How Can We Encourage Our Children to "Walk in the Truth"?
There are some books of the Bible that are so short, we can easily skip over them. The Gospel of John, rightly, gets a good deal of attention. And 1 John gets a bit of air time from pulpits. But 2 John and 3 John are often overlooked. Yet, here in these books are some gems. Consider this great verse:
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).
What does that mean? Is John talking about biological children or spiritual children? And how can we encourage our children to walk in truth (whether biological or spiritual)?
What Is the Context of 3 John 1?
3 John is a letter written to an individual. It’s not one that has a ton of weighty theological content, but it gives us great insight into the concerns of early Christians. It is written by “the elder” to Gaius. It’s written to further encourage Gaius in the noble work of hospitality and to draw attention to a scoundrel among them (Diotrephes) as well as commend the work of Demetrius.
The first part of the letter is John (who most believe is the traditional author) encouraging Gaius in his work and being delighted that it is “going well” with his soul. John lets Gaius now that he has heard good reports about him and that he is delighted that he is walking in the truth.
Walking in truth will be especially important as we learn about Diotrephes. Gaius will need to remain steadfast as they navigate this aggressive man who refuses to acknowledge apostolic authority. From what we can tell, Diotrephes was a narcissistic leader. Truth is at a premium when speaking to such a one. Gaius will have to remain steadfast in the truth to not be drawn away into this error.
What Does This Verse Mean?
Is Gaius the biological child of this “elder” (or John as historically believed)? It’s pretty clear from the context that he is referring to him as his spiritual child and not biological child.
In order to understand the full impact of this verse, it’s also helpful to know a bit more context. Colin Kruse helpfully provides that,
“When one reads 3 John alongside 2 John, it becomes apparent that two groups of missionaries were moving around among the churches. There were those who were spreading heretical teaching, about whom the elder warns his readers lest they aid and abet their ‘wicked work’ by providing hospitality for them (2 John 7–11). There were also those who had gone out ‘for the sake of the Name’ and who deserved to be given hospitality (3 John 5–8).”
Gaius, then, is an integral part in this endeavor. As one who walks in truth himself, he is providing hospitality for those who have “gone out for the sake of the Name.” So, John is ecstatic that given the prevailing options within his culture — Gaius is choosing to walk according to the truth as it is found in Jesus.
What Does It Mean to "Walk in the Truth"?
When the Bible talks about walking in truth it is usually more than just believing a set of ideas. Walking in the truth is much more than believing bare facts about God, sin, humanity, Jesus Christ, and other essential beliefs. We read in James 2:19, that mere intellectual assent to basic Christian doctrine is no deeper than having the faith of devils. No, walking in the truth means patterning your life after these realities. It means living in such a way as a result.
What would this look like for Gaius, then? When he is given the choice between providing hospitality to a false teacher like Diotrephes or a faithful servant like Demetrius, Gaius will choose the one who is bearing the name of Jesus. He will do this even if it is costly to his reputation. Refusing hospitality to one like Diotrephes would have social consequences. But the truth matters more to Gaius than personal reputation. This is what it looks like to “walk in the truth.”
I appreciate how John Stott says this,
“To walk in (‘follow’, rsv) the truth is more than to give assent to it. It means to apply it to one’s behaviour. Whoever ‘walks in the truth’ is an integrated believer in whom there is no dichotomy between profession and practice. On the contrary, there is in him an exact correspondence between creed and conduct.”
This gives John so much joy because John was also one who walked in the truth. You’ve heard the saying “misery loves company,” well it’s also true when it comes to believing the same thing. Our brains were programmed by God to release oxytocin when we feel connected to others. Oxytocin is the pleasure chemical. John would have been feeling this when he experience this affinity with Gaius.
But there is more than mere biology taking place here. There is a deep joy we experience when those we love are getting along well in life. If we believe the gospel, then we believe that walking in Jesus will be the pathway to the most joy for the people we love. Which sentence do you think will spark the most joy:
“My son has gotten himself addicted to drinking poison. It’s killing him.”
“My son is taking vitamins, eating healthy, and is in great shape.”
The same is true for us spiritually. If our children (whether physical or spiritual) are making a shipwreck of their faith, then it isn’t going to be sparking joy. If Gaius was supporting the false teacher Diotrephes, then it would be causing John great sadness and displeasure. But when he sees his beloved “child” walking in truth — it brings him a deep joy.
How Can We Encourage Our Children to Walk in the Truth?
There is a humorous phrase I heard a few years ago. “Never trust a skinny chef.” The idea is that if their food is so good, they’d be eating it…and probably eating too much of it. If a chef is saying, “Come eat my food!”, but isn’t indulging themselves then it’s not a very good advertisement.
Likewise, if someone is proclaiming to have been transformed by the good news but their life doesn’t reflect such a thing, then they will not be a very good advertisement for the faith.
We are experiencing the rancid fruit of years of hypocrisy within churches. While proclaiming to have firm doctrinal beliefs, to be people of the book, to stand upon the truth of God, when push comes to shove many evangelicals have shown a horrendous inconsistency. We have far too many times shown that we are not walking in truth but rather walking in pragmatism or expediency. And our children didn’t buy it.
If the “truth” is so compelling, then why aren’t you living it?
The reason why Gaius was walking in truth was because his heart had been captivated by Jesus. And he saw this lifestyle modeled in people just like the apostle John. They lived what they taught. And it was infectious.
We encourage our children to walk in the truth by joyously walking in the truth ourselves.
A Prayer for Parents (or Disciplers) Who Are Working to Raise up Godly Children
You are worthy of following after. We want our children to walk in the footsteps of the godly. We know that at your right hand are pleasures evermore and that those who go after other gods have a multiplication of sorrow. Because of this, we want our children to walk in the truth. We acknowledge that far too often we have not been consistent ourselves. At times for our children to walk in the footsteps of the godly, they must sadly step out of our own steps. Forgive us for this, Lord. Lead us, lead them, into the path of righteousness. May we delight in truth.
Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2000), 222.
John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 228.
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