Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sermon: 3 John 1-15

There comes a time in every parent’s life which brings a mix of emotions. It’s the moment when their child has grown up, and they’re moving out, setting out on their own adventure. It might be when they move away for university; they might have started a new job and off they go; they may have finally decided they want their own space.

Perhaps you’ve been through this, either as the parent or the child. How do you feel in that moment, as the door closes, they’ve left? There’s a dolly mixtures range of feelings, aren’t there? Joy, that they’ve finally moved out; relief that they’ve gone? There might be some sadness, that they are no longer your little baby; or worry or fear about how they’ll manage. Will they keep going in the way they’ve been brought up?

I remember the first time I was away from home. We went on the P7 school trip to York from Monday to Friday. Beforehand I was probably a little homesick (before I had even left), so mum and dad were naturally concerned. When I got away, well, I had so much fun I never bothered ringing home once... while the parents were rightly concerned about me! But don’t worry, I got a telling-off when I got home that Friday night about not keeping in touch!

Just as mums and dads have these kinds of concerns for their children, so those in spiritual leadership in the church have the same concerns for their spiritual children. Will they keep on going in the way they have learned? Will they continue to walk with Jesus even if we don’t see them or aren’t around?

Which brings us to our reading tonight. It’s a letter from ‘the elder’ (whom we know is John), to a man called Gaius, a Christian who is described as ‘beloved’ and also ‘whom I love in truth.’ It’s clear that John and Gaius know each other, it appears that John had previously ministered to Gaius, but is now elsewhere. He writes to Gaius now because he has heard of what Gaius has been doing, and it does his heart good.

He begins with a prayer: ‘Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.’ (2) John prays that Gaius will be as physically healthy as he is spiritually healthy. Now how does he know that it goes well with his soul? It’s what he has heard, based on his actions:

‘For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.’ (3) John refers to a group of men, ‘the brothers’ who are Christian workers. They’ve been to see Gaius, and when they return, they share the good news that Gaius is continuing to walk in the truth.

Ever since John had sown the seed of the gospel in his heart, Gaius has been continuing to walk in the truth. Even though John is not around, Gaius continues to walk with Jesus. He hasn’t given himself to follow lies, or to walk away, but rather he’s still on the path of truth.

And this news gives John great joy. In fact, as he says: ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.’ (4) I wonder if you’ve ever had that joy. Perhaps it’s a friend from school you haven’t seen for a long time, lost touch, and then you bump into them, and discover that they are now a Christian. What joy! Or it might be someone you taught in Sunday School or GFS or the BB, and you hear that they’re serving the Lord themselves, continuing to walk in the way you taught them all that length of time ago. It’s brilliant!

I’ve been discovering recently that I’m getting (or at least feeling) older... It’s when the children you first taught in Sunday School are now graduating from university; and when the ‘young people’ from the youth group at church back home are now getting married...

It can be sad to hear of those who have heard and turned away. They know the truth, but they walk away. You feel frustrated, but they go in their own way. How much more then, the joy of hearing that some are still in the way.

I wonder have you spiritual children you can rejoice over? How have you used your influence and example and witness with someone else? It’s never too late to start, you could become a spiritual mother or father at any age, young or old. Who will you celebrate with in heaven? Who could you reach?

But, you might be asking yourself, what does it look like to walk in the truth? What should we encourage each other to do, so that we walk in the truth and help others to do so as well?

John gives us some examples, both positive and negative. Just like a weaver or a tapestry, he moves from one to the other, in and out. First, the positive example of Gaius. What was it that was so great?

He had received and welcomed and supported these brothers - even though they were strangers - simply because they were gospel workers. He didn’t know them, but because they loved Jesus, he loved them, and provided for them. He didn’t sit back, but put himself out for them, ‘in all your efforts for these brothers.’ (5) As we support fellow Christians, we are ‘fellow workers for the truth.’ (8) Hospitality and generosity are marks of the true believer, of the one walking in the truth.

But then we shift to the negative, as we’re introduced to another man called Diotrephes. He ‘likes to put himself first, [and] does not acknowledge our authority... talking wicked nonsense against us.’ As if all that weren’t enough, he also ‘refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.’ (9-10)

He’s out for himself alone, proud, wanting to be important, trying to get his own way, and tries to prevent fellowship and partnership. Do you see the contrast? It’s the difference between day and night!

So when we come to verse 11, we’re given a choice: ‘Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.’ Seems obvious, but here’s why: ‘Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.’

There’s another positive example - Demetrius, who ‘has received a good testimony from everyone...’ It’s as if the two D-men are lined up side by side, Diotrephes would get a good testimony from noone, Demetrius from everyone. This is the difference between walking in the truth, and going astray, led by wickedness.

Perhaps tonight is an opportunity to stop, and take stock of your life. Ask what way you’re going. Consider whether you are a cause of joy for other people as they hear of the report of your life and witness. And resolve to walk in the truth, loving and giving for the work of the gospel, partnering with those who serve, and all for the praise and glory of Jesus Christ, who is our saviour and example. Amen.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 13th January 2013.

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