When To Not Bid Godspeed
The passage from which the title of this article originates is found on 2 John 9-11. John writes, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” It is clear from this passage that Christians are not to provide aid and comfort to (nor even greet) those who are not preaching the gospel within the boundaries of the doctrine of Christ. While John was dealing with the specific problem of gnosticism and the denial that Jesus came in the flesh (2 John 7), the principle applies to any who would deliberately pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9). This means that we need to understand what John is speaking about to not be guilty of supporting false doctrine. Let us examine some of these things that the Bible clearly does not include within John’s prohibition and then focus on what John specifically includes when speaking concerning these individuals.
First, Christians may not withhold fellowship based upon personal disagreements. We find one such personal disagreement mentioned in Acts 15:36-41. Paul and Barnabas had decided to go on another missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul did not. Each was adamant and the Bible says that there was “sharp contention” between them. However, the result of the disagreement was that Paul chose Silas whereas Barnabas took Mark and each went to the work. This matter was simply a personal disagreement. The Bible never indicates that either man sinned. In fact, the efforts of preaching the gospel doubled. Later, we find that Paul changed his opinion regarding Mark. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul tells Timothy to bring Mark because he is profitable for the ministry. Both Paul and Barnabas continued to preach the gospel despite their personal disagreement. While they parted ways physically, there is no hint in the New Testament that breech of spiritual fellowship occurred rather Paul continued to see Barnabas as a fellow worker in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 9:6 and Colossians 4:10). Matters of personal disagreement do not fall under the umbrella of 2 John 9-11.
Second, Christians are not to withhold fellowship in matters of personal conscience. Paul addresses this in Romans 14. There were certain brethren in the early church who disagreed regarding eating meat offered to idols. Paul deals with this as well as the issue of observing religious holy days. These issues, Paul says, are not to be treated in such a way so that 1) we bind upon our brethren things that God has not bound 2) we interrupt the fellowship that exists between brethren and 3) we judge our brother unrighteously. Paul writes in verse three of this chapter, “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.” Matters of personal conscience are just that. They are personal and conscientious. It would be contrary to the teaching of scripture to apply 2 John 9-11 to such matters. In fact, it would be sinful, because we are not to reject one whom God has received.
Third, Christians are not to withhold fellowship from unknowledgeable brethren who are willing to be taught. One example of such a man is Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). The text makes it clear that he learned about the Lord during his earthly ministry, but evidently had to depart before that ministry was complete (possibly to Alexandria where he was from). As a result, he did not know the baptism of Christ as given in the great commission. He only knew the baptism of John. When Aquila and Priscilla heard about this, they might have said, “Apollos, you are a false teacher and we are going to withdraw fellowship from you” and done so. This, however, was not the approach they took. I want to emphasize that they did NOT allow him to continue teaching incorrectly. They did, however take Apollos aside and teach him the way of God more perfectly. Had Apollos rejected their teaching and continued to preach an incorrect baptism, they then would have been justified in applying the principle of 2 John 9-11. However, Apollos did NOT reject the correction. He accepted it and so they went forward in the work. We learn from this that before we apply the principle of 2 John 9-11 to people with whom we have not had prior contact, we should study with the person involved in the hopes that they will learn of their error.
Finally, we see that the category of those to whom we are not to bid “Godspeed” becomes focused. Christians are to withhold fellowship from deliberate false teachers seeking to cause division within the church (Romans 16:17). By giving such individuals aid and comfort one would be allowing them to sow the seed of discord among the brethren in the local church. It was customary for preachers to stay in the homes of brethren as they passed through these ancient cities. For one to deliberately open one’s house to a false teacher would be to allow that false teacher to gain a foothold in the community. The false teacher would then cause trouble for the local church. By observing John’s warning regarding these false teachers, they would not be able to gain a foothold and sow discord. Obviously the person who provided aid and comfort for the false teacher also provided the means of encouragement for that false teacher to continue sowing discord in the community, hence, they become partakers of (or have fellowship with) the evil that the false teacher is perpetuating. In fact, John says that we should not even greet such a person. What if a person does not know whether someone is a false teacher or not? John deals with this problem in 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” All Christians have a responsibility to try or test the one who would come to them preaching in the name of God. If their preaching is not according to the doctrine of Christ and they refuse to accept correction, then they should not be supported.
In conclusion, 2 John 9-11 is definitely applicable to us today. However, we must apply these verses appropriately and scripturally. These principles should never be applied in matters of personal disagreement of opinion, matters of personal conscience, or to unknowledgeable teachers who are willing to accept the truth of God’s word when presented in a clear and loving manner. These principles should be applied to false teachers who deliberately cause division within the brotherhood. We should not accept these false teachers into our house, nor even bid them greeting. To do such would be to personally engage in destroying the church.