For thousands of years and in cultures all around the globe, there have been practices which have served to bind societies together. They demonstrate a quality which is not only functional, but compassionate. I’m speaking of hospitality. The extending of hospitality is especially praiseworthy when the recipient is someone unknown to the host.
This is modeled by Abraham in Genesis 18 when three unidentified men approach his home. We’re told, “He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the ground” (v. 2). He didn’t grumble and say, “Yeah, what do you want?” No, he ran!
Hospitality is so important that Jesus, in his speaking of righteous behavior in Matthew 25, said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (v. 35).
The offering of welcome can literally be the difference between life and death, or at least the opportunity to get off the street and have some tea and cookies.
I had a tiny taste of that when I was posing as a homeless person during an immersion experience with a Christian relief and development agency. I was pretty grungy looking. If I were to show up here, right now, looking the way I did, I wonder what would happen. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if the reaction had the feel of “Yeah, what do you want?” rather than running to help.
Along those lines, we have in the reading from 2 John something which seems to be a curious statement regarding hospitality. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive and welcome this person into your house, for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person” (vv. 10-11).
Some people say that applies to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Though I imagine as often as not, when they are knocking on doors, one might hide behind the curtain or peek through the blinds, so they think no one’s at home. Just don’t bother me!
One day when we lived in Jamestown, I noticed Mormon missionaries walking through the neighborhood. They were wearing their usual white shirt, dark pants, and tie. I decided when they got to our door, I would welcome them into the house. I figured I could offer some hospitality, perhaps tea and cookies!
I immediately let them know I was a Presbyterian minister, so they could forget my becoming a Latter Day Saint. I didn’t really envision my converting them either. Of course, they did what they were sent out to do—explain their faith. I noted the belief that the risen Jesus visited what is now America. I also mentioned how there is no archaeological evidence of the civilization that would have existed. I don’t think they ever thought about that. So after a brief and cordial visit, we parted ways.
According to John, they arrived, not bringing the correct teaching, and were welcomed and invited into the house by me. Was I participating in whatever evil deeds they were up to? Just to be clear: I didn’t suspect them of doing evil!
So what is this all about? Well, let’s start from the beginning.
“The elder to the elect lady and her children” (v. 1). The author of the letter is “the elder.” The Greek word is πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros), which literally means “presbyter.” We don’t know if John the apostle, part of Jesus’ inner circle, is the same guy as John the presbyter. I won’t bother going into detail explaining the votes for and the votes against.
He addresses “the elect lady.” If that’s a person, she would be Lady Electa or possibly the elect Kyria. (The Greek word κυρία, kuria is “lady.”) However, it’s just as likely the “lady” is a church, and the “children” are its members. John pronounces his love “in the truth” and “all [those] who know the truth.” He greets them with grace, mercy, and peace.
He expresses his elation: “I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth” (v. 4). It’s not like John has only found a few who pass the test—just a percentage. It’s more like the ones he has encountered have been “in the truth,” as he says.
He now moves on to his point (or maybe I should say, his points) in this very short letter. Something you might notice if you read 1 John (which itself is a short letter) is how it has been summarized, boiled down, in 2 John. Much of the first letter has been crammed together in the second letter.
He has a request of the “dear lady.” He asks, “not as though I were writing you a new commandment but one we have had from the beginning: let us love one another” (v. 5). It’s not a new commandment, because Jesus already delivered it to them. It’s in the gospel of John.
On the night of his betrayal and arrest, he spoke these words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).
We should be warned. This love isn’t some touchy-feely mish mash. This love sets a very high bar. It comes at great cost. That’s why John takes it so seriously.
love in the city of brotherly love
He issues the challenge: “this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it” (v. 6). The call to “walk in it” is about the walk of life. It is the path we tread in this mortal flesh. It’s the passage we take, we who are flowers that fade.
Did I say something about John’s taking this seriously? Let’s take a peek at verse 7.
“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!” That’s right—the antichrist.
(On a side note, nowhere in the book of Revelation does the word “antichrist” appear.)
A similar sentiment appears in 1 John: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (4:2-3). That letter speaks of more than one antichrist. “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour” (2:18).
Just think, it was the last hour in the first century! Clearly, this isn’t chronological time.
That which is antichrist arrays itself against Christ, against Messiah.
So why is it a mark of antichrist, a spirit of antichrist, to deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh—to deny that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word?
I became a Christian when I was in college. I was baptized when I was 21. It was during those years when I developed a genuine interest in faith, and not just Christian faith, but other expressions of it, as well. I studied Buddhism, Zen, Islam (primarily the mystical side of the Sufis), and more, including some Native American and aboriginal faiths.
I found what is good and true and sacred. There is much to be learned from them. We Christians have much to learn.
And yet, none of the revered and honored teachers and leaders of those faiths has something unique to Jesus. None of them are the divine and human meeting as one. There are those who say Jesus was only similar to God. Some have claimed Jesus was a spirit or an immaterial being. The post-resurrection appearances included Jesus’ showing his wounds, eating food, being touched. He had actual physical relationships. He could be encountered face to face.God with us,” down here on the ground. He was aware of his mortality.
In the 90s, there was a song by Joan Osborne, “What If God Was One of Us?” It was a fascinating concept. I like the stanza in which she sings: “What if God was one of us? / Just a slob like one of us / Just a stranger on the bus / Trying to make His way home?” Jesus is with us, down here on the ground.
There is a spiritual exercise known as the “memento mori,” remember your death. According to philosopher Jules Evans, “the things of the world—the body, fashion, career, reputation, even family—should not be the primary focus of our minds, because these things can be swept away by death in a moment.”
That applies to the high and mighty, even Roman conquerors. We are told, “It was the custom of Roman triumphs…for a slave to stand behind the triumphant general in his victory parade, and tell him ‘memento mori’—remember, in your hour of glory, that you are destined for the dust.”
No one modeled that any better than Jesus. He was, so to speak, a God who knew he would die. With that awareness, there was no one who could relate to us in any better way, in any way more profound.
We must ask, and answer for ourselves, who is Jesus for us?
John continues with his message to the dear lady, “Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for but may receive a full reward” (v. 8). The word for “do not lose” (ἀπόλλυμι, apollymi) means “destroy.” Be careful, lest you destroy our efforts!
Let’s go back to hospitality, or the lack thereof. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching,” that is, the teaching of Christ we just heard, do not welcome them. We now know the teaching is that Jesus came in the flesh.
Our friend John closes his letter to the elect lady by saying he has more to write, but he would prefer speaking in person. Oh yes, the “children of your elect sister send you their greetings” (v. 13). He wants to meet face to face, so “our joy may be complete” (v. 12).
There really is no substitute for meeting in person. Telephone, email, text, Zoom, even the dying art of putting pen to paper and writing a letter—there are surely pros and cons to each—but they don’t compare to human presence and touch. It’s true; nothing can replace face to face. That’s how it was with Jesus.
Our presbyter might have other things in mind, as well. Maybe he wants to be sure he is received with hospitality and not sent packing like those others!
So there is the question, to whom do we listen?
Do we listen to the spirit of antichrist? Understand, this spirit is called a deceiver. Deception at its best, looks very much like something trustworthy. It appears to be good, even holy. On the other hand, here’s a cartoonish scenario. Mr. Fox applying for the job as security guard of the henhouse isn’t likely to fool anyone. No one would mistake this for a good and holy arrangement. It’s just too “over the top.”
Visualize two streets running parallel to each other. At some point, one of the streets begins to veer off at a one-degree angle. For a while, they still look like they’re running side by side. In time however, the difference is too difficult to ignore. It just takes some people longer to see it.
So it is with us. Are we settling for the counterfeit, the copy? Or do we want the actual, the authentic? Are we eating crumbs when the Lord offers a feast?
The spirit of antichrist knows nothing of joy. But when we turn to the Lord and share in welcome and hospitality, then our joy is made complete.
 ἐκλεκτός κυρία