D. Scott Meadows
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth (3 John 4).
Until Christ our Chief Shepherd returns from heaven, He keeps giving pastors for the spiritual blessing of the Church Militant (that is, the Church on earth vis-a-vis the Church Triumphant in heaven; Eph 4.11). He calls these chosen men, first, out of their sins into a state of grace, and then, into the office of overseer for their special work (1 Tim 3.1), which is, primarily, the care of souls entrusted to their stewardship, and for which they must give account (Heb 13.17). The implication is that every Christian needs such men to help in their pilgrimage to heaven.
John the Apostle is an example of a man with the heart of a true pastor. John loves the Church like Christ loves the Church—the calling of every disciple of Christ (John 13.34), and an absolutely indispensable requirement of those entrusted with shepherding God’s flock. Writing to Gaius (probably a pastor himself), John calls him “wellbeloved” (v. 1)—especially loved by God, by John, and by his brethren. John unashamedly says that Gaius is one “whom I love in the truth” (v. 1), that is, as a brother in the Lord and a fellow worker in the gospel, sharing the same commitment to pure gospel doctrine and strengthening the Church. As further evidence of Gaius’ faithfulness, we read of “the truth that is in” him, and that he “walkest in the truth” (v. 3). Gaius was a devout, orthodox, clear-thinking Christian, deeply committed to the apostolic doctrine and demonstrating the sincerity of his faith by consistent speech and conduct, imitating his mentor John’s sterling example, and both following Jesus. No doubt, Gaius was a “blameless” man (1 Tim 3.2), qualified as an overseer of church members.
Venting his swelling happiness at the remembrance of all this, John declares a general principle characterizing all true pastors. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (v. 4). Many profitable truths may appear from spiritual meditation upon this verse. Let me suggest five that come to mind, working backwards from the verse’s end to its beginning.
First, there is such a thing as Truth—objective, absolute, real and revealed Truth. God’s truth is the basis for all true religion (i.e., living for God). Biblical Christianity teaches that Truth is not just something we believe; it is the reality of God Himself and His works as He makes them known to us, especially in the Person and redemptive work of Christ (John 14.3).
Second, Truth requires obedience. To “walk in truth” is to think, speak, and act in its glorious way. God’s revealed will must become, more and more, our actual policy, both individually and as a church. Pastors especially have the responsibility to teach those they baptize “to observe all things whatsoever [Christ] has commanded” us (Matt 28.19, 20). To know the truth intellectually and yet to not “walk” in it (a metaphor for a manner of life or lifestyle) is to be like demons who also believe that there is only one God while persisting in their perversity (Jas 2.19).
Third, the relationship of Christians to their own pastors is supposed to be warm and familial. Thinking of believers he has been able to teach and influence for good, John calls them “my children.” Good medical doctors are very concerned to help you take care of your physical health, but there is no basis for this kind of intimacy with them. The Church is a true, spiritual family. According to the pervasive testimony of the New Testament, Christians are truly brothers and sisters in the Lord, and pastors are in a fatherly role in our relationship to you. That some ungodly men usurping the pastoral office have abused their role does not invalidate this truth. A true pastor does not view church members merely as friends, much less as clients, nor even just as brothers, but as “his children,” on account of the spiritual mentoring he gives them, and the loving interest he has in their spiritual flourishing. Fatherly love accounts for John’s spiritual outburst in verse four. These church members are his very heart. He lives and dies with them.
Fourth, nothing makes a true pastor happier than to receive news that his beloved ones are leading godly lives. He is full of joy on this account for several reasons. It is an indication that his beloved ones are receiving the greatest blessings from the Lord who saves His people. The glory of God in the world is most on display when professing Christians live in accordance with His truth. Their walking in truth is also an answer to every true pastor’s prayers that his ministry would take root in their lives and bear the fruit of practical love and holiness. The work of true pastors is thus vindicated and shown to be worthwhile beyond calculation.
Fifth, Christians ought to care deeply about becoming an occasion of such joy to their own pastors. No doubt John wrote this verse for the purpose of confirmation, edification, and motivation to the readers, especially Gaius. The inference is that it is proper that such should think to themselves, “Does my dear Pastor John have such joy to hear that I am walking in truth? Well, then, this is all the more incentive for me to persevere in a godly way, that I may become a means of increasing his pastoral joy.” This attitude also bodes well for each church member (cf. Heb 13.17). Ω