Lessons From James, Peter, John, and Jude: Part 4

Key Scriptures: I, II and III John and Jude

Guiding Question: How can the writings of John and Jude help us avoid false teachers?

Optional Introductory Activity: Bring in an adult with a good sense of humor and a usual (quick) hobby or talent. Have him or her teach students a skill, but tell them at least on step incorrectly so when the students try they fail. Explain what happened. What are the possible reasons the “teacher” did not want them to know the truth and succeed?

Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) I, II and III John are interesting books. Although they are very short they contain a lot of important information. John was the only apostle that died of old age. In fact, many believe he lived to a very old age. Because he lived so much longer than many of the other apostles, John continued to influence the church for a very long time. Well into the second century, there were people still alive who had personally known John and had been taught by him. Why would it have been useful to the church for John to have lived such a long life?

Many people in fact think these three books were probably written towards the end of John’s life.

During this time a group of false teachers was gaining a strong foothold in the church. People were beginning to believe things God did not want them to believe. Although most of the apostles had probably counseled the people against listening to false teachers, by the time John was old he had a specific group of beliefs to correct.

John was famous for being a very loving man. We see hints of this in the Gospels because of his relationship with Jesus and the fact that Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary to him. In fact many of the most famous verses about loving others are often quoted from one or more of these three tiny books. Yet even though he was a very loving man, John was willing to stand up for what was right. He could be very firm with those who were violating God’s commands. Is it really possible to be loving and firm at the same time? Why do many people believe they can either be loving or be firm, but not both?

The Gnostics were an influential group of false teachers. Many Christians started following them and obeying their teachings. They had four main beliefs:

  • Your immoral actions were not sinful.
  • They claimed to have “higher knowledge” that was more important them     what the apostles were teaching.
  • They believed Jesus was merely a man. They taught that “Christ” began to inhabit the body of Jess at His baptism and left his body on the cross, so only the man Jesus died on the cross.
  • Christ did not come to atone for our sins, but to give us knowledge of our “divine” origins.

Note: Many of the “lost” Gospels mentioned in the newspapers are actually writings of Gnostic teachers and falsely ascribed to apostles (dating was wrong for them to have been written by apostles). These include the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocrypha of James and the letter of Peter to Phillip.

If you ran into Gnostic believers, what scriptures could you use to show them their beliefs were not scriptural? What did John write in these three books that would have helped people who were being taught Gnosticism? We don’t have Gnostics today, but we do have a lot of false teachers. What can you find in these three books that would help you if you met someone who was teaching things incorrectly?

One thing John kept emphasizing was the idea of Christian love. If a person knowingly teaches false doctrine, what are they probably lacking? What would be some reasons for someone to teach false things about God and His commands? How would knowing what love “looks like” help people avoid false teaching?

John also wrote about seven Christian concepts of which the people (and Us) could always be certain. The list was a test the people could use. If the person preached something that disagreed with this list, the people would immediately know he was a false preacher.

Let’s look at the list (all scriptures are in I John)

Jesus is the Son of God, 5:5

Christians have eternal life through Him, 5:11

God hears and answers our prayers, 5:14

We are no longer in bondage to sin (this doesn’t mean we don’t still sin,) 5:18

We are children of God, 5:20

We can know God through Jesus, His Son, 5:20

Jesus is the only true God 5:20

Even though we don’t have Gnostics, humanism teaches many of the same or very similar errors (as do other religions such as Islam). Can this list still help us today? What else does John advise that will help us avoid false teachers?

Jude was very likely written by another half brother of Jesus, Judas/Jude. He mentions he is the brother of James. The most well known, James at the time would have been James, the half-brother of Jesus. (James the brother of John had been martyred many years earlier.) Neither James nor Jude call themselves the half-brothers of Jesus. This is not surprising, since they would have not wanted to accidentally elevated to the same level as the Son of God. Like James and John, Jude was concerned with false teachers and Christians behavior. Things haven’t changed much have they? Jude is interesting. He quotes false teachers and false books attributed at the time to people in the Bible. Notice though, he doesn’t endorse any of them as godly or inspired by God. It is very possible he is trying to help the people see how there are nuggets of truth in false teaching. Those are what draw us in at first. They make sense and sound Biblical. They may even match the Bible, quote the Bible or include people from the Bible.

Notice how Jude continues though by pointing our how these false teachers can turn the Bible upside down (change the grace of God into a license for immorality); reject authority and “slander celestial beings”. Jude says they operate from instinct rather than the word of God.

The last one is particularly interesting. Can you think of anyone who justifies their sinful behavior because “it felt right” or God would want me to be happy”? It seems from Jude that sometimes we need to be aware we can become false teachers to ourselves as well – especially if we begin to make our decisions based on instinct and feelings rather than God’s words.

After reading these books, how can you avoid false teachers and live a Christian life, no matter what is happening around you? After reading these books how would your advice to a new Christian experiencing persecution change from what you thought the first day?

(Note: If possible, you may want to set up a video chat with a missionary in the Middle East, Africa or India. Many of these regions have scores of false teachers and regularly persecute and even kill Christians. Ask the missionary what we can do to help encourage the Christians there just like James, John and Jude encouraged persecuted Christians in their time.)

Application Challenge: Read I, II, III John and Jude again. Pay attention this week to everything you hear or read. What false teachings are you exposed to this week? How did you know that they were false? How can you do a better job of noticing and ignoring false teachings?

Author: Thereasa Winnett