Truth and Imitation
The connection between doctrine and practice
I like nice teeth. And when I brush my teeth, I want results. I want good clean results, so Iím always interested in the latest developments from the dental world. My memory goes back to around 1976, and since that time there has been many upheavals in brushing technology. At one time, brushing was done with a haphazard horizontal motion. Then the Captain Kangaroo Show propagated a circular motion with a clever cartoon and song to go with it. We then saw the advent of meticulous vertical strokes intended to clean the spaces in between the teeth. Not long after that, an even more careful method was introduced that combined elements of the other ways. Our teeth are important to us, and we are always concerned with how to get good results in our mouths.
Much more important than the duty of brushing teeth is the duty of right living. The way we live should be more on our minds than how we brush our teeth. In the fourth verse of the Third Epistle of John, we find a descriptive term for right living, which is "walking in truth." Walking in truth is the duty of every believer. It is a way of living that gets good results and produces good fruit. If we want good clean results in living, we must walk in truth.
Walking in truth is an important duty for every believer, but what does it look like? The Apostle John has written a letter concerning the testimonies of three men. From the account of their lives, we will learn what walking in truth does and does not produce.
I. Walking in truth produces joy. (3 John 1 - 8)
When we observe the life of Gaius we see a picture of joy. Gaius is addressed as the "beloved" or the "dear friend" and seems to be a convert of the Apostle, because John shows a fatherly interest and joy in him. John calling Gaius one of his children may only be referring to the spiritual leadership that John has been providing. In any case, Gaius is a beloved friend and a son in the faith to John. Gaius could have been the man traveling with Paul in Acts 19 & 20, who was from the city of Derbe in Galatia. Gaius could also be the one mentioned by Paul in the last chapter of Romans and the first chapter of 1st Corinthians. But these men are converts of Paul from decades before and any view taken cannot be supported strongly. Above all, John says he loves Gaius "in the truth," which could more commonly means that he loves Gaius "sincerely." We see the basis of this love and joy of John in verses 3 and 4. (3 - 4) For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Nothing brought John greater joy than the spiritual success of his flock. Not even the joy of the salvation of souls surpassed the joy over lives of sincerity. Sincere Christianity leads to the salvation of sinners. Maybe the reason why we see so few additions to the family of God is that the Bride of Christ has lost her first love and doesnít desire to produce new children. Many talk of truth but few walk in truth. We donít believe what we say we believe.
We come to the end of the year and we make our resolution for the new one; we often fail to keep our resolutions for even a month or a week. We can say we are going to obey God and determine to do it with our whole effort, and yet we fail Him. We know the truth and we say we believe the truth, but do we really trust God at His Word? One of my professors used the same phrase every time he preached: "Belief effects behavior, behavior reflects belief." That saying is worn out in my estimation, but it has been burned into my memory banks. We need to see that the way we live reveals what we think about God. So often we look like a stubborn bull that has to be dragged by the nose-ring. Why is obeying Godís Word so terrible?
We shouldnít have to be driven like cattle toward obedience, rather isnít it better if we allow ourselves to be lead like sheep? We should follow the truth as a hungry dog running to his dinner bowl. Walking in the truth should be like doing a favor for a very dear friend. Yet we fail the Heavenly Friend; we refuse to follow the Good Shepherd; we disappoint our Heavenly Father. Is it really worth all the guilt and the heaviness of conscience? Why do we choose to fail? The flesh is exceedingly weak. We must choose to walk in the truth rather than just talking the truth.
A. Walking in truth requires sincerity. (v. 2)
Johnís joy in Gaius is in finding him a man of truth. Truth is the primary focus of 3 John; the word occurs seven times in five verses (this book only has fourteen verses). Gaiusí life is one of sincerity. The word sincerity comes from the Latin and literally means "without wax." The term came from the statue business where any chip in the stone or bronze would be filled in with wax and painted over. Today we could say that sincerity is being "without bondo."
Think of a red 1976 Firebird. This car looks great, but beneath that shiny glossy paint is not metal or fiberglass, but bondo. Just as nobody wants a firebird full of glorified mud, nobody wants an insincere Christian. We may have wax or bondo covering the holes in our character and our walk with Jesus. We may even have those blemishes layered with gold or covered in the most beautiful paint job. But if any testing become hot enough the wax will melt away. If any trial of life scratches away the glossy paint or the thin layer of gold the true character is revealed. A lack of integrity in a statue or a car or a Christian, no matter how well hidden or covered over, is still a weakness, and that weakness will be revealed sooner or later. "What you see is what you get" with Gaius; he was a transparent person - nothing to hide. Gaius had no façade to maintain. He didnít have to worry about what others thought of him. He had no secret sins, no false motives, no conflicting priorities; he was completely sold out for Jesus Christ. He was a man to be trusted and listened to. He walked in the truth. Gaius had a precious commodity. A pearl was worth tons of gold in Johnís day and today even the most precious of pearls is worth nothing in comparison. Purple die was almost priceless, so much so that only kings could afford to wear it. Silver and gold prices have fluctuated through centuries and decades and months. But the value of truth, the preciousness of sincerity, the cost of integrity has remained the same throughout the ages and is still hard to grasp. Those who love themselves hate truth; truth reveals the prideful one as worthless. Those who love God love truth. He is a "God of truth" as Moses wrote in Deuteronomy. Christ said, "I am the truth." Those who "walk in truth" obey Godís Word without question and imitate the pattern of Christís life, which obediently served His Father. There are no obstacles between the truthful and God, just Christís relationship with his Father. There is an unbroken path of fellowship. Those "walking in truth" have no barriers between them and their neighbor. Truthful Christians are not vulnerable to criticism or crisis; they have Christís perspective of everything they encounter.
B. Walking in truth requires salvation. (3 John 2) Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
The word "wish" in the King James is actually the word "pray." John is in active and constant prayer for his son in the faith. The focus of Johnís prayer is that Gaiusí life and health may prosper in every way, even has his soul prospers. It is interesting that his health and prosperity were not up to par with the wellness of his spiritual life. The phrase "even as thy soul prospereth" may only be referring to Gaiusí salvation and attainment of the immutable and eternal promises of God, but there is more to the phrase.
C. Devotion is required for the walk of truth. (v. 2)
Gaius is man who is "walking in the truth," who is supporting the ministry with his time, energy, and resources, and is loving and loyal to his brothers and sisters in Christ. The soul of Gaius is not riddled with doubt or pride or moral pollution; he has a healthy spiritual life. His material wealth was not as great as his spiritual health. His physical health was not as great as his spiritual health. Gaius lived during the great persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian. For most of the first century, there was a general distrust of this new religion, but now the civil authorities and even their neighbors were turning against them. Being Christian at the time of this letter meant the loss of jobs, freedom, property, and even life. The bad times effected Gaiusí health adversely.
Today, we see American Christians with freedom of religion. We live in prosperous times in a prosperous country, we have many things and few Christians go without good food and shelter. Americans have never had better health; the medical system and nutrition we get are unrivaled in history. We have healthy bodies and wealthy lives, and yet our generation of Christians is sick in its soul. Christians today are the opposite of Gaius. We have allowed the ideas of the world to creep into and pollute our minds. Are we willing to sacrifice our wealth to the cause of Christ? Are we willing to endanger our physical well beings? So foreign is the example of Gaius and yet we find the same self-sacrificing spirit in the lives of the apostles and Christ. Yet Gaius is not an apostle -- he may not even be a pastor. He is a saint like you and I, but are we saints like him?
D. Loyal love is required for the walk of truth. (v. 5)(3 John 1:5 KJV) Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Beyond Johnís commendation of Gaiusí walk in the truth, we see a description of how belief effects behavior. We see how to walk in the truth in the next several verses. Gaius was in active support of the cause of Christ. Gaius was showing his loyalty to Christ and to the Church in his service. Those served by Gaius testified of his loyalty and love toward them. Love can not be kept secret. Christís love sent Him to the cross to die for our sins. It could not be contained, because love acts. His action was in proportion to His love for us. Look at the life of Christ and see what perfect love produces. What are the products of our lives right now? Is there any evidence of loyal love in the church today? Yes, there is some. But if we are honest, we must come to terms with the fact that our love is so lacking. What has love produced in your life? Are we supporting the church ministries like this man who lived 1900 years ago?
E. Purity is required for the walk of truth. (v. 7) Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. The meaning of this verse is that they went out with the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ and they took nothing from the unsaved because they didnít want anyone to think that salvation is for sell. Christianity is not like Scientology or any other cult, where one must have money to find God.
The purpose of not allowing the unsaved to support the ministry is to avoid the worldís control. In the past and presently in some foreign countries, the government supported the churches. But we must be reminded that any program that the government supports, it also tends to control. The early Church was motivated by the love of God to spread the Gospel. She worried not of power or riches or fame, but kept her motives pure. Let us learn from this spotless example.
F. Cooperation is required for the walk of truth. (v. 8) We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth. These men who Gaius supported were worthy of support. They were careful ministers of the Gospel. They preached the truth to those who are dead to God. They carried the seed of resurrection power and shared it with the lost. We ought to support such men, and when we do, we become coworkers with them. If we show any hospitality to any servant of God, we become fellow workers. Fellowship is not found in the basement of the church around a table of food, fellowship is found in ministry.
What joy I get when I get a letter from or hear from a servant of Christ that I prayed for or worked with. Miriam Morin has been translating the Bible into the Dendi language in Benin for years now and you know what? It excites me personally. Her burden becomes my burden when I pray for her, her success becomes our success because we share the same Savior. We should all become coworkers in the cause of Christ. The lone penny dropped in the plate, the short simple prayer, the postcard to a struggling missionary, the cups of water handed out without thought; we can be fellow workers with the greatest of evangelists.
Walking in truth has many joyful results. Gaius is fine example of how Christians should live, but there is another side. John didnít write this letter because everything was going great as this certain church; rather, quite the opposite is true. At least one of the believers refused to walk in the truth and his disobedience resulted in a painful confrontation.
II. Not walking in truth produces pain. (3 John 9 - 12)(3 John 11) Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. Diotrephesí name means "nurtured by Jupiter." But from his actions we could wonder if he was nurtured by the Devil. Just as Gaius is held up as a good example for the church to imitate, Diotrephes is a model of what to avoid. Gaius has been given two examples of life and the John the Elder tells him to imitate the good example. In life we imitate our leaders. Young children imitate their parents. A little boy in my church does something very cute: he crosses his arms when being scolded. Why? His mother crosses her arms when she wants to make a point. Churches do the same thing as children. A church that changes leadership will change; change can be good or bad or anywhere in between. Whether the congregation knows it or not, it copies the pastor and his family. Leaders have a strong effect upon whom they influence. Leaders, whether they are parents, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or pastors, need to be responsible and aware of how they behave and perform within that office. We also need to be careful whom we follow.
It is demonstrated here that we will know people by their fruits. Those who do well are of God and from God. Likewise, those who habitually practice evil have not seen God. That is simple enough to see, but how difficult that teaching is to come to terms with. The good and bad are not referring to one time acts, but to continual modes of behavior. Anyone who grievously sins, but repents with a broken heart is not in view. Weak and young Christians may sin often, but as long as they are disgusted by their sin they shouldnít worry about this saying. If you have no conviction of sin in your life, I say this plainly: youíre probably not saved. If doing wrong doesnít make you heartbroken, your soul is sick. Diotrephes was man with a sick soul. He suffered because of his sin and he made others to suffer. Sin is never only on an individual level. Christians were never meant to be lone wolves. In the New Testament, believers are never taken out of the context of some local church. God intended for us to be in fellowship with others. The problem with a community of believers is that a sinful and uncooperative Christian can slow the progress of spiritual growth. How much more destructive it is when the leadership of a church is not walking in truth. (3 John 1:12 KJV) Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. Demetrius is being held up to Gaius as a replacement to Diotrephes. John does a smart thing by stamping his approval on Demetrius to allow for a quick transition of leadership. Demetrius is a man like Gaius in that he has a good testimony in front of everybody. (3 John 1:13 KJV) I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: (3 John 1:14 KJV) But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name. John indicates his determination to take on this problem personally. John wasnít afraid to take on this selfish man because he walked in the truth. John and Gaius and Demetrius could stand up to any false accusation or unjust belligerence because they had nothing to hide as transparent Christians. The greatest pain had not yet come and that was Johnís confrontation of Diotrephes. We must remember that confrontations are for restoration not destruction. This confrontation came only after two letters, many warnings and much prayer. Letís examine some of the elements of the pain that Diotrephes caused the church.
A. Selfishness destroys the walk of truth. (v. 9)(3 John 1:9 KJV) I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. In some of the most ancient texts, John says he wrote something to the church. Because of the this evidence and the fact that the verb "wrote" is in the past tense, John is referring to a letter he wrote before the one weíre are looking at now. The Third Letter of John is a follow up letter. The previous letter was probably over some controversy that they had appealed to John over, who was now the last living apostle. John responded with a letter of instruction and Diotrophes didnít like what it said. Because Diotrophes loves to be top dog, he refused to accept the authority of John. Diotrephes is the opposite of Gaius. This is tragic. Truth is found in Gaius, but only delusion and deception are found in Diotrephes. Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but only rejoices in truth. There is no love in his heart toward others or God. He is his own god. C. S. Lewis said, "Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind." Selfishness is the root of all sin.
B. Delusion destroys the walk of truth. (v. 9)(3 John 10 KJV) Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. John then warns the beloved Gaius that if he comes to that church, there will be a war. Look at the product of Diotrephes: unjust accusations, malicious gossip, slander, and spiteful charges. Are these the products of love? And old Diotrephes wasnít satisfied with the defamation and destruction Johnís name, he abused his people. Diotrephes, in my estimation, is the senior pastor of the church where Gaius is. If he isnít he still had great weight and sizeable support among the congregation -- enough to excommunicate members for not agreeing with him in this dispute. He refuses to support the ministers mentioned in the previous verses. He wonít even allow others to support the evangelists and kicks out those who do. Sometimes it is necessary to stop supporting certain ministries over doctrinal or practical reasons, and sometimes it is necessary to practice church discipline, but Diotrephes divides the church because he didnít get his way in an issue. Look at the sins of Diotrephes.
C. Gossip destroys the walk of truth. (v. 10)
Gossip is a great plague in churches back then and today. It is an easy sin to slip into. When does a conversation of concern turn into malicious gossip? A good test for gossip is this: for what reason are we sharing information? What motivates us to talk? Concern for that person or just entertainment? Gossip is about the most worthless thing I could think of. Do we pray for someone more than we talk about him or her? The tongue is an untamable animal that is full of venom; it can destroy a group of believers. We need to be concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ and avoid unhealthy conversations at all costs.
D. Isolation destroys the walk of truth. (v. 10)
Isolation is also a problem caused by Diotrephes. He cut himself off from every source of accountability and authority. No Christian is an island. The motivation of his isolation is really whatís the problem. Men isolate themselves and their congregations from the truth. This can lead to the formation of cults. A man who loves himself really is setting himself up as god. David Koresh claimed to be Messiah; Jim Jones claimed to be some form deity. They are extreme examples of sinful leadership, but not uncommon ones. Jim Jones was a preacher of the true Gospel but he turned from the truth and look at the destruction he caused. Selfish Christians do more than get people in trouble: they can destroy people spiritually and even lead them into the mouth of Hell.
E. Coercion destroys the walk of truth. (v. 10)
After the isolation, it is only natural that coercion takes place. Delusion always lashes out at the truth and fears outside authority. Diotrephes cannot lead his flock because he has no truth to offer to them, so he turns to driving them like cattle with manipulation and lies. Diotrephes was giving no thought to the problems that he was causing for his people, he was only concerned in being number one. He took upon himself the preeminence that only Christ deserves. He demanded the loyalty only God should get. The delusion and selfishness inherent in sin made Diotrephes drunk with himself. What is the smallest world known by Earthlings: a selfish man. A selfish person lives in a world of one. He or she listens to one person, cares for one person, and loves one person: himself. Selfishness is hell on earth; a strange fiction that God never intended for us to live in; a poisonous fruit offered by Satan to the undiscerning.
We must see again what our duty is. God has a plan for our lives and it basically has to do with drawing closer to Him that He may be glorified. Walking in truth is staying in fellowship with God and the church. It isnít as easy as brushing your teeth, but it is possible. Christ has freed the Christian from the power of sin and we have the freedom to do what we ought. In this little book of Third John we can count three men walking in truth: John, Gaius, and Demetrius. They understood that we should walk in truth not only because God wants us to, but also because it is the best way to live and is a source of immeasurable joy. Walking in truth is the duty of every believer -- it produces good and joyful results.