I wonder what would you do if you won ten million pounds this afternoon. Not because you've entered a prize draw or anything. You just get ten million pounds straight into your current account. You can have whatever you want. You'll never need to work again so you have all the time you want. What would you do? Maybe you're thinking about the kinds of things you might buy. Maybe for yourself, maybe for those you love. Maybe you're thinking of the time you would have to go on holiday or the time you'd have to try and take up a new hobby. Whatever we'd decide to do with that free money and free time would tell us a lot about what our priorities are. Our priorities affect all of our decisions.
As we look at 3 John this morning we are going to see what it looks like when a Christian instead of prioritising their own needs, prioritises the spread of the gospel.
3 John is a letter of encouragement from the apostle John, the leader of a network of churches in Ephesus to Gaius, a member in one of those churches. I don't know if you have ever received a long letter or email from your boss. Your instant reaction is to skim read it. Focussing on the start and end to work out what the tone of the letter is. Is this a rebuke? Is it an encouragement? When Gaius received this letter from John and gave it a quick skim read he would have been buzzing. This is clearly a letter of encouragement isn't it. John who calls himself the elder calls Gaius, 'his beloved,' all through the letter. He describes him as his child. He starts the letter praying for his physical health and ends it saying he longs to see him face to face. The tone of the letter reminds me of the letters my great gran sent to her daughter, my grandmother when she was evacuated from Scotland to Australia during the second world war. That is how strong John's feelings are for Gaius.
He starts out by letting Gaius know that he is praying for his physical health. Verse 2:
"Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul."
It is important to John that his gospel partner is experiencing good physical health. But just as it is in the whole letter it is clear that John's priority for Gaius is the health of his soul. As we will continue to see as we go through the letter we live in a world with warped priorities. Our culture is obsessed with physical health. And true spiritual health of our soul is often totally disregarded. It's something we should watch ourselves with too. When we pray for physical health, which is clearly a good thing to do. Do our prayers show we prioritise spiritual health? Could we sing the great hymn 'It is well with my soul' if our physical body was quickly deteriorating?
1. Walking in the Truth
Not only does John feel strongly for Gaius, he is also deeply encouraged about how Gaius is living. Gaius is walking in the truth. Truth is mentioned four times in those opening four verses. John writes in his account of Jesus's life that Jesus calls himself 'the truth'. The truth John is so bothered about in these verses is the truth of the gospel of Jesus. Gaius is in the truth verse 1, Christian brothers have testified about his truth verse 3 and he is walking in it verse 4.
Gaius is walking in the truth, living sacrificially putting the needs of the gospel as his priority. He hasn't just received the truth he is walking in it. He is living it out. In fact, what John is most encouraged about Gaius is how the truth affects the way he lives. So we have to examine ourselves too. How is the truth of the gospel going to affect our priorities?
John then gives us two contrasting examples. One where someone prioritises the truth of the gospel and it spreading and another when someone prioritises himself.
2. Prioritising the Gospel
The first is a positive example. The example of Gaius himself. 3 John 5-8 says:
"Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth."
Gaius is prioritising the gospel by supporting missionaries, brothers in Christ, despite not knowing them at all. It's a sad thing isn't it when blood brothers become strangers. I am really blessed to have a great relationship with my brother but some of my friends never really see their brother. Their lives have gone in opposite directions. Do you notice in verse 5 that John calls the missionaries who Gaius is supporting as both his brothers and strangers? That is what the gospel does. It makes people who are in every way strangers to us, our brothers. Brothers in Christ. Brothers in the truth.
During my time at University, in the summer holidays, I used to spend a month in Cambridge running cafes for international students, giving them opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel. There was a team of 30 or so Christians from around the world who ran these cafes and were on a team together. It was amazing that when we arrived it was clear that although we had never met before and were likely to never meet again until heaven, we were brothers and sisters in Christ. We all cared passionately about the truth of the gospel and cared passionately about sharing it. We had the same priorities. It was a beautiful thing. And it happens here too. We have people from around the world in this church with nothing in common except our love for the gospel. And we are family. Strangers who have become brothers, who now share the same priority.
As a church, we have mission partners, missionaries who we support, who are sharing the gospel in a different context to ours. We have partners spread all over the globe. You may feel, as you hear from them prayed for on Sunday mornings, that they are strangers. They may well be but they are also your brother and sisters in Christ, and if we are prioritising the spread of the gospel we must support them. In prayer, practically and with our money.
Let me encourage you to adopt a missionary. Maybe the one your Midweek Group is supporting? There is a board downstairs in the hall with lots of information on it about each of our church's mission partners. And there is a booklet in your service sheet about all the mission partners we have between us and Jesmond Parish Church. But once you have picked one to support what does it look like to actually do that?
Gaius here is praised particularly because he loved, supported, probably both financially and with hospitality, and then sent out a group of missionaries who were going out for the sake of Christ. This was a sign to John that he was walking in the truth. This was him living out what he believed. His priorities were very clearly gospel focus.
What could you do to support our mission partners? You could support them in prayer. Subscribe to their prayer letters, read them and commit to praying for them regularly. You could write to them. Skype them. Not to pester them but to support them. Maybe you could offer for them to stay with you when they are back visiting? Maybe you could let them borrow your car when they are back? Maybe you could also support them financially?
After all, John makes the point in verse 7 that these missionaries weren't going to be supported by unbelieving gentiles. Only Christians financially support missionaries. Non-Christians have different priorities. And that is why it is our responsibility. Those of us who believe the gospel should be willing to make big sacrifices for the gospel to be spread. We are the ones that know personally that it has the power to bring sinners who deserve the judgment of God back into a relationship with him. We should be willing to make financial sacrifices for that good and powerful news to be brought to more people.
When we were in Cambridge running the cafes 1000s of international students came to Cambridge and local families could earn good money by renting out spare rooms to them. Instead, families from local churches let those running the cafes stay in their spare rooms for free. Taking the financial hit, enabling us to share the gospel with the international students. It was amazing sacrificial hospitality very similar to the type shown by Gaius here.
Another example of this was when my Dad regularly visited a church leaders conference in America. He stayed with a local Christian family each time who not only let him stay for the week but also sent him back with a large sum of money to go towards the starting of Holy Trinity Gateshead, one of our partner churches.
When we turn to trust Jesus, when we understand how amazing what God has done for us is, we will want to make sharing that news with others a priority. Nothing is too much to sacrifice. Even the privacy of having your home to yourself. 'An Englishman's home is his castle' is a famous phrase. But a Christian's home is not their castle. It is their tool to show hospitality. It is their tool to use for the spread of the gospel. Welcoming Christians into your home for their encouragement and fellowship. Welcoming non-Christians into your home so you can show them love and care and how the gospel impacts you. Both are amazing ways to use your home for the spread of the gospel. It is all part of living sacrificially, putting the needs of the gospel as your priority just like Gaius did.
3. Prioritising Yourself
In the second half of his letter, John shows what it looks like to live, not for the gospel, but prioritising yourself.
Diotrephes was a leader in the house churches of Ephesus. And look what John says about him in verse 9:
"I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church."
Diotrephes is living the Christian life for himself. He is not being hospitable and in fact, he is stopping others from doing it as well. But notice why. Unlike Gaius who is 'in the truth,' who trusts in the true gospel he has received from the apostle John. Diotrephes instead won't accept the teaching of John.
The apostles had the God-given authority to explain the gospel. That is why we trust what is written in the Bible is God's Word. It is from Jesus' apostles. But Diotrephes refuses to accept it as truth. Instead, he talks wicked nonsense. Diotrephes doesn't accept the true gospel or as John puts it 'the truth.' And so that affects his actions.
Most clearly as John puts it, with a damning character reference. "Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first." Before the Holiday Club we ran as a church in February, Ken helpfully challenged us leaders, with the brief descriptions of people in the new testament letters. There are examples where people are praised with one sentence and examples where people are criticised in one sentence. For instance, in Ephesians, Tychicus is described just as a "dear brother a faithful servant of the Lord". Whereas Demas in 2 Timothy is described as one who "loved the world". I wonder what one-liner the apostles Paul or John would have used for you?
How sad would it be if our character reference was the same as Diotrephes? 'Chris, who likes to put himself first.' The true gospel, the truth, doesn't leave any space for putting ourselves first. Listen to how the apostle Paul describes it in Philippians.
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
How can we, in response to Jesus making himself nothing and humbling himself to the point of death for us, like and enjoy putting ourselves first? A true understanding of the truth leads to humility and sacrifice shown by Gaius, not loving being first shown by Diotrephes.
For Diotrephes to be like this he had to reject the truth. That's a challenge for us too. Do we trust the Bible, the apostles teaching and accept its authority over our lives? If we really do it will lead to sacrificial gospel focus not self-focus. Diotrephes won't host missionaries or let anyone else host missionaries. He is actually an enemy of the spread of the gospel. And unless we accept the truth, accept the true gospel given to us in the Bible we will become enemies of the gospel too. There is no middle ground.
We should examine ourselves. Examine our lives. Where are we putting ourselves and our own interests as our priority before the interests of others and particularly the spread of the gospel? When we find areas we are doing that we need to go back to the gospel. Go back to the example of Jesus' humility and service and let that challenge our selfishness. John says that "whoever does evil has not seen God". When you truly see God, see Jesus and his love and self-sacrifice you will be changed.
4. Gospel partnership
John closes by emphasising that he has much more to say to him but that he wants it to be face to face conversation. His love for him is so strong he won't just write to him but will travel to see him too.
When I was 11 we went to Kenya as a family to encourage a church that our church in England supported. We visited a Christian school there. Dad asked for the address of the school. Suddenly all the children from each class were being gathered on the playing field as they had thought Dad wanted to address the school. Each of us took our turn to send greetings from Newcastle. We were given greeting to send back to Newcastle. They lived in Kenya, we lived in Newcastle but we were brothers and sisters in Christ. Partners in the gospel. This was our way of showing we loved each other.
John passes on greetings from the Christians with him, to Gaius and those in his church. Passing them on to the individuals to show the personal link they had with each other. Those who prioritise the spread of the gospel are bothered about individuals. It is easy to see those that care passionately about our church growing are the same people who are always on hand to welcome newcomers and get involved in their lives. John uses the word 'friends', a word only used once elsewhere in the Bible, when in John's gospel chapter 15 Jesus says:
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
He is speaking of the sacrifice that he was going to make, dying on the cross, taking the punishment they deserved. John calling Gaius and his church, friends, alludes to the sacrifice we as Christians will be willing to make for each other, partners in the gospel, when we prioritise the good news spreading.
So let me challenge us to choose to, instead of looking to our own interests, sacrificially prioritise the spread of the gospel. Let me pray.