The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

“What is truth?”

I wonder how many leaders besides Pontius Pilate (John 18:38) have asked this question. And how would their answers line up? Who defines truth for queens, prime ministers, presidents, politicians, dictators? When objective truth is set aside the resulting chaotic subjectivity is all that is left.

News media put their spin on the truth. A ministry associate recently told me about watching American election results on three different television networks. The differences raised the question as to whether or not the same event was even being covered!

In 2 John, as in all of the 66 books of the canon of Scripture, truth matters. The key truth that establishes the plumbline for all truths in the Christian faith answers the question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’ The One who is the TRUTH, lived the TRUTH, spoke the TRUTH and established gospel truth as the very core of Christianity. ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried. He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.’ Read John 5:39-40 or trace your way through Luke 24 and you’ll discover that the central focus of all of God’s written TRUTH is His living TRUTH, namely Jesus Christ.

So how does ‘The elder’ refer to truth in this thirteen verse general letter, unaddressed to any specific congregation by name, but profitably studied by all congregations gathered regularly in the name of the only Mediator between God and men.

v. 1 ‘I love in the truth’ Truth frames love. It establishes the boundaries and scope of genuine affection. Truth is at the core of Christian relationships. We love the GOD of TRUTH because HE first loved us (in truth.) We love others who follow the TRUTH. Come with me on a missions trip or visit an ethnic church service in Toronto and even when you do not grasp the nuances of the language used, you’ll sense a common love for the TRUTH.

v.1 ‘all who know the truth’ Truth divides. How much of the Bible addresses falsehoods, in doctrine and practice? Part of every Bible-centred ministry involves proclaiming truth and exposing error. Some walk away from their faith because the truth of God’s word is too convicting. Too often I’ve heard ‘professing’ believers say these tragic words – ‘I know the Bible says…..BUT….’ and then the litany of justification of sinful behaviour commences. God’s standards seem high. They are! God’s intolerance of sin seems restrictive. It is! But consider the consequences of abandoning His way–they’re eternal!

v.2 ‘the truth lives in us and will be with us forever:’ We are not left in a sea of subjectivity. Praise God, His word is forever settled in heaven. All Scripture is God-breathed. Once He has saved us, He provides us with the Spirit of TRUTH (John 16:13), the Word of TRUTH (John 17:17) as we press on in our relationship with the One who is the WAY, the TRUTH and the life… (John 14:6)

v.3 ‘some of your children walking in the truth…’ There is a consistency, though not perfection in their Christian lives. Truth is not something simply to be debated, though at times it must be defended. Truth is to be heard (‘Faith comes by hearing….’) and to be lived out (‘Be doers of the word and not hearers only….’)

Christology = The Doctrine of Christ.  This is the acid test for John. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Hmm, sounds like the truth we sing and preach and study at Christmas. ‘The Word became flesh….’ ‘In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son…’ 

May we ask God, this Incarnation season, to enable us to speak and sing and share the message of Jesus Christ!  Perhaps we like John will be led to write a letter using paper and ink, or perhaps, using the electronic tools so readily available we’ll use every means possible to share the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, with God’s help to make it all happen.

 

Lots of ‘Little Names’

The kingdom of God is filled with a variety of people, from the nations of our world where the gospel has had its transforming impact. Some of these people are ‘big names,’ well known for their prominence in speaking, writing, etc..  Others may only be known by a small circle of acquaintances, yet their lives are fulfilling God’s purpose. They are genuine believers with ‘little names’ and many of them pass into eternity without any recognition, save that of the One they have served faithfully, namely Jesus Christ!

Look through church history and you’ll find the big names draw most of the attention. What evangelical church hasn’t referenced Martin Luther this month? Who hasn’t heard of Billy Graham, St. Augustine, John Calvin or Menno Simons? Certainly, formal theological training has included at least a tertiary introduction to such leaders.

Today I want to launch into the study of another 1 chapter letter penned by the Apostle John. Read it and read it and read it again and you will find no one named. The author refers to a lady, her children, some deceivers, some other children and a sister of the aforementioned lady. 2 John is marked by anonymity.

Name recognition does not equal godliness. We get caught up in personality cults, with prominent pastors autographing their study bibles, and posing for pictures with devoted followers. But is that what Christianity is all about? Some of the godliest leaders I’ve known have never penned a book, never been asked to address a church convention, nor lead a strategic ministry, yet God has used them for His glory. One day their works will be assessed by the Judge of all the earth, as all of ours will be likewise.

Enough of a rant. Let’s get to the text of 2 John as we begin.

The elder – As in 3 John, the author assumes the reader knows his proper name and simply identifies himself with his function within the body of Jesus Christ. Elders are those appointed by God to provide oversight to the body of Christ. Read 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5 and you’ll see the character qualities of these shepherds of the flock. Scripture teaches a plurality of elders but on this occasion ‘the elder’ is the only one penning this instruction.

To the chosen lady and her children – Read the commentaries and you’ll see the scope of possible interpretations here. Is this an actual woman, perhaps a widow, who is left to raise her children on her own? Some would assert this. Others claim John is writing to a church, a gathering of God’s people.  Zane Hodges writes,

“It has therefore been suggested that the apostolic writer adopted a literary form in 2 John, in which a particular Christian church is personified as “the chosen lady” and its members are called “her children.”

Hodges, Z. C. (1985). 2 John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 905). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Here are a few questions to prompt you to read carefully before I post again –

1) How many times does ‘truth’ show up in this letter? List each reference and note the relationship between truth and other virtues.

2) Look up John 14:6; John 17:17; Titus 1:1 What do these verses teach you about truth?

3) How may an individual believer distinguish between truth and falsehood? In a world, flooded with too much information, what steps would be profitable to follow in searching for the truth about a particular Scriptural topic?

 

 

Questions for Church Leaders & Followers

The bible is full of questions. How many are there? Do a ‘Google search’ and one site indicates that there are 3,157 question marks in the King James Version. Logos, a popular study software, offers a book entitled ‘All the Questions in the Bible’ by Jimmie L. Hancock.

Years ago I explored the questions asked of Jesus and by Jesus during the final week of his earthly life (e.g. from Palm Sunday through Easter). It was a fascinating and thought-provoking study.

As we near the end of our study of 3 John with today’s post, I’d like to propose some questions. There are no questions penned by this Spirit-inspired author, but the fourteen verses, if studied carefully, may well raise tough questions Christ-followers should be asking each other.

I’ve listed three questions which I intend to probe, and organized them around the ‘Four Fellows in the Fellowship.’ Perhaps they may stir you to explore new topics as leaders and followers within the local gatherings of God’s people.

The elder

1) Does the term ‘elder’ refer to the author’s age or his position of leadership in the local church?

2) How did his friendship with Gaius begin, continue and end?

3) In what churches did the elder primarily conduct his ministry? What was his authority in those churches? Certainly, Revelation speaks of John’s interaction with the 7 churches of Asia Minor and church history depicts his association and prominence with the gathering of God’s people in Ephesus.

Gaius

1) What ‘discipleship’ process had Gaius experienced which God used to embed solid doctrine and practices into his life?

2) What was his office or role within the congregation he served? What authority did this office possess?

3) How does Gaius reflect the biblical model from 2 Timothy 2:2 which delineates finding and instructing ‘faithful men’ who will be ‘able to teach others also?’

Diotrephes

1) How did Diotrephes develop such major sin issues in his life?

2) Did he ever repent following the receipt of this letter or the planned visit by the elder?

3) What ‘antidotes’ to authoritarianism are found in Scripture? How may they be preventatively administered to keep others from similar sinful patterns of living?

Demetrius

1) Was Demetrius a leader or simply a regular member of the congregation to which the elder wrote?

2) How had he learned to live out his faith in such a way?

3) Did his role in the congregation change following this public affirmation by the elder?

For many of the questions above, the text is silent. We must be careful not to press applications which do not reflect careful textual study.  The Christian faith, if lived properly, engages us in relationships a) with God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit; b) with other Christ followers, even those living out-of-line with God’s truth; and c) with unbelievers, before whom we live out the gospel message we believe.

May God equip us all to more carefully read, study, and reflect on His word. We are blessed with a multitude of tools to assist in the process. Perhaps now, after at least a few weeks of reflection and wrestling on my own, it’s time to pull out some solid commentaries! I hope you’ll join me.

The Local Church – A Mixed Multitude

Every local church is a mixed multitude of faithful followers and harmful hypocrites, wheat and tares, the true and the false. In this last post from Third John, let’s group together those whose living demonstrated their believing.

Those doing good – Good works don’t save anyone from the wrath of God. If I’ve heard it once this fall, I have heard it multiple times. On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the core teachings of ‘soteriology’ – the doctrine of salvation have been explored. We are saved by GRACE alone, through FAITH alone, in CHRIST alone, to the GLORY of GOD alone, on the basis of the SCRIPTURES alone.

‘For by grace you have been saved through faith….’ Paul reminds the Ephesian believers in chapter two of this Spirit-filled church letter. Though we were once dead in our sins, demonstrating the original condemnation of our first ancestors and manifesting in a multitude of ways our bent towards evil, God showed us His mercy. No one may boast about God’s rescue plan of salvation. Remember, Jesus Christ is the author and the finisher of this powerful deliverance.

Now back to 3 John.

Although good works do not save, those who are saved manifest God’s work through their actions. Jesus had said to his earliest followers, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your GOOD WORKS, and glorify Your Father who is in heaven.

So who, in 3 John, is doing good? Who is manifesting the grace of God and confirming their words (I believe in Jesus Christ) through their deeds?

The elder – This apostolic author is following Jesus Christ and has been for many years. He is in a unique relationship as a foundation layer (Ephesians 2:20), and is experiencing the Truth-guiding and preserving Spirit as he pens these fourteen verses. We have documented his leadership priorities clearly in an earlier post.

In addition to the elder, there are many other believers who are doing good and providing an example well worthy of imitating.

i) Gaius has been showing hospitality to travelling missionaries and has been actively continuing in the truth.

ii) ‘Some brothers’ have been travelling with the good news (v.3), obeying that they have understood Christ’s LAST command (Go into all the world….) to be their FIRST concern (Be disciple-making….)

iii) ‘The church’ which is located with ‘the Elder’ has received the report of the evident love of Gaius to the brothers and provides a community base for believing in and living for Jesus Christ, the One who was continuing to build His church.

iv) Demetrius, though described minimally, is impacting others. Noone has a bad word to say about him. Though not sinless (none of us are), he is an evident believer whose life bears evidence of truth.

The majority of Christ followers in the letter are doing good. But there are others in the assembly and John exposes his evil doing.

v) Diotrephes is described in four sentences. He remains embedded in this short letter as an example of someone surrounded by truth, who is living a lie. That is the essence of hypocrisy, isn’t it? He loved to be first. He sinfully misused his tongue in gossip and his ‘spiritual gift’ of leadership (if it really was that), was being misused in an authoritarian, self-centred kingdom-building way!

Every church is a mixed multitude of such people. I’ve met more than my share of behind the scenes people quietly serving Jesus Christ and others on a regular basis. They are not sinless, but the core of their life reflects the truth they profess to follow. Others see it, hear it and know that truth matters. They have believed in ‘The Truth’ (namely Jesus Christ). They have been transformed by ‘the truth’ of God’s word and work in their lives. They ‘can’t help’ but live out the life change in their community. May their tribe increase.

But then there are others. 3 John doesn’t varnish over the reality of mixed motives, of those who occupy roles they are spiritually unqualified to fulfil.

We interact with both types of people. We should be quick to be ‘grace spotters’ and glorify God from what we see of the imitation of good. We should be able to challenge, yes even at times rebuke, those whose ongoing sinful conduct proves an evil doing which is totally detached from God.

Did Diotrephes ever repent? Did John’s planned later visit accomplish the purpose for which church discipline is designed? Galatians 6, penned by another apostolic leader, guides us in the process of dealing with those ‘caught in the web of their own sinful choices.’

Let’s use 3 John to examine our own hearts and lives to see what ‘fruit’ or lack thereof, is being manifested for others to evaluate. ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart…..’ If someone was to pen a 21st century on the same theme on which side of the equation would we be seen?  What examples do we provide in the mixed multitude?

Four ‘Fellows’ From The Fellowship

I preached through 3 John last Sunday morning and entitled the sermon, ‘Four Fellows From The Fellowship.’ Okay, maybe there’s too much alliteration in the title, or perhaps subconsciously I was already thinking about attending a ‘Fellowship’ convention this week in Toronto. How would you answer the question, ‘What makes for a good sermon title?’

The four men, whose lives were providentially woven together into this fourteen verse personal yet church integrated first-century letter, were The Elder, Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius.

The Elder – This ‘fellow’ is a key leader in the congregations of this region. He lives in one location and writes this letter to a friend in another community. Some English versions call him ‘the pastor.’ Elsewhere the New Testament clearly delineates a plurality of elders in one local church. Read Acts 20, I & 2 Timothy, Titus and 1 Peter–in fact read through all the New Testament letters and you’ll see the biblical dynamics of leadership for a local congregation. The ‘office’ is that of an ‘elder.’ The role or function is described as that of a ‘pastor/shepherd’ or ‘overseers.’ The elders oversee the local congregation under the Good, Great, Chief Shepherd/Pastor, namely Jesus Christ.

As I proved the obvious leadership role of the elder, typically understood to be the Apostle John, I began to explore some questions related to leadership. What makes leaders ‘tick?’ What is their central motivation? How do they experience God’s grace? How do they access God’s power? How do they lead God’s people?

The priorities of John are reflected, as we have seen elsewhere, in the verbs–the action words of the letter. What is this leader doing? Loving, praying, having, hearing, writing, coming, calling, rejecting and hoping.  Leaders have a bundle of priorities in their God-given assignment and they must find their way through all these responsibilities.

Gaius – This ‘fellow’ is a key friend to the ‘Elder.’ Again there are questions to ask about motivation, priorities, grace, service and impact on God’s people.

Four times this ‘fellow’ is spoken of as a dear friend. Leaders need friends and many suffer from a lack of iron-sharpening relationships. Read through Proverbs, a wisdom book packed full of friendship principles we would do well to heed.

So how was this friendship marked? This calls for another reading of the text. The Elder and Gaius had a relationship marked by love, truth, prayer, encouragement, service, support, instruction, personal interaction and peace. Shall I continue? Wouldn’t we all benefit with such fellowship.

The last two ‘fellows’ in this fellowship stand out in marked contrast with each other. They are as different, as my English missionary friend once said, ‘as chalk and cheese.’

Diotrephes – This man, only known by these few sentences in one book is cited for his sin. He is self-centred. He loves leadership but for all the wrong reasons. He gossips, stirs up divisions and will have to be confronted in due course.

Demetrius – In contrast, his ‘foil’ is well spoken of by everyone and by truth itself. He is a man of integrity, whose interaction is strengthening the community of God’s people.

So where do you fit on this leadership scale?

Are you a mature leader, maintaining biblical priorities over the long haul of your ministry?

Are you a faithful leadership friend, actively living out the ‘good works’ which God prepared in advance for all the saved to demonstrate?

Or are you a over-the-top leader, clammering to be in the limelight, misusing your speaking opportunities and running your leadership programs with your priorities, not God’s?

Lastly, some of us may simply be described as ‘faithful.’ What adjective would dominate the conversation of those probed about your contribution to the work of the kingdom?

This little letter, tucked away in the latter part of New Covenant writings, is often overlooked in the area of leadership. It’s time we reread it and asked the Spirit of God to assess us all in the light of its divine standards. Let’s aim to be one of the ‘better fellows’ in the fellowship!

Counting My Blessings

Today is November 11th, a day set apart in our country to remember. Remember the sacrifice of multitudes of men and women who courageously defended freedom to the point of their own death. How soon we forget! How soon we misuse the freedoms which were supplied at an inestimable cost.

I’m headed to a Remembrance Day memorial service, preceded by a solemn march in which a beloved family member (son-in-law) will participate. There will be the haunting reminder of the music. There will be a time of silence. There will be reflection on the price that was paid. I intend to spend time counting my blessings.

I recall many years back while serving in Northern Ontario, I attended another Remembrance Day memorial. I stood quietly beside a man in his later years who seemed unusually emotional. Following the ceremonial portion of the service, he unpacked for me the account of his brother who ‘never made it home.’ His brother was a pilot in World War II. He had flown many successful missions and had written the family to indicate his soon departure from the front lines to the safety of Canada.

He never made it. There was a need for a pilot, someone to do recognizance over a harbour that was suspected of containing hostile ammunitions. This air force pilot had no requirements to serve. He was done. He had completed his duty and was ‘on leave.’ But why not one more flight? Why not serve where he could with the abilities God had given him? And so he volunteered–far beyond the call of duty–and flew off the runway into the skies above the harbour. Noone knew that the ‘enemy’ was anticipating this flight and he was met with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire which turned his craft into an inferno and he was taken into eternity.

What sacrifice! What devotion! I grew completely still, my breathing paused, as this man’s surviving brother wiped fresh tears from his eyes to describe the memory of the news received through an official visit to the family home informing them of the death. And then the letter came, postmarked 1 day before the flight with the promise ‘Mom, I’ll be home soon. I’ll be home.’

I’m not sure what memories flood your minds on this Remembrance Day. May we make wise use of the freedom we still enjoy. Lest we forget! Lest we forget!

Leadership Profiles

I have met with all kinds of leaders, and worked with many varieties as well through several years of ministry. I love biographies and try to sketch in my mind (though I’m no artist!) the profiles of these individuals.

What makes them tick? What is their central motivation? If they are Christians, how did they experience God’s regenerating power? How have they understood God’s will? What does ‘calling’ look like to them? How about character? If they are honest, what is their biggest character struggle? How did it develop? How are they seeing God change them ‘from the inside out?’ What skills do they possess?

Honestly, the questions just keep on coming. At my previous place of employment, I was nicknamed ‘Larry King’ for my hosting of panels, and a barrage of questions. I’ve read Larry King’s biography (not his real name) and found his journey into journalism broadcasting to be fascinating. By the way, I’ve done a few ‘radio’ shows and my home church invited me to ‘act the part’ in a Christmas production several years back.

Now….back to 3 John. Let’s sketch a profile of the leaders who are in this 14 verse letter. Today, we’ll start with ‘The elder’ whom most believe to the Apostle John.

The elder – A mature, seasoned Christian leader. Probably nearing the end of his ministry, this leader still communicates with friends. I wonder if he really knew that this short epistle would be ‘Spirit-breathed’ and included in the canon of Scripture.

What activities is the elder involved in as he writes? I think this frames his philosophy of ministry clearly as you study the verbs in the text.

I love. I pray. I have. I hear. I wrote. I will call attention. I do not. I hope.

Love – Leaders have their own love language. Some leaders have a hard time showing their love, while others probably err on the side of sentimentality. Leaders need to be ‘comfortable in their own skin’ as they serve groups of all sizes.

Prayer – Prayer is an essential part of ministry. In Acts 6 the apostles prioritized prayer to the Lord, to the congregation they served, to the deacons and to themselves. We can all learn to pray better, more in line with the will of God, more with a sense of dependence upon God for ourselves and those He has entrusted to our care.

Possessions – What did John ‘have?’ Not all possessions are material. The old hymn writer admonishes us to count our blessings, and so we should. ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits…’ Leaders need to take inventory of what they have in resources and then navigate the stewardship of what God has entrusted to them.

Senses – Leaders have physical senses, though, to various degrees of impairment, they do not use them equally. I’ve known two blind preachers, two paralyzed teachers and learned tons from their spirit of perseverance with their life challenges. Sign language opens up new venues for communicating, as I recently learned from a friend whose relative remains absent from local church fellowship as she asserted ‘no one there speaks my language.’

Planning – What have you done? What will you do? What are your future plans? Who holds you accountable for planning? The elder, in this text, planned to come, planned to fellowship with his friend, planned to address a problematic leader who was disrupting the fellowship by his authoritarianism.

Boundaries – What do you not want to do? What things won’t you do because they would be a) outside of your calling; b) wrong; c) unproductive for the time required. I’m being pushed by an excellent leadership coach who won’t accept my lack of implementation of boundaries. We all need iron-sharpening colleagues to help us grow, to establish, assess, maintain and explore proper boundaries for ourselves and those we lead.

Do you see any other leadership principles in the life of ‘the Elder?’ In future posts, we’ll dig deeper into the lives of the other men who are referenced.

Digging deeper into the depths of Scripture…

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