Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LEAVERS” Part 4

First John 2.18-19

 

This evening I am wrapping up a series of messages I began just about a year ago, dealing with the issue of church members who leave. Though it happens all the time these days, with some church members being heavily involved in three or four different churches over a lifetime, leaving a church is a serious sin with terrible implications.

Our text for tonight is First John 2.18-19, a passage that I have already remarked about as being thoroughly misunderstood by commentators who tend to completely ignore the context of the Apostle John’s statements. Turn to that passage and stand for the reading of God’s Word:

 

18     Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

19     They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

 

Who are they who are referred to in verse 19? They are antichrists; people who pose as Christians and who pass for Christians in congregations everywhere, but who are really against Christ. The difficulty lies in the fact that you cannot really tell who they are until they do that one thing that is most characteristic of them; they leave. Understand, they have all kinds of reasons for leaving. Some leave because they are offended. Some leave because they are discouraged at the prospects of finding a husband or a wife. Still others leave because they have retired, or to obtain a promotion or a better job. Some will leave for the purpose of obtaining a better education, or perhaps because this area is such an expensive place to live. However, please be mindful of the fact that though these reasons, as well as other reasons that might be given, seem to be powerful incentives for leaving a church and going to another church, such reasons are completely overlooked in scripture. Those who seem particularly spiritual will cite doctrinal issues as their motivation for leaving, or spiritual concerns. They oppose the spiritual lethargy of the pastor and want to get involved in a church more committed to soul winning. No matter how logical such reasoning sounds, I cannot help but think of the church in Laodicea, and our Lord Jesus Christ’s comments to the pastor of that wicked church in Revelation 3.14-19:

 

14     And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15     I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16     So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

17     Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

18     I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

19     As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

 

Is it not interesting that, despite the clear and obvious spiritual shortcomings of that church’s pastor, none of the members is directed by the Lord Jesus Christ to leave? As well, remember the Corinthian church, with their tragic toleration of horrible sexual misconduct. However, does the Apostle Paul direct any Corinthian church members to leave? The answer is no.

Some will feel pressure from their families to leave the church. Several of us here tonight have felt differing amounts of pressure from family members to leave our church. My mother tried really hard to persuade me to move to Oregon so I could take care of her. One fellow’s dad is presently exerting pressure on him to move to Texas, where dad will provide financial help and a business for him to oversee. An aged woman in our church has a son who pressured her to move to another city, and she did. However, before he pressured her to move to that city and away from her church, he moved away from his church and to that other city, for reasons known only to him. I am not suggesting her children should not care for an aged woman. However, I am suggesting that family desires are not always, and maybe I should say not usually, insight into the nature and direction of God’s will. After all, in Matthew 10.35, the Lord Jesus Christ did say, “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” I can assure you that it is usually in your family’s long-term spiritual interest for you to stand your ground and live for Christ no matter how opposed they may seem, or how persuasive they are. No father or mother will flee to a Savior you have demonstrated to by your conduct to be less worthy of obedience than your parents, less worthy of honor than your parents, less worthy of service than your parents.

Among so-called evangelicals and fundamental Baptists, there is another wonderful reason for leaving your church. It is the great catchall excuse, justification, or reason that is used by people who decide they want to do something and no matter what it is, they feel comfortable blaming God for their decision. Are you ready? Perhaps you know what it is already. “God led me to leave.”

What a great blanket indulgence that one is for the evangelical and independent Baptist community. “God led me to leave.” As though God leads His children to do things that are patently unscriptural, and as though when God leads He conveniently does so by means that are unverifiable to anyone but the person who is sinfully blaming God for his unscriptural behavior.

I could go on and on with these obviously superficial reasons, the excuses if you will, why people leave their church. However, what I am interested in illustrating for you is beyond the excuses, beyond the justifications, beyond the supposed leadings of the Holy Spirit.

Unless you are sent by your church like Barnabas and Saul, or unless you are lent by your church like Phebe and Epaphroditus, it is it wrong to leave your church. There used to be a time when Baptist people, seriously reflecting the clear instruction of God’s Word, only left their churches when their churches sent them forth to plant or pastor churches, or lent them out for special activities or ministries that would end with them coming back to their home church. But nowadays not only do Baptist people up and leave their churches almost indiscriminately, but those men who claim to have been called by God to provide spiritual leadership in churches not only encourage this kind of behavior, but prey on unsuspecting church members by enticing them to leave their churches.

Wait a minute! Does this not sound suspiciously like the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.30, where he said, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them”? Speaking to spiritual leaders about spiritual leaders drawing disciples after them. Does that not sound a lot like pastors who eagerly take members from other churches, and who lure and entice members to leave a church to join their own?

Enough of the illustrations. Let us now turn to those places in God’s Word that speak powerfully against church members leaving their church, even if they leave one church to go to another church. Unless a church member has been sent, or lent, their leaving is what shows them to be lost.

Five considerations for you:

 

First, CONSIDER THE IMAGERY OF SHEEP

 

Throughout the Word of God, the believer is likened to a sheep. From those passages which liken all sinners to sheep, such as Isaiah 53.6, “All we like sheep have gone astray,” to those passages which distinguish Christians from non-Christians by calling saved people sheep and unsaved people goats, such as where the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of His second coming, in Matthew 25.33, “And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left,” God’s people are likened to sheep.

Consider Deuteronomy 22.1: “Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.” This verse from the Mosaic Law clearly obligates a person to restore a wandering sheep. You are forbidden to claim as your own a sheep that belongs to another’s flock.

Turn your attention to the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. In John 10.15, He said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” In John 10.27, He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” In addition, in John 21.16 and 17, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Finally, in Hebrews 13.20, our Lord is referred to as “our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep.”

Does anyone doubt that Christians are likened to sheep in the New Testament, with the Lord Jesus Christ as that great shepherd of the sheep? It can also be established that pastors are likened to shepherds, since in First Peter 5.2 we see these words written to elders: “Feed the flock of God which is among you.” That word “feed” is the Greek word poimanate, which means “to shepherd,” and the word “flock” translates the word poimnion, which sounds much like because the two words come from the same Greek root.

Thus, you have Christians likened to sheep and pastors likened to shepherds. So, what is one shepherd supposed to do when he finds a sheep that has strayed? If the imagery of sheep in the Bible holds, and I believe it does, then the shepherd who crosses paths with the straying sheep is supposed to return the straying sheep to the shepherd it has wandered away from.

What happens when the shepherd will not return the straying sheep? That man is not really a shepherd, then, is he? He may be a hireling, or a sheep stealer. Worst case scenario? He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is devouring the sheep.

What about when the sheep refuses to be restored to his proper shepherd? Jesus said, in John 10.27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” That is the case with the Lord Jesus Christ, but what about a church pastor? What happens when a church member refuses to heed the voice of his pastor? My goodness, that is serious, isn’t it? Do you suppose the Lord Jesus Christ sits idly by and lets one of His Own sheep wander away from one of His pastors, one of His undershepherds?

You do not want to take imagery too far in its application. There is a danger in that. However, we really do not find sheep not heeding the shepherd’s voice, do we? We find sheep wandering. In addition, we find shepherds searching and finding sheep in the Bible. However, sheep who refuse to heed the voice of the shepherd? That is not something you will find in the Bible. Therefore, when a Christian refuses to heed the voice of his pastor you have a situation which breaks the pattern of the imagery found in the Bible.

 

Next, CONSIDER THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PASTOR

 

The Christian’s relationship with his pastor is a wonderful and amazing one. In many respects, it is unlike any relationship a Christian will ever have with anyone else, because it is a relationship that you can be absolutely sure is ordained of God.

Think about it. Two Christian people can marry each other and have a wonderful marriage without knowing with real certainty that God chose them for each other and they did not select each other to marry contrary to the will of God. They can think they are God’s choice for each other, and feel confident they are God’s choice for each other. However, between a Christian and his or her pastor there is an even greater degree of certainty.

Let me explain: People are usually more confident about their relationship with God than their relationship with each other. However, what about that man under whose ministry that Christian was converted? When God uses a man to reach a sinner that sinner’s relationship with his preacher is a relationship created by his own conversion and sustained by his assurance. That is not something that can be said about anyone’s marriage.

Not that I am trying to drive a wedge between husbands and wives, but I do seek to illustrate a much-neglected relationship found in the Bible. Listen carefully as I read and explain several passages:

Onesimus was a runaway slave who crossed paths with the Apostle Paul and was guided to Christ by him. In his letter to Philemon, Paul pleads for Onesimus, in verse 10: “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” Notice that Paul says that Onesimus is his son in the faith, who he has begotten in his bonds, meaning he led him to Christ while in prison.

Here is another: In First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul pleads with the Corinthians. However, notice, in First Corinthians 4.14-17, how he pleads with them:

 

14     I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

15     For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

16     Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

17     For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

 

Paul’s plea for them to follow his godly example is based upon the fact that he is their spiritual father. He had begotten them through the gospel. That is, he led them to Christ. This is why he called them “my beloved sons,” a designation also given to Timothy, his “beloved son.”

The point that I seek to make is that there is something special in a relationship between the man of God and the Christian he was used of God to bring to salvation in Christ. I am persuaded that such a relationship is real when the conversion is real, and the relationship is a facade when the conversion is a fraud. How else do you explain a wife supposedly brought to Christ under my ministry, her sister brought to Christ under my ministry, her now deceased mother brought to Christ under my ministry, her now deceased father brought to Christ under my ministry, and two grown daughters brought to Christ under my ministry? If such a woman was truly saved, and if her salvation really meant anything to her, do you think anything less than a team of wild horses could separate her from her pastor? I do not. Yet these kinds of parting of the ways happen all the time in the lives of professing Christians.

 

Third, CONSIDER THE IMAGERY OF THE BODY

 

We already know that it is important to be careful with imagery. However, God uses powerful imagery in the Bible to teach important lessons, so we will turn once again to some Bible imagery. One of the most important images found in the New Testament is the imagery of the body of Christ. Up front, I want to remind you that I am a local church Baptist, meaning that I am absolutely convinced that the body of Christ in the New Testament is always the church congregation, such as ours, and never refers to some ethereal collection of all Christians.

That said, First Corinthians chapter 12 is the body of Christ chapter in the Bible, so please turn there. Verse 12: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” Whatever you think the body of Christ refers to, it is clear that the members are individual Christians. Verse 27 is inexplicable to those who view the body of Christ as all Christians, but to those of us who hold to the local church view of the body of Christ this verse presents no problem whatsoever: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Notice, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular,” not “Now we are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” The Corinthian congregation was a body that Paul was not a member of, thereby explaining his choice of pronouns. However, one of several verses that make the point I seek to drive home this evening is verse 15: “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” The individual member has no say in the matter of whether or not he is a part of the body. Thus, what happens when someone who is not sent or lent by a congregation leaves and supposedly joins another congregation? The imagery of the body breaks down. In other words, something has happened which does not fit the New Testament pattern. This is not the way it is supposed to happen. Here is another, verse 25: “That there should be no schism in the body.” Schism refers to a break, a discontinuity, or a gap. Do you suppose that a problem occurs when an ear is suddenly cut off and taken elsewhere? Pain happens, does it not? A period of agonizing adjustment is need, is it not?

The imagery of the body of Christ is wonderful, in that it shows the reality of congregational life. As no body is perfect and without blemishes and defects, so is the congregation is imperfect and riddled with difficulties that must constantly be attended to. Therefore, what happens to a physical body when a portion of it is severed has a parallel with a church congregation. If it is cancerous and malignant that member must be excised for the sake of the whole body’s health. The same is true in a congregation. However, for someone to up and leave her church, for whatever reason, causes unnecessary suffering, uncalled for crippling, and unavoidable disfigurement.

Christians have a real appreciation for the health and welfare of their congregation, even if they do not agree with my understanding of the body of Christ. But those who are not real Christians care little for the spiritual health and welfare of those they leave behind, those they have no use for anymore, those they do not really look forward to seeing in heaven someday.

 

Fourth, CONSIDER THE IMPLICATIONS OF DEMAS

 

Demas is an interesting figure in the New Testament. He was listed in Philemon 24 with several others as a fellow laborer with the Apostle Paul. From Roman imprisonment, Paul’s Colossian letter makes reference to Demas, along with Luke. In Colossians 4.14, Paul writes, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” Therefore, Demas is a man who was at Paul’s side when he was imprisoned in Rome, and was a fellow laborer with Paul and others in the gospel ministry. However, Paul’s final mention of Demas is very ominous. Second Timothy 4.9-11:

 

9      Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me:

10     For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.

11     Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.

 

Picture Paul’s situation. He is in Roman imprisonment in the city of Rome. He has sent Crescens and Titus to tend to gospel concerns elsewhere, leaving only Luke and Demas with him. However, Demas forsakes Paul, leaving Luke to tend to Paul’s physical ailments alone, so Paul writes an urgent letter to Timothy to get to Rome as fast as possible, and to bring Mark with him. When you are mindful that prisoners were not provided any food or water, and that Paul was already a sick man, the burden on two men to take care of him must have been great. Then one of them ups and leaves, forsaking Paul. In addition, why did Demas leave? He loved this present world.

Let me be fair in pointing out that such men as John Gill and Matthew Henry are of the opinion that Demas’ concern was not for the things of the world so much as the preservation of his own life, so he forsook Paul in the face of Paul’s imminent martyrdom to preserve his own life. However, my own thoughts are harsher because of the connection between Paul’s words, “having loved this present world,” and what we find in First John.

First John 2.15 reads, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The reason Demas forsook Paul was his love of the world. Thus, I respectfully disagree with John Gill and Matthew Henry at this point. There is a difference between loving the world and maintaining a selfish interest in preserving your life. Demas was not judged by Paul of being afraid of dying, but of loving the world. What is it in the world that appeals? First John 2.16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Demas’ problem was not fear, but lust and pride, if Paul was correct about Demas’ love for this present world.

My friends, it happened once before, when Judas Iscariot served alongside the eleven other apostles of Jesus Christ for more than three years before his true condition was exposed by his love of money. For more than three years he preached, worked miracles, cast out demons, and all the rest. Then, all of the sudden, his lost condition was manifest by his betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am terribly afraid that Demas is just such an example, a man who fit in, who blended in, and who may have sincerely thought himself converted. Then, when the pressure was at its greatest, his lust no longer held in abeyance, and his pride no longer stifled, he broke and forsook the Apostle Paul during his hour of greatest need. I am quite sure Demas did not stop attending church and being involved in ministry. He just abandoned his place of service for some place of convenience, where he could enjoy the comforts and the pleasures this life has to offer.

 

Finally, CONSIDER THE DECLARATION OF THE APOSTLE JOHN

 

Bible doctrines are usually defined by the cumulative testimony of scripture. For example: It is the full weight of evidence from the experiences of Abraham, to David, to the analysis of the Apostle Paul that defines for us the doctrine of justification. Doctrines are rarely established by isolated passages. And so it is here.

Consider the imagery of sheep throughout the Bible. Look at the special relationship that is hinted at between a Christian and the man of God under whose ministry that Christian was converted. Then ponder the imagery of the body found in Paul’s Corinthian letter, as well as the implications of Demas’ behavior and the motives that drove that behavior. Couple all that together with our text, First John 2.18-19:

 

18     Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

19     They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

 

Here the Apostle John contrasts Christians with antichrists in the last days. However, how are we supposed to distinguish between Christians and antichrists? Are antichrists obviously opposed to the gospel? Do they rail against the gospel and use our Lord’s name in vain? No. They are mixed right in with us in our churches and are undetectable until they do that one thing that manifests their true nature. They leave.

How is this possible? How can antichrists live in our midst without our knowledge? Folks, Christians are sinners. Christians are heaven bound, not by works of righteousness or exemplary behavior, but because of God’s glorious grace and through faith in Jesus Christ. That means, though we work to perform our due diligence so that we baptize only those we think are truly born again with a plausible conversion testimony, no one can be absolutely sure the miracle of the new birth has occurred in another person’s life by direct means. It is not something you actually see happen.

Thus, it is entirely possible for an antichrist to live in our midst unbeknownst to us. However, there is one thing that will expose the antichrist for who and what he is as nothing else will. It is when he leaves the church. You see, if you are one of us you will stay with us, and if you are not one of us you will leave. That is the message of First John 2.19.

 

Sheep do wander on occasion, but when the shepherd leaves his flock to retrieve a wandering sheep that sheep gets retrieved, or it perishes as it is consumed by predators. When a Christian is guided to Christ by a man of God a relationship with Christ is not the only relationship that is established. True, only the relationship with Christ is a saving one. But that man God uses to get you to Christ becomes a special person in your life, a person I am inclined to think Christians are not likely to willingly leave. Then there is Paul’s imagery of the body of Christ. If someone acts like he is no part of the body, does that mean he is no part of the body? Not according to Paul. In other words, your opinion and mine are of no consequence to reality. You either are or are not a part of the body. Then there is Demas, who forsook Paul because of his love for this present world. I am scared for Demas’ eternal salvation after what Paul wrote about him. Finally, there is the direct statement of the Apostle John in our text. The way you tell who the antichrists are is by their leaving.

Whatever else we can agree on, surely you will agree that it does not bode well for anyone to leave his church, no matter what reason is concocted to justify the departure. My own opinion is that in all likelihood, the person who leaves is showing that he is lost. But more than just lost. The person who leaves is antichrist.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org