"Fellow Workers for The Truth"
3 John 1-8
(Delivered Sunday, January 5, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James version.)
Over the past year, we've been studying the New Testament letters of the apostle John - letters that deal with the great theme of "fellowship". The first of these letters dealt with how a man or woman can enjoy the full blessings of fellowship with Jesus Christ. Put another way, it dealt with "fellowship" on the "vertical level". The last two, much smaller letters deal with this fellowship as it impacts our relationship with others who are in Christ; or as we might put it, "fellowship" on the "horizontal level".
John's second letter teaches us how we are to define the circle of our common fellowship in Christ; that is, who we are to consider ourselves to be in the fellowship with, and who we are to consider to be outside this fellowship. It teaches us to be on the alert against and protect ourselves from those outside the fellowship who spread false teaching about our Savior, and how to keep ourselves separate from their evil work. John's second letter, then, stresses that we are not to consider people within the circle of faith who do not belong there - people outside the circle because they do not believe.
This brings us to John's third letter. It deals with this same circle of fellowship, but from the opposite perspective - that is, how we are not to exclude a fellow believer from the circle of fellowship who truly belongs there. And this morning, we begin our study of this third letter from the apostle John.
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Both of John's little letters are very warm. I like the personal touch the Holy Spirit led the apostle to add to the close of both his second and third letters. In the second, he writes, "Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full" (2 John 2:12). He closes his third letter in a similar way; "I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" (3 John 13).
I exchange lots of email with folks throughout the course of my day; but there are some occasions when I just can't say all that I want to say to a dear friend in an email note. In such cases, I prefer instead to pick up the phone, call them up, and talk with them personally. I think that's the attitude with which John wrote these letters. John was willing to write to them; but because he loved them so, he would much rather have talked with the readers personally. That tells us, I believe, something of the compassionate spirit with which John wrote these words of instruction.
Third John then, like Second John, is a very warm, loving, personable little letter. But though in his second letter John seems careful not to name names, he shows no such restraint in his third letter. He names very specific names, because it's all about specific people.
There are three main characters in John's third letter; and they give us three main divisions in our study of what we might call "fellowship within the circle of faith". One of the main characters is a man named Demetrius. He was a good godly man who, apparently, was a traveling minister - perhaps a part of a traveling ministry team - that came to a specific local church that was of concern to John.
In those days, many teachers and missionaries had to travel by foot to the different towns and cities in which they ministered. Sometimes, as we learned from the second of John's letters, false teachers often came into town; and the church needed to be on the alert against them and protect themselves from their harmful doctrines. But many good, godly teachers and preachers came to town as well; and these - though perhaps strangers to the believers in a local region - deserved to be welcomed and assisted in their work. One of John's purposes in writing this letter was to give Demetrius and his team a personal endorsement; and to exhort that Demetrius be fully welcomed and aided in his work for the gospel. It may even have been Demetrius himself who personally delivered this letter from John.
A second main character in this letter is a man named Diotrephes. Whether or not Diotrephes was actually an official leader in the church isn't clear; but he obviously presumed to take that role, and to exercise it in a very dictatorial way. And it was this problem that was John's main motivation in writing the letter in the first place.
Diotrephes was refusing to welcome good faithful teachers and ministers - even those with apostolic authority - and was forbidding the church members from providing these traveling gospel workers with needed support. His motivation was not from a desire to protect the church from false teachers, but rather from a desire to have control over the church. He was someone that John said "loves to have the preeminence" (v. 9). Diotrephes was even daring to speak maliciously against John and the other apostles - confiscating John's letters and refusing to allow them to be read before the church family. What's more, he was kicking people out of the church who supported such outside missionaries and evangelists.
Diotrephes, you see, wasn't just drawing the circle of fellowship too narrowly - he was going so far as to build a fortress wall around it to keep sincere believers out! John promises in the letter that he would soon come and deal with Diotrephes' evil conduct.
A third main character in this letter is the recipient of it - a man named Gaius. John spends much of his time in this letter not only talking to Gaius, but actually talking to Gaius about Gaius. Gaius was a wonderful Christian - apparently a leader in the church. And John shines the spotlight on him and commends him highly; because, in contrast to Diotrephes, Gaius was doing things right.
Who exactly was this man Gaius? It may surprise you to know that there are three other men named Gaius mentioned in the New Testament. One was a man named Gaius in the city of Corinth. He was one of the few people that the apostle Paul personally baptized (1 Cor. 1:14), and who later served as a host to Paul and his ministry team, as well as to a whole house church (Rom. 16:23). Another man from Macedonia named Gaius served as one of Paul's travelling companions in his third great missionary journey (Acts 19:29). A third man named Gaius, from the town of Derbe, accompanied Paul in his work in Greece (Acts 20:4). Some have supposed that the Gaius of John's letter is one of these; although there's no evidence that this is so. After all, as one historian has said, the name "Gaius" was such a common one that it could be considered the "John Doe" of the ancient Roman world.
Whoever Gaius really was, this precious and beloved Christian has much to teach us He was demonstrating the sort of welcoming, helpful spirit that a genuine "fellow worker for the truth" should demonstrate.
This morning, we will look a little closer at this man Gaius. And I'd like to begin by reading the whole letter to you, so you can see how its three main characters fit together into the story.
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What does the story of Gauis have to do with us today? Well; consider that the church has been given a commission from our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. He has said,
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
This commission is the greatest and most honorable work anyone can be given! And it's our work to fulfill. Our little local fellowship is as obligated to this task as every other church has been in over the past two-thousand years. And if you are a believer in Christ, you have a very specific part in it too. You may not be able to go on the mission field, or you may not be able to be a teacher or preacher; but you are, nevertheless, obligated to do your specific part in fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation. God will not hold you accountable for some role He didn't call you to fill in the task. Rather, He will hold you accountable for the specific part He equipped you to play in helping to advance the Great Commission. You and I are to be "fellow workers for the truth" in that particular, unique way that God has given us.
Think with me about the great apostle Paul. The Bible tells us that there were many people around Paul who were given the esteemed title of "fellow worker" in the cause of Christ. For example, Paul called Priscilla and Aquila "my fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 16:3). He also referred to Urbanus as "our fellow worker in Christ" (v. 9). He called Timothy his "fellow worker" (Rom. 16:21); as well as Titus (2 Cor. 8:23). He called Epaphroditus "my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier" (Phil. 2:25). Eudia, Synteche and Clement were referred to as among Paul's "fellow workers" (Phil. 4:3); and so were Tychicuus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus who is called Justice (Col. 4:7-11). Even Philemon was Paul's "beloved friend and fellow laborer" (Phile. 1).
Paul was, without question, the greatest preacher, missionary and theological scholar the church has ever known. Only he could have done what God gave Him to do. If it were possible for any man to be a Oone man show" in the work of the gospel, you'd have thought it was Paul. But it's pretty clear from the Scriptures that even he couldn't have fulfilled his God-given ministry if it weren't for the fact that God had surrounded him with so many good, godly "fellow workers" who faithfully did their part to support his work.
You may not have been called to the foreign mission field; but you can support those whom God did call, and who are able to go in your place. They do the "going" in the Great Commission; but you make it possible for them to make disciples of every nation by doing your part as their "fellow worker for the truth." You may not have been called to preach the gospel at a great evangelistic meeting; but you make it possible for those whom God did call to preach the gospel when you do your part to support their work, or when you build relationships with lost people and bring them to those evangelistic meetings. You do your part, and they do their part; and one is not considered "over" the other, but they are considered together to be "fellow workers". No one person is called to do all the work of the Great Commission; but we are called to join hands with all the other laborers as "fellow workers for the truth".
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I believe that the Holy Spirit has given Gaius to us as an example of what it means to be a faithful fellow worker for the cause of the gospel. First, we see in him ...
1. THE CHARACTER OF A FELLOW WORKER.
Listen to what John says about the character of Gaius in the introduction to his letter. John writes,
Three things about Gaius' character are highlighted in John's introductory words: his love for the brethren, his devotion to the truth of the gospel, and his consistent walk in conformity to that truth. All three of these qualities constitute a well-rounded experience of practical Christian living; but more to the point, all three of them are essential to a man or woman who would be a true "fellow worker for the truth".
First, we see that Gaius was characterized by manifest love for others. His own character of love is hinted at in part by the fact that he himself was loved so much. He was certainly much-loved by John "the beloved apostle". John mentions Gaius by name only once; but four times in this tiny letter, John refers to him as "beloved" (or "dear friend", as it's translated in the NIV).
What's more, John calls him one "whom I love in truth" . This is like what John wrote at the beginning of his second letter: "To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever" (2 John 1-2). For John to say that he loved Gaius "in truth" was to say that he loved him within the sphere and context of their mutual faith in and obedience to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - which is pretty much the same as saying that he loved him "in Christ Jesus" (cf 1 Cor. 16:24).
That's certainly how John felt about Gaius. But if you read on you see that others saw this same kind of love flowing out of Gaius too. "Beloved," John writes, "you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church" (v. 5-6). Just as John felt a unifying bond of love with Gaius because of their common faith in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and common love for Him, so Gaius also demonstrated a common bond of love toward others who believed in and worked for the gospel.
Love for the brethren is an essential quality for those who would be faithful fellow workers for the truth. It's essential with respect to our fellowship with Christ. "No one has seen God at any time," John writes; "If we we love one another, God abides in us, and his love has been perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). And it's also essential with respect to our witness to the world. "By this all will know that you are My disciples," Jesus said; "if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
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Second, we see that Gaius was characterized by a devotion to the truth. And it's not that this was a quality that was known simply by the fact that Gaius himself testified to his faith in the truth of the gospel. This was something that others were able to objectively testify to be true of him. John says, "For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you ..." (v. 3). Gaius was a man who was committed to seeing the truth of the gospel fully realized in his own life; and to seeing it faithfully and accurately proclaimed to others. This testimony concerning Gaius was something that caused John to rejoice "greatly" or "exceedingly".
And again, this devotion to the truth is essential for someone who would be a faithful fellow worker for the truth. It should go without saying that, if someone would be a worker for the truth, they should be committed whole-heartedly believe, proclaim, and fight for that truth. As the apostle Jude exhorted his readers, "... Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Paul likewise urged the Philippian Christians, "... Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27).
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Third, we see that Gaius was characterized by a faithful life-style walk in that truth. Not only did others testify of Gaius' love for the truth, they could also testify to the fact that he walked in a manner that was consistent with the truth of the gospel. "For I rejoiced," John says, "when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (v. 4).
And once again, it's essential that this quality be found in someone who would be a fellow worker for the truth. Few things hinders the proclamation of the truth as much as a failure on the part of those who profess it to live it faithfully in the sight of others. Paul wrote that believers are to live the kind of life of integrity that is consistent with the truth they proclaim, "that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things" (Titus 2:10).
These qualities - love for the brethren, commitment to the truth, and faithfulness in our walk - are the same ones that God wishes to see exhibited in us. John pointed the believers to to all three of these characteristics in his second letter; and he wrote,
I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we have received commandment from the Father. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it (2 John 4-6).
Gaius was characterized by these three qualities in rich abundance. No wonder John was able to greet him by saying, "I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers". John was so utterly satisfied with the prosperous condition of Gaius' soul, that he could think of no better thing to pray for Gauis than that his body and life would be as prosperous as his soul was. And the reason Gaius' soul prospered was because of the qualities that were found in him.
Would you like to grow to be the "fellow workers for the truth" God wills for you to be? Then "character development" is crucial to achieving that goal. May the character qualities found in Gaius also grow increasingly, by God's grace, to be found in us as well.
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Next, notice how Gaius demonstrates ...
2. THE CONDUCT OF A FELLOW-WORKER.
The character qualities that Gaius possessed as a Christian had a direct impact on the quality of work he did for Christ. John wrote to him and said, "Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church" (vv. 5-6a). Can you imagine the great apostle John writing a letter to you or me and saying such a thing? What an honor that would be! And so, another thing that marked Gaius out as a "fellow worker for the truth" was the manner in which he ministered to the needs of those who served the cause of the gospel.
First, we should notice that what he did for the brethren, he did "faithfully", and was trustworthy and reliable in the way he ministered to their needs. "Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do ...". He could be counted on to do the things he promised. If he said he was going to meet a need, he met it. If he said he would pray for someone, he prayed for them. If he said he would give of his time to do what was needed, he gave it without reservation. He could be counted on to follow through on what he said he would do in supporting the work of the brethren.
Someone can express the willingness to serve and meet needs for the cause of the gospel; but what good would such willingness be if there wasn't faithfulness and reliability in doing what they were "willing" to do? Paul had to deal with this problem within the Corinthian church. The believers there expressed a great willingness to give and to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world - even to the point of being an inspiration to other churches in their willingness. But they didn't have a good record of following through on the things that they demonstrated a willingness to do. Paul wrote to them and said,
Now concerning the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you; for I know your willingness, about which I boast of you to the Macedonians, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal has stirred up the majority. Yet I have sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this respect, that, as I said, you should be ready; lest if some Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to mention you!) should be ashamed of this confident boasting. Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation (2 Cor. 9:1-5).
Unlike Paul with respect to the Corinthians, John could count on Gaius to be faithful to what he said he would do. This was because Gaius had built up a good record of faithfulness in God's work.
By the way: is there something you have committed to do in the support of those who work diligently for the cause of Christ? Is it time to renew that commitment, and show yourself faithful in doing it?
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Second, we should notice that Gaius was not only "faithful" but also "thorough". As John put it, he was faithful - "whatever you do for the brethren". He was faithful to meet the needs whatever they may have been; and he was also careful that those needs were met completely. He didn't do a half-baked job.
The apostle Paul once wrote to Christians about the thoroughness with which they were to do their work in their secular jobs. He told them,
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality (Col. 3:22-25).
In secular work, people tend to do a better and more thorough job if they know that their work will be carefully inspected by men. How much more thorough our work should be when it's for the Lord! We should ask three questions of ourselves whenever we seek to fulfill our duties for the Lord: (1) Was the work well done? (2) Were God's people well served? (3) Is the Lord Jesus well pleased? Asking those three questions will motivate us to be thorough "fellow workers for the truth" - like Gaius.
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Finally, notice that Gaius did all this with a spirit of warm hospitality toward the workers of the gospel - whether he knew those gospel workers or not. "... You do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have born witness of your love before the church". He was "hospitable" in his support - meaning, he shared what he had with those who served the cause of the gospel as if it belonged to them just as much as to him. Some of the gospel workers that Gaius didn't even known were able to go back to their home churches and testify, "We couldn't have done what we were able to do if it weren't for the loving hospitality of a brother we met along the way named Gaius."
The writer of Hebrews says, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels" (Heb. 13:1-2). There are examples in the Old Testament of this actually happening (Gen. 18:1-8; 19:1; Judges 6:1-22; 13:2-23). But even if we were pretty sure that we weren't entertaining an angel, the Bible still commands us, "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling" (1 Pet. 4:9).
I believe that John had a great sense of confidence in Gaius. I believe he felt that he could always send gospel workers Gaius' way, and could rest assured that they would be warmly welcomed, would be thoroughly loved and cared for, and would be able to leave with everything they needed. Gaius gave his support with faithfulness, thoroughness and genuine hospitality. This is the sort of conduct God wants to see in us as "fellow workers for the truth."
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So; we see in Gaius the internal character qualities of a fellow worker for the truth - love for the brethren, commitment to the truth, and integrity in his walk. What's more, we see in him the external behavioral qualities of a fellow worker - faithfulness, thoroughness and hospitableness. And with respect to his own sense of obligation to the cause of the gospel, we see in him a strong sense of fulfilling God's calling. He was convinced that he had a significant part to play in the spread of the gospel. And so, we see in him ...
3. THE COMMISSION OF A FELLOW-WORKER.
You see; Gaius didn't think of the Great Commission as something that was for other people to fulfill. He doesn't appear to have been a missionary or a preacher; but he clearly knew that he had a part to play in the work. What's more, he had an appreciation for the importance of his part in it. So, John wrote about the visiting preachers and missionaries; and said,
If you send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth (vv. 6b-8).
Very briefly, we see three ways that Gaius fulfilled his duties as someone who played a significant part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission. First, because these travelling ministers left their homes and livelihoods - accepting nothing from those to whom they ministered and expecting no support from those they were trying to reach - we see that it was Gaius' job to see that what they were welcomed into his home, and had a safe and secure place from which to do their work.
Second, because they were dependent upon the body of Christ to supply what was needed in the work, we see that it was Gaius' job to see to it that they were well supplied for the next steps in their work when they left. His duty was to "send them on their journey"; which was another way of saying that he saw to it that they had what they needed when they left.
And third, because they went forth (as it says in the original Greek) "on behalf of the Name" - that is, for the advancement of the name of Jesus Christ through the spread of His gospel - we see that he did what he did for them with a profound sense of the worthiness of their mission. He sent them forth "in a manner worthy of God". No doubt Gaius took to heart the words of the Savior, who told those He sent out to spread the gospel,
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward (Matthew 10:40-42).
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Dear brother or sister in Christ, God has called you to play a part in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. And even though you may not be called to preach or serve as a missionary, please don't ever undervalue what you are called to do. Instead, cultivate the qualities of love for the brethren, commitment to the truth, and devotion in your walk. Practice the qualities of faithfulness, thoroughness, and hospitableness in the meeting of the needs God sets before you. See yourself as a vital part of the work through providing the home support for those God has called to go - all with sense of being a part of a work that is infinitely worthy of the Lord.
The work of the Great Commission can not be done without you doing your part. In doing these things in these ways, you will prove to be a faithful "fellow worker for the truth".
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