2 John 10 – If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 3 John 6-8 – You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.
Following biblical directives is not always easy. Obviously it’s not easy to obey a biblical command when great steps of faith, courage, self-denial and sometimes even sacrifice are required to live it out. In these cases, the difficulty is not in understanding what the Bible commands, but in having the moral strength and determination to carry it out. However, sometimes carrying out even the not-so-demanding biblical mandates is difficult, primarily because it’s not always clear whether the directive is intended as a precept or as a principle. Sound confusing? Stay tuned, and hopefully it will become clear.
Examples from Exodus and ActsFollowing a biblical directive as a precept means that we obey the command just as it was intended to be obeyed when it was given in its biblical setting. For example, in Exodus 20:13 God said, “Thou shalt not murder.” This command against murder is just as much a precept today as it was when it was given, and it should be followed today as a precept. Well, that’s obvious, you say! But what about the directive of Acts 1:4 and 8? “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” How do we follow this biblical mandate today—as a precept to be literally obeyed, or as a principle for evangelism? If we followed it as a precept, and we’re interested in serving the Lord in foreign missions, should we literally travel to Israel and wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon us in power, and only then begin to evangelize? And should we start out in Jerusalem, and then branch out to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and then finally be free to go “to the ends of the earth” and the land of our missionary calling?! Such a scenario is almost laughable, you say. That’s true, but be careful. We shouldn’t say that this biblical directive doesn’t apply today -it does apply today. We follow it not as a precept but as a principle for evangelism. In fact, there are several principles for evangelism that we can draw from Acts 1:8. We’ll just mention three principles as examples:
- The power of the Holy Spirit is essential for effective evangelism.
- Potential foreign missionaries should start evangelizing right where they are, before setting off for a foreign mission field.
- It’s good missionary strategy to evangelize the big cities first, so the gospel can ripple out to the countryside.
Examples from 2nd and 3rd JohnIn 2 John 10 the apostle John writes, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.” Should we follow this biblical directive as a precept today? Should we literally keep anyone who denies the deity of Christ (such as a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness) out of our homes? Or should we follow this directive in principle only, by drawing out of the Scripture a general principle for dealing with unbelievers who deny the deity of Christ? When following 2 John 10 as a principle, a believer might feel that it’s OK to invite a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness “missionary” into his or her home to discuss the errors in their theology, with the goal of leading them to Jesus Christ as God and Savior. However, because the warning from which they draw their principle is very strong, these believers should be very careful about how friendly they become with these “agents of Satan” (that’s who they really are, even if they’re ignorant of the fact). However, if believers decide to follow 2 John 10 as a precept today, they would literally bar any agent of such serious false doctrine from their homes. So- precept or principle? That’s the question! Now what about 3 John 6-8? “You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” Should the biblical directives given in these verses be followed as precepts today? Should people who are involved full-time in Christian service today receive financial aid from fellow believers only? Is a church or ministry disobedient to Scripture if it receives any financial help from non Christian sources? And should believers give financial help only to people in Christian ministry who receive no help from unbelievers? On the other hand, are we to simply draw out biblical principles from these directives? A couple of principles that we might draw from 3 John 6-8 would be:
- Be very cautious about taking money for the Lord’s work from non Christian sources. Make sure there are no strings attached!
- Believers have a responsibility to extend hospitality and financial support to people who are involved full-time in the Lord’s service- especially when they have no other source of support.