The Armor of God
Facebook and other social media websites are a double edged sword. On one hand you can connect with friends, share funny pictures and personal events, and learn about and engage in discussions on a wide range of interesting topics. On the other hand, it’s also a place that can be filled with gossip, falsehood, pride, and unhelpful, hurtful comments and arguments. I think many of us have experienced the light and the dark side of social media.
I post a lot of different things on my Facebook feed, and they generally reflect my interests and personality. For example, this week I posted some things about being a pastor, a link to my podcast and sermon, asked for prayer for my tinnitus, invited people to the church yard sale and my home for a BBQ, shared about a documentary I watched, and a picture of Batman with a large beard, holding a comb. Most of the posts go by without incident and get a few likes, but sometimes they spark discussion.
Fallout from Failure
That happened this week after I posted a link talking about celebrity pastor, Mark Driscoll’s ministry collapse. The genesis of the conversation was that a lot of people were hurt by his ministry implosion, how the elders handled it, the disgrace he brought, and how abrupt it was. When his ministry blew up, a lot of people, especially new, young believers were in shock. They thought they had found a great church with a group of elders who loved them, Jesus, and each other. It was hard enough to get these people into a church, but when they came, they thought they had finally found a place that was different than the world. A place where Jesus was real, worship was authentic, technology was embraced, leaders were bold, and people loved one another.
And then it came out that Mark Driscoll wasn’t such a great guy. He was caught plagiarizing large sections of his books, using church money fraudulently, bullying and abusing his staff, embracing heretical teachers, and doing some other really dumb things. As a result, Driscoll was dropped from many associations and then fired from the church, his multi-site church crumbled, buildings were sold, and many, many people left the church in a lot of pain.
Their question was obvious: “We were told that everyone would let us down except Jesus. We were told that if we put our faith in Jesus then we will know peace, love and joy. We were told that this church loved and listened to Jesus – and here we go: everyone is fighting, the lead teacher turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it feels like we’ve been punched in the stomach. This was the one group that was supposed to get it right, but if they can’t keep it together, then who can we trust!?” So they left the church broken, confused, and angry – many will never return to another church.
John Piper, another celebrity teacher – one of the good ones! – was asked about Driscoll recently. The question to him was:
“[The people that are leaving are saying:] Pastor John, I’m not walking away from Jesus, but I’m done with the church. Can’t trust the leadership, held this guy in high esteem, so I’m not going to walk away from Jesus, but I’m done with the organized aspect of church.”
I posted that on Facebook and it started a conversation about the balance of personal faith and being part of a church.
I found Piper’s answer was very insightful. He said:
“If you do that [walk away from church], you’re walking away from Jesus. Here’s the reason; to say that I love Jesus, but I don’t submit to his Word is a lie. ‘He who loves me will keep my words.’ Jesus founded the church. I didn’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus founded the church. He established apostles to be, according to Ephesians 2:20, the foundation of the church. Then he built it with prophets, and teachers, and pastors and ordained that there be a structure of local churches in the body of Christ called the church. This is not man’s idea.”
I agree with that. We must acknowledge that sometimes people get hurt when they join a church. It’s a risky thing to become part of a group like this. Sometimes there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, sometimes there are arguments, sometimes God’s people let us down. But despite all that we must keep in our minds the biblical truth about church: it’s not our idea, it’s God’s (see Hebrews 10:25; Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 3:16) and He tells us in no uncertain terms that His people are supposed to be part of it.
People are understandably nervous about being part of a church because they’ve seen all the evil, exploitative and fallen leaders that have come along, and they don’t want anything to do with them. They put their trust into their human father, and he let them down. They put their trust in their teacher, and were let down. They put their trust in their friends, and they let them down. They put their trust in their boyfriend or girlfriend, and were let down. They trusted their coach, their doctor, their government, the news programs – and they were let down over and over and over. And when they started to grow curious about religion, about God, about the scriptures – and they started looking at the church, they came across televangelists that wanted their money, hypocrites that pretended their faith, pastors that cheated on their spouses, preachers that talk about love but spew hate-speech, and so much arguing and fighting among people who were supposed to be united by their love for Jesus and living as brothers and sisters.
The Truth About Church
It’s only natural that they would be hesitant about going anywhere near that group. They feel the pull towards God, but don’t want anything to do with organized religion, so they take it all into their own hands – but in doing so, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They don’t realize that, despite the difficulties, we really are supposed to be “under the umbrella of the church” , engaging in corporate worship and discipline, serving, encouraging, and helping one another, and shining the light of the Gospel in our community, together.
We need mature believers to help us grow closer to God. We need to be listening to the teaching of scripture, declared by someone who has been chosen and gifted to teach it – not just seeking out whatever we feel like we want to believer. We need to be challenged, guided, disciple, held accountable, and part of a loving, faith community. Not just because it’s a good idea – but because’ it’s God’s idea! And when we don’t, we are not only disobeying God’s Word, but invite a lot of spiritual dangers into our life. When we leave the care of the church and try to go it alone – or pursue God on our own terms – it’s easier to fall into error and start to believe heresy, we become myopic and narrow-minded unable to reflect a proper image of ourselves, unable to see our sins. We leave ourselves open to being attacked by our enemy the devil, who loves to get us alone and crush our spirit. And when we find ourselves in that condition, it’s far easier to be preyed upon by spiritual wolves.
And please understand that there are a lot of wolves out there – and they are eating people alive right now. Christianity is full of wolves right now, who are building up huge influence, gathering followers, and then teaching them false doctrine and lying to them about God. They are giving people false hope and destroying people’s souls.
There are a lot of things that the Christian church must do to help these folks that are falling into their trap, but I think the main one that we need to get right today is that we must hold fast to the truth. Compromise is the death of the church and if we are going to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ, following through with all that means, and standing for the faith, then we must stand for truth.
Background of 2nd John
Open up with me to the second shortest book in the New Testament, at only 245 words, 2nd John. This letter from John to the church barely even qualifies as a letter – it’s almost a postcard. Let me give you a bit of background before we read.
At the time of the writing of this postcard, the Good News of Jesus Christ was being taken from place to place by traveling evangelists and specially trained – much like the missionaries we sent out from our churches and conferences today. One of the commands that we are given is to be hospitable to such evangelists. We find that in the teachings of Christ, the letter to the Hebrews, Peter, the letters of Paul, and all the way back to the Old Testament. Hospitality to everyone from strangers to the people of God was very important – especially if that person was a missionary. They needed somewhere to stay while teaching, provisions for their journey, and sometimes money to help them along their way.
When Jesus sent out the Twelve on their first missionary journeys He said that they should go from town to town and find hospitable people that were willing to listen to their message. In Matthew 10:11-15:
“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”
So hospitality to travelling missionaries and bible teachers was a pretty big deal.
However, just like today, some of these travelling teachers and missionaries were spreading a false gospel. Some were professional Jewish who would follow the Christian missionaries and then, when they left, teach that the believers didn’t just need Jesus, but needed to follow the whole Jewish Law too – which made sense to some and confused a lot of people. A lot of Paul’s letters address these people.
Later, another heresy came about when the Gnostic teachers who interwove Greek philosophy with Christian teaching, emphasizing special, mystical knowledge over faith in Jesus. These guys would rewrite parts of the bible and the apostolic letters. They are the precursors to a lot of heretical and pagan religions of today.
Some Christians were showing hospitality to these teachers too. Some because they had generous hearts, others unknowing that they were false teachers, and some willfully knowing they taught something else, but wanting to hear them. So John, wanting to head these guys off, sends his postcard letter to the church about this very issue.
As we read, I want you to pay attention to the word “Truth”.
“The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides 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 Father’s Son, in truth and love.
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 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.
Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your elect sister greet you.”
Don’t Help The Heretics!
Knowing what we know about the background, it’s easy to figure out what John is saying here, isn’t it? Watch out for false teachers! Don’t help them! That’s a big deal. Consider that Jesus taught us to show love and kindness to our enemies. He met with and enjoyed the company of sinners – prostitutes, Pharisees, tax collectors. He taught His followers to love their enemies, to pray for them, serve them, turn the other cheek, give them more than they ask, follow them farther than they force you to go!
We’re to show love to believers, unbelievers, pagans, heathens and enemies – but when it comes to false teachers John says, “no not receive him into your house or given him any greeting.”
- “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
- “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9)
- “Now we command you, brothers, sin the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
- “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
The Apostles, as we should, took very seriously the warning of Jesus that says that “false christs and false prophets will arise” (Matthew 24:24) and that we should “beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 5:15). They birthed these new churches with good doctrine, focused on Jesus, and then watched their baby church overtaken by “ravenous wolves” who wanted nothing better than to tear the church apart through confusion, division and bad theology that told people to depend on themselves for their salvation rather than God.
The Truth about Truth
So what I want to do at the end here is to take apart the meat of what John is saying to see some important points about truth, and why we need to be ever vigilant to make sure that we are living in the truth and not associating ourselves with lies.
1. Truth Connects us to Jesus
The very first part of the letter gives us the most critical point about truth: Truth connects us to Jesus. It says, “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever….” (vs 1-2)
John’s love for these people, their love for each other, our love for one another, our love for Jesus, and His love for us is real because it’s based on truth. That truth is personified in Jesus.
We can “know” the truth, “abide in” the truth, and “be with” the truth. Truth is not subjective, it’s objective, and for Christians, the ultimate source of truth is Jesus Christ. He is the fullest expression and embodiment of truth, literally, “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) – not because we believe it, or because we feel it, or because we want or need Him to be, but simply because HE IS.
Truth doesn’t change based on how we feel about it – no matter how much we may want it to. We believe God is the source of truth and that His Word, the Bible contains objective truth – meaning that it’s not based on personal feelings or opinions. It doesn’t matter what we feel about Jesus – that doesn’t change who He is anymore than our feelings about a mountain or the force of gravity changes anything about it. It just is, regardless of your feelings. It’s true, whether we believe it or not. Our lack of faith, or desire for Him to be different, doesn’t change the facts about the existence or character of God. He is immutable, unchangeable, God.
All of our doctrine and creeds and biblical writing aren’t a way for us to try to figure out (or worse, invent) who God is – but to discern what He has told us about Himself. He has given it to us and it’s our privileged to discover what He’s said. And when we mess with truth – the truth of who God is, who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is, what His word says – we mess with the very foundation of our relationship with God. When we step away from the truth about God, we step away from God.
2. Truth is Commanded by God
Which is what makes this is so serious. Truth is so important that it is commanded in God’s moral law. John says in verse 4, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.”
I don’t need to get too much into this one because it is so fundamental to scripture that it’s almost imposible to misunderstand. The ninth commandment is “Don’t bear false witness” – or “don’t lie.” Scripture promises punishment in this life and the next to people who lie. The psalms say that liars will not dwell in the house of God. Jesus calls people who lie children of the devil “for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
We all know the destructive power of lies, misinformation, manipulation and deceptions. Which is why truth is commanded by God. And John is happy that at least “some” of them were still walking in the truth.
3. Truth is a Blessing
But it’s not just about not lying. It’s about the blessing of telling the truth because doing so is an act of love. John connects love and truth all the way through. In Verse 5 he says that the commandment to tell the truth comes from God “that we may love one another.” In verse 6 he says, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments…”, that commandment, from the context is to walk in the truth.
Now look at verse 7:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
The scriptures connect Truth with Love, and deception with “the antichrist”. He says that there are people who are going around spreading lies about Jesus, and those who lie about Jesus are literally anti-Jesus, anti-saviours, anti-gospel, anti-Christs.
- Jesus came to save, they lead people to hell.
- Jesus came to free people from sin, they make people slaves.
- Jesus came to fulfill the law, they bind people to religion.
- Jesus came to unite His people, they come to divide.
- Jesus came to help us understand the unity of our body, mind and soul, they cause us to divide our very selves.
- Jesus came to reveal God, they put a shroud over Him.
- Jesus came to serve and give of Himself, they come to use people to gain glory and profit for themselves.
One who teaches false things about Jesus isn’t just “someone with another opinion”, but an anti-Christ, literally anti-love. It is not loving to point people to false gospels, give false hope, and teach false ideas about God. No matter how difficult the truth is, a lie is never, ever better. It is never more loving to lie or promote falsehood. Truth and love are always connected.
4. Truth Requires Diligence
And so, John says that we must work hard at keeping hold of the truth.
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (vs 8)
Truth requires work and diligence. It takes effort. He says, “Watch yourselves!” because truth can be “lost”. Truth must be “worked for” and “won”.
These false teachers and missionaries are going to be tricky to catch and very persuasive, cunning and charismatic in their presentation. They are going to look good and it will be very tempting to listen to them – because they will say what we want to hear! In the words of 2 Timothy 4:3-4,
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
You can hear that everywhere today. People inventing their false gods. People coming up with different versions of the scriptures. People compromising on clear teachings in the Word because it’s easier and more acceptable to do so. Church after church, denomination after denomination, walking away from the clear teachings of scripture because they are losing members and attenders. The gospel is too divisive, God is too strict, Jesus is too narrow, the Bible is too contentious, so they step away from the truth and announce that they have embraced a new idea – anyone can believe whatever they want and God will still be happy! That leads people to Hell.
How bad can it get? You might be surprised.
We’re studying a letter from a John — Here’s a different guy: John Shuck, who is a self-confessed atheist. He believes that religion is a human construct, Jesus is merely a legend, God is a symbol, the Bible is a human document, and there is no afterlife. He is currently the Pastor of Southminister Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon. Surprised?
Here’s Reverend Gretta Vosper – yep, she’s an ordained, reverend, who was ran through some kind of ordination counsel! – who is a self-confessed atheist and is currently trying to keep her job at Westhill United Church in Toronto. She says her congregation supports her desire to stay as their pastor, which I believe, since they must have read the book she wrote in 2008 entitled, “With our Without God: Why the Way we Live is More Important Than What we Believe.” This woman has a huge platform and is an absolute wolf – who is lovingly embraced by a “Christian church”.
How is this possible? Well, partly because people love lies, but also because Christians have given up a lot of ground when it comes to the truth. We’ve stopped being diligent about pursuing the truth. We’ve stopped steeping ourselves in the truth of God’s word and have left ourselves open to all kinds of falsehoods – that all sound great to our itching ears. Some believers can’t come up for a good argument for why these nice people shouldn’t be preachers – and that’s terribly sad.
5. Truth Has Enemies
We must, must remember that truth has enemies. The Father of Lies, Satan, hasn’t taken any time off. He’s working overtime to draw people away from the truth and into falsehood, so that more and more people live in fear, foolishness and fall away from the faith. He wants them in Hell and is more than willing to fill them full of whatever lies it takes – including letting them to go to atheist churches, sing feel-good songs, invent their own religion and gods, and tell them anything they want to hear – as long as it doesn’t point them to Jesus.
Truth has enemies and most Christians today have no idea who they are. It’s not just kooky televangelists and violent atheists that are the problem. There are many within our own walls that are chipping away, tearing away the foundations from beneath our feet. And we’re letting them because they’re telling us what we want to hear. We can walk into Christian Book Stores and buy books by heretics and liars. We can visit Christian websites and google “Christian blogs and podcast” and come across wonderful looking, popular, men and women who know lots of Christian jargon, but who are working against true, Christian teaching.
We need to work hard to make sure our teachers are the good ones. We shouldn’t listen to, receive, great or accept these people – like Creflo Dollar, Brian McLaren, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, and their ilk – and yet millions of people, even Christians, are eating their stuff up. And their lies are sneaking into our churches. Anti-Christian, Anti-Biblical, Anti-Gospel teaching are found all over the place – in Beckwith, Carleton Place, Ottawa, Ontario and Canada. They are right here, in our town and among people in our denomination – I’ve met them! And people are listening to them.
Conclusion – The Belt of Truth
In VBS, during the month of July, we taught the children about the Armour of God. They were knighted today because they learned about each piece and want to follow Jesus into the battle for the truth. The scripture they learned was from Ephesians 6:10-18 and it describes the pieces of a soldier’s armour, but the one piece we don’t usually see in the pictures of the solider is the belt: Paul calls it the belt of truth. And the reason we don’t see it is because it’s the thing that’s holding it all together. Today we might call it a sort of girdle. It was the piece that kept the under-clothing together. It’s what the sword sheath hung on. It’s what kept the breastplate secure. It protected the soldiers guts. Fastening the belt meant that the solder was ready to fight. They only loosened the belt when they were off duty.
The belt of truth is the foundation of the soldier’s armour, just as truth is the foundation of the Christian life.
We must realize that truth has enemies, and that they are subtle, influential and compelling, charming and charismatic. And so we must fight for the truth, be diligent, watch ourselves, so that we can be sure that we are holding to the standards of scripture. We must commit that we will bless other with the truth, the whole truth, even when it is hard. Not only because it’s commanded by God, but because it is the most loving thing that we can do for others. Sharing truth, in love, with love, as love. Because sharing the truth points people to Jesus.
And so I want to close with the scripture that we taught our kids, about the battle all believers are a part of, and for which we must be ready:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)