3 John 4

‘walking in truth’

Pontius Pilate once famously ‘asked’, or mockingly and dismissively stated, ‘“What is truth?”’(John 18:38). His sentiment has a surprisingly modern ring to it, especially considering he was addressing a Christian, ‘“Jesus of Nazareth”’(John 18:5)! Pilate was responding to Jesus’ comment, ‘“for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth”’(John 18:37). Jesus knew our problem, an inclination to ‘suppress the truth’(Romans 1:18) and exchange ‘the truth of God for a lie’(Romans 1:25), even the lie that there is no such thing as truth! He’d come to insist that truth exists, the starting point for this walk.

However, Jesus taught about ‘“the way, the truth, and the life”’(John 14:6). So there’s a way and a life associated with this truth; it’s not just something to be known and stood in, but to travel and live by too, which obviously ‘walking in the truth’ implies. This third letter of John also mentions, ‘a journey… for the sake of the Name’(3 John 6-7), i.e. the name of Jesus, who John introduces elsewhere as, ‘the Word… was with God… was God… became flesh, and lived among us… full of grace and truth(John 1:1-14) – i.e. Jesus is the actual message, the ‘word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation’(Ephesians 1:13).

This should put a spring in our step, firing us ‘to walk just like he walked’(1 John 2:6). He’s not just the gate but the gait! However, this won’t result from simply copying Him, it’s far more dynamic than that. We’re to walk like Jesus because He lives in us and we in Him, as Paul encouraged the Colossians, ‘you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him’(Colossians 2:6-7), just like Jesus’ own statement recorded by John, ‘“I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him… bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing”’(John 15:5). The sap in this vine is the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of Christ’(Romans 8:9) nourishing us to bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit’(Galatians 5:22), which Paul again mixes with the metaphor of walking by adding ‘If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:25).

The main flavour of this vine’s fruit is ‘love’(Galatians 5:22), since ‘God is love’(1 John 4:8&16). John demonstrates that as he writes ‘to Gaius… whom I love in the truth’(3 John 1). But it’s not just sentiment. John goes on to commend Gaius for the fact that ‘brothers and strangers… have testified about your love’(3 John 5-6), which was practical hospitality he’d shown to travelling Christian missionaries, who he didn’t know well personally, but were ‘fellow workers for the truth’(3 John 8). So our loving walk is to involve such service: ‘Walk in love, even as Christ also loved… an offering and a sacrifice to God… a sweet-smelling fragrance’(Ephesians 5:2), which is the ‘sweet aroma of Christ’(2 Corinthians 2:15).

Interestingly we should leave a fragrance in our wake, like the presence of Jesus passing through! Moreover, just like with real fruit this fragrance is complex, composed of many notes. As already mentioned, the top note in the Spirit of Jesus perfume must always be ‘love’(1 Corinthians 13:1), otherwise we’ll spread a discordant ‘clanging’(1 Corinthians 13:1) fragrance (stink!), but there are other aspects to this fruit’s aroma too, ‘joy, peace…’(Galatians 5:22) etc.

This short letter in particular emanates a note of joy. John ‘rejoiced greatly’(3 John 3) when he heard that Gaius was walking in the truth, adding ‘I have no greater joy than this, to hear about my children walking in truth’(3 John 4). It’s interesting that the scent from another’s bouquet prompted his joy, someone he’d sown into spiritually (which is likely the sense in which Gaius was his child). Likewise Gaius had been sowing his resources into the missionaries’ work. We can all do that through giving and prayer etc., without necessarily physically walking at all. The fragrance of our walk should involve the joy of watching the spiritual flowering and fruiting of others, from our wisely planted seeds, even those sown into relative ‘strangers’(3 John 5).

That’s another important point in this short letter from John, a warning against working ‘to be first’(3 John 9), falling into personal empire building (perhaps with an associated schismatic bunker mentality). We live in love and joy not by making life about our empires, but about His, walking in ‘the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.’(1 Peter 4:11).

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