Today we come to John’s third letter.
Like 2 John
that we heard about last week – it’s a brief note
– not to a church this time – but to a beloved brother, Gaius.
And like 2 John, the apostle is concerned about who the church – and in this case, Gaius – is welcoming into his homes.
But unlike 2 John, here the visitors are faithful brothers
– and are to be enthusiastically welcomed in.
And, I have to say, as a Mission Director
, this letter warms my heart because it has some important things to say about how we welcome and support ‘missionaries’
– but more of that later!
As soon as you start reading this letter, you realise that it is saturated with the same themes as 2 John.
Love, truth and joy…
The NIV hides the emphasis a bit
, so let me read the first couple of verses again with a few substitutions:
1 The elder, To my [beloved] Gaius, whom I love in the truth. 2 [beloved] 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 loves Gaius – and he wants him to know it.
Well, not because Gaius and John have some sort of ‘bromance’ going on.
Though almost certainly Gaius had come to faith
through John’s ministry – and been trained up by him
– he’s one of John’s children.
4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
So, yes, there is a real depth
in the relationship between Gaius and John, But that’s not the primary reason
John loves Gaius and is filled with joy. John’s love stems from Gaius remaining in ‘the truth’
, and walking – living out – the truth.
In our modern, scientific world, we often see truth and love as opposed to each other. Truth is hard, emotionless fact
– it’s a ‘head’ think that doesn’t take account of people’s emotions.
But love is of the heart.
And we can think about Christian truth
– Christian doctrine – that way as well
! Hard and loveless.
But Christian truth is not dead, emotionless fact.
It’s the truth about all that God has done for us in his beloved Son Jesus.
It’s the truth about his love and grace and mercy:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
To deny that Jesus is God, come in the flesh – as the false teachers were doing in 1 and 2 John, is not just to deny some ‘proposition’ about God. It is to deny who Jesus is, and why he came, and why the Father sent him. It is to deny the love and mercy of God poured out to us in the atoning sacrifice of his son.
The truth about God matters – because that truth saves and brings life.
So, it hardly surprising that hearing that Gaius is holding fast to his faith in Jesus
– and living it out
in his own love for the brothers – it’s hardly surprising that that fills John with love and joy
– is it?
So it begs the question,
doesn’t it? When we walked into church this morning – when we logged into Zoom – who did we see?
People who we might be more loosely or tightly connected with
in this ‘club’ called ‘church’? Or brothers and sisters
by the blood of Christ, sharers in the lavish love of God
, that has made us his children?
Take a moment to think about that. Have a bit of a look around
at the people who are here with you – scroll across the people who are logged on Zoom with you. And let your thinking be reset by the truth of Jesus.
Some of you I’ve got to know a little
over the 3 years we’ve been here now – especially you who I’ve enjoyed Bible studies with; some of you I really don’t know at all.
But here’s the thing – nonetheless, I know the most important thing there is to know about you
– you’re a redeemed, beloved child of God.
And I can be filled with joy because you are.
And I can long for – and pray for your best – even if I don’t know your name.
We need to keep on renewing that perspective, don’t we?
We so easily slip back into the world’s way of thinking.
The only way I know to do that – is to dwell on God’s word regularly
, and keep on being reminded of who he is, and all he’s done for me. And to take that truth and pray it into my heart
– and bringing you and other fellow believers into those prayers.
It should be no surprise that’s what we see John doing here
: He prays and thanks God for Gaius. He prays for his physical and life well-being:
I pray that you will enjoy good health and that all may go well with you
But he’s even more thankful that his ‘soul is getting along well.’ That’s what fills him with joy.
Wouldn’t it be a good thing today – if instead of talking about the weather, or the sport, or the latest Netflix series we’ve been binging – we talked about how we are walking with Jesus
– what we’re struggling with or thankful for.
As John reflects on Gaius’ walk in the truth, he thanks him for one example of that, that is almost certainly why he wrote the letter in the first place.
5 [Beloved], you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honours God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
If in the book of Acts and the apostle Paul’s ministry we see the first great missionary movement of the church: Here in these brothers (and sisters) we see the next.
They have been sent out by John’s church as missionaries ‘for the sake of the Name’.
Commissioned to take the gospel of Jesus to new towns and cities. And, unlike the deceivers of last week – these brothers are faithful – and commended by John.
But unlike our missionaries
– who can hop on a plane (at least they could in pre-COVID times!) and be at their location within 24 hours, these missionaries had to travel by foot
– it could take days or weeks to reach their destination. There were no hotels – or even Christian hostels to stay at on the way – they were dependent on the hospitality of Christians in the towns they travelled through.
And they could stay there for a while
– teaching and encouraging the brothers – before the travelled on.
Remember, the New Testament hadn’t been gathered into one book yet. A church might be blessed to have one letter from an apostle like John or Paul, perhaps one of the Gospels, but otherwise, they were dependent on faithful teachers, who had faithful been taught by the apostles or one of their disciples – to be challenged by the truth of Jesus. So missionaries like these brothers and sisters were important
– and needed support.
Gaius, has generously welcomed these missionaries
– sent by John’s church – into his home. Long enough, we’re told, for them to get message back to John about the situation in this local church, and for him to write back thanking Gaius for his generosity. But it’s not just hospitality these Christians needed.
They also needed help as they travelled on to the next place
Please send them on their way in a manner that honours God.
Again, unlike our modern world
– where Mission Societies like CMS can send funds across the globe at the press of a button, these missionaries needed the financial and practical help of the churches they visited. And John no doubt, partly wrote this letter to ask Gaius as a wealthy Christian to help provide that support.
Why? Because as we support missionaries in this way, we ‘work together for the truth’.
When we, as a church, or as individual Christians – support the work of Nathan and Tomoko in Japan, or Keith and Marion in PNG, and or Ian and Chris in their work here – we involve ourselves in God’s mission beyond our boundaries.
By our prayers, our financial and practical support, we love them – and we love brothers and sisters in Japan and PNG and across the world, by giving them the opportunity to know the love of God for them in Christ, and to grow in their knowledge of Him. So if supporting the work of mission is not on your agenda – now is the time to begin.
Which brings us to Diotrephes – who as a church leader is anything but supportive:
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome [the brothers] He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 11 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.
Unlike Gaius, Diotrephes hasn’t welcomed the missionaries who have come commended by John.
Indeed – if others do receive them – he pushes those believers out of the church.
It is possible that Gaius himself has paid that price by welcoming the missionaries.
So what is going on here? Why is Diotrephes so antagonistic to John? Well, as far as we can see – it isn’t theological. He hasn’t taken on the teaching of the deceivers of 2 John
– if he was, almost certainly, John would have called him out here – just as he did in 1 and 2 John. No – the issue here is much more personal…
Diotrephes ‘loves to be first’.
He opposes John and his missionaries because they threaten his place in the church. John, after all, was the apostle
– even if he doesn’t use that title here. Indeed, by this stage he may have been the last surviving Apostle.
And these missionaries travelled with his ‘stamp of approval’.
Diotrephes doesn’t want to be ‘up staged’ by them,
and so he rejects them and spreads false rumours about John to secure his position.
Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Spreading false rumours about the great apostle! But that’s where his love of being first led him.
I’m sure he didn’t see himself that way! But in walking down that road – he’s no longer ‘walking in the truth’ – no matter how right his theology was. But rather he does evil and finds himself opposed to God.
Diotrephes’ response was extreme, but as a church leader I know the pull of that road. Wanting people to think well of me.
How easy it is to play on my own success (as if it was ‘mine’, and not ‘God’s’!).
And to gossip about the real or supposed failures of others.
It’s a danger every church leader faces.
And the only defence is to remember that we are under-shepherds of the great shepherd,
our only job is to care – not for our
church – but His
. And the only commendation we need is His final one, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
As he draws his letter to a close, John has one final person to commend:
12 Demetrius 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.
We don’t quite know who Demetrius is: Most likely, he’s the bearer of this letter from John
– and he wants to assure Gaius, that here is another faithful brother he can gladly welcome.
And in speaking about him, John brings us back to the beginning.
Like Gaius, Demetrius is well-spoken of by faithful believers, and is commended by John himself, but more importantly ‘he is spoken well of by the truth.’
I don’t think that meant that he’s received some prophesy or ‘divine revelation’ about Demetrius,
Rather his faith in Jesus is self-evident
– it’s seen in his words, and his actions; his love and his service of Jesus. There can be no greater commendation for us as Christians than that.
What are we going to chat about over morning tea/supper?
Why not take a moment now to change our perspective?
To see each other, as John saw these brethren? And to think about what we are thankful for
, what fills us with joy?
Perhaps, something a brother or sister has done, in which we’ve seen the hand of Jesus? Perhaps something we’ve heard in his word? Let’s get Ash Barty’s win over and done with quickly, and instead walk in the truth with one another.