We’ve had a short hiatus with posts to go along with our readings, but we are back. (And if you needed something to tide you over, we did have a couple worship services that, as always, draw from the readings in both the times of prayer and preaching.)
We’re finishing up the trio of Johannine letters this week with 3 John. While there is a great satisfaction with finishing a good, long book, finding a good, short book is wonderful, too. And John comes through for us three times. And his short books don’t make them insignificant.
There are issues behind all the letters of the New Testament, and we’re pretty certain one issue for John was something like a first century Christian conspiracy theory, Gnosticism. Gnosticism itself wasn’t new and it often would morph and latch on to different ideas of the day, and Christianity was just another target. John’s repeated insistence on Jesus coming in the flesh in 1 John was a direct challenge to gnostic beliefs that Jesus only appeared in the flesh.
Gnosticism appealed to a desire to know a secret truth behind the public truth. Something hidden and kept back, and that knowledge gives you power. If you know something that others don’t that gives you a leg up. A similar draw is found within conspiracy groups who claim to see what no one else can see.
Here in 3 John the author continues to drive home that truth is still very important. In verse four he says there is no greater joy for him than to hear that the church is walking in the truth. Walking and truth go together for him. Action and belief are linked. For them to waiver from the truth of Jesus will undoubtedly lead them astray in their walk. He even name drops an example of someone doing this, Diotrephes, who is a clear example of how closely tied a belief (I am first) goes with action (put myself first). And Dio is talking “wicked nonsense”—not harmless lies, but harmful—that leads him to harm some brothers.
Yet the truth of Jesus is in contrast to the gnostics. The wonderful news of Jesus is that he came to reveal the way, the truth, and the life. What was not known in full has been shared, and the fullness of God is seen in the face of Jesus! It isn’t to be kept back and made a secret so that only the few may know. Jesus did all he did for us so we can know and experience life with God. While yes, not everyone knows this and certainly not everyone believes it, the tone of the gospel message is out of step with the gnostics who seek to maintain some level of secrecy. Jesus came so that the whole world may know the truth and he invites us to walk in it.
John through his three letters shows that link between truth and action, and frequently truth and love. There is no expectation of one without the other. Hence, he’s not content to write about these issues. That’d make it too easy to lean upon truth alone. Rather John puts down the pen, intending to be with them soon, face to face, able then to join action to his words.