Standing in the Truth - 3 John

On April 18th, 1521 Martin Luther was brought before the Diet of Worms to be challenged on his view of Scripture. When asked if he wanted to retract any ideas in his writings, he replied,

Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.[1]

Luther Biographer, Roland H. Bainton, noted that in that moment, “the past and the future were met.” Luther defended his written attacks against the papacy and challenged their authority to determine right from wrong. Luther stood steadfast in his trust and interpretation in the Holy Scripture. Luther was bound by the Word of God. God’s Word constrained his conscience.

            Luther’s stand that salvation was revealed in Scripture alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone was the catalyst that burned the gospel into the hearts of Europe spreading the Reformation and recovery of the gospel across Europe. It took courage for Luther to stand against false doctrine. It could have ended his life. Luther stood for truth. His courage has inspired countless thousands over the last 500 years.

The courage it takes to stand for truth inspires hearts. The stand of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., William Tyndale, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, and William Wilberforce inspired courage of their contemporaries and the following generations. Each not knowing in the moment what would become of their lives. And yet, the stood for truth. When the moment comes, will you stand for truth? When your coworker asks about your faith, will you stand? When your family questions your decision to go overseas, will you stand? When you see a brother drifting towards sin, will you stand? When you are tempted by the evil one, will you stand? Your moment may not inspire millions, but it will be seen by your Father in heaven. And he who sees that is done in secret will reward you.

            We all face moments of truth every day and we must decide beforehand, “Will we stand in the truth?” The Apostle John, the elder of the ancient church, wrote to his dear friend Gaius and the beloved church to encourage them to stand in the truth. I pray that when your moment comes, you will stand in the truth.

 

Standing in the Truth in Prayer

John loves the truth. The Apostle John is responsible for 5 books of the New Testament: His gospel, 3 letters, and the book of Revelation. Truth is one of the major themes in all his writings. And as he begins his brief letter, we see his love for truth in the opening words, “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.” Gaius was a common name in the 1st century. The name appears three other times in the New Testament. There is Gaius of Corinth (Rom 16:23), Gaius of Macedonia (Acts 19:29), and Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4).[2] It probably unlikely that John addresses any of these men, but he addresses a man that he loves dearly. John addresses Gaius as his beloved or dear friend 4 times throughout this letter.

            One of the first keys of standing in the truth is the importance of prayer. We do not have the ability to stand without the power of God. John writes, “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.” Body and soul together. The thrust of John’s prayer is not only in a healthy body, but a healthy soul. How quick are we to pray for our ailing bodies while we neglect our ailing souls? We are quick to offer a prayer for the sick in body but slow to offer a prayer for the sick in soul? Friends, we must call upon heaven to pray for those cannot faithfully sing, “It is well with my soul.”

            And yet, John prays for his friend’s body. Beloved, we should always focus on the primacy of one’s soul over the body, but we must never ignore how the body affects our soul. God made us to be embodied souls. It is unwise and unloving not to care for the needs of our physical bodies as it is unwise not to tend to the care of our souls. If a son fell into a pit and was in physical harm, which parent would not do all they could to help the body of their son? Sickness and pain affects us all. We must pray to God for his kindness in bringing good health. John cared, both in body and in soul, for his friend Gaius. We should do the same.

            Gaius’ ability to stand in the truth was sustained through the prayers of the saints. Paul writes of his confidence to stand in his moment in a Roman prison because of the saints. Philippians 1:19-21,

[F]or I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Paul’s courage came through the prayers of the saints. God commands us to prayer for one another. Beloved, how sweet have our prayers been on Wednesday night!! We come together and stand in and for the truth in prayer. Let us continue to pray for the saints so that like John for Gaius, the Philippians for Paul, that we would pray for each other so that we would be of full courage so that Christ would be honored in our bodies, by life or by death.

 

Standing in the Truth in Praise

John writes his letter as an old man. As he begins this letter, we see his his greatest joy and passion in his life. John rejoices not in the health of his own soul, but in the health of soul of others.

For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Gaius is walking with God and standing in the truth. He John’s words, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

            Janice has been challenged our young ladies to memorize Scripture every week for our Wednesday night class. This past week, my daughter memorized Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I have personally memorized a lot of Scripture, but hearing my daughter recite and write God’s precious Word on her heart brings far more joy rather any scripture I have memorized. My child is walking in the truth.

            Gaius is most likely not John’s biological child, but his child in the faith. John either led Gaius to the Lord or disciple him in the faith. There is wonderful joy when you see people grow in Christ whom you disciple. I have experienced so much joy looking at the men and women in this congregation that I have had the privilege to walk with over the last 5 years. Can I encourage you to pour life into others? I would love for you to experience a glimpse of what John is speaking about here. It is marvelous.

            John could stand in truth because he lived a life of praise to God. His glory was not his main concern, but the glory of Christ. He wanted Christ to be magnified in people’s lives. His outpouring of the glory of Christ fueled his own growth as well as Gaius. Our ability to stand transcends our own individuals walk with God. God places us in a body so we have other joints and ligaments working together so we may grow into maturity (Eph. 4:11-16). Is your greatest joy to hear that others in our church are walking in the truth?

 

Standing in the Truth in Support

After the greeting John continues to rejoice in how Gaius and the church are responding to traveling missionaries who have gone out for the name of Christ. 3 John 5-8,

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

There are two main ways Gaius is supporting these missionaries. The first Gaius has welcomed strangers into his home. These traveling Christians came to Gaius needing a place to stay and Gaius opened his home. In the first century, inns were not very safe or godly places to stay. When Christians traveled, they depended upon the hospitality of the saints. People opened their homes.

            Two years ago, I made an announcement that we needed families to open their homes for college students over the summer. As I made the announcement, my son whispered to my wife, “I’ll give up my bed.” Praise God for a youthful zeal to obey the Lord Jesus. My son has given up his bed countless times for brothers and sisters who needed a place to stay. There are many others in the church who have done the same. I pray that Christian hospitality continues to be a mark of our congregation. We expressed a home of that hospitality in opening our doors to the homeless over the winter. If you have not heard the testimonies of the men who served the shelter, can I encourage you to go online and watch what God did in and through them.

            Besides opening his home, Gaius sent the missionaries out with financial and material resources to continue the mission. John commends that it is right and good to send missionaries out in a manner worthy of God. Think about those words!! We should send out people from our church on mission to the nations as if we were sending out Jesus Christ himself. How we treat others reflects how we love God. The reason we should send them out is because they are bringing the most important message in the world. They have gone out for the sake of the name.

            Friend, if you are here with us today and are not a follow of Jesus, let me explain what it means that they had gone out for the sake of the name. The Bible says in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” We read that verse we should ask, “Why do we need salvation?” The Bible teaches, and your own heart bears witness, that we are sinners. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our sin brings us under condemnation with God. Our sin blocks us from heaven’s perfection. We cannot earn our own salvation. We will never be justified or made right with God by what we do. This is why Luther stood up against the pope. Roman Catholicism believes that we can earn salvation through our works and receiving the sacraments. Luther saw that the Bible says, Romans 3:20,“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” When we realize God’s standard of perfection, it is very clear that we fall short of his glory. We need salvation by God from God.

            The reason the missionaries went out in John’s day was because they and we believe that there is salvation in no other name under heaven than Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth as a man. He lived a perfect life. He committed no sin. He was innocent. He perfectly lived for God’s glory, but was punished as sinner. He died as a substitute for all who would turn and trust in him. After his death for sinners, God raised Jesus from the dead. In the resurrection of Jesus, God the Father publicly declared that salvation is available through Christ. If anyone would turn from their sin and call upon Jesus Christ as Lord, they will be saved.

            This message was so great that people have been leaving their homes for 2,000 years with nothing to tell others about the name. 3 John 7, “For they have gone out for the sake of the name accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” Friend, if Jesus Christ isn’t God, why would thousands upon thousands upon thousands leave their families and friends with nothing but a message that says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Consider the history of Christian mission, but more importantly, I pray you consider the name and the person Jesus Christ. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. He came not for the healthy, but for the sick. He came not to be served, but to serve to give his life as a ransom for many.

            Beloved, if God has given us the only way of salvation, we ought to support people who go out for the sake of the name. What a joy and a privilege that God would send out our brothers and sisters with the gospel of Christ. When our brothers and sisters go to the nations through our prayers and our resources, we are fellow workers in the truth. We stand in the truth when we support the work of gospel proclamation here in our church and across the world.

 

Standing in the Truth in Submission

Not every person believed in supporting and welcoming those who have gone out for the name of Jesus. There were some that did not want to submit to the apostles teaching. 3 John 9-10,

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.  So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. 

Diotrephes was not acknowledging the authority of the apostles, refusing to welcome fellow believers into the fellowship, hindering the ministry of others, and putting people out of the church. He was stifling the gospel ministry in the church. There are many reasons one could be doing these things, but notice John’s reason, Diotrephes, “likes to put himself first.”

            When we put ourselves first, the body of Christ suffers. How do you put yourself first? Love does not insist on its own way and its own preferences, but lays down its preferences for the sake of the body. The one who puts himself first is not putting Christ first.

One of the most disturbing trends in evangelicalism is a disregard for authority. Of course, there are and have been many abuses of pastoral authority which people have a right to speak against. That being said, the faithful church member should not be like Diotrephes who rejected the authority of the apostles, but one who humbly submits and followers their leaders. A rejection of authority has become a culture norm. Personal autonomy and one’s sovereign right over every decision they make dominates the western lanscape. Have you fallen to the spirit of the age and been infected by personal autonomy?

Authority has been given and instituted by God. Children submit to their parents’ authority, citizens submit to their governments authority, and church members submit to their elders’ authority. It may seem self-serving for an elder, like myself, to encourage submission, but God’s word is clear. Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

How are you responding to your leaders? Do you pray for them? Is your heart open to them (2 Cor 6:11-13)? Diotrephes hurt the church because he put himself first and did not submit to authority. I pray you will not follow his example, but stand in the truth.

 

Standing in the Truth in Imitation

John encourages his beloved friend to walk not in the way of Diotrephes, but to imitate good. He writes,

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

Humans learn from imitation. Our children learn to talk and walk by following our examples. It is natural to become like who you follow. It is one of the reasons the Bible puts so much stock in the character of its leaders. Paul provides a pretty comprehensive list in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 on the character of elders and deacons. The reason is clear. The congregation is called to follow and imitate their leaders. It is daunting, yet natural. Imitation is a common theme in the word of God,

1 Corinthians 4:16 – “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Ephesians 5:1 – “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Philippians 3:17 – “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” 2 Thessalonians 3:7 – “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,” 2 Thessalonians 3:9 – “It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.” Hebrews 6:12 – “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 13:7 – “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

The biblical pattern is the church has godly (not perfect) leaders who love and follow Christ and reflect how to live and follow Him.

            Future elders and deacons, I pray you see the importance of living a godly life. Mothers and fathers, I pray you see the importance of living a godly life. Beloved, people will imitate our behavior so let our lives be full of Christ.

Ultimately, leader is simple one who follow the ultimate leader. Jesus Christ is our example. The goal of our lives is that we would be transformed into the image of the Son, mature in Him, lacking in nothing. We all know how to walk and live because Christ came and lived perfectly. And now, Christ lives in us by the power of his Spirit. Let us hold fast to what is good and right and reflect our great and glorious Savior. Let us stand as a reflection of him to our world.

 

Standing in the Truth in Intimacy

John closes his brief letter with showing his intimacy with Gaius and the rest of the church. He writes,

I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.

I love how John ends this letter. John desires to great friends each by name. Friendship is a powerful thing. John loved his dear friend Gaius. Gaius loved his dear friend John. I pray that we would have many dear friends in the life of the church. True friendship takes sacrifice. True friendship take time. True friendship is a gift from God.

One of the best ways to build and sustain friendship is around the table. Table fellowship is a wonderful picture of intimacy and closeness. Jesus said,

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)

Jesus laid down his life for his friends. He bled and died and rose again so we would have friendship with him. He died so we would be intimately connected with him. And now he continues to invite us into that friendship through table fellowship. He invites to his table.

Every time we come to the Lord’s table, we stand in the intimacy of Christ. We remember that Jesus laid down his life for us. He died that we may live. This meal is a meal for the friends of Christ. It is an open invitation for all who believe that there is salvation in no one else, for there is other name under heaven which men can be saved. All baptized believers who are members in good standing of a church of like faith and order are welcome to the table. If you have not accepted the friendship of Jesus Christ and salvation in his name, allow the bread and the cup to pass and as they pass I pray you would consider how much God offers you in the name of Jesus Christ. We all must stand for something, I pray you would stand behind Christ, for Christ and not against Christ. As we prepare the table, allow us to prepare our own hearts for this intimate table of friendship.

 

[1] http://www-personal.ksu.edu/~lyman/english233/Luther-Diet_of_Worms.htm accessed 4.29.17

[2] Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 38, p. 239). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.