Music playing Well, we're in 3 John, having completed 2 John, the two shortest and arguably most neglected letters in the New Testament. In coming to them, you may find yourself, as I have done, saying, Well, how do we identify the immediate points of application given that we're distanced by some two thousand years or so from the events that John is addressing in the historic context?
And as I was mulling that over, I was helped by a brief observation on the part of someone, Gresham Machen, who was a professor at Princeton many, many years ago and then at Westminster Seminary, and in some brief comments on 3 John, he says this, Despite its individual address and private character, 3 John is not an ordinary private letter. Like all the books of the New Testament, it has a message for the entire church. The devout reader rises from the perusal of it with a more steadfast devotion to the truth and a warmer glow of Christian love.
So here, then, according to Machen, will be two identifiable features in the life of the individual who has given an honest perusal to the text and who has been impacted by the text. Someone seeing you during the week will say to you, You know, you seem to be steadfastly devoted to the truth. And you will then say, That must be because we've been thinking about what it means to walk in the truth. We've been studying 2 and 3 John. Or someone might say, You know, you seem to have a glow about you, and it's almost a glow of Christian love. And you say, Well, perhaps Machen is right, that one of the evidences of the Word of God making an impact in the life of the student is that we will glow with Christian love. It's a great test, isn't it? Truth and love.
The obvious and immediate challenge and impact of it is absolutely unavoidable. Now, you will notice here that in this third letter it is addressed to an individual. The second letter is addressed to a company of people, to a church. The concern is the same, walking in the truth, truth and love. And, as you would have noticed in the eighth verse, hospitality is once again a matter of concern. In other words, one of the ways in which these expressions of love and commitments to the truth is going to be worked out in this first-century context will be seen in the use of the homes of people, in the use of the resources of people. And in 2 John, there has been a warning issued to the readers about extending hospitality and, therefore, encouragement to those who are false teachers.
Don't, he says, welcome these people into your home, because to do so would be to give at least tacit approval to their message, if not to actually encourage them in their deceitful endeavors. Therefore, the warning in the second letter to the church, and then the commendation now in the third letter to Gaius, this individual. He is commended for the hospitality that he is showing to those who are even strangers to him but nevertheless teaching the truth. I think there's a sense in which when you take both of the letters together, then you get a pretty balanced understanding of both the duties and the limits of hospitality. Are we to show hospitality in an unlimited way to anyone for any length of time? 2 John says, no, you ought to be cautious in relationship to that. Are we then to avoid the opportunity to share our resources even with those who are strangers to us? No, 3 John says, no, you ought to be alert for those kinds of opportunity. And so what you really have in these little letters is something of a behind-the-scenes look at the functioning of a first-century congregation—not in terms of its structure, in the way that you have in the pastoral epistles, but more in terms of their relationships with one another. How do these things operate?
How do they fit together? Now, I've gathered my thoughts under four words, which I'll give to you in course. First word is prosperity, looking at verses 1 and 2. Now, you will notice that he's addressing Gaius. Gaius apparently was a very common name in the Roman Empire.
It was the equivalent of Jimmy in Scotland, of John, or of Fred, or of Bill. There is nothing uncommon about Gaius's name, but there is something that is distinctly uncommon about John's affection for Gaius. And you will notice how he refers to him as My Dear Friend Gaius. In Greek, it's actually just two words. It is Beloved Gaius. There's something, I think, that it is easy for us to miss when we are reading too quickly through the Bible.
For example, we may miss this personal pronoun here, my. To my dear friend Gaius. To Gaius?
Okay. To dear Gaius? Better. To dear friend Gaius? Better still. To my dear friend Gaius.
Whoa! That's pretty personal. And it is on account of that relationship that he is then able to go on and say, verse 2, Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. Or, to quote the King James Version, the new King James, Beloved, which is dear friend, agapos, agapetos, Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health just as your soul prospers. Prospers.
Now this, when I began to study it, set me down for a little while. Because, as you know, we are at pains, I think, on the strength of the biblical warrant to rebut every notion of what we might refer to as a prosperity gospel—that which seeks to suggest to folks that the reason that Jesus exists, if you like, is in order that they might simply be having a wonderful time and be healthy, wealthy, and wise. No, we've read the Bible, and we realize that how could you possibly get there from the instructions of Jesus? If anyone wants to be my disciple, said Jesus, let him take up his cross every day and follow me.
Let him deny himself every day. So it's not a call to some discovery of prosperity as a result of becoming the follower of Jesus. And we've, I think, endeavored to distance ourselves from that kind of nonsense.
However, we must be careful that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And we must allow the Scriptures to say what the Scriptures say. And it is absolutely undeniable that John here is very concerned, very interested in the prosperity of his dear friend Gaius. Now, it may well be that he's recognizing that the more prosperity Gaius enjoys, the more benefit others accrue.
And of course, that makes sense. If Gaius is a generous person with what he has, Lord, give him a little more! Because if you give him a little more, then that overflow will be out into those who are in need.
Now, don't get tangled up in this. This word is a word that is translated succeed in Romans 1 verse 10, where Paul, using it in another way, says, I hope that in the goodness of God I may succeed in coming to you. In other words, it is a success word. In 1 Corinthians 16, he uses it in terms of the giving of financial gifts, and he says, I hope that you're going to be able to give these gifts and that you will set them aside as God has prospered you. Okay? So, I am praying, he says, Gaius, that you may prosper indeed, that physically and so on you may be as prosperous as you are spiritually. Well, I said to myself, I wonder, can I think of hymns along these lines?
And then I said, Yes, I think I can immediately. Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation. And you have that line in there, don't you? Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper your work and defend you. God is a God who prospers the hands of some, who brings poverty into the experience of others, but who is sovereign in his dealings in relationship to the bits and pieces of our well-being in life. John recognizes this. And it is clear that he knows none of the ambivalence which so readily, if we're honest, characterizes relationships within the body of Christ.
What I mean by that is this. Many of us, I have little doubt, will be very, very contented and happy to pray that all may be well with the souls of our brothers and sisters. May it all go well with your soul, my brother or my sister.
But we may not be just as happy to pray. May it all go phenomenally well with your business, dear brother. May it all go exceptionally well with your children, my sister. May you enjoy the prosperity of God, crowning all of your endeavors, my dear friend. In fact, we may even have decided that it is legitimate for us to categorize our prayers in such a way that somehow or another to pray for that which is spiritual in terms of the benefit of our brother or sister is more legitimate than in actually making requests of God for their prosperity on another level. When I examine my own heart in this, I am challenged by the fact that selfless love—selfless love—always desires the best for others. But let's be honest. Envy is one of the acceptable sins of contemporary Christianity.
Jealousy is winked at. News of a marriage that is crumbling receives more attention and more advance than news of a marriage that is prospering. Stories of the demise of a business register quicker through a congregation than a sense of approbation and affirmation and affection for those who are enjoying divine afflatus and a peculiar sense of encouragement.
Why? Well, the answer is, because we're rotten sinners. If you're seventh in line waiting for a bus, and there are fifteen people waiting for the bus, and the bus stops, and the driver says, I can take the first eight, and you get on. Then you find out how much you care about the other seven.
And if you're honest, all you're thinking about is that you got on. When Titus writes of this, you remember, he says, at one time we lived in malice and in envy. But that was before the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he says. We used to be those who hated that kind of success. We used to be those who were envious of those encouragements. We used to be those who were suspicious of marriages that did well. We used to be those who were resentful of the fight when other people's children excelled in an area that ours didn't. We used to be like that.
But we're not like that anymore, he says. The challenge of it is clear, at least to me. Instead of viewing my brother's success with suspicion, growing jealous of the good health of my sister, I can learn from John to pray that my friends and family may have success, and success and prosperity peri pantone in all things. Let God take care of the rest. He's in charge. He's the one who gives the ability to get wealth. He's the one who wakes us up in the morning. He's the one in charge of our DNA.
He's sovereign over all the affairs. Therefore, we can rejoice with those who rejoice and pray that it may go well in body and in mind and in marriage and in spirit, if we really love one another in the truth. In fact, you know, I can give it to you in just two words in Glaswegian. Glaswegian is what they speak in Glasgow. It approximates to the English language, but most of you who've been there and tried to get directions from somebody said, I'm not sure they're even speaking English in this particular city. And that's because when you ask a question, it comes out like, Oh, well, if I want to get, if we can get that way, you know what I mean?
And the person says, Okay, I will try somebody else. But in Glasgow, you can hear a friend parting from his friend with two words in Glaswegian. The first word is spelled A-W-R-R-R-A, and the second word is Best.
B-E-S-T. The English translation is All the Best. In Glasgow, All the best! All the best!
You hear drunk men on Saturday nights saying goodbye to their friends. All the best! All the best! They're gone now! All the best!
Well, that's what John is actually saying. All the best. I'm not going to be jealous of you.
I couldn't be happier for you. There is something about selfless love. Selfless love. But if we gauge every advancement in our brothers and sisters in whatever realm of life, if we gauge it all against how it affects us and makes us feel, then we will be at pains ever to enter into this dimension that John displays.
Well, we've spent a long time on that, probably too much. Let's go to the second word in verses 3 and 4, From Prosperity to Testimony. Testimony. Verse 3, It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness. Or in the New King James, I rejoice greatly when brothers came and testified to the truth that is in you. In other words, they came and gave their testimony, hence the word. At least it's helpful to me.
I hope it is to you. Now, the reason that John knows of this is because some brothers. That's how they're identified. Verse 3, he doesn't identify them by name. I was greatly encouraged to have some brothers. Maybe these folks are the ones who had gone with the letter that is referred to in verse 9, to which we'll come later.
I wrote to the church. And they may well have been the carriers of that letter, in turn rejected, as we will see, by diatrophes, welcomed by Gaius, and as a result then bringing John a report that filled him with joy. This good news is great, isn't it? It gave me great joy to have some brothers come. I was so glad when they came. It's nice as well how he refers to them, isn't it?
He doesn't say, And I was glad that some folks showed up, or I was glad that some people came by. No, he says, I was so glad when the brothers came. It's possible for us to bandy words around and for them to lose their meaning, isn't it?
We can overuse a word and it becomes virtually irrelevant. But a sort of custodial use of brother and sister is important, especially as it relates to what it means to be adopted into God's family. We're not just a cluster of individuals that got thrown together in church. If God has come and opened our eyes to see our need of Jesus, if we've come to trust in Jesus, if the Spirit of God has made us a new creation and these come and lived in our lives, we've been adopted into a family that lasts forever, and when we look around on one another, we look around on literally our brothers and our sisters. Indeed, at a level that is, for eternity's sake, even more significant than the natural physical affection that we enjoy with those who are our brothers and sisters, siblings within the physical family and frame.
This is not insignificant. In fact, it struck me quite forcibly some weeks ago now, when I had occasioned to talk with somebody by phone at the end of the day. We had been talking with one another about concerns, mutual concerns in our lives, and concerns for the well-being of those that we have responsibility for in family and so on. And as our conversation ended, I happened just to say, I think, something along the lines of, Well, I'll continue to pray for you, brother. The person said to me on the other end of the phone, he said, Just before you go… He said, You know, I haven't spoken to you on the phone for quite some time, but the last time we spoke on the phone, I remember you referred to me as brother then. And it meant a great deal to me then, and it means a great deal to me now. I just said, Hey. But then when I walked away from my car, I said, You know, that's right. That's absolutely right.
You know what? We are brothers and sisters. Good, bad, and ugly, we're brothers and sisters.
We're in this for the long haul. None of us is perfect. None of us is able to do all that we long to do under Christ. But nevertheless, we're in it together. Outside of Jesus, there can be no testimony to this effect.
There is nothing in the whole world that does this. None of these things achieve what is achieved by Almighty God when he comes and adopts people into his family. Are you a member of God's family today? Have you noticed that he came and tapped you on the shoulder? Through a book you read, or a friend's invitation, or a sermon that you heard, or a song that you listened to, did you realize, I know that there is a God somehow or another, a maker, but you never called him Father.
In fact, you may never have called him Father. And he comes, seeking us out. That's the testimony. It's no surprise that it is a basis for unsurpassed joy, is it? He gave me great joy, verse 3, to have some brothers come and give me this testimony—testifying to the fact that you were walking in the truth, not simply learning things but actually living what you learn. Because it is the pastor's supreme concern to help his flock know the truth and then live in the truth that they know. That's why it matters far more to me and my colleagues that you become students of this book, that you learn the Bible, that you understand what it means when we talk about being adopted into God's family, that you are understanding what it means in the singing of our songs, that on the cross Christ bore all of God's righteous indignation and wrath against our sins, so that we who are deserving of punishment may become the recipients of his mercy. It matters far more to me that you know what that means than that you think that the sermons are good or exciting or whatever adjective you may want to choose. Because at the end of the day my great concern is that you would know this truth, that you would be able to testify to it, and that together we would walk in it.
You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. We'll hear more about walking in the truth tomorrow. If you've ever requested books from us here at Truth for Life you know we love sharing with you books that are theologically rich from throughout church history. In fact so many of the older books have a wonderfully deep insight into God's love and the saving power of Jesus. Well today we have put together a bundle of three books that we're encouraging you to pick up.
We're calling it Short Classics. Each of these three books contains profound writing from an influential author. One is from a contemporary theologian J.I.
Packer. One is from the 17th century pastor Henry Schugel. The other from the 19th century theologian Thomas Chalmers. All these books are small paperbacks that present classic works from these three men. Find out more about the three book Short Classics bundle when you go to our website.
You can make a donation at truthforlife.org or using our mobile app or give us a call at 888-588-7884. And as you're beginning to work your way through your Christmas shopping list let me encourage you to think about gifts that will introduce loved ones to God's Word. In our online store you can purchase both volumes of the Truth for Life daily devotional. These are hardcover books that are priced at our cost of just $8 so you can buy as many as you'd like and then give them as gospel sharing opportunities. These are meaningful gifts that will encourage and bless the people you give them to every day for an entire year. I'm Bob Lapine. Tomorrow we'll find out how Christian love can be made visible to others. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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