By Harry Osborne
2 John 9-11
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. lf anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak cats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.
The will of Christ as delivered through the apostles is intended to serve as a pattern for all people to follow. That fact is clearly seen in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. He instructed the evangelist, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). A little later, Paul emphasized that point with these words:
But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
Were the words of the apostle intended only for Timothy to use as a pattern? No, for Paul also says, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). What is said of this inspired writing equally holds true for the word of God as a whole. It defines the pattern for our actions in every matter of spiritual concern. Thus, God’s revealed will through the apostles was given so that all men can understand exactly what the Lord expects of us and then act accordingly. This we can and must do (Eph. 3:1-7; 5:17).
Not only does God’s word provide us with a positive pattern showing us what we ought to do, but it also instructs regarding the pattern for corrective measures to be taken when people have violated that will. This is made obvious as the apostle continues on to command,
Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the
hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:14-18).
How are we to know the difference between the words about which we are “not to strive” and those we must “shun” along with the teacher? Is it by the honesty of the teacher? No, the honesty and motives of the teacher are not even addressed by Paul. Is it by the clarity of the doctrine in Scripture? No, as we have already noted, God says that all of his will is sufficiently clear for us to understand. What is the basis according to the pattern given by the apostle? The inspired writer defines the dividing line when we must “shun” the teaching and that teacher by noting their effect in these phrases:
(1) “. . . for they will increase to more ungodliness.”
(2) ” . . . their message will spread like cancer.”
(3) ” . . . who have strayed concerning the truth. . .”
(4) “. . . they overthrow the faith of some.”
When any teaching and teacher have that effect upon the souls of men, that teaching and teacher must be shunned as God commands! Failure to heed this instruction will put in jeopardy the eternal destiny of those who may hear the error and be persuaded by it.
The Pattern of 2 John 9-11
The apostle John verified the pattern shown above by Paul. He instructs the reader “do not receive him” who has these qualities:
(1) “. . . transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ. . . “
(2) “. . . does not bring this doctrine (i.e. doctrine of Christ). . “
(3) “. . . evil deeds.
To “receive” such an one, we would be guilty of sharing and aiding in the erroneous doctrine and the evil of the teacher. Again, nothing is said by the inspired writer about the honesty of the teacher of error or the clarity of the doctrine under consideration. If one teaches that which transgresses the doctrine of Christ with entirely pure motives, the teaching will still lead people to leave fellowship with God and participate in sin. Thus, it must be opposed by all who love the truth of God and the souls of men. Furthermore, John viewed the truth as that which we can know and practice (2 Jn. 6). Therefore, when it comes to error which transgresses the doctrine of Christ and the one who teaches that error, the inspired apostle tells us that we should “not receive” the teaching or the teacher. The pattern taught by inspiration is too plain to miss! Those who seek to accommodate the teaching or teacher of error which will destroy men’s souls need to heed that pattern.
The Pattern of Romans 14
Romans 14 says that we should “receive” one with whom we differ and instructs us about continuing in that fellowship. Does this chapter define an exception to the pattern for dealing with some doctrinal errors and sinful practices as well as the teachers who would justify such? If so, the chapter must clearly show the nature and extent of that exception to the pattern. If such clear evidence is not present, we must see that the chapter is setting forth an entirely different pattern – one not dealing with the teaching and teacher of error, but a difference of another type.
The problem in this chapter was caused by some “weak” brethren who wanted all Christians to observe certain dietary restrictions and days. These brethren are addressed in the first thirteen verses. Paul addresses himself to the other brethren who did not share these “scruples” or “opinions” in the latter half of the chapter. Throughout the chapter, the apostle makes it clear that he is not dealing with matters of sin and error, but matters of indifference. A matter of indifference is not right or wrong in and of itself. It is a practice which God allows, but does not require. In this type of difference, brethren may differ in their thinking and practice without any sin being involved. As Paul expressed the nature of this type of difference elsewhere, “Butfood does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Cor. 8:8).
In speaking to brethren who had the scruples, Paul’s main point is for these brethren not to “judge” or condemn those who thought and practiced differently regarding their scruples. He gives the rationale for this admonition by saying, “let not him who does not eatjudge him who eats; for God has received him” (14:3b). After saying that God had received the one who eats, the apostle adds, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (14:4). He goes on to show that both parties acted “to the Lord” and were “the Lord’s” (14:6-8). Paul said the determining factor about how one is to act in this type of matter is, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5b). Whether or not one was fully convinced in his own mind that he could practice some sin would make no difference. His conviction would only make a difference in whether or not he should practice it if the practice itself involved no sin. That is the pattern discussed here!
In speaking to those who did not share such scruples, Paul commands that they not use their liberty in such a way as to cause those with such scruples to stumble. In the midst of so exhorting this group, the apostle repeatedly reaffirms the indifferent nature of the practices under consideration. He starts by saying, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14). He again affirms that conscience is the determining factor by stating, “All things indeed are pure, but it is evilfor the man who eats with offense” (14:20b).
The text leaves no doubt about the type of difference being considered. This chapter is a pattern for how brethren are to act regarding indifferent matters wherein our thoughts and practices vary. We must come to understand that the basis for our divergent conclusions is a difference of conscience, not doctrine. Though some may think it to be a doctrinal difference (as in Romans 14), the matters under discussion are still indifferent to God.
We often have to show our sectarian friends the difference between the pattern for the pardon of an alien sinner and that of the baptized believer. When our sectarian friends fail to make that distinction, they seek to justify the alien 1 9 praying through” for forgiveness rather than realizing the need for water baptism. One must understand that two patterns exist for pardon – one for the alien and one for the Christian. Once that is seen, the passages dealing with each pattern can be easily fitted into their proper places and the harmony of God’s teaching can be seen.
The same thing is true regarding the two patterns for dealing with differences declared in 2 John 9-11 and Romans 14. Failure to recognize the two as separate patterns dealing with separate types of differences will lead to as much trouble as the failure to see God’s two patterns for pardon. We cannot switch the provisions or applications of the patterns determined by God. If we “do not receive” one because we differ over a matter of indifference to God, he will hold us accountable in judgment. If we “receive” one teaching or practicing error as defined in the doctrine of Christ, God will again hold us accountable in judgment. Each of us will answer to God about our respect for both patterns. Eternity lies in the balance.
In our time, some brethren are switching those patterns when it comes to dealing with Christ’s doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage. Brethren, let us again go back to the Bible and read what Jesus says about the definition and effect of unlawful divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mk. 10:2-12; 1 Cor. 7:10-11). Those whose practice violates that doctrine of Christ are guilty of adultery, whether intentional or not. Is adultery a matter of indifference to God? Obviously not! Those who justify such unlawful divorce and remarriage are guilty of aiding the continued practice of adultery, regardless of their motives. Is that an indifferent matter to God. Obviously not! It is past time for brethren to start having more concern about action that attempts to save souls lost in the practice and justifying of adultery rather than displays of our emotions over mere men! Let us regain our respect for God’s word and “hold fast the pattern of sound words.” If we do not, souls will be lost as we blur the line and exchange the patterns. May God help us to love eternal souls more than temporal friendships.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 23-25
January 2, 1992