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3 John: Love in Truth Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Understanding the truth is not enough.  Yes, truth is important, in fact, it is critical.  We saw last week from 2 John that without the truth you do not have love.  Yet, at the same time, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that Christianity is merely about knowledge or facts.  We cannot simply ascribe to set of doctrines and consider ourselves faithful followers of Jesus.  No, the truth of the gospel demands that we respond, that we act.  We could say it this way: the truth of Christianity demands that we love like Christ.  As we noted last week, truth and love are not to be divorced.  Rather, we are to keep the truth in our love and love in our truth.  This morning, as we look at 3 John, we will be looking at John’s call to keep love in our truth.

In 2 John, John told the Church to not support any teacher who did not remain in the teaching of Christ.  They were not to show them hospitality.  However, this lack of support did not apply to those who were true missionaries of Christ.  The letter of 3 John was written to encourage hospitality toward those who were faithfully preaching the gospel.  Thus, just as he identified those we should not support in 2 John, he identifies who we should support in 3 John.

The letter is addressed to Gaius.  We cannot be certain who this person was, but we know from the letter itself that John knew him and cared for him.  Look at verse 1.  We see this care and concern again in John’s closing of the letter.  Look at verses 13-15.  John cares about Gaius and goes on to say that he believes that he is walking in the truth.  Look at verses 2-4.  It seems that brothers had reported to John that Gaius was serving the Lord faithfully.  John tells him that nothing could make him more joyful.  He rejoices that Gaius is walking in the truth.  Obviously John wants Gaius to continue in this, so he has written to give him further instructions about supporting missionaries.  I think the real point of the letter is revealed in verse 11.  Look at that with me.  John wants Gaius to imitate good and to avoid evil since whoever does good is from God and whoever does evil has not seen God.  John writes so that Gaius can know the difference between good and evil concerning the support of missionaries.  So what does John say?

The Good: support faithful missionaries (like Gaius has been doing).

John has received a good report about Gaius and he wants him to continue in his faithful service.  What do we know about the missionaries that John is instructing Gaius to support?  First, we know that they are brothers in Christ, even though they are strangers to Gaius.  Look at verse 5.  Gaius does not know these people personally, but he knows that they are brothers in Christ.  This truth always amazes me.  There are people gathering all over the globe this morning to worship the Savior.  They are singing his praises (in whatever style they sing), they are hearing His Word (in whatever language they speak), they are giving their money (in whatever currency they use), they are serving the needy (in whatever ways they can).  We do not know them, we cannot know them all, but if what John says is true (and I believe that it is), then we can call them brothers and sisters.  They may be strangers, but they are still family.  Gaius did not know these missionaries, but he treated them as brothers in Christ. 

Second, we know that the missionaries have gone out for the sake of the name.  Look at verse 7a.  In contrast to what John will say about Diotrophes (see v. 9), these men wanted to see Christ lifted up.  They were on mission for the propagation of the name of Jesus.  They were not trying to bring some new teaching or build some large gathering for themselves.  No, they were preaching Christ and laboring to see others put their trust and faith in the Name.

Third, they were not seeking support from the Gentiles.  Look at verse 7b.  The term translated ‘Gentiles’ is probably a reference to pagans or unbelievers.  John is saying that they were not trying to make money in their proclaiming of the gospel to the lost.  Rather, they placed themselves at the mercy of other believers.

John sees these missionaries as being faithful to the gospel and worthy of support.  He commends Gaius for supporting them and encourages him to continue.  What had Gaius been doing for them?  Look at verses 5-6a.  He had served them with love.  When they had come to him in need, Gaius had loved them faithfully.  How does John tell him to continue in this?  Look at verse 6b.  He tells Gaius to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.  Gaius has served them with love and John tells him to send them with plenty.  He is probably referring to meeting their material needs.  As they leave, John wants Gaius to provide for them so that they can continue their mission.  Thus, he tells him to keep serving them with love and sending them with plenty.  What does it mean when we serve in this way?  Look at verse 8.  When we support faithful missionaries in these ways John says that we become fellow workers for the truth.  The reality is that we will never be able to go to all the nations personally.  I cannot preach the gospel in more than one place at the same time.  Yet, as we give to support world missions we get the privilege of participating with them in taking the gospel to the nations.  This is why we must continue to give to the Cooperative Program and other agencies that are sending missionaries out.  We want to be fellow workers for the truth.  We want to partner with others to reach the world with the gospel of Christ.  John calls this good support and encourages us to imitate it.

The Evil: refuse to support, or allow support, for faithful missionaries (like Diotrophes).

If Gaius is an example of doing what is good in relation to support of missionaries, Diotrophes is the counter-example.  What was the problem with him?  John tells us in verse 9.  Look at that verse with me.  Diotrophes put himself first.  Unlike the missionaries that John had described, Diotrophes wanted to be out front.  Of course, one could argue that somebody has to lead and be in charge.  Well, that is true, but that is not what John is critiquing here.  Diotrophes wants to be in control.  We know this because John goes on to note that he does not acknowledge our authority.  Diotrophes did not want to listen to John and his supporters.  He wanted to be in charge and he seemingly did not want to take any orders from anyone else.

So what exactly was Diotrophes doing?  Look at verse 10.  First, he was slandering John and his supporters.  He was lying about John and abusing him with wicked words.  Yet, this was not enough.  Second, he was refusing to support the missionaries that John had sent.  Diotrophes, in seemingly an effort to further separate himself from John’s authority, was not willing to take in and provide for those who according to John were faithful missionaries.  And even this was not enough.  Third, not only did he slander John and refuse to support the missionaries, he was also refusing to allow others to support them.  It seems that others in the Church, like Gaius, wanted to support these missionaries.  Yet, Diotrophes was so set against them that if anyone did try to support them and he found out about it he would put them out of the Church.  His desire to be first and his refusal of John’s authority had led him to some radical actions.  Stott comments: “Diotrephes slandered John, cold-shouldered the missionaries and excommunicated the loyal believers—all because he loved himself and wanted to have the pre-eminence.”  He adds, “Personal vanity still lies at the root of most dissensions in every local church today.”1  This is the evil that John tells Gaius (and us) to avoid in verse 11.

Thus, John lays before us two approaches to supporting missionaries.  We will do well if we support faithful missionaries by serving them with love and sending them with plenty.  And even though we are not to support false teachers (as we are taught in 2 John), if we refuse to support those who are truly preaching the gospel, then we have acted sinfully.  Granted, we cannot support every missionary or mission endeavor, but we do need to be supporting in as many ways as we can so as to be fellow workers for the truth. 

John calls us to put our belief in the truth to action.  Again, it is not enough to just agree with a set of principles or doctrines.  No, the doctrine of Christ calls us to love and serve others.  In particular, we are called to love and serve those who are going out for the sake of the Name.  And do not miss the fact that this letter itself ends with an opportunity for practical application.  John mentions one more individual in verse 12.  Demetrius is another person that we are unable to identify.  Yet, it seems probable that he would be delivering John’s letter to Gaius and so he is commended as one who is trustworthy.  Thus, Gaius has a choice: ‘either I receive him and support him and love him like John has told me to do or I reject him and refuse to offer him support like Diotrophes would have me to do.’

The same choice comes to us in our day.  Granted our situation is different.  We do not live in a culture where hospitality is an absolute necessity for even survival.  Yet, we still have a choice before us: will we serve like Gaius or Diotrophes?  When we are given the opportunity to support those who are taken the gospel to the nations, will we be fellow workers with them by serving them with love and sending them with plenty or will we put our own wants and needs above them? 

Of course, in part it comes down to our belief in ‘the truth’ that John has mentioned over and over again.  Do we really believe the gospel?  Do we believe that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ has secured us a place in the family of God?  And do we believe that all of those who repent and believe in this gospel are our brothers and sisters in Christ?  Are we committed to seeing the name of Christ preached in every tongue, tribe, and nation?  Do we believe that the only way that others can become a part of God’s family is through hearing the gospel?  If we hold fast to these truths, and I pray that we do, then the support that John calls us to give here is not so burdensome.  In fact, I would dare say that we would consider it a privilege to be fellow workers of the gospel by supporting faithful missionaries in these ways.  It is not enough to just know the truth.  No, the truth that we know demands to be shared.  It demands to be proclaimed.  It demands that we go.  It demands that we love others who are going to the places that we cannot go.  May the truth of the gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ our Lord, drive us to love in these ways.  Amen.

1 John Stott, The Letters of John TNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 231.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 08 February 2010 )

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