By Edgar J. Dye
As we indicated in the first article in this series, 2 John 6-11 serves as our text and in view of the pertinent points declared therein suggests to one and all what our attitude toward error should be.
The cry is heard repeatedly that we must have the proper attitude and is one with which we agree provided the attitude called for is in harmony with the doctrine of Christ. There always has been and always will be a need for that kind of attitude. Unfortunately, what some have in mind when they raise their voices in this cry is not at all in harmony with the doctrine of Christ and biblical principles. Therefore, our need to study this matter.
Position of the Church in the World
Our first article (which see) dealt with the correct understanding of the position of the people of God – the church – in the world, which is necessary if we are to develop and maintain the proper attitude toward sin and error. In that article we noted that the church is the “called-out” body of people belonging to the Lord by right of purchase – a “called-out” and “purchased” people; each member of that “called-out” body has been called and chosen of the Lord by means of the gospel of Christ, which is God’s power to save and which all the apostles were commissioned to preach; each member is blood-bought; thus the whole body is a people of God’s own possession, a peculiar people, a purchased people; God’s people are people who are in the world, but not of the world; they are a people who must be separate from the world and every evil work or every form of evil; they are a people who must not be fashioned after or conformed to the world, but transformed; a people identified as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”; they are a people who have learned, believed and obeyed the truth by which they are made free from sin and its condemnation; they are a people who “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” and hate every false way; a people identified as God’s spiritual family – God’s born-again sons and daughters, the church of God; they are a people identified as saints, who are sanctified unto the Lord – a saved, purified, justified people by “the washing of water by the word . . . a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish” to be presented to the Lord; also, that they are a people who are identified as Christians, adherents of the Lord who are to be holy as he is holy.
The Father and the Son’s Attitude Toward Error
We now turn our attention to the attitude of both the Father and the Son toward error, without a knowledge of which we can neither determine nor maintain the right attitude toward it.
The Father’s attitude toward those who teach falsely is revealed in Jeremiah 23:30-32, where he said, “I am against the prophets that steal my words every one from his neighbor; I am against the prophets that use (marg. “smooth”) their tongues, and say, He saith; I am against them that prophesy false dreams, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies and by their lightness . . . therefore they shall not profit this people at all.” (Sounds as if the Father was somewhat of an “Anti,” doesn’t it?) In Deuteronomy 18:20 he said, “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” In Deuteronomy 13:5 he demanded that his people put all such “evil away from the midst of thee.” In Proverbs 6:16-19 he reveals that speaking falsely is one of the seven things which he “hates,” which “are an abomination unto him.”
The Father’s attitude toward those who believe not the truth and live wickedly is that “your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-5). “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Psa. 34:16; cf. Jer. 44:11). “The Lord is far from the wicked” (Prov. 15:29). He will laugh at the calamity and mock the fear of those who refuse his call, who set at naught his counsel (Prov. 1:24-28). His wrath “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness”; and those who “commit such things are worthy of death” (Rom. 1:18-32). (See also Rom. 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 10:5-10; Heb. 3:7-19; 11:6.)
The Son’s attitude toward error will remind us of what ours must be. Through the apostles he demands that we preach the truth and condemn error (2 Tim. 4:1-5); we rebuke them that sin, one and all (1 Tim. 5:19,20; Eph. 5:1-11; Tit. 3:10,11; cf. Acts 5:1-11); we endorse no one in error (2 Jn. 6-11); we try the spirits (1 Jn. 4: 1; Rev. 2:2); we stop the mouths of vain talkers and deceivers (Tit. 1:9-11). This is not done by force or deceitful pressure tactics, but by the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit. We must not condemn, cut off, disfellowship, mark or quarantine anyone before first proving false teaching and ungodliness against them (Tti. 3:11). When repentance does not take place after such has been proved, we have no choice in the matter but to do the Lord’s will; for he already has decided for us (I Tim. 5:19-21; Rom. 16:17,18; 1 Cor. 5:1-7,13; 2 Thess. 3:6). He also demands that we recognize all perverters of the gospel as accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).
On the other hand, Jesus himself warned us to beware of false prophets in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15-20); condemned transgression of the commandments of God by following human tradition (Matt. 15:1-9); twice cleansed the temple and publicly rebuked those who would make his Father’s house a house of merchandise (Jn. 2:13-17; Matt. 21:12,13). In Matthew 23 he exposed the religious leaders of Israel of his day as false teachers, hypocrites, blind guides, fools, and unclean persons full of iniquity. Unlike Jesus, we can’t look on the heart and immediately know one has improper motives. Proper attitude today demands that we give one the benefit of the doubt and count him as honest until we have definite proof to the contrary. But whether it is a case of ulterior motive or being honestly mistaken, one must be exposed for his error. For the Bible is filled with examples of those who were wrong, but had pure motives, were honest and sincere, and were highly religious (Acts 8,9,17). Whatever we do we must not assume one is unteachable simply because he is zealously devoted to error; Saul of Tarsus wasn’t!
Jesus himself employed various ways of exposing error and the need of repentance. The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is one example (Jn. 4); the Pharisees and the adulterous woman, another (Jn. 8:1-11). Since he used various ways to expose and correct error, so must we. Sometimes error can be corrected by merely preaching the truth on it. Sometimes error has to be exposed, but it may not be necessary to name the propagators of the error. However, sometimes error can’t be properly exposed without exposing the man or men who are teaching the error, due to the proneness of some people to. follow their favorite preacher, preachers of reputation, or because of close ties of friendship which blind some to the error they are teaching.
N.B. Hardeman forcefully expressed himself on this matter in Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons (Vol. IV, pp. 119, 120), where in substance he said: Christ was crucified because he condemned error and exposed wrong, not for preaching the truth. Opposition of the religious world is not aroused by merely preaching truth, but by exposing their false doctrines. . . When exposed they seek first to ignore you. Next they want to debate the issue, and finally they want to put you to death. Paul did not suffer merely because he preached the truth, but because he exposed the errors of his day (Acts 13:6-10; 1 Tim. 1:19,20; 2 Tim. 4:14,15).
By this we can hardly misunderstand the attitude of God the Father or of God the Son toward falsehood, error and sin. Of course, both the Father and the Son are longsuffering and also require us to be (Rom. 2:4; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2 Pet. 3:9-15; Acts 20:30,31; Gal. 6:1,2; Eph. 4:1,2; 2 Tim. 4:1,2; Rev. 2:21).
Our attitude toward sin and error is one thing and our attitude toward the one sinning is another (Psa. 119:104,127,128; Matt. 5:43-48; Rom. 12:18-21). Both the Father and the Son love people – all people (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). But both hate every false way. So must we! For our attitude toward error must be the same as the Father and the Son. If not, why not!
Our life declares the thoughts of our heart – the attitude we possess: Wrong action, wrong attitude; right action, right attitude. If we have the attitude the Lord expects us to have we will study to prepare ourselves and to save our own soul; we will give of our time, talent, and money to preach the gospel -, the whole truth – the plain truth – to the lost that they may be saved; we must fight the good fight of faith hating error and loving truth and righteousness.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 5, pp. 137-138
March 1, 1990