By Edgar Dye
2 John 6-11 is our text, attitude toward error is our topic, and to discover the proper attitude toward error is our purpose or goal in this series of four articles. To discover this, in our first paper we considered the position of the church – God’s people – in the world. In the second, we made some observations on the attitude of the Father and the Son toward error. (Please read those two again.)
Unless we are educated in and constantly reminded of this matter we likely will have the wrong attitude which will be detrimental to us if not changed. Without the proper attitude we will not continue our warfare of fighting the good fight of faith and fall victim to the mad monster of modernism or other forms of apostasy. So many misunderstand and for that reason may say, “It is wrong to debate!” or “Debates do no good!” or “You people do not preach with enough love!” They seem to forget that Jesus and his apostles often engaged in religious discussions with preachers of error, both privately and publicly, both inside and outside of God’s family. What do you suppose was done in Matt. 4 (Lk. 20:1-8; Matt. 21:23-27); Jn. 8:1-11; Matt. 22:15-22,23-33,34-46; 23; Acts 15? It will not do to run to Romans 1:29 (KJV) to try to find “debating” condemned, for the word there is “strife” which is condemned (2 Tim. 2:24; Tit. 1:9-11).
A study of this matter is imperative because there is only one of two attitudes we can possess: right or wrong! If we depend on the feelings of people, especially the majority, to determine what the right attitude should be, we will have the wrong attitude (Matt. 7:13,14). The Bible is our only source of knowledge of right in this matter.
Attitude of the Apostles
Since there is no better way to learn, we now consider the attitude of the Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided apostles of Jesus Christ and of other inspired messengers of the Lord.
Peter didn’t believe in leaving people alone in their sin and error as various passages attest (Acts 2:22-24; 3:12-19,26; 5:1-11, 26-30, 40-42; 2 Pet. 2:1-22; 3:1-18).
Paul’s actions in this matter help us learn. He reasoned, disputed, discussed, and drew arguments from the Scriptures while preaching the gospel and exposing error under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He did this in the synagogues with the Jews, with the devout persons and in the market daily with those who met with him (Acts 1328). He did it with his own brethren when they were in error (1 Cor.; 2 Cor.; Gal., etc.). At Thessalonica “Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them (in the Synagogue) and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures” (Acts 17:2). The word “reasoned,” sometimes translated “disputed” or “persuaded,” is found in Acts 17:17; 18:4,19; 19:8,9; 24:12,25, and means “to converse, argue, dispute with others.”
At Athens he disputed in their synagogues with the Jews and those who worshiped (or devout persons) and daily in the market with those who met with him (Acts 17:17). He did the same thing at Ephesus in the Jewish synagogue and in the school of one Tyrannus (Acts 19:1,8-10). He stood in the midst of Mars Hill and charged them with being too superstitious (Acts 17:16-20). “Superstitious” here means 64very reverent to demons” or “very demon fearing.” Paul charged them with being devout without the knowledge of the true God, and said, “Him declare I unto you”; it was ignorant worship or service (see Rom. 10: 1-3). These things he did boldly and was always set for a defense of the gospel (Phil. 1: 17); it’s the same word in 1 Corinthians 9:13; Acts 22: 1; 1 Pet. 3:15, and means “verbal defense, speech in defense of.”
Paul refused to yield to, obey, or submit to false brethren in the matter of false teaching on circumcision (Gal. 2:1-5; cf. Acts 15:1-7ff). Thus he teaches us that it is wrong to compromise with sin and error; and if necessary to debate the cause publicly (cf. Prov. 25:9). He rebuked Peter, a fellow apostle; he rebuked him publicly and wrote it down for all the world to read (Gal. 2:11; cf. 1 Cor. 5:1f).
Religious discussions or religious debates within and of themselves can’t be wrong, whether conducted privately or publicly!
The Book of Jude
There can be no better way to make us aware of what error among God’s people will do or to help us learn what our attitude toward it should be than to review the book of Jude. In this review we shall take note of his attitude toward error and the warnings he issued as a result of error taught and practiced by some in the early church, which he did because of the disastrous effect such had on themselves (the false teaches and ungodly brethren), also because of the possible effect it could have on the faithful. He boldly spoke to save the lost among the brethren and to protect the saved from being lost. If such were not immensely important he would not have spoken of the need to earnestly contend for the faith (v. 3); of those who pervert grace (v. 4); of the fall of angels nor have referred to the fate of Sodom (vv. 6,7); he would not have warned of the ways of Cain, Balaam. and Korah (v. 11); nor would he have warned of the possibility of the faithful losing their faith and falling (vv. 20-24; cf. 2 Pet. 3:17).
In v. 4 Jude saw apostasy as a fact and a fault due to the heretics, which furnished the occasion for this Epistle. (He was not hollering “Wolf” when there was no danger or no wolf.) In vv. 6-19, take note of how Jude warns of and further describes the heretics, their apostasy and its dangerous results. In vv. 5-7 he sets before us three cases of apostasy and three examples of punishment from the Old Testament as evidence of the fact that the heretics of which he warned also would not escape the vengeance of God. In vv. 8-10 he then applies these three examples of punishment of the Old Testament to the heretics of whom he had warned to show they also would not escape the vengeance of God, and wherein he gives a partial description of the real character of the insidious troublers and corrupters of the churches, which also show us three causes of apostasy: impure thinking, insolent hearts, and immoral habits.
In v. 11 he cites three instances of individual wickedness, which he also applies to the case of the heretics of whom he warned to show the course of apostasy and to prove their error was disastrous and would not long delay its effects. “Woe unto them for they have gone in the way of Cain” (v. 11a; cf. Gen. 4). Cain’s was an example of disobedience, an example of one who followed his own will, not God’s; his was the way of disobedience, hate, murder and ruin. They “ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward” (v. 11b; cf. Num. 21-24; 22:7-13; Rev. 2:14; 2 Pet. 2:15). His is an example of greed. He degraded the prophetic gift for sordid gain. His was the way of greed and seeking to seduce for personal gain. They “perished in the gainsaying of Core” (v. 11c; cf. Num. 16). Korah is an example of railing and rebelling against divinely constituted authority.
In vv. 12-15 Jude describes the character of the heretics against whom he warned. In vv. 12,13 he draws an illustration from nature to describe them, and a vivid description it is. In vv. 14,15 they are to be recognized from the identity of conduct with those about whom Enoch wrote (cf. v. 4). In these verses he tells us they are dangerous, destitute and doomed. In vv. 16-19 he describes their ungodly conduct by declaring they are discontented, deceitful and divisive.
In vv. 20-25 he concludes with a three-fold exhortation, each of which has three parts. In vv. 20,21, as to themselves, they were to be: firm in faith; steadfast in love; confident in hope. In vv. 22,23, with reference to the wicked among them; they were to treat some of them with gentle measures, others with sternness and vigor, but all of them with abhorrence of their sins. Then in vv. 24,25, with reference to God; all were to thank him for his assistance in preserving them, for his grace in saving them, and for his wisdom in keeping them.
Let us, each one of us, learn to follow the example of the apostles and the advice of Jude 3 and “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints,” because of the ever-present danger of perversion, apostasy, and damnation.
Remember, the Bible is our perfect standard by which we are to be guided in our attitude toward error.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 6, pp. 170-171
March 15, 1990