Lent 2b

Preached: March 8, 2009

We Work Together for the sake of Jesus' Name
3 John 1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens us in Jesus is 3 John:

The Elder, to Gaius, the dear friend, whom I love in the truth.

Dear friend, I pray that in everything you prosper and are in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I have been overjoyed when brothers came and testified of your [faithfulness to the] truth, just as you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my own children walking in the truth.

Dear friend, you are acting faithfully in whatever you do for the brothers even though they're strangers. Before the church they testified of your love. You will act rightly as you help them move on in a way worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, taking nothing from the heathen. So we, on our part, ought to take up the support for such men, in order that we may become coworkers for the truth. (3 John 1-8)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

Pounding sounded from the front door of the doctor's house. It was four in the morning. Who could it be? Was it a medical emergency? Two men stood there, one with a broken leg. The doctor set, splinted, and bandaged the leg, and then let the men rest up before they headed out later that day. The date was April 15, 1865, the early morning hours after the assassination of President Lincoln the night before. The man with the broken leg was John Wilkes Booth.

Historians debate whether the doctor, Doctor Samuel Mudd, was part of the conspiracy or not. He and his family insist that he was innocent. But the way he helped Booth that night significantly contributed to his conviction as a co-conspirator. He was sentenced to life in prison until President Andrew Johnson pardoned him in 1869.

Now as we help and support others in their work, we become sharers in that work coworkers for good or for ill even as Doctor Mudd became a co-conspirator, a co-worker with Booth in the eyes of the law. The Apostle John writes about sharing in another's work not the evil work of conspiracy or assassination, but the good work of the Gospel. He encourages his dear friend, Gaius, to continue helping and supporting the brothers that were bringing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. For he was sharing in that work by giving them his financial support.

The Apostle's encouragement is for you and me as well. May the Holy Spirit leads us to keep on working together for the sake of Jesus' name. That's the theme we focus on. We work together for the sake of Jesus' name, (1) walking together in the truth, (2) walking together in love.

A. Walking together in the truth

1) How was church life different in John's day?

This short letter, along with 2 John, gives us insight into the congregational life of the early church. It was different than what we are use to. We are use to having our own full-time seminary-trained pastor who stays with us five, ten, fifteen or more years. When our pastor does leave, we call from a list of men who have been trained in God's Word and have vowed to teach it faithfully in its truth and purity. We have a system of circuit pastors and district presidents to assist congregations as needed and to maintain the true teaching of God's Word among us. When all works well, we take much of this system for granted. We simply show up on a Sunday morning and expect our pastor to feed us with God's true Word.

In John's day there were no seminaries to train pastors, no church bodies to distinguish those who taught God's Word correctly from those who mixed in errors, no call lists to find qualified pastors on. In fact, in many cases it was the leading laymen that led the regular services. The full time preachers would often travel from place to place, sharing God's Word and then moving on to the next church or going to a place where there was not yet a church, doing mission work.

This appears to be the case with the brothers John refers to in this letter. He has sent them out to share God's Word. They were coming to Gaius and he would take care of them and then give them provisions to continue on.

But it was not only the true preachers of God's Word that went out like that. False prophets, teachers who changed parts of God's Word, also went out. They could be very friendly, pious, talented individuals. But to help these false teachers, to give them food or lodging, would be joining them in their error, becoming a co-worker with them for evil. John brings this out in his 2 letter as he writes about that kind of preacher saying, “Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 11 NIV).

So how would men like Gaius know which traveling preachers to welcome and which to avoid? He couldn't ask, “Are you WELS or something else?” He couldn't ask which seminary they trained at. So how could he discern what kind of teachers they were? By knowing for himself the truth, God's truth, as his very own.

That's what brought great joy to the Apostle John. Gaius was faithful to the truth, walking in the truth. John writes, “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 3, 4 NIV). These traveling brothers were bringing the same truth that Jesus' apostles had taught, the same truth that Gaius had known and believed, the same truth that is still taught in our congregation and believed in your hearts.

2) What is the truth?

What is that truth? The truth is the Name not just any name, but the only name that saves. Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Lord. Remember what that name means. He is Jesus, which means “the LORD is salvation.” This is the name given to him by his earthly parents, as commanded by the angel. For you see, Jesus is fully human like us in order to be our Substitute, to give God the perfect obedience we have failed to give and to suffer the death penalty our sins have earn, to do this in our place, as our Substitute, for us. That is how he saved us. But he who saves is the LORD, the gracious and faithful I AM. The LORD is salvation, that is what the name Jesus means. And that is who Jesus is. He is the LORD. He is God almighty, the eternal Son of the Father, Emmanuel, God with us. How else could he be the sinless Savior for all sinners, including you? Only the Lord saves, and that is who Jesus is: the Lord God, our salvation.

He is the Christ, the Messiah, both of which mean the anointed One. Like an anointed high priest, Christ offered the sacrifice for sinners. But unlike the high priests of old, he did not offer the blood of animals again and again. No, he offered himself once and for all on the cross. He is the High Priest and the Sacrifice, for he is the Christ. And by that sacrifice he is our Lord. For with his blood he redeemed you to be his very own people, ransomed not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood. So he is your Lord and you are his blood-bought people. How his name proclaims the truth! Rejoice in the truth whenever you hear the name, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

3) How do we walk together in the truth of Jesus' name?

And what joy that we do not walk alone in the truth! Like John we greatly rejoice as we hear of how we work together as a synod. For unlike so many church bodies today, we are united around the truth. Most church bodies cannot agree in themselves on what the truth is. More and more they tolerate a diversity of opinions, letting people believe what they want, rather than what the Bible says. What a heartache for true Christians in those church bodies! They know that their church body is no longer teaching they truth they learned from the Scriptures growing up. They feel troubled in supporting it. When they need a new pastor, they worry whether he or even she will be too liberal. They may have the same church name, but they are not walking together in the truth. And so rather than working together for the sake of Jesus' name, even the faithful among them become co-conspirators.

Don't take for granted what we have as church body who walks together in the truth. Rather rejoice in the blessing. You know and believe God's truth. You trust it. You live it. It is your strength, your comfort, your shield. What joy as you walk in that truth with your fellow Christians. We come together with one another around the truth as we worship our Savior, as we study his Word in Bible class, as we seek comfort and strength in our time of need. Yes, we can and do study God's Word privately on our own in our families. But what a great joy and blessing to gather with your fellow Christians to study and discuss God's Word, to build one another up on the truth! Make use of that blessing while you can. Come to Bible class. Work together for the sake of the Name, Jesus' name. Work together to grow all the more in the truth.

B. Walking together in love

1) What did Gaius' love do?

And as we walk together in the truth, that truth overflows in love. John writes about Gaius' love taking action: “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” (3 John 5-7 NIV).

Gaius' love took action. He gave his time and money to support the true preachers of God's Word. By supporting them, he worked together with them for the sake of the Jesus' name. These traveling preachers didn't take payment from the unbelievers they were bringing the Gospel to. How could they preach the Good News of free forgiveness in Jesus, salvation by grace alone, and then say, “Now you have to pay me.” To the new converts that would make the Gospel look like a get-rich-quick scheme. So they depended on their fellow Christians to support them. Then they could devote their full time to proclaiming God's Word.

Gaius put his love for the truth into action, even in the face of opposition. Later in this letter, John mentions Diotrephes. Diotrephes wanted nothing to do with John. He refused to welcoming the brothers. And not only that, he tried to stop those who wanted to do so and throw them out of the church. Gaius may well have suffered because of Diotrephes. But his love for the truth and for the true preachers of God's Word, led him to keep on supporting them. His love took action.

2) How do we work together in love to support the truth?

What an example for us! We don't have a Diotrephes in our congregation trying to stop our love from supporting God's truth. But we do have our family expenses, our standards of living, our desire to have what our neighbor has, our financial priorities and struggles, all working to keep us from supporting the Gospel work. It's one thing to say we love mission work. It's another thing to give up some of our money and what that money could buy to support it.

But rather than focusing on the difficult, treasure the joy it is to walk together in love, as we work together supporting the teaching of the truth for the sake of Jesus' name. What a blessing and joy to know that when you support our synod schools, you are supporting the same truth as what taught in this congregation! God's truth. What a blessing and joy to know that when you support missionaries at home and abroad, you are supporting the same truth as taught here! What a blessing and joy as we walk together in love, supporting the true teaching of God's Word, working together for the sake of Jesus' name!

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313