When it comes to joy, Christians often talk much but live little. We frequently speak about joy but seem to have a hard time finding it. Maybe our problem is that, even as Christians, we’re trying to find joy in the wrong places?
In his third letter, the apostle John says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (4). What does it mean to “walk in the truth”? John is using a metaphor. It’s kind of like when someone says something like, ‘Don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.’ Now, I have to pause and say that, as a rule, that’s bad advice. The Bible gives us absolute truth for all people so that we are able to make judgments about ourselves and others without walking in their shoes. Nevertheless, the point here is the metaphor. To walk in someone shoes is to experience their life. To live as they live. Walking is about living. And so it is here with John. To walk in the truth is to live according to the truth. Furthermore, this is how John defines Christian growth.
Defining Christian Growth
It’s interesting to think about all the things we might check off on a list if someone asked us to define what it means to grow as a Christian. But John says is comes down to this: they are living according to the truth of God’s word. First of all, this means that they know the truth. They understand especially who Christ is and how he brings us to God. Along with that, they understand the implications of how that affects the way they live their lives. Thus, knowing the truth about Christ is more than just mental assent of the truth. It’s more than just knowing the facts about the battle of Gettysburg, the Apollo 12 mission, or how to cook a chiffon cake. It’s knowing it such a way that you embrace it, you depend on it, you so cherish it that you life is forever changed.
This is why we can say ‘Remember the gospel and preach it yourself.’ Remind yourself of what God has done for you in his Son, because that will bring about a transformation. And what has he done? He looked at us in the filth of our sin and chosen to love us anyway (Eph 1:3-10). He seen us in the rebellion of our lives, refusing to love God or acknowledge him as the God that he is, and he chose to redeem us (Rom 1:16-32). God choose to send his Son to identify with us in our humanity and our sin, and them offer up his life as a righteous sacrifice that would satisfy our debt of sin and reconcile us to himself (2 Cor 5:11-21). That’s what he’s done for us. That’s why the message of Christ is called good news: because God is merciful to sinners.
This is where maturity begins: living in light of his reality. Trusting Christ, who died and was raised back to life; living in light his glorious lordship over all things. That’s what Gaius was doing and so John was joyful.
Joy in Others’ Growth
John says, “to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. . . . I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth” (1-3). What brings you joy? Often, we make the mistake of finding our joy in things like job advancement, good health, our children, or our popularity with people. Yet, John sets the example for us here in saying our joy is too shallow. Yes, in verse 2, John says he is concerned for Gaius’ health, but he is far more concerned with his soul. In fact, he says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” John shows us where our greatest joy should be when it comes to God’s people: seeing people’s lives transformed by God as they grow and mature, living according to God’s truth.
Practically, this means we should be seeking out to know when and how God’s people growing. We should be on the look out for evident fruit of God’s grace. But more than that, a regular part of our experience with God’s people should be drawing them out in conversation, getting them to describe their growth. If we’ve understood the nature of the gospel and it’s lasting effect on God’s people, then we will see their growth as evidence of God’s grace in their life. And this should bring us joy.