RPM, Volume 15, Number 11, March 10 to March 16, 2013

Truth and Love in Life

3 John 1-8

By J. Ligon Duncan III

Turn with me to 3 John, as we continue to make our way through these three, little letters of the Apostle John. We have just finished a brief look at the 2nd letter, and today we are moving into that 3rd letter, a letter short enough to be written on one single sheet of papyrus in John's day. It is addressed from "the elder" again, just like 2nd John. This time, however, instead of being addressed to "the elect lady," a local congregation, it is addressed to one man in a particular local congregation. It's addressed to one Gaius. We don't know who Gaius was. There were many speculations in the days of the Early Church as to who exactly this Gaius was. It's a very, very common name in the Greco-Roman world. But we know this: He was a leader. He was a respected part of this local congregation. He was a person with responsibility. We'll say why in just a few moments.

3 John is a companion letter to 2 John. 2 and 3 John have the same, or similar, pastoral concerns behind them. 2 John was concerned to encourage Christians not to show hospitality to false teachers, whereas 3 John is concerned to encourage Christians to show hospitality to true, faithful Christian missionaries and evangelists. And you can see the similar context of the pastoral concern. If John is in 2 John warning these Christians against showing hospitality and giving support to and showing respect towards false teachers, he now doesn't want them to overreact and stop showing hospitality to and support for and encouragement of true and faithful Christian teachers, evangelists, and missionaries. And that gives us the backdrop of this particular little book. So the positive instruction of 3 John—'Christians, show hospitality to missionaries who are visiting'—balances the negative instruction of 2 John—'Christians, do not show support or hospitality towards those who deny the teaching of the Bible, Jesus' teaching about Himself, the apostles' teaching about Him.'

Let me outline the passage for you today before we look at it. There are three parts to the passage: Verses 1 and 2 give us a salutation, a word of greeting; verses 3 and 4 give us a celebration where John rejoices in the news that he has heard about this faithful Christian named Gaius; and then in verses 5-8 we see a commendation—John both commends Gaius for his behavior and he encourages and exhorts him to continue on in that behavior, hospitality towards those missionaries who are visiting with them. Now before we hear God's word read and proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer and ask the aid of His Holy Spirit in the hearing of His word. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, every word of Scripture is given from Your own mouth, breathed out by Your Spirit, and it is profitable for our reproof and correction and training in righteousness so that we would be built up to maturity, equipped for every good work. And so we pray as we hear this word read and expounded today that we would receive it for what it is, not as the words and opinions of man but as the very word of God. By Your Spirit enable us not only to understand it but to believe, embrace, and live it. In Jesus' name we ask. Amen.

Hear God's word. "The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. 5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth."

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

In this short letter and in this short passage of this letter, we see three great words, three great truths to which I would draw your attention. They pertain to spiritual health, to the balance of doctrine and love in the Christian life, and to gospel hospitality. You see each of these words in the sections we've already outlined. There is a salutation, a greeting, in verses 1 and 2, and it speaks to the significance of spiritual health. Then there is the celebration in verses 3 and 4, John's glad reaction to the balance of belief and love, of doctrine and practice in the life of this church leader named Gaius. And then there is this commendation in verses 5-8, John's appreciation of Gaius' gospel hospitality, and his calling on him to continue to show that kind of hospitality in the church. And I want to explore these three themes with you today.

I. Christian love and spiritual health (1-2) - John's loving words to a beloved disciple

Let's begin in verse 1 and 2 with the salutation. Here John speaks some beautiful and loving words to this faithful disciple, and we learn something both about Christian love and spiritual health even in this word of greeting. He says, "The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers." Notice again, just like in 2 John, that John identifies himself only as "the elder." Why does he do it? I don't know. Is he drawing attention to his age? John was probably getting up there in years by the time he wrote this letter. Is he mentioning it by way of seniority? This man who would be the last of the apostles, surely he deserved respect for that kind of seniority. Was he doing it because of his own respect for that office of elder? Though he could've called himself an apostle, yet he refers to himself as an elder. Or is this a way to protect the safety of this church just in case this letter falls into the wrong hands? He doesn't identify himself lest the recipients bear the scourge because of his association with it. I don't know. But the elder John writes this letter and he writes it to Gaius.

And whoever Gaius is, he is clearly a person who is in leadership and has significant responsibility in this church. How do I know that? Well, just look at what John says about him. First of all, the visiting missionaries that come to this local church are staying with Gaius. He's the one who hosts the evangelists. He's the one who hosts the missionaries who come into town. He clearly has a role of leadership in the church in the showing of hospitality to these who were sent out in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to spread the word of the gospel. They stay with him when they come to town.

Secondly, notice that John will speak to Gaius about the problem of the fellow who's spreading dissention in the local church. Diotrephes is raising questions about John's authority, and he is encouraging the congregation not to receive missionaries, not to support them, not to bless them and send them on their way. And John writes to Gaius about this. Now look: If Gaius isn't a church leader, then all this is, is gossip…and we would not expect John to gossip.

John is writing to Gaius about Diotrephes because he is in a position of authority. Perhaps he's a leading elder in this congregation, perhaps he's the pastor in this congregation. Whoever he is, he's a person of authority who can be expected to deal in a pastoral and sensitive but biblical and forceful way with this man who is rejecting the authority of the Apostle John and is causing dissention in the church and undercutting the support of missionaries.

Thirdly, however, notice what John calls him, "Beloved, Gaius." Now you could say, "Well, yes, but that's what John thinks about Gaius. He's beloved to John." And that is true. John tells you that in the very next phrase of verse 1, "Whom I love in truth." But John seems to be saying something more when he calls him, "Beloved Gaius." In other words, John is not simply saying, 'Gaius, you are beloved to me.' No, he's saying, 'Gaius, you're beloved to all the brothers and sisters. The brothers and sisters in this local congregation love you.' And John makes it clear later on that certainly the missionaries who have received Gaius' hospitality love him. They come back to John and they say, 'Let me tell you about this fellow Gaius that we met there. He unburdened our hearts just to be with him. He welcomed us into his home. He helped us. He encouraged us. He supported us. He sent us on our way with blessing. John, this Christian is the total package. This Christian encouraged us. He's beloved to us.' So you see for all these reasons we can tell that this Gaius is a person of responsibility and leadership in this local congregation.

And John tells us that he loves him in the truth. And John's not just saying, 'Gaius, I love you sincerely.' That's true. John does love him sincerely. But he's saying, 'Gaius, I love you in the truth. Gaius, we love the same God. Gaius, we love the same Christ and Savior. Gaius, we serve the same mission. Gaius, we love the same Scriptures. Gaius, we love the same truth. We are in the sphere of the influence of the same truth, the same ultimate truth. And as we have that bond together in gospel truth, I tell you, my friend, I love you.' John is expressing his love to Gaius but he's noting that the bond, the deep bond they share, is bound in the truth, bound in the gospel, bound in Jesus Christ. That binds them together however they may be different otherwise.

Have you met people like that? Christians…and you meet them and for a few moments there's such an evident manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. They have such qualities that only God could have put there, and they encourage you in extraordinary ways. Just this last week I was together with a fellowship of ministers, and many of us came to that fellowship not knowing one another. But let me tell you by the time we left there were some tremendous bonds of friendship which had been established. And there were men saying of people that they had only known for 48-hours, "I love that man." Have you had that experience before? It's what John's saying about Gaius here. It's a word about the depth of Christian love for another Christian.

But here's the word that I want you to concentrate on. Look at verse 2. In this greeting, instead of giving the typical Greek greeting, "Be well! May the gods give you health and prosper you!" John spins that a little bit. He changes it. He gives an entirely different emphasis. He says, "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers."

In other words, John is not simply wishing Gaius physical well-being and prosperity in addition to his spiritual well being. He's saying, 'Gaius, you know I don't have to pray for your spiritual well being. That's evident to everyone, and it's been reported to me. I just…I just pray that you'll be physically well and prosperous in your labors, as you are spiritually healthy.' Now, my friends, I have to say, I tremble a little bit at the thought that you may give me that blessing. For you to say that of me, I might wind up in the hospital for a few months. To ask that the Lord would make me as physically healthy as I am spiritually healthy…? Isn't that a tremendous comment of encouragement about this man Gaius, that John can say, 'Your spiritual health is evident to everyone. I just pray that you're as well in terms of your physical health as you are spiritually, Gaius. I hope that your labors are prospered the way that you are spiritually healthy.' Friends, we ought to desire to be spiritually healthy like that, so that we could give one another that commendation. We ought to aim to emulate that kind of spiritual health, so that that kind of commendation could be given.

I need to pause right here and say…Because this passage is a key passage for the "prosperity gospel," I need to say that this verse has been sadly misconstrued and misused and misapplied by many, many Christian teachers in our own day and time. You know, for a while in the 1970s and 80s it looked like the "prosperity gospel" was on the wane. Well, it is back with a vengeance. You cannot turn on the television today without someone preaching you "health and wealth." And 3 John 2 is one of the key verses appealed to by prosperity preachers. And the "prosperity gospel," "the health and wealth gospel," is the gospel that says that God not only wants your soul's salvation, but He wants you to be healthy and wealthy. And if you are not it is because you do not realize that promise or you don't have enough faith. And if you would only have enough faith you would be healthy and wealthy as well as saved in eternity. And so prosperity preachers go around telling Christians that if they will contribute to their ministries or if they will become involved in some particular way in making a vow of faith, they will receive health and prosperity if they will simply ask for it in faith and make a commitment to their ministry. We see it everywhere we turn, in churches and on the television, and 3 John verse 2 is one of the verses that they will base this on. Listen to it again, "I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers."

Now once you understand the context, that a well-wish for health and for prosperity was part of the politenesses of the age when letters were exchanged, and that John takes that sincere expression of desire on the part of one writing a letter to the person who's receiving the letter and makes a spiritual comment to Gaius, you can see that that interpretation is wrong. For instance, Oral Roberts went to this verse to base his entire ministry. We're told that one morning Oral Roberts was rushing out to catch a bus to go to class when he realized he'd forgotten to read the Scriptures, and so he went back into the house. He opened his Bible up at random, and his eyes fell on 3 John 2, and this verse became the foundation for his prosperity ministry. Now, my friends, Oral Roberts is still living. Did you know that? You haven't heard about Oral Roberts very much recently. He's in California now, very far away from the base of his ministry in Oklahoma. In California, Oral Roberts is quietly suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Now there's a reason why that's not being mentioned by the folks that are carrying on his ministry. It would certainly disturb the faithful, wouldn't it, to know that the founder of this "health and wealth / prosperity ministry" was himself suffering from a debilitating disease? Now I do not say that to make fun of Oral Roberts or to belittle him in any way, but simply to say, isn't it interesting that this has not been brought to our attention?

This is not what John is talking about in this passage. John is not saying that every Christian is going to be fabulously wealthy, deliriously prosperous, and unendingly healthy. Those things would indeed be a blessing—were the Lord to give us wealth or were the Lord to give us health—but these are not things that are promised to every believer. The Lord Jesus Christ's own life bears witness of this. At any rate, John's point in this passage is to raise the issue of the spiritual health of Gaius which is described in the following verses. And we too should long to have that kind of spiritual maturity and growth manifested in our lives.

II. Christian joy in Christians walking in truth/love (3-4) [Celebration: John's glad reaction to a disciples' belief/love]

The second thing I want you to draw your attention to you'll see in verses 3 and 4. Here is John's celebration of this report about Gaius, John's glad reaction to a disciple's belief and love. And John reminds us here of the joy, the Christian joy, that we ought to have when we see fellow Christians walking in truth and love: "For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth."

John may well have been Gaius' spiritual father. He may well have been the one who led him to faith in Christ, and so he may be grouping Gaius amongst his spiritual children in the sense of those whom he has led to the Lord. But whatever the case is, John is delighting in Gaius' life and faithfulness. And what's he delighting about? Well, at the end of verse 3 and at the end of verse 4, John twice emphasizes that he's delighting that Gaius is walking in the truth. What does John mean by that? That Gaius is sound in the doctrine that he embraces, that he loves the Christ preached by John, that he loves the Christ of the Bible, the Christ of the gospels, that he is sound in fundamental Christian doctrine.

But then, secondly, if you look at verse 6, John is also delighting that Gaius is not only committed to sound doctrine, he is living out that doctrine in real, tangible Christian love. In other words, John is saying, 'In Gaius I see both truth and love. I see right doctrine, right belief, and commitment to Christian love. In Gaius I see doctrine and love, truth and practice joined.' What a beautiful description of the balance of the Christian life: A healthy disciple who loves the truth of God's word and is committed to living that out in love…in this case in the support of visiting missionaries in the local congregation.

Friends, doctrine and love are often set against one another in the Christian life. You've heard people say, "Well, he loves truth more than he loves people." Or you've heard people say, "He cares too much about doctrine and doesn't show enough love." But in Gaius we see a man who loves the truth and he loves people. He loves sound, biblical, apostolic doctrine and he is committed to living out that truth in love in his life. And it causes John's heart to rejoice. There is this coordination of belief and practice in Gaius that causes John to rejoice. And, again, this is an example to be emulated because Jesus Himself is the One in whose image Gaius is being recreated. And what does John say about Jesus? That He was full of grace and truth. And there is the picture of the complete Christian. And all of us will be weak in one area or another of those, and we need to exalt the one without the expense of the other and not play them off against one another. You know Jesus never said to the Pharisees, 'Your problem is you care too much about the truth.' Jesus never said that. They did have a problem in many of the practical expressions of the true love of God in their lives, but He never says to them, 'Forget the truth; be loving.' No, truth and love go together, and they were together in the life of this disciple, Gaius.

And we need to ask ourselves, "How do we measure in this balance? And are we praying for one another in this area?" In another congregation that I served, I met a ruling elder who was the elder in that church that cared most about doctrine. He was an elder who was always reading sound Christian books. He loved to study his Westminster Confession of Faith. He was a beaver for the Bible. He loved to be studying the Bible. He loved to be memorizing Bible passages. But he was also the elder that was the most faithful to do personal evangelism. And that combination blew me away, that a man who loved the Bible this much and loved truth this much was also so faithful and zealous to witness to Jesus. My friends, there are elders and leaders in this church that have those kinds of combinations. But, you know, we ought to be praying for one another that we would all in some measure manifest that kind of balance in the Christian life, of concern for truth and expression of love. How are we praying for one another in this very area? Well, there's John's celebration, this reaction to a disciple who has a balance of belief and love in his life.

III. Christian appreciation of and incitement to Gospel hospitality (5-8) [Commendation and Exhortation: John's appreciation of Gaius' hospitality and call for continuance]

And then, thirdly, if you look at verses 5-8 you'll see John's commendation, his expression of appreciation for Gaius' hospitality and his call for Gaius to continue in that hospitality. And he reminds us here of this Christian appreciation for gospel hospitality for missionaries that we all ought to have. Gaius, we're told in verses 5 and 6, has shown hospitality to the brethren. "You are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers."

Here's the circumstance: In the Early Church there were itinerant evangelists and missionaries. They left their full-time labors and they devoted themselves to the spread of the gospel. They traveled from church-to-church and they launched out to preach the gospel to Gentiles in places where the gospel could not be heard, and Gaius is welcoming these traveling evangelists and missionaries who love the truth into his home. He's encouraging them. He's supporting them. He's giving them food and means that they can go about their missionary labors…even when he doesn't have a personal relationship with those teachers. Some of these teachers he knows—they're brothers that he knows—but others, John says, are strangers. When they first come, he doesn't even know them. They're certified by the church; they're faithful in their doctrine; but he didn't know them before. But he takes them in and he shows them hospitality. And John in verses 5 and 6 says, 'Well done, Gaius! That's how we ought to be behaving towards missionaries, Gaius. Keep it up! Way to go!'

And then at the end of verse 6 he says, 'And, Gaius, don't let anybody turn you back. You keep on doing this. You keep on showing this kind of care and provision and encouragement for missionaries. You keep on supporting missionaries.' Now we're going to learn next week, God willing, why John has to say this to Gaius, because there's somebody in the church that's trying to undercut this. And so he says, 'Gaius, you keep on showing this kind of support.'

In fact, in verses 7 and 8 John gives three reasons why Gaius ought to support these missionaries. First, he says they went out for the sake of the Name. He says, 'Let me tell you something about these faithful teachers, Gaius. They have left home and lands and inheritance and friends and family for one reason and one reason only, to spread the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. They have left for the Name, the Name which is above every name, the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They've left for that reason. That alone, Gaius, compels our support of them. We owe them support because they've left everything for the Name.' It's a pretty good reason to support a missionary, isn't it? That missionary has left everything for the Name. John says, 'That's a good reason to support them, Gaius.' But he's not done.

Notice he goes on to say that they have no other means of support. He says they accept nothing from the Gentiles. You know, they're not going out to say, 'Gentiles, I've got good news. Now pay me first and I'll tell you.' You know, any time you hear someone on television saying, "Pay me first and I'll tell you good news," you know right there you're not dealing with a true preacher of the word. They're not going to the Gentiles to make money off of them. They're going to give something to the Gentiles, not to get something from the Gentiles. And, therefore, John says, it is incumbent upon us who are already believers to support the mission of evangelists to those who are not believers. We're not going to ask those who are not believers to pay for the mission of the good news to them. We're going to pay for that.

It's a pretty good reason to support missionaries, isn't it? Because we're not going to ask those who are on the fields of mission to get their support from those whom they are trying to bless, who do not know Christ in the gospel. Oh, one day when they become believers they too can support missionaries to go to unbelievers, but until then we who are believers now will be the ones who will support those who are going to tell the good news. They have no other means of support but from us. But, thirdly, John…It's a beautiful phrase, isn't it? John says we should support these men because when we do we become fellow workers in the truth: "That we may be fellow workers with the truth." He says, 'Our gifts cause us to be mingled in their ministry. They're going out to tell the truth. They're leaving home and family. But when we send our gifts it's as if we're going with them.' You know Charles Spurgeon has a great prayer about missionaries, asking God to use every pence he gives that he might go as a fellow worker with those missionaries around the world spreading the truth of the gospel. And these are three good reasons to support our own missionaries, friends.

Do we have that kind of a vision to show that kind of support and hospitality and provision and encouragement to our missionaries? Notice that the gospel is the source of this kind of heart for missionary support, and the gospel is a means to this kind of hospitality. And this kind of hospitality and support has gospel ends: It has a gospel goal to it. The goal of this support is the exaltation of Jesus Christ and the spread of His gospel. And John just pauses and he say, 'Gaius, I so appreciate the example that you have set for the church for this kind of support and encouragement of these itinerant missionaries.' My friends, this passage gives us a beautiful picture of the spiritual health of a church leader, a picture to be aspired to, so that just like Paul can say, "Follow my example," we also should seek to follow Gaius' example of spiritual health, of walking in truth and love, and of support of those who are working to spread the gospel. May God help us to do so. Let's pray.

Lord and God, we thank You for Your word. It is so applicable. And we acknowledge that Your word convicts us that we have fallen short of that which You intend us to be. And so by Your grace, by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we ask that You would enable us to show this kind of love to those who work for the gospel and spread the word of Christ around the world, and to manifest this kind of spiritual maturity in truth and love. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Peace be to the brethren from God the Father and our Lord Jesus the Messiah. Amen.

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