind in vs. 1-4 that makes up “these things.”

17. Consider vs. 4. What does complete joy in Christ look like? What is it about?

18. The Greek word translated “guard” (or “keep”) in 1 John 5.21 rarely appears in the writings of John. He used it on only three other occasions, all of them appearing in his Gospel and always on the lips of our Lord Jesus. Read the other passages in which this word (phylasso) appears: John 12.25,47; 17.12.

19. “Little children” (5.21). John was writing to adults, just like you and me. Why would he use this sort of phraseology? In what ways are you a “little child?”

20. What exactly must a Christian do to guard themselves from allowing anything to take God’s place in their life (i.e. – idolatry)? How are you coming along with your guard duty?

I have a lot to tell you

“I have a lot to tell you.” (2 John 12 CEB)

I can hear the cracks now.

  • “Yep, and you unload all of it on us every Sunday morning.”
  • “You can say that again, oh, but please, don’t.”
  • “Don’t have an ‘off’ switch somewhere?”

Hey, I confess, I’ve earned those remarks.

But I take some small measure of comfort in these words of an apostle.

“I have a lot to tell you.”

Those words are because Christian faith is not about something welling up from inside us and coming out, but is about words from God coming from without and seeking to work their way into us. We don’t know the way to go and need God’s constant guidance.

These words are true because facilitating the daily and lifelong transformation of a person into the image of Christ is not a simple, sum-it-all-up-in-a-few-words, just-get-to-the-point matter. Dandelions grow in a hurry, but true disciples of Christ can’t/don’t.

This is truth because when a heart full of love for God and people is connected with a mind touched by the word of God and all it has to say about life, a great many words will of necessity follow.

Truth is found in these words because God’s perfect will is communicated through exceedingly imperfect communicators such as myself. See how big a book God had penned through writers carried along by his Holy Spirit? How much more so then must be the case with speakers and writers who do not share in such blessing?

“I have a lot to tell you.”

And so, I thank God.