Hospitality or Heresy?

William Varner

I faced this question years ago while teaching a seminar on cults. I was interrupted by an attendee who warned me about letting cult missionaries come into my house: “If you do that, you are violating 2 John 8–11 and partaking in their evil teachings.” He added that I should not even greet them at the door, as the same passage also forbids a greeting.

“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 8–11 ESV).

Let’s consider the historical context of this passage. John wrote his second and third letter to people who hosted believers in their homes for teaching, worship and fellowship. These house churches were standard in the first-second centuries AD.

The third letter of John commends its readers for hosting traveling teachers who had been “sent out” (3 John 6–7). These teachers are also mentioned throughout the book of Acts, with Paul being the most well known among them. The Didache (“The Teaching”)—an early Christian writing that contained instructions for church organization—documented the practice (and malpractice) of these teachers. It gave guidelines for determining if they were false or true teachers.

“So, if anyone should come and teach you all these things that have just been mentioned above, welcome him. But if the teacher himself goes astray and teaches a different teaching that undermines all this, do not listen to him. However, if his teaching contributes to righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as you would the Lord” (Didache 11:1–3). 1

The Didache provides the context for 2 John: Here, John is forbidding heretics from teaching in house churches because they spread false doctrine about Jesus. The elders of a local congregation have the responsibility of protecting their flocks from wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29).

While it is certainly true that church leaders should never allow cult members to influence their congregations, John is not forbidding hospitality. Witnessing from an open Bible on the dining room table is much more effective than arguing through an open door.

John warns against false teaching while declaring the priority of God’s truth (2 John 6). Let’s not interpret this text to say we shouldn’t show kindness to others—even to those who do not walk according to His commandments.

For more information on the Didache, see The Way of the Didache: The First Christian Handbook by William Varner (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3

1. Translation from M. W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, mi: Baker, 1999), pgs. 263–265.

The Intangible God

Kate Roberts

I lay on the table with wires attached to my arms and legs. Soon, the electrodes taped to my skin would have currents running through them. I was about to experience one of the many medical tests I’ve been subjected to over the past few years.

The uncertain outcomes and pain of these tests have made this season a very lonely one.

It’s times like these that I wish God would be sitting across the table from me—physically present to comfort me. When life was simple, I was almost okay with the intangible God.

First John 4:11–12 seems haunting when you’re looking for comfort.

“No one has ever seen God.” 1 It’s an expression that exemplifies loneliness. Why the stark contrast with the surrounding text, which focuses on God’s presence and love?

John develops this thought in 1 John 4:7–12. He writes that we know we abide in God because of our love for one another. We love one another because God has given us love. He embodies love (4:7). This is shown through the death and resurrection of Christ (4:9). Because God is the root of love—bestowing love upon us first—we are able to love Him in return. Through Him, we can love one another (4:10).

This section of 1 John 4 culminates in verses 11 and 12. By loving one another, we experience God abiding in us.

In the months leading up to my medical test, I longed for God to be there. I remember talking about these feelings with a friend over coffee. As my forehead lay against the table, she listened to me and prayed over me. She also drove hours to come and sit with me through that weekend of tests. Her presence made me realize that the tangible God I desire is already present in His community.

As I lay on that table, I could have felt lonely. I will not deny that I was still scared—that the uncertainty no longer bothered me. But as I stared at the ceiling, I soaked in my friend’s presence and love. No one has ever seen God, but in that moment I felt God’s love. In that moment, I no longer felt so alone.

It is through the communal expression of God’s love that we experience and see God.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:11–12”

Read through this passage repeatedly. Think about how this passage relates to the context of the book. Pray through it. Ask God to show you how He is present in your midst and consider how you can show His love in community.

Get more out of your devotional time with Beth Moore’s The Beloved Disciple.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3

1. All biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Concerning Knowledge and Eating Meat

Rebecca Van Noord

Numbers 7:1–47; John 14:1–31; Psalm 8:1–9

It’s easy to equate knowledge with faith and then look down on new believers. Although we might not voice it, those who are less knowledgeable in their faith can seem weak. And sometimes, instead of practicing patience, showing love, and speaking carefully about the hope within us, we enroll them in Bible boot camp for dummies.

But Jesus shows that love is what leads to growth in faith: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and will take up residence with him. The one who does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:23–24).

Paul echoes this in his letter to the Corinthians: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows anything, he has not yet known as it is necessary to know” (1 Cor 8:1–2). In reality, the opposite of what we believe is true: anyone who lacks love actually lacks faith (1 Cor 8:3).

Love defines our relationship with God and with each other. Christ died for both the knowledgeable and the weak, and both are caught up in His sacrifice (1 Cor 8:11). God has love and patience for the people whose own search for knowledge led us away from Him. And this should give us all the more love and patience for each other.

How can you practice humility and love with those who haven’t been in the faith as long as you have?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: Entrusted with the Gospel

Clifford B. Kvidahl

Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles
B&H Academic, 2010

This book is a collection of essays addressing themes in 1–2 Timothy and Titus—the pastoral epistles. In this volume, edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Terry L. Wilder, scholars respond to questions about the theology, structure and authorship of these writings.

The introductory essay, by Köstenberger, discusses issues surrounding the pastoral letters—from Paul’s theology to current scholarship. Many of the contributing scholars have done extensive work in the pastoral letters. Some of the highlights include an essay on authorship by Terry L. Wilder, an essay on the structure of the letters by Ray Van Neste, and I. Howard Marshall’s concluding remarks on recent scholarship.

If you want to explore some of the crucial issues in pastoral epistle scholarship, this book is an excellent resource.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3

Tough Love

Michael S. Heiser

It’s a common myth that God will always bring us back to repentance. This myth is debunked in the first letter of John. While John writes that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), 1 he also tells us that sometimes God never gives us another chance to confess our sins and be forgiven.

In 1 John 5:16–17, the apostle gives us the other side of the sin-confession-forgiveness coin:


If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

Put simply, there are sins that Christians commit that don’t lead to death—but there are some that do. Is John talking about a divine law of cause and effect, where a specific sin irrevocably results in death? Not exactly.

We can be certain that John has no specific sin in mind because he never names a sin in this passage. John is saying there may come a time when God has had enough of our sin, and then our time on earth is up. We cannot know when such a time might come—so we shouldn’t be in the habit of sinning with impunity.

John had actually seen this happen. In Acts 5:1–11, Luke relates the incident of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to Peter (and to God) about the proceeds from a piece of property they had sold. They were under no obligation to give any of it to the church, but pretended that they had given all the money to the Lord’s work. When confronted by Peter, both of them collapsed and died on the spot. Luke writes that “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11). No kidding.

No doubt this incident left an imprint on John’s mind. But John would have also known that there was Old Testament precedent for “sin unto death” as well. In Numbers 11, in response to the latest wave of complaining about their circumstances, the LORD sent the people of Israel meat to eat in the form of quails. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague” (Num 11:33). John’s message to believers wasn’t: “God doesn’t judge like that today.” Rather, it was: “Stop sinning, because there is a sin that leads to death.”

Lest we think God is horrible and negative, we would do well to remember that it was John who penned “God is love”—in this same letter (1 John 4:8). As with Ananias and Sapphira, removing a sinning believer from the church was (very) tough love. But the fledgling church was all the stronger and more committed for it.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 3

1. All biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).