Sermon on 3 John 4 Mt. Olive Lutheran 3/3/19 Pastor Joel Schroeder “You Can Give Me No Greater Joy”

3 John 4 " I have no greater joy than wehn I hear that my children are walking in the truth.'

My wife has suggested more than once that some Sunday I should get up to preach and deliver this sermon: “Jesus loves you. Amen.” While that’s an awesome message, there were week’s when following that advice was tempting, not this week. God’s people at Mt. Olive expect to hear a sermon expounding God’s love for them in a little more detail. When I was trying to decide what Word of God to preach on for my final sermon as your pastor, I got an email from Nebraska Lutheran High School encouraging pastors of our district to preach on the importance of Christian education, based on 1 John 5. That single verse from the shortest book in the Bible, captures much of what I want preach about today. “I have no greater joy than when I hear that my children are walking in the truth.” So my theme today is “You Can Give Me No Greater Joy.”

The Apostle John wrote those words. You know him well. He was one of Jesus’ inner circle: Peter, James, and John. He called himself the disciple Jesus loved—one who really seemed to get Jesus and his message. Because of what he wrote in his epistles and gospel, he’s been called the Apostle of Love. Yet Jesus nicknamed John and his brother Sons of Thunder when they suggested Jesus call down lightning to destroy Samaritans who rejected Jesus’ message. John was able to be present at key miracles like the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the Transfiguration. He was physically closer to Jesus in Gethsemane, entered the High Priest’s palace for Jesus trials, and was at the cross, where Jesus entrusted Mary to John’s care. John was one of the first to believe Jesus was risen on Easter Sunday. He served as a pastor in Ephesus, wrote Revelation from exile on the island of Patmos, and according to tradition, was the only apostle to die a natural death—probably near the age of 100.

John likely wrote his 3rd letter to Christians in Asia Minor—Turkey today. Remember that’s where his 7 letters to 7 churches were addressed in Revelation 2-3. Gospel ministry involves relating to people. As John wrote to those believers he mentions three people by name. A Methodist minister once told me: I admire the relationship you Lutherans have with your people. I’d ask him, how can you serve as someone’s pastor if you don’t even know them? Pastors of megachurches can reach many people, but there is nothing like the care of souls that can be given in a smaller congregation. That’s one reason it’s time for me to retire from full-time ministry. Caring for souls gets very difficult, if you can’t remember people’s names, and important things they tell you about themselves, families, and lives.   

John addressed his letter first to someone he calls “Dear Gaius.” Gaius was a common name. Three men with that name are mentioned in Acts and Romans. We don’t know more about this Gaius than what we read in 3 John. What John says about this Gaius is very positive. John says he loves Gaius in the truth. Strange expression, but easy to understand. When people believe in Jesus Christ and confess the same truths of God’s Word, that creates a special bond of love we call fellowship. Christ loved John. Christ loved Gaius. John loved Gaius. Though I know some of you much better than others, I can truly say I love all of you in Christ—more than someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, and those I haven’t brought the gospel. That love grows deeper the more Christians spend time together hearing, studying, and confessing the truths of God’s Word.

What a wonderful blessing I’ve enjoyed in my 24 years serving at Mt. Olive. I have been loved well and respected by you, God’s people. Lay people and called workers alike. You didn’t just show that by your words. You loved me by praying for me, and my family, some on a daily basis; by paying me a good salary; and by giving me generous gifts every Christmas and Pastor Appreciation Day. I thank God for you and for your love, dear friends, whom I love in the truth—because we all believe God’s truth, his Word. You can give me no greater joy, than when I keep hearing you, my children, are still loving Pastors Krause and Seelow as you have loved Pastors Soukup, Zarling, and me. Because your love for your shepherds shows you love the Good Shepherd.

John called Gaius “Dear friend” and wrote he was praying for Gaius. He knew Gaius well, and though he was far away from Gaius, he’d received reports about him. He wrote “I pray” —a present tense--which connotes continuing action in the Greek language. I keep praying you are doing well in every way and have good health, just as your soul is doing well. John heard good things about Gaius about Gaius’ faith and spiritual condition. Had he heard Gaius was sick? That’s something pastors and lay people pray for one another about—that your life is going well in all areas. And that you’re still strong in your faith in Christ and growing stronger. You can give me no greater joy if you continue to pray for me, your pastors, and one another.

John gives details about Gaius’ good reputation. “Dear friend, you are being faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have testified before the church about your love. You will do well to send them off in a manner worthy of God. They went out for the sake of the Name…Therefore, we have an obligation to support such men, so that we may be coworkers for the truth.” When Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72, he told them not to take provisions on their mission journeys. People they preached to and brought to faith should provide for their food, lodging, and other needs. Sort of like what we still do when our synod schools go on a choir tour. We feed and give them lodging in our homes, though in most cases we’ve never met them, and don’t know them. We do so because we love Christ, and want to help those singers spread the gospel by their music. Before I got married, families in our small mission congregation had me over for meals and fellowship in their homes on a weekly basis. Gaius was doing mission work by letting missionaries stay in his home and eat his food, and providing whatever else they needed. All for the sake of the Name. God’s name is his whole reputation—his Word—particularly the good news about Jesus, “the only name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”

You saints at Mt. Olive have shown great mission zeal since I first met you in 1982. You help found Rock of Ages and Gethsemane congregations. You’ve given generously, unselfishly, and joyfully to Grace Hmong, Nebraska Lutheran, and to the mission work of the WELS, while supporting the gospel ministry done locally by this congregation. Whenever a need was put before you to help spread the gospel, you responded enthusiastically. I will “…have no greater joy than when I hear that my children are walking in the truth”—by supporting mission work here and throughout the world by your regular, firstfruit, generous, free, joyful, proportional giving as God has blessed you.

Supporting traveling missionaries was no easy task. In addition to the financial cost, and the time involved, keep in mind these were days of Roman persecution beginning in 67 AD under Emperor Nero, and again under Emperor Domitian in 81 AD. Would you agree to house our Seminary Chorus this Saturday, if you could be jailed for doing so? Tradition tells us John was once boiled in oil for preaching Christ, then exiled to Patmos. One of his successors, Timothy, was beaten to death when he rebuked people in a festival procession honoring an idol. The world will call you foolish and mock you for doing all you can so people hear about Jesus Christ and him crucified. “I have no greater joy than when I hear that my children are walking in the truth” by being willing to be mocked, and even persecuted for confessing the name of Jesus.

Roman persecution was a great hindrance to doing gospel ministry. Plus there were people like Diotrephes. “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, does not welcome us. For this reason, if I do come, I will call attention to what he is doing. He is disparaging us with wicked words, and he is not content with that. He also refuses to welcome the brothers. He even hinders and puts out of the church those who wish to welcome them.” Diotrephes claimed to be a follower of Jesus, he didn’t accept the authority of John and the other apostles, whose teachings Jesus called the foundation his church is built on. Diotrephes lied about God’s Word, then slandered faithful John and those who came with him or taught like him “with wicked words.” He also did what Jewish religious leaders had once done in Jerusalem to try to stop Jesus’ teachings from spreading. He put people out of the congregation—he excommunicated them.

Excommunication is clearly commanded in Matthew 18, but it’s to be pronounced on obviously impenitent sinners. It’s not to be used by those who reject God’s Word, and seek to build a name and kingdom of power for themselves. I have no greater joy than when I hear that you, my children can spot false teachers who reject the teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and prophets, and preach their own ideas to control others, enrich themselves, or built their reputations. When I hear you, my children, believe, teach, and confess the truth, and openly, consistently, clearly, bravely point out false teachers, and false doctrine, even if comes from within this congregation or its leaders. I will have no greater joy than when I hear you continue to practice religious fellowship locally or as a synod only with those who confess all God’s truth.

Today’s spiritual mantra is: “Tolerate everything except confessions Biblical Christianity” and “Don’t speak against about what anyone else is saying, teaching, or doing” I pray you will keep walking in the truths you confess weekly in our Creeds. Fundamental miracles like the 6-day creation, miracles, deity of Jesus, his virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and glorious 2nd coming. Bible truths like the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, original sin, and God’s unchanging commandments. The reality of heaven and hell, that good works, while commanded and necessary, do not save, but only the good news that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and the Triune God the only true God.  Can you imagine how sad pastors in the United Methodist Church who know and teach homosexuality is a sin and gay marriage is against God’s Word, when their church body wrangled in St. Louis this week and affirmed Biblical truth by the narrowest of margins? “I have no greater joy than when I hear that my children are walking in the truth” of true doctrine.

You are my spiritual children. I was privileged to be involved when many of you were baptized, first believed in the gospel in a Bible Information Class I taught, or strengthened your faith in confirmation class, Bible classes, and sermons. I reminded 95-year-old Arnie Kleinfeldt and 100 year old Inez Laird Tuesday I’ve been their spiritual father. You want your kids to copy good role models, like Gaius and Demetrius, about whom John wrote: “Demetrius has been endorsed by everyone, even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you our testimony is true.” I have no greater joy than when I hear my children are walking in the truth, following the example of other faithful Christians, and living the way God’s Word commands them to walk or live, thereby showing they love God and their neighbor. “I have no greater joy than when I hear my children are walking in the truth” and giving others a great example of Christian living—godly speech and behavior--to copy.  John wrote: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does what is good is from God. The one who does evil has not seen God.”

What brings a pastor great joy? Seeing a couple nearing divorce repent, forgive and love each other, and built a Christ-centered marriage. Children at odds with their parents, convinced their folks don’t love them, see the truth, be reconciled, and worship together weekly. Baptizing a baby who grows up in the faith, doesn’t wander off during his college years, or later returns again when he or she has strayed like the Prodigal Son, accepted back by a forgiving God. Aged saints, ready to die confident Christ has forgiven and saved them and will welcome them into heaven by grace. Parents taking cues from God’s Word how to raise their kids to know the LORD and remain faithful. People serving Christ, visibly in the congregation, and as spouses, parents, friends, employees, and citizens.

Children of God that any of us can walk in the truth is a miracle, considering where we all came from. We didn’t, and couldn’t know the truth. We were by nature blind, dead, enemies of God. We believed Satan’s lies. Our hearts were nothing but idol factories. But Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God’s Word changed all that. So by faith we walk and can keep walking in the truth. On our trip to Costa Rica, my son landed a huge sailfish on his first and only attempt. That may have been the highlight of my trip. I was filled with joy at what I saw. Want to give me a very, very joyful retirement? “I [will] have no greater joy than to hear that you, my dear children [continue to] walk in the truth.” AMEN.