I recently heard the true story of a boss who was very controlling, difficult and demanding. As a result was a very stressful person to work for. His employees always felt like they were on thin ice around him. One day one of the boss’ employees was meeting new people at a dinner party, and as they talked they asked each other the normal questions people ask when they’re meeting each other for the first time: “Where are you from?” and “Do you have family?” and “What do you do for a living?” As they answered these questions, they realized they had a common connection in the guy who was the boss. Here’s the thing, though. The other people at the dinner party didn’t know the guy as a boss. They went to church with him, and they talked about him glowingly, that he was a great caring guy. As you can imagine, the employee was shocked to hear his boss went to church. And he could not conceive of his boss as being a caring guy.
Have you known anyone like that? Some people would call that a hypocrite. Or inconsistent. Would people say that of you and me? I ask this because we’re going to be studying a letter in this week’s series of posts that talks about that kind of life.
This summer we’ve been reading other people’s mail. Ancient letters. We read a couple letters that a guy named Paul wrote. One to a friend named Titus, and another to a friend named Philemon. Then last week we met another letter writer, a guy named John. He wrote three letters that are in the Bible. Last week we studied his letter commonly called 2nd John, and today we’ll see that his next letter, 3rd John, has many similarities with 2nd John. The writer of these letters, John, was one of the disciples of Jesus. John is sometimes called the Dr. Seuss of the New Testament because in all his writings he uses a few words and he repeats concepts over and over again.
For example, John loves to talk about walking. In 2nd John he talked about walking in truth and walking in love, so you might remember that I said last week were we were going to focus on walking in love, which is the feature of 2nd John, and this week we’re going to focus on walking in truth, which is the feature of 3rd John.
So go ahead and read 3rd John before we continue, and see if you can understand what John means by “walking in truth” and what it might have to do with the mean boss who was a nice guy at church. After you’ve read the letter, continue below.
Verse 1 starts just like 2nd John did with John, the writer, identifying himself as “the elder.” We believe at the time John wrote this, he was probably the only one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples still alive, very much in old age, having served many years in ministry. It could be that by this point, as the only one of the 12 remaining, he held a position of great respect among the churches, so he was “the elder”.
Next John tells us he is writing to someone named Gaius. Last week he wrote to “the chosen lady” which we think was a metaphor for a local congregation. 3rd John seems to be a letter specifically to one person, Gaius. Why would John write a letter specifically to him? Let’s try to uncover the reason.
To start, take note of how he refers to Gaius, as a “dear friend,” and one whom John loves in the truth. That means John considers his relationship with Gaius to be close; he is important to John. When John says that he loves Gaius in the truth, that should stick out to you. Why? Because we don’t talk like that! Have you ever said to anyone, “I love you in the truth”? I highly doubt it.
We might say, “I love you a lot” or “I love you so much.” But “I love you in the truth?” Uh… No. What does that even mean? Well, you might actually have heard people say a phrase very similar to what I think this means. Have you ever heard Christian people say, “I love you in the Lord”? Or “I love you as a brother or sister in Christ”? We don’t use those phrases a whole lot either, but sometimes in a church family, we talk like that because we want to specify the kind of love that we’re communicating. We don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea!
In our culture, it has become somewhat more normal, I think, for people to say “I love you.” Just a plain old “I love you,” without meaning it romantically. Sometimes they say it humorously like, “I love you, man!” But more and more, I’m hearing people say “I love you,” to their friends, non-romantically, and I think that’s a good thing, meaning that perhaps we’re becoming freer to express sentiments of love that way. But there are still times when we want to express loving-kindness and we don’t want it to be confused with a romantic expression of love, so we add a few words on the end. In a church family we might say, “I love you in the Lord,” or “I love you as a brother or sister in Christ.” I think that is what John is doing when he says to Gauis, “I love you in the truth.” When he says, “he loves him in the truth,” John is describing the deep familial bond that he has with Gaius as a fellow follower of Jesus. For John, “the way of Jesus” is the one true way of life, and when he says, “I love you in the truth,” John is simply saying to Gaius that they are a part of the Christian family, and John really cares for him.
So we can, and should, say “I love you” non-romantically to those we care about. We might need to add a word or two to clear up what kind of love we’re expressing. But maybe not.
What does this have to do with the difficult boss? Nothing just yet. But John is getting there. For now, all we have covered is his greeting to his friend. Check back in to Part 2 of this series to see where John goes next.