<This is a sermon I did recently. I do add the caution that some of this sermon is a bit speculative. I cannot know for sure that Second John was written in opposition to Cerinthus… but it seems to make sense. It is also true that pretty much everything we know about Cerinthus, we know from his detractors— in fact, detractors who were born after he was long ead. As such, we cannot be sure if we know exactly what Cerinthus believed. However, Irenaeus does appear to focus more on facts that fancy, so hopefully the sermon is well-grounded both Biblically AND Historically.>
I like short books in the Bible. One thing I like about them is that they are short… one can read the whole book in just a couple of minutes. Another thing I like is that they they are often ignored. Because of that, there are often treasures in these little books.
One of these is Second Epistle of John.
PART ONE: CERINTHUS
However, before we go to this book we call Second John, I would like to talk about a man named Cerinthus. Cerinthus is not in the Bible… at least not directly. However, he was believed to live during the time of the first apostles and may have interacted with them directly.
There is an old old story about Cerinthus. This story was told by the 2nd century church father Irenaeus, her herd it from his discipler, Polycarp. Polycarp may have heard it from someone else, or may have actually witnessed it. According to the story, John the Apostle, now is an Elder in the Church of Ephesus and lives in Ephesus. One day, he goes into the Roman public bath but when he does he is told that Cerinthus is there in the bath. On hearing this, John quickly rushes out of the bath and says to his friends, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside!”
Now if this story is true, why did John respond so strongly to Cerinthus. After there were many different groups there. Ephesis had the huge temple to Diana and certainly John ran into priests from that and other temples, every day. The difference was that Cerinthus considered himself to be a Christian, and would try to convince Christians and non-Christians to believe his teachings. Christianity is not threatened by people who have other beliefs. In John’s time, it may have been sad that so many worshiped the pagan gods, or perhaps embraced stoicism, or epicureanism, or Mithraism or some other philosophy or religion… but it is not a threat. But a man who would come in and say that what John or Peter or Paul was not true, but should listen to him instead, this was a direct challenge to the church.
SUB-PART A: ADOPTIONISM
But what did Cerinthus believe? Well, he believed a lot of things. One thing he appeared to believe is that Jesus and Christ are two different beings. Jesus was an ordinary man, born in an ordinary way in an ordinary place… until he was 30 years old, at that time Jesus went down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptizer. At that time, God came down and the spiritual Christ came upon him and he was Jesus the Christ for his ministry on earth. However, when he was on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” At that point in time, Christ left him and it was Jesus the human who died on the cross. The fancy term for this belief system is Adoptionism. This is actually a pretty common teaching.
Today, a supporter of this sort of thinking is Apollo Quiboloy. He believes that he is a man who was adopted by God to be the Appointed Son of God. And apparently, Quiboloy says that he is now the father and his own son is now the new Appointed Son of God. Adoptionism is a pretty common teaching, but the Bible rejects it. The Nativity stories make it clear that Mary was selected and the Spirit of God caused her to become pregnant and bring forth a unique Son, predicted by Scripture— God with Us.
SUB-PART B: Judaizer
Another belief he had was that salvation through faith in Christ is not enough… one must obey the Mosaic Law. As such, he may have been one of the people that Paul was opposing in the churches of Galatia… the people we often call the Judaizers. Supposedly, Cerinthus claimed to have received special revelation from angels. This also historically has been a common thing. Both Muhammed, the final prophet of Islam, and Joseph Smith the first prophet of Mornonism, claimed to have been given revelation by angels.
So remember Cerinthus as we are reading this letter.
PART 2: JOHN’S GREETING
This is the Introduction to the letter. It is written by someone described as the Elder. Most likely, this is St. John. In his early years, John served as an Apostle, but in his later years had settled down to being an elder in the church of Ephesus.
It is written to the elect lady and her children. People disagree about this, but I assume it is written to a local church, or perhaps a group of local churches. The term elect lady refers to the church, and the children to the members of the church. Of course, churches cannot read letters, only people can read letters. Still, we know that sometimes we address things primarily to individuals and other times we address things to a group. John is speaking to the church as a whole.
We quickly discover that this letter is about Truth. In three verses in this introduction, John uses the word TRUTH four times. “I love you in the TRUTH— and not only I but also all who have come to know the TRITH— because of the TRUTH that remains 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 Son of the Father, in TRUTH and love.”
In the passage and in this short book in general, truth (however) is not just knowing things that are true. The wording here suggests also the our indwelling by the Spirit of Truth… that is, the Holy Spirit who remains in us forever. Later on we find that the Truth is something that is lived out, and is linked with Love. So we learn that truth is important in that it comes from God, and points us to God and what God expects from us.
4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in the truth, in keeping with a command we have received from the Father. 5 So now I urge you, dear lady—not as if I were writing you a new command, but one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk according to His commands. This is the command as you have heard it from the beginning: you must walk in love.
This is a reminder. The church is made up of people who are followers of Christ. We are to love one another because of this. Jesus commanded us to love others, and if we love God, we keep His commandments.
PART 3; DECEIVERS AMONG US!
7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves so you don’t lose what we have worked for, but that you may receive a full reward.
So here we discover some people who are deceivers— people who claim that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh. Cerinthus rejected the idea that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and dwelt among us in the flesh. Jesus was a man who was born and died like any other… but for a time, had the Spirit of God “adopting him” with the Spirit Christ working through Him.
John felt that such teaching is the work of Satan, the deciever. The one who teaches what is not of Christ is an antichrist. Today, we often focus on the Antichrist or the Beast of the book of Revelation— the person or system in the final days of this present era. However, in a broader sense, an antichrist is one who seeks to undermine or replace the teachings of Christ, or draw people away from Christ to themselves. Again, Quiboloy fits this description quite well— one who seeks to have his teachings as authoritative or more authoritative than Christ’s, and to literally replace Christ in this present age.
John was deeply concerned about what was happening in the church from men such as Cerinthus. He saw them as deceivers, seeking to confuse people as to the truth.
PART 4; DON’T EMPOWER DECEIVERS!
12 Though I have many things to write to you, I don’t want to do so with paper and ink. Instead, I hope to be with you and talk face to face so that our joy may be complete.
Verses 10 and 11 are the most controversial verses in this short letter. The verses says don’t welcome false teachers into your own home. Some have taken this to extremes. Some will refuse to allow a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness into their house for this very reason. The problem is that much of the Bible encourages followers of God to show hospitality to strangers, and to foreigners, and to express loving concern even for one’s enemies. So is John telling people to reject this? I don’t think so.
The letter was written to a church, not to individuals. One of the big concerns in the early church was how to deal with apostles and prophets. Apostles were essentially churchplanters. They would share the message of Christ with unbelievers, and gather new believers together to form churches. However, they would at times visit churches that already have been founded. We find Paul, Silas, Apollos, and others visiting churches in this way. Prophets were travelling preachers… they would visit churches with the intentional purpose of teaching and encouraging. Of course, while they were visiting churches, the churches would feed and care for them. Understand, however, that there were no church buildings. So to be taken care of by the church, meant one or more families would take them in.
But there was a big fear uncertainty— how does one tell if one is caring for a real apostle or real prophet instead of a fake. They eventually came up with a few tests. One test was how long they stayed. If they sought to stay with the church for too long, clearly they were there to take from the church rather than serve God. Another test was what they asked for. If the apostle or prophet thankfully received what the church gave, that is a sign of a real one. However, if they kept asking the church to give them things, then there were considered to be fake or false. The third test was in what they taught. If they taught a message that goes against or beyond what Christ taught, or holy Scriptures stated, they were deemed to be false. The fourth test was whether their life was consistent with Christlikeness.
Let me give an example— years ago I was an officer on the USS McCandless, a US Navy warship. On that ship was a young man— I won’t give you his real name— I will call him Thomas. Thomas was an Electronics Technician and a good guy. He was Mormon… a member of the Mormon religion. We talked on occasion and worked together sometimes. And since we were shipmates on a warship, I would sacrifice my life for him if necessary. He even came to the Bible Study I had on the ship. However, one day Thomas asked me if he could lead the Bible Study the following week. I told him that he could not.
Why not? I welcomed him to join the Bible study, and we all worked together. But by allowing him to teach the Bible study, I was giving him a position of authority in the Bible Study. In effect, I would be sharing and empowering his false teachings.
The church should show kindness and mercy to all people— however, the church should NEVER appear to promote teachings that the Bible or Christ’s words reject. Of course this takes wisdom. Rejecting everyone who disagrees with you is not the point. Good and godly people can disagree on things. Earlier this year, we were going through the book of Revelation. Many good and godly people have very different interpretations of that book. My suspicion is that all of us are wrong to some extent and will only find the truth when we talk to God directly. But there are some teachings that we must protect— These include Who Christ is? And What is the Character of God?
People who have preached at our church— myself, Ptr. Lawrence, Ptr. we all do disagree on some issues… and that is okay. We learn from these small disagreements. If two Christians disagree on a certain teaching, it does not necessarily mean that one of them is a false teacher. But some teachings are traps of Satan to destroy the church. Those that teach these things must not be supported by the church. The church must not support those who come to lead people astray. Such people we can help as any good Christian can help those in need. However, we can never support their message.
So in this short letter, what is John telling the church:
A. Obey Christ… hold onto what He said, and do not stray from it.
B. Seek Godly truth and wisdom. Do not be tossed about by false teachers and antichrists.
C. Do not encourage, empower, or support their attempts to destroy the church.