FOR THE SAKE OF THE NAME
3 Jn. 1:5-14
Donald T. Williams, PhD
A sermon preached at Trinity Fellowship, Toccoa, Ga., 8/23/98, and University Church, Athens, Ga., 11/6/16.
5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers. 6 And they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth. 9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church. 11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we also bear witness, and you know that our witness is true. 13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
INTRODUCTION: I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief studies in these small epistles as much as I have. They (the epistles) are short in length but long in relevance for the Christian life. In them we have seen that John’s thinking centers around three key words: Truth, Love, and Joy. We have seen that Truth is that which is so, real, solid, firm, good, reliable, etc., and is so because it is ultimately rooted in a Person, Jesus Christ. We have seen that the Truth which is Jesus Christ indwelling us as a dynamic spiritual principle overflows in Love, which is walking according to the commandments, which is walking with Jesus. The effect of indwelling Truth is outworking Love. We have seen that the Truth and the Lie are at war, and that therefore the Church must stand united on the fundamentals of the Faith, encapsulated in the claim that Jesus came in the flesh. We have seen that, as outworking Love is the practical result of indwelling Truth, so Joy is the emotional residue left behind by indwelling Truth and outworking Love. We learned that because Joy is the byproduct of indwelling Truth and outworking Love, we can obey the command to rejoice in the Lord by cultivating those conditions of Joy.
Both these epistles deal with the practical issue of Hospitality, which in the First Century refers to the support and encouragement and sending on their way of traveling missionaries. In 2 John we were warned not to show hospitality or even recognition to anyone who does not affirm the Truth, i.e., that Jesus came in the flesh. In 3 John, the emphasis is on the other side of the coin. We are to make sure that we do show such hospitality to those who are true servants of the Truth. This exhortation comes in the context of the whole view of the Christian life that we have been studying. I would like to highlight four phrases in this passage today which not only help us to identify those who are the true servants of Truth and teach us how to treat them, but also shed great further light on the Christian life in general even as they are doing so.
- “WORTHY OF GOD” (v. 6)
When these traveling missionaries are true servants of Truth, we are to send them on their way “in a manner worthy of God.” What can this possibly mean? There are at least three ways of taking it, all of which are relevant. First is to send them as we would send God. But how do you send God on his way? This theoretical problem dissolves as soon as you think of God as God the Son. We should take these missionaries into our homes and send them on to their next destination even as we would do it if it were Christ himself who was our guest. This is probably John’s primary meaning here. I cannot help but think he was remembering Jesus’ words about “the least of these.” If whatever we do for the least of these His brethren we do unto the Lord Himself, how much more the way we treat His duly appointed messengers who are risking everything to spread His Gospel? First we must make sure that is what they are, that they are servants of the Truth, not servants of the Lie masquerading as such. Then we should send them on their way in a manner worthy of God, i.e., of Christ himself.
The phrase could also be taken as meaning that we are to send them as Christ himself would send them, as God would have them sent. We should be as generous, in other words, as God has been to us. And how generous is that? “He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). When God showed His love for us, He didn’t hold anything back. When we have the opportunity to enable a true servant of God who is going out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles, to do the work to which he is called and to which he has devoted himself completely, we should embrace it with all our hearts and put ourselves on the line just as God’s servant has put himself on the line. For His true servants, this is not a burden but an opportunity and a privilege, because we are giving back to Christ who gave everything for us. I’m not talking about helping some rich prosperity-preaching televangelist or mega-church pastor buy a better Learjet. That’s not being spiritual. That’s just showing lack of discernment and being a poor steward of God’s resources. I’m talking about people who are dependent on us for their ability to serve. I’ve seen some of our members doing this and doing it well. They should not grow weary in well doing, and you should join them.
And the third implication is that we should send them out in a way that brings glory to God. This we are to do in all things: to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thes. 2:12); to do “whatever you do in word or deed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17); “whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31). John is simply reminding us that this general principle about everything we do applies specifically to the way we treat God’s servants. As in every area of life, we should pause regularly to think about what that means.
How then do we live worthily of God? How do we glorify Him? God’s glory is the reflection of His character in all its splendor and majesty throughout the whole of creation. He is glorified when His character is made known in the world. In terms of John’s language, He is revealed in us when indwelling Truth manifests itself in outworking Love—when we walk in truth which is walking in love which is walking according to the commandments. For Gaius, it was specifically indwelling Truth that made him value these brethren and want like John, and not like Diotrephes, to serve them. He would do it generously, not grudgingly, as unto the Lord. And so should we! Is there a missionary you are helping to send forth, either through our church or another agency? Are you doing it in a manner worthy of God? If not, there is something lacking in your Christian walk. This is one very specific and strategic area in which indwelling Truth ought to be showing itself in outworking Love.
- “FOR THE SAKE OF THE NAME” (v. 7)
One way we can identify the true servants of Truth is that they go out “for the sake of the Name.” What name? The name of Jesus, which is greater than any name that is named under heaven, whereby we must be saved. In biblical culture as in native American culture a name is supposed to speak of the inner nature of that which is named. So Yahweh means “I Am” the name of the Living One, and Jeshua means “Yahweh saves,” the name of the Savior. To live worthily of God then is to live for the sake of the Name. Of course. But we have all seen people who are in Christian service—either professionally or informally in a lay capacity—for the sake of something else. For all too many the Church is the small pond in which they think that even they can be a big fish. It is for the sake of their own name, not the Name, that they “serve.” And, while it is unlikely to happen in our little church, there have been people doing it for the sake of money. That is a distinct impression I get from a lot of televangelists. I note that one indicator of going out for the sake of the Name is “accepting nothing from the Gentiles” (v. 7). Well, if we took nothing from anyone who is not a Jew, we would run out of support pretty quickly! Therefore, Gentiles here obviously symbolize non-believers. Everybody knows that some televangelists use a lot of their air time to ask for money. Now, we may legitimately let God’s people know of our needs, but we are not to solicit funds for Christian work from anyone else. Yet I have seen evangelistic shows or meetings—obviously, one would hope, targeted at non-Christians—asking for donations not from the Church in private but from the general public out in front of everybody!
No. We are to go out—and to support those who go out, and only those who go out—for the sake of the Name. And so we must do nothing that would give the impression that we are doing it for the sake of anything else. Everything that we do and say as Christians, everything we do and say as members of University Church, reflects on the name of Christ.
When I was in college I was a member of the Taylor University Band. Not only was it a college band, it was a very good one for a small college of about 1500 students. We were set forth as an example of excellence by marching clinicians in Indiana, and the year after I graduated the group was invited to do the halftime show for a (then) St. Louis Cardinals football game. Alright, we all got a jacket, a windbreaker to wear when we were not in uniform, with a Taylor Trojan and the words “Taylor University Band” embossed on the breast. Well, when I got back for Christmas break my freshman year before the high schools had let out, guess what I wore to my old high school band’s Christmas concert? And guess how ridiculously I strutted around in it! I was proud of that jacket and what it stood for, certain standards of musicianship and professionalism unknown to most high school players and held to precisely and explicitly because we represented our Savior when we performed. I went out with that name displayed prominently on my absurdly stuck-out chest every chance I got, and other than being clueless about what a dork I was, I wasn’t about to do anything in that jacket that would reflect badly on the organization it represented. O.K., I had “freshman syndrome” and I was pretty silly. But there was something good in that attitude which I hope I haven’t entirely lost, which I hope I have transferred to something more worthy than a college band, and which I hope I now express in a more mature manner (at least sometimes), but find ways of expressing still. We go out for the sake of the Name. For the sake of the Name. Nothing less. Nothing else.
III. “FELLOW WORKERS WITH THE TRUTH” (v. 8)
Is there a more astonishing phrase in all of Scripture? When we support those who are true servants of the Truth, who go out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles, we are called “fellow workers with the Truth.” Not just servants of the Truth, mind you—that would be an honor far beyond our deserts—but fellow workers with the Truth. What does that mean? What does it look like?
Both in seminary and then again in grad school here at the University of Georgia, I had the privilege of working as a research assistant for professors who were writing books. I did some of the spade work, and when the books came out I could point to an index entry or a footnote and say, “I did that—this would not be here if it were not for me.” One of my friends, David Stott Gordon (whom a few of you may remember) was working with me on our professor John Montgomery’s book on C. S. Lewis, Myth, Allegory, and Gospel. In a fit of inspiration and as a practical joke which he assumed Montgomery would catch and delete, David inserted a certain Talking Mouse into the index not just as Reepicheep, but as “Reepicheep, Saint, Knight and Confessor.” The entry is that way in that book to this day, and I can’t say that either of us is terribly sorry about it. All of my contributions were serious and scholarly, I am sorry to say. In one case at UGA I even got my name mentioned in the acknowledgments. For a literary-minded person who had not yet published anything terribly significant himself, this was a big deal. I was a fellow worker with John Warwick Montgomery or James Kibler. How much greater the privilege, how much greater the excitement, to be a fellow worker with the Truth, with the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself! It doesn’t get any better than that.
Note, moreover, who is called this: not the preacher himself, not the apostle (though the phrase could also have been accurately used of them too), but Gaius, who just put the preacher up in his house and sent him on his way in a manner worthy of God. Anything that you do in the Lord’s service, for the sake of the Name, makes you a fellow worker with the Truth. The Truth works in us, which is what makes this possible. But what it makes possible is that we work, not on the Truth or even for it, but with it. C. S. Lewis used to say that God instituted prayer in order to give his creatures the dignity of being causes. When we walk in the Truth and go out for the sake of the Name, then this astounding statement applies to everything we do. Truly the Grace of God is great. Blessed be He.
- “A GOOD TESTIMONY . . . FROM THE TRUTH ITSELF” (v. 12)
This just keeps getting better! When you are a true servant of Truth who goes out for the sake of the Name, then you may have the experience of Demetrius, who received a good testimony from everyone, and even from the Truth itself. What does this mean? We are used to thinking that we are to give testimony to the Truth. When we do so for the sake of the Name, then the Truth also turns the tables and gives us a good testimony. In other words, the quality of Demetrius’ life, of his character, was such that it was marked visibly by the process of indwelling Truth and outworking Love and resulting Joy. And what’s more, everyone could tell. By their fruits ye shall know them, and he was known by the fruits of indwelling Truth and outworking Love and resulting Joy. He believed, understood, and lived by sound doctrine. He was not attached to the things of this world. He walked blamelessly, i.e., he walked in the Truth. He loved the Lord and his ways, his Word, his people, and his Gospel unfeignedly and unashamedly. He lived worthily of God, went out for the sake of the Name, and was a fellow worker with the Truth.
In other words, the Truth testified to him by manifesting itself in him. What greater testimony could anyone receive than that? Then, when the true servants of Truth get to heaven, it will be done even more pointedly: They will hear their Lord say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” He will say it in front of everybody, the angels, your friends and family and fellow church members. What a moment that will be! And when we see people like Demetrius walking in the Truth here and now, we can hear as it were the echo of that future affirmation reaching back in time into the very present as they receive the good testimony of the Truth itself.
The Father likes doing this! This is who He is. It started with Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” Now, Jesus actually deserved that testimony in a way we never will. But remember two things: God is a God of Grace, unmerited favor. He will rejoice over the smallest step in the right direction, even if it is still far from perfect. Well, the Christ who lives within us as indwelling Truth and outworking Love still deserves it fully! And we are clothed in the white robes of His righteousness. So how about having that Voice say about you, in effect, “This is my beloved servant, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” The reality, stumbling and imperfect but growing and increasing in power even now, of indwelling Truth and outworking Love in you, is the Father saying that about you already. It is the guarantee that He will say it again even more plainly on the Last Day. Are you discouraged? Have you grown weary? Are you feeling spiritually stretched and stale and worn out? Listen for that Voice! It is speaking about many in our congregation right now. Confess and forsake your sins, love Jesus with all your heart and your brother as yourself, let His Truth indwell you and work its way outward in Love, go out for the sake of the Name, and people will hear Him saying it about you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
CONCLUSION: Remember these four phrases then, as keys not only to the question of missionary support but also to the Christian life as a whole. Send forth the true servants of Truth in a manner worthy of God; go out for the sake of the Name, taking nothing from the Gentiles; be a fellow worker with the Truth; and you will receive a good testimony from the Truth itself. May God the Father make it so in our lives to the glory of his Son, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.
Here endeth the Lesson.
The Rev. Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College and a member of University Church, Athens, Ga.. He is the author of ten books, most recently Deeper Magic: The Theological Framework behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016).