Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sermon: 3 John Walking in the Truth

There comes a time in a parent’s life which brings a whole 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 happen when they move away to university; maybe they’ve got married, or they have finally decided they want their own space.

Perhaps you’ve been through this, either as the parent or the child. Or maybe you know this day is coming closer, and you’re wondering how you’ll cope. How do you feel in that moment, as the door closes, and they’re gone? There’s a pick n mix range of feelings - joy, that they’ve finally moved out? Sadness, that they’re no longer your little baby? Worry about how they’ll manage?

The first time I was away from home was when I went on our P7 school trip to York. For weeks beforehand, I was nervous about being away from home, and anxious about travel sickness. I had mum and dad very worried. But when I was away, I was having so much fun that I forgot to ring home during the week!

Mums and dads naturally have these kinds of concerns for their children. And those who are in 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?

That concern is driving the letter that we’re looking at today. As you can see, it’s a short letter, it fits on about half a page. And at the top of the page, verse 1, we see who the letter is from and who it’s to. ‘The elder, to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.’

The elder is John, the author of the gospels, and the other two letters of John, and also Revelation. That word elder can mean a church elder - the Greek word is presbyter. But it also means an older person.

And John is writing to Gaius, someone he knows, and loves, and cares for. Gaius is one of his spiritual children, someone John has told the gospel, and nurtured in the faith, and discipled. Do you see how he puts it? ‘To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.’ Gaius is his dear friend, he cares for him. We’ll see that that same phrase, ‘dear friend’ provides the structure for the whole book - as it’s repeated at key points in the book.

John also loves him in the truth - he’s a friend in the gospel; they have been brought together because they both belong to Jesus.

This is a personal letter, but not a private letter. It’s a letter for us to hear, and to read over Gaius’ shoulder, because it teaches us about what it looks like to live as a Christian. And the phrase that John uses to describe the Christian life is to be ‘walking in the truth.’

In verses 2-4, we see why John is writing this letter. And he begins with a prayer for his dear friend: ‘Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.’ John knows that Gaius’ soul is getting along well - it is well with his soul, and he prays that the rest of him will be just as well - that he will enjoy physical health, just as he is enjoying spiritual health.

But that raises the question - how does John know that it is well with Gaius’ soul? That’s what we see in the next verse, and it’s why John writes his letter. ‘It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.’ (3)

John has heard about Gaius from some of the brothers - other Christians. They have told him about how Gaius is faithful to the truth - to the good news that John taught him in the gospel - and how Gaius continues to walk in the truth. John is delighted to hear the news - it gave him great joy.

You see, in those days, you couldn’t just ring up someone for a chat. You couldn’t log in to Facebook to see what they’ve been up to. You couldn’t skype them. So since John and Gaius have been separated, John hasn’t heard about how Gaius is getting on. It took these brothers to come to tell him, to give him the joy of hearing that Gaius is still walking in the truth.

So when I was in York, having a great time, and my parents were at home worried - it turns out they weren’t that worried, because they were hearing news and updates from other parents, and they knew everything was ok.

John is the spiritual elder of Gaius, his spiritual father, and so John is concerned for Gaius - how will he get on with the faith he was taught. And all of us can be spiritual parents of others, concerned for them, praying for them, helping them. The sign that I’m getting old is that my first spiritual children were the young people I taught in Sunday School and Youth Fellowship - and now I hear of them getting married, and some going on with the Lord.

John is delighted to hear of how Gaius is getting on - ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.’ (4)

So who will rejoice when they hear that you are walking in the truth - who are your spiritual parents, the people who care for you? And who will you rejoice over when you hear that they are walking in the truth - who are your spiritual children, the people you care for?

At the start of verse 5 we see another ‘Dear friend’ - and in this section, we see what exactly it was that Gaius was doing that showed he was walking in the truth. Gaius was showing love and hospitality to the brothers, to fellow Christians.

‘Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.’ (5-6)

These brothers are gospel workers, Christians who are travelling around, sharing the good news of Jesus. Even though Gaius doesn’t know them, he welcomes them in, and loves them in practical ways. He has put them up, fed them, and cared for them.

These men have went out, for the sake of the Name - in order to preach the name of Jesus, to give him honour. And because they are Christian missionaries, the pagans aren’t going to help them or support them, so it’s up to Christians to support Christian ministry and mission. And John shows that when he do that, when we support missionaries in practical ways, we are sharing in their work: ‘We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.’ (8)

To walk in the truth is to be seen in our love and hospitality, so that we work together for the truth. We may not be able to go on mission, but we can give to mission. So what are the signs that it is well with your soul, that you are walking in the truth, and working for the truth?

The last ‘Dear friend’ comes a bit further down in verse 11. It sits in between the descriptions of two men known to Gaius; it marks the divide between them, and highlights the differences in the two men. ‘Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.’ (11)

As Gaius continues to walk in the truth, he is given two possible alternatives, two possible role models. But he’s not to imitate the evil, he should only imitate the good.

Diotrephes, he’s the negative example. Don’t be like Diotrephes. Why? He loves to be first, to assert himself, to be seen, to be considered most important. He has rejected John’s authority, and rejected John’s letter to the church. He wants nothing to do with John. But John is going to come along some day, and he’ll deal with the problems. He’ll call attention to the way D gossips maliciously - how he’s not walking in the truth; and the way that D refuses to welcome the brothers (what Gaius had been doing), and even stops the people who do want to welcome them, and even puts them out of the church. Do you see how he’s the opposite of walking in the truth, and showing the hospitality and love of the gospel?

So don’t be like Diotrephes. But do be like Demetrius. ‘He is well spoken of by everyone - and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.’ (12) John is concerned for his dear friend - the danger is that he will stop walking in the truth; that he will follow the wrong role model.

John wants Gaius to continue walking in the truth - by showing love and hospitality, by sharing in working for the truth, and by imitating what is good. That’s what we are called to as well. But we don’t have to do it on our own - we have one another, for help and support and encouragement, as we keep going together, and walk in the truth together.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 12th May 2019.

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