Postcards of Faith: "Seven Truths about the Truth" – The Third Epistle of John

Very few movies have offered lines to American life that are still well know more than two decades later – but Jack Nicholson, in one of his most famous roles, offered a speech about the truth that is still iconic and recognized. The year was 1992, and Tom Cruise starred beside Nicholson and Demi Moore. Writer Aaron Sorkin adapted the play “A Few Good Men” into a movie script, and the box office rewarded the efforts of all…The story was essentially a courtroom drama, a court martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine. The script unfolded some of the troubles of defense advocate Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel “Danny” Kaffee (Tom Cruise) as he organized and presented a sound defense for his two Marines accused of conduct that lead to the death of a Marine in a hazing type incident. Kaffee is repeatedly stumped in presenting an adequate defense – until he stumbles on the truth at the heart of the case. The commanding officer, a Colonel Jessup (played by Nicholson) was a party to the problem, and was effectively covering up a plot. Kaffee managed to unnerve Jessep on the witness stand by exposing a flaw in his testimony. Under heavy pressure from Kaffee and unnerved by being caught in one of his own lies, Jessep indignantly shouted, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” In that moment on the silver screen, an iconic line was born. Jessup went on to dismiss Kaffee as disrespectful of a Marine doing his duty, but ultimately confessed that he had lied under oath. As Jessep angrily justified his actions on the basis of national security, he was arrested by Ross, and there was a verdict of not guilty on the charges for the accused Marines.

Key Principle: At its core, the TRUTH is stubbornly independent of individual bias – and uncovers the actual happening in the actual context.

I have in mind, of course, eternal truth – God’s truth; the real and absolute truth. In my definition, the Bible accurately reveals the perspective of the Holy One who Created us. His Words were not only given in truth, they were preserved in power. He not only Divinely revealed the secrets He desired to declare, He superintended their delivery to men, and their preservation for men.

Truth is under attack today. Never before have so many people been able to frame themselves as Christian, while at the same time openly declaring that the Bible is neither accurate nor definitive as truth. Celebrities, politicians and media pundits have said it so often it is now assumed – that one can be truly a Christian but not believe what Christ taught as revealed in the Gospels, or what Paul preached as revealed in the Epistles. Truth, in modern hands, holds no particular shape – it is malleable. It is subject to the ever-flexing ethical whims of modern men, who believe themselves of greater compassion than God, of greater understanding than their Creator and possessing a greater sense of social justice and sensitivity toward their fellow men than the Savior who died for mankind. They know better than a God who made Himself known through what they call an “opaque mythology” of Scripture. They are more secure in their own moral musings than His unchanging explanations of life’s origin, purpose and destiny. In the end, truth is subjected to the twisting of popular currents. Grand authority of our modern life has been moved from the Biblical foundations of old and fast wrested on the unproven hypotheses of self-serving leaders, hungry to re-write the script of acceptable morality based on their own appetites and sense of fairness. It is a grand experiment – a house built on sand.

In these days leading up to an election, there seems to be no end to the ways candidates and groups supporting them can bend the truth – but it is not so flexible as it would seem. There is an old saying: “Figures never lie, but liars figure.” In other words, when someone has a direct benefit, be a bit cautious about their reckoning of a situation. These are good days to speak about TRUTH.

When we look into the Scriptures themselves, what can we say for sure about truth? Tucked into the back of the Christian Scriptures is a small note – no bigger than a post card – from John the Apostle to a local church that is struggling with some reactions of people in the church. The post card is both warm and honest. The author Apostles like John, Peter and Paul knew when to encourage and commend – but they stood ready to defend truth and not gloss over difficulty. The letter essentially sets up a comparison of three men in light of how they are handling TRUTH.

First, there was a man named Gaius – a painfully common Roman praenomen (first name) that referred to this servant-hearted leader who PRACTICED WHAT HE WAS PREACHING WITH HIS LIFE.

How I admire that! How I desire that! When Paul wrote to Titus, he urged him to “so that in every respect they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10). Paul wanted people about the Body of Messiah to exclaim: “if the Christian faith does this for them, it must be wonderful!”

One author wrote it this way: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one would walk with me than merely show the way. The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear; Fine counsel is confusing but example’s always clear. And the best of all the preachers are the ones who live their creeds, For to see good put in action is what everybody needs. I soon can learn to do it if you let me see it done. I can watch your hands in action but your tongue too fast may run. And the sermon you deliver may be very wise and true, But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do, For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give, But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.” (sermon central illustrations). I love those words, because they challenge me to live my faith and not just preach it!

Second, there was another man named Diotrephes – a very uncommon praenomen that was used primarily in the upper classes. Unlike Gaius, the record of the Word leaves little for me to long to emulate. He hindered others with his pride, and presented himself as an example of the arrogant and unteachable.

Diotrephes seemed to love himself more than others and was dismissive of traveling evangelists, though instructed by John to receive them. John had apparently taken the time to write to the congregation of Gaius and Diotrephes a message to be read aloud to the church, but he refused to acknowledge the John’s authority. Perhaps he felt: “I’m not going to be dictated to by that old Apostle John.” He held a position of responsibility in the church and used it for his own purposes. John suggested he loved the position too much – allowing his position to go to his head. As the big fish in a small pond, he pushed away any outside intervention, like that of John or other traveling speakers. When you have all the answers, you stop searching.

Consider, when you think about this man, the words of Paul to the Philippians (2:1-5): “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:”

One author wrote the Unteachable Heart is:

rebellious against any type of authority that would attempt to improve it attitude
-unchanging in its desire to maintain self righteous attitudes
-uncaring of the feelings of others, caring only that it is satisfied
-unconcerned about the pain of those around it, just leave me alone
-contentious with nearly any other voice
-critical of any other that performs other duties on a long term basis
-unable to recognize its own flaws
-unwilling to change because it believes that it is already doing what is right

Un-teachable Hearts will often love to be in the limelight and will step on or over others to get there. Then, they slowly destroy the Work of the Lord through their prideful, arrogant, know-it-all attitudes.

Un-teachable Hearts don’t like anyone else to have the limelight because they feel threatened. They don’t believe that anyone is as right as they and stand above accountability of other voices.

Un-teachable Hearts also love to speak out against anything good that someone else may be doing. They are stuck in their own rut and don’t want anyone else to accomplish what will make them look bad.

Un-teachable Hearts are stuck in the traditions of men, hate any kind of change and won’t allow God to move in any manner outside of their own limited paradigm.

Un-teachable Hearts refuse to accept anyone different from themselves and then condemn anyone else who does try to embrace anything or anyone different.

There are Un-teachable Hearts in every part of our world – even in the church of Jesus Christ. Diotrephes was an example of old – but he wasn’t the last one. (heavily adapted from sermon central illustrations).

Third, there was a man named Demetrius, a compassion man who attracted others to himself and the Gospel.

Like Gaius, Demetrius lived out his faith in his daily walk. John gave Demetrius a “two thumbs up” commendation. He probably ‘LIKED” his Facebook page regularly. In the commendation, which may be a recognition of his status as an approved teacher, John says: “Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone” (12). Normally this is not a desired characteristic – since leaders draw fire in a world that doesn’t like the truth. In this context, John wanted to suggest that he had won the hearts of believers that were walking in truth!

When all is said about these three men, what is obvious is that each handled the TRUTH differently. Each handled the Gospel differently, Each lived out faith differently.

Truth is under attack and how we live out our faith will go a long way to helping people see the reality of it. Long ago an author wrote: “We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.” – “Preacher and Prayer” by E.M. Bounds (1916)!

The tiny letter reveals there is much we CAN and MUST understand about the truth. Here are seven truths John mentioned:

1: The TRUTH defines our relationship with each other. It is the authentic basis for LOVE.

1:3 John 1:1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.

I have often stressed the point that LOVE must be based on TRUTH. When lies are told in the foundation of a relationship, and then later discovered – the attachment is marred by the crack in the base. Gaius was LOVED by John. There was a tenderness in the well wishing of John that Gaius would prosper. Prosper is the term “euodóō”, a compound from eú, “well, good” and hodós, “a journey on a particular road” – properly, to go on a prosperous journey). John is quick to note that he desires both PHYSICAL HEALTH and INNER HEALTH.

The conflict in a church can cause real pain. We cannot avoid it, and therefore must regularly deal with differences between believers. We need to be loving, but that cannot mean that we sweep things aside. Conflicts take up more time in leadership than most any other issue.

This week I longed to get to see some among us that I know are sick. Because I am leaving for a short time to Europe, I wanted to “check in” on people that I believe need a visit. Conflict among believers (not local, but very important) sapped the time and emotional energy to get ready to go and at the same time see some of those who I love and want time together with. I am not complaining – I am trying to highlight a work of the enemy. If he can keep people stirred up – whether in the local church, or (as in the case this week) in spheres of influence that we are responsible for as leaders – he can keep us from building up those who hurt. If the volunteers are fighting as the water is rising, no one is filling the sand bags.

John loved Gaius IN THE TRUTH. That is, the fact that Gaius both believed in his heart and lived in his walk the truth of God gave John a platform of love upon which to build a relationship. That is what the truth does. If we are honest about it – truth shouldn’t divide. It is the only real and authentic basis of love.

2: The TRUTH is something we LIVE, not just something we theoretically BELIEVE.

1:3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. 5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.

It isn’t necessary to stress this more than to say simply this: People need to SEE the truth in our lives. Context defines the story. Let me illustrate from something Jim Luthy wrote:

It was a regular work day. There were six of us in a room—myself, two other men, and three women. One of the guys was talking about his vacation when one of the women handed him a knife and he stabbed me, right in the lower abdomen. The last thing I remembered before I passed out was the women working to control the bleeding. I woke up in a 5th floor hospital bed at St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia. You wanna see my scar? …I think I better tell you the whole story. It was indeed a regular work day while I worked for the State Patrol, but I wasn’t at work. The room was a surgical room and the five other people in the room were my anesthesiologist, my surgeon, and three nurses. They were there to perform an appendectomy, which is why the doctor stabbed me in the gut. Fortunately, he had my best interest at heart and he was nice enough to sew me up when he was finished….You see, if you don’t hear the whole story, the act of a surgeon cutting into you with a knife can sound quite traumatic. Who would opt for that? But for someone who is sick and in need of relief, it is a welcome wound.

Truth needs a context. In the case of the Gospel, it needs a LIFE context.

3: The TRUTH creates TEAM.

1:7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

John commented about the traveling itinerate speakers – that they needed the support from an APPROPRIATE source. They needed generosity of other believers, so the world would not be used to support them. John called openly for GENEROUS BELIEVERS – people that understood the need for team support. Team players cannot be selfish, or the team breaks down. Team members must all recognize they have a common ownership, or they will think of things the way a toddler does:

1. If I like it, it’s mine.
2. If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
3. If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
4. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
5. If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
6. If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
7. If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.
8. If I saw it first, it’s mine.
9. If you are playing with something I want and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine.
10. If it’s broken, it’s yours.

Brothers and sisters, these are not just the property laws of a toddler. These are also the laws that some of us as adults have carried into our lives! We need to be generous and team minded because of the truth –it was designed to build a TEAM.

4: The TRUTH flushes out the FAKE.

1:9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Too many people have become experts on Christianity today without living a commitment to Christ. We have popular preachers that have claimed a stake in the “EVANGELICAL WORLD” , yet do not believe in a literal hell for those who reject Christ. It is time for the TRUTH to be used to flush out those who claim Christianity, but know little of the truth of Christ. Christ is NOT the founder of a social ethic – but a Savior that affects all our ethical makeup. We cannot dismiss the story of the Gospel as myth and yet truly claim to be a follower of Christ. We are setting ourselves up for fakery.

A patient said to her doctor, “I wish you’d give me something to make me smarter.” Doctor, “Take these pills and come back next week.” A week later the patient returned and said, “I don’t think I’m getting any smarter.” The doctor replied, “Take some more of those pills I gave you and come back next week.” Another week passed and the patient returned and said, “Now I know I’m not any smarter. Are these pills candy?” The doctor replied, “NOW YOU’RE GETTING SMARTER.” (A-Z Sermon Illustrations).

5: The TRUTH places DEMANDS.

1:11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.

The term “imitate” is from the word from which we get to “MIMIC”. When we walk in truth, we learn behaviors from other who are already walking in truth. These behaviors include how to love God, how to pray, how to listen, how to help, how to love… and much more. It is part of the reason that TRUTH thrives in a community that is focused on discipleship.

6: The TRUTH reveals the FAITHFUL.

1:12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

Demetrius wasn’t hiding behind others, he was commended BY others. His adherence to the Word of truth and his faithfulness of lifestyle became a sweet testimony. He was ready to be judged for word or deed.

Many years ago a man conned his way into the orchestra of the emperor of China although he could not play a note. Whenever the group practiced or performed, he would hold his flute against his lips, pretending to play but not making a sound. He received a modest salary and enjoyed a comfortable living Then one day the emperor requested a solo from each musician. The flutist got nervous. There wasn’t enough time to learn the instrument. He pretended to be sick, but the royal physician wasn’t fooled. On the day of his performance, the impostor took poison and killed himself. The explanation of his suicide led to a phrase that found its way into the English language: “He refused to face the music”. (As cited by Max Lucado’s Just Like Jesus. Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998, pp. 110-11, from the following source: Paul Lee Tan. The Encyclopedia Of 7700 Illustrations. Rockville, Md.: Assurance Publishers, 1979, pp. 562-63).

I wonder how many of us are willing to be scrutinized in both word and deed. I cannot help but feel sorry for both our President and the Governor running against him. Every word scrutinized…who can stand up to such examination. Yet, our lives ARE being scrutinized – and the faithfulness will be noticed.

7: The TRUTH urgently recognizes ATTACKS.

1:13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face. 15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

I stated earlier that truth is under attack. In his book Has Christianity Failed You? Ravi Zacharias addresses the attack in a positive way while he points to one of the greatest proofs for the truth of Christ and the reality of his resurrection – the changed lives of Christians. He writes:

During the course of nearly 40 years, I have traveled to virtually every continent and seen or heard some of the most amazing testimonies of God’s intervention in the most extreme circumstances. I have seen hardened criminals touched by the message of Jesus Christ and their hearts turned toward good in a way that no amount or rehabilitation could have accomplished. I have seen ardent followers of radical belief systems turned from being violent, brutal terrorists to becoming mild, tenderhearted followers of Jesus Christ. I have seen nations where the gospel, banned and silenced by governments, has nevertheless conquered the ethos and mind-set of an entire culture.

Then in his own words, Zacharias lists examples of Christ’s power to transform lives:

In the middle of the twentieth century, after destroying all of the Christian seminary libraries in the country, Chairman Mao declared that…Christianity had been permanently removed from China, never to make a return. On Easter Sunday in 2009, [however] the leading English language newspaper in Hong Kong published a picture of Tiananmen Square on page 1, with Jesus replacing Chairman Mao’s picture on the gigantic banner, and the words “Christ is Risen” below it.

“I have also been in the Middle East and marveled at the commitment of young people who have risked their lives to attend a Bible study…I have talked to CEOs of large companies in Islamic nations who testify to seeing Jesus in visions and dreams and wonder what it all means. The British author A. N. Wilson, who only a few years ago was known for his scathing attacks on Christianity…celebrated Easter [in 2009] at a church with a group of other church members, proclaiming that that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges. [Wilson said], ‘My own return to faith has surprised none more than myself…My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known—not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in light of the resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.’

“Matthew Parris [a British atheist who visited Malawi in 2008] wrote an article titled “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.” [Parris wrote], ‘I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa…I used to avoid this truth…but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it.” -Ravi Zacharias, Has Christianity Failed You? (Zondervan, 2010), pp. 105ff.

At its core, the TRUTH is stubbornly independent of individual bias – and uncovers the actual happening in the actual context.