The third letter of the apostle John, III John, was probably written around the same time as his other two. What distinguishes this letter from the others is that it is a letter written to a particular person. It is more a pastoral letter, a letter meant to instruct and encourage an individual rather than an entire church. From the general tenor of the first two letters, it becomes obvious that John was writing to Gentile churches. These churches were troubled by the heretical group known as the Gnostics. These men had infiltrated the ranks of the churches in Asia Minor. For that reason it is safe also to assume that John in this third letter was addressing an individual in one of the Gentile churches in Asia Minor.
That individual was a man named Gaius. It is difficult to identify who Gaius was, but it is not the Gaius who was converted through the preaching of Paul in Corinth. Tradition has it that this man lived in the city of Pergamos and later became an influential bishop there. It could very well be true that Gaius was the pastor in the church there. We cannot be very sure. But it is obvious from the letter itself that John did care deeply for this saint and his particular labors.
And, as is obvious from the letter, John was interested in the truth. The term “truth” is one of John’s favorite words, it seems. This was true throughout the first and second epistles, and it shows up immediately in this one too. In fact, this is the main emphasis of the passage we consider today, II John:4. This verse reads, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” We can understand why the apostle John concerns himself with the idea of truth in his letters. Jesus had taught His disciples much about truth and what it is. “I am the truth,” He said. Or, “the truth shall make you free.” Now John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, teaches us concerning the same truth of which Jesus taught him. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth!” These are warm words of an elder and pastor to each saint in the church of Jesus Christ! And words of our heavenly Father to His children.
I. Who They Are
What is truth? Seems that this is quite an abstract question. My guess is that most people would answer that question like this: “Don’t bother me with something that heavy. The discovery of truth is best left in the hands of philosophers and theologians to debate.” Either that, or the answer that is heard increasingly more so is: “There is no set standard of truth. People may believe in different things as truth. The truth is relative, varying from one person to the next.” Whatever the case, most people do not worry their heads about this question because they feel it has little to do with life. But that is far from the case. The answer to the question “What is truth?” touches our lives very personally. We live in a confused world. This must be so if in despair and depression people seek to take their own life. Not long ago, and probably the stats have increased since then, I read that some 30,000 people a year actually commit suicide, while there are 20 more who attempt to do so for every one that actually does. I’d say we live in a pretty messed up and confused world!
You know why? People have not discovered what truth is! Now, the question “What is truth?” becomes a vital one for everyday life, does it not? The truth provides the answers to those all-important questions with which we all struggle. The truth provides answers to such questions as: why I am here, what is the purpose of my life here, and where am I going? The truth provides an answer to this because it alone is reality. It is right, as opposed to wrong. It is the objective standard according to which you and I can judge everything.
Believers have the answer to the question “What is truth?” We believe everything contained in the Old and New Testaments to be the complete and perfect doctrine unto salvation. That means that the truth, to the believer, is everything contained in holy Scripture. And that is exactly what truth is! Jesus tells us in John 17:17 that God’s Word is truth, that is, what God says to us is always truth.
That is obvious too, isn’t it? God Himself is truth. He alone is reality—the ultimate reality of all things. After all, He alone existed from eternity, and He alone according to His eternal plan gave existence to all things. He called them forth by His power and He continues to guide and direct all things according to the standard of His own will. That makes God the one and only true and sure reality. And that makes Him personally the truth! If that is the case, then whatever God says, whatever He tells us, is the truth. Since the Scriptures are the written Word of God, they are therefore truth. If God is truth, then God’s Word is truth. It is right as opposed to wrong, it is the one objective standard according to which we judge everything, in our own lives and in the lives of those about us. And John writes: I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in that truth—the truth that is revealed to us in the Scriptures. That is what causes great joy—walking in the ways that God’s Word teaches us.
But there is definitely more involved in walking in truth than just what we have mentioned. There is something invisible to the eye involved. And that is the working of God’s grace. There are some who insist that the believer must reform this world, reconstructing society and the people of our world to conform to the Old Testament laws of God and His Word. They feel it is the calling of every child of God to enter every sphere of life in order to reform society and remold it according to the principles of God’s Word. That all sounds fine and dandy too—except for one thing. The wicked of this world will never conform themselves to the precepts of God’s Word. The world does not want truth. It does not want Scripture! The wicked will rebel at it at every turn. This present world of sin and unbelief will not subject itself to the truth of God, no matter how attractive or how reasonable it may seem. And that is true because it takes a wonder-work of salvation to confess what the church confesses!
It is striking that in verse 3 of his third epistle John speaks of Gaius as one in whom the truth dwells. He is not just a man who knows the Bible and what it teaches. But the truth of the Scriptures dwelt in him! The truth of God’s Word permeated his very being. The truth must be in us! We must love that truth! It must become part and parcel of our lives. It must instruct us, admonish us, lead us, and comfort us! God’s people must be children of truth! And that, I say, takes an act of God’s grace in our hearts and lives! It takes the saving work of Jesus Christ in powerfully delivering us from the unbelief and the hold that sin had over us! It takes the powerful, irresistible work of the Holy Spirit drawing us out of the darkness of sin and into the light of Jesus Christ!
And that powerful work of God in our salvation is implied within that term “children” in our text. I know that the apostle John writes here, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” It seems that he speaks here of his own children. We know, of course, that he is not speaking of his own natural born children—though if he had some, I’m sure that he would rejoice if they walked in truth too. But John does not refer here to natural born children. He speaks of spiritual children. Gaius was one of them. John refers, therefore, to those who came to faith and repentance through his preaching and the preaching of the other apostles.
But there is still more implied in the term “children” that John uses here. After all, John was infallibly directed by God to write this letter to the church. John says to us, to believers, “There is no greater joy than to hear that my children, that is, God’s children, walk in truth!” And it is in that that we find the gospel in our text too. We are the children of the most high God! By His grace He has adopted us in the blood of our Savior and we are His children and heirs. God, our heavenly Father whom we call Abba, Father, says to you and me: “You are my children, and I rejoice when you walk in truth. There is no greater joy to Me than when I see you walk in My Word and commandments.” God says this to His children!
And this is possible only on the grounds of our adoption, children of God! We were at one time alienated from God and were children of wrath as were others. We walked according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of our flesh. We walked in unbelief and hatred toward God. But God sent our Savior into this world and in His blood has adopted us. Christ made us to see and understand the truth, that is, God Himself as Creator and Redeemer! As God’s children we now run to that God and to His Son and find our safety in Them. That is truth. God has worked in us in such a way that we have discovered the truth. Are we adopted in the blood of Christ? The sure test is whether we sincerely desire to walk according to the standard of God’s holy Word and not in a way that seems right in our own eyes. When we walk in the truth of God’s Word and commandments, then the truth is in us, and that truth will set us free!
II. How They Walk
Some people think that, when it comes to living for Jesus, all that is needed is going out into this world and becoming involved in a little social reform or making this world a better place to live. And living a life of antithesis, that is, saying no to the sin and temptations of this world, really does not enter into a life for Christ. Attempting to live a life of spiritual separation from the corruption that pervades society, they say, is not essential for the Christian life. Confess Christ, but go to the same places and enjoy the same things as the wicked. But that is not enough, according to the Word of God in our text. It is not enough only to confess with the mouth but not with the way one walks. There is no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth is what John writes. You confess your faith to be a Christian believer? Well, faith is dead without works, we learn in James’ letter! We must walk therefore in the sphere of the truth as revealed to us in God’s Word.
Walk. We all are called to walk through this life. Our way through this world is a journey we must walk. And as we walk through this world there is one path that we can follow that leads to eternal life. It is a strait and narrow path that leads to a strait and narrow gate. Few walk in this way. And there are many different paths that lead us astray from this path. You and I are called to walk in that way that leads to eternal life, and we must do that without straying down those paths that lead us to destruction. The only way we are able to do that is by following after the truth. The truth must be our guide in this way. And it is walking in the sphere of the Word of God, the truth, that causes great rejoicing on God’s part.
We well know, however, that a conscious walking in the truth is not an easy matter for us. It is true that we have been set free from the bondage of sin. Jesus tells us that we who are free are free indeed! We have in us the Spirit of our risen Lord and we are able to walk according to the truth. We have been freed exactly in order that we might do that. But we have still within us that old man of sin, and according to that old man there is in us a spirit of rebellion. Many times we desire to walk yet according to the course of this world, and to fulfill the desires of our flesh. And that desire in us can be very strong—so strong that we are prone to ask, well, what is wrong with doing this or that? We want so much to justify fulfilling our flesh. What John writes is therefore an incentive to walk actively in the way of truth. We must always be conscious of the truth and let that truth live in us and motivate us.
This is true in doctrine, first of all. Not everything is true doctrinally! There is no other way than Jesus Christ Himself. Other religions do not lead to eternal life. They are not truth! God is truth and His Word is truth! Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life! No man can come to the Father but by Him! Neither are there different forms of the truth within Christianity itself. There is only one truth. It is the truth that is revealed to us clearly on the pages of Scripture. We follow after the truth when we allow the Bible to interpret itself, and not by imposing on the Bible what we want it to say. The Bible is not subject to any private interpretation. We must listen to what God tells us is truth.
When walking in truth we lead a new and godly life! God’s Word must guide us in the places we choose to frequent, and the things we decide to do, and the direction that our life will lead in this world! Walking in truth is following the way God’s Word directs us.
III. What They Cause
When we walk in God’s truth, there is no greater joy! No, the wicked do not rejoice. Satan does not rejoice. In fact, Satan will try all the harder in our lives to ensnare us in sin. He will try to ruin the church and the truth. But there is a joy that is experienced in the sphere of the church of Jesus Christ. For example, when we as God’s people hear the confession of faith of a young person in the church, when we hear that this young person walks in this world even as he or she has confessed, there is great rejoicing among the saints. The opposite is true too, you understand. Nothing is hidden that is not made plain. When a young person walks in the way of sin and unbelief, or when a young person confesses to believe but lives like the world, the church is grieved. And believe me, God’s people do hear about it in some way or another. That causes grief in the church.
But when God’s children walk in truth, the church is made glad, it is happy, it praises God with thanksgiving and song! I can say this as a pastor in the church of Jesus Christ. There is nothing more gratifying to me than to hear that God’s people walk in truth! There is nothing more pleasing to the elders of the church than to hear that the members of their church walk in truth! There is nothing in this world—let me stress that—there is nothing in this world that is more rewarding to a pastor than to see young people confessing their faith and becoming defenders of the faith! And there is nothing more rewarding for a believing father and mother either. They have vowed, when their children were baptized, to raise them in the fear of the Lord. But parents also realize that they raised those children imperfectly and in much weakness and sin. How often father and mother go to bed at night and ask forgiveness for their failures as parents. But to know that God by His grace has remained faithful to His covenant promises to save their children in their generations, this gives the greatest of joy and happiness to parents.
But all of this pales when compared to the fact that it is God who is pleased to hear of His children walking in truth. God is happy. There is no greater joy found in God than when we walk in truth! That is what really matters, after all is said and done! God sees and hears all things! And when we, young and old alike, walk in His precepts, we delight our heavenly Father! As His children, that is what we really want to do. We want to please Him. And there is no better way of doing that than by walking in truth. There is no greater joy that God Himself experiences than to see His name glorified in us! May we continue to walk in that way. May God lead us into all truth!