God’s Children Walk in Truth
December 4th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
GOD’S CHILDREN WALK IN TRUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 and 3 John
12-4-60 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message from 2 and 3 John. Tonight the message is brought from the Book of Jude. And then we come to the last and the climactic book of the Bible, the Revelation. In some ways this is an epochal hour: after fifteen years of preaching through the Bible, we come at the end of this Lord’s Day to the Apocalypse, to the unveiling, to the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which He gave to John the sainted apostle to write down for us that we might know of things that are yet to come [Revelation 1:1-3].
Because of the need of this preacher to prepare for the delivery of those messages on the Revelation, this will be the last Lord’s Day that I shall preach in this pulpit until the second Sunday in January. There will be noble and worthy supplies, Dr. White, Billy Graham, Dr. Feazer, other of those men of giant stature, who will be in this pulpit preaching between now and the second Sunday in January. I am going to spend this month in studying the Book of the Revelation, which I have never studied in my life, nor was I ever taught it.
In our seminary class, when we came to the last book of the Bible, the world-famed professor who was my teacher said, “In my syllabus you will find the different theories of its interpretation, and you may read them for yourself.” And that was all that was ever said about the Book of the Revelation. I’m not prepared to preach on it, and I don’t like to stand in this sacred place and deliver God’s message without the assurance that it is the truth of the Almighty and that the word that I speak is as far as I in my human infirmity could know is the true Word of God.
Therefore I shall study the Revelation for a month. I shall pore my best into it. I don’t want to stand here and mouth what others have said and it have no meaning to me or no persuasion in my own heart. I would like to know for myself and to pray through for myself the meaning and the message of this last great book of the Bible, the unfolding of the future; what God gave to John to see when the heavens were rolled back like a scroll, and he saw the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. And he saw the denouement of all time and the consummation of all human history. I’d like to know for myself, not just to say somebody else said it; but that it’s come to my heart and this is my persuasion. I’ll not teach the book. I shall preach the book. If it has no message for us, then of course, my lips would be dumb; I couldn’t preach.
Preaching and teaching are far different things. Teaching is addressed to the mind that we might understand. Preaching is addressed to the will and to the soul that we might arise to be and to do. I shall not teach the book except incidentally; I shall preach it. I would think that I shall be preaching the Book of the Revelation for two full years. It will be a great surprise to me if it is less time than that. And the sermons will be encompassed in these morning hours. Every Sunday evening, beginning the second Sunday in January, I shall preach through the life of Christ. We shall start at the enunciation, and we shall follow the life of our Lord until He ascended back to glory; every Sunday evening following the life of Christ, and then every Sunday morning preaching through the Revelation. And may God wonderfully bless it. And then also, this month, incidentally, I have promised to write a book, a commentary on Matthew. So with all the work that we do here in the church, and I’ll be here all the way through, I’m not going somewhere else, my library is here and I’m lost without it, I shall be here, but I shall be writing that book, the commentary on Matthew; and then mostly studying to get ready for the second Sunday in January, starting in the Revelation.
Now if you would like to turn to 2 and 3 John, you can easily follow the message this morning. “The elder,” this is the 2 John, and we’re going to read the first four verses of each letter, “The elder unto the elect lady and her children”; that’s the way I have it in the Authorized Version, the King James Version, “The elect lady,” with little “e” and little “l”. There are Greek manuscripts, and there are English translations that put a capital “E” there: “The elder, the presbyter, unto Eklekte, unto lady Eklekte and her children” [2 John 1]. They do that because in 3 John, “The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth” [3 John 1], so some people think that the second epistle of John was addressed to a mother and her children, like the third epistle is addressed to Gaius, a man of God in one of the churches in Asia.
Now, the way the King James Version presents it, it must be that he uses the word “elect lady” to refer to a church, and the children of the church are the children of the elect lady. I do not know. I have no idea. I have always supposed that the letter was addressed to a church, and that was just John’s way of saluting the beloved congregation. But in any event, whether it is addressed to a woman named Eklekte, or whether he uses that “the elect lady” referring to a church, the substance is the same:
The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not only I, but also all they that have known the truth;
For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.
Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received the commandment from the Father.
[2 John 1:-4]
Now the first four verses of 3 John:
The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
[3 John 1-2]
That’d mean most of us would look like famished gaunts, dwarfs and Lilliputians, if we were to prosper in health as our souls prosper; because we’re so wizened and so famished in our souls that if we looked like our souls look, we would look terrible. But this man was so abundantly abounding in the spiritual life of his soul that John here says,
I wish that you may prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
[3 John 2-4]
And I’m going to speak this morning on God’s children walking in the truth. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth” [3 John 4].
It’s an old, old man who is writing these words. For example, he closes 1 John with this admonition: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” [1 John 5:21]. And then, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” [3 John 4].
John outlived all of the other apostles by a whole full generation. He lived so long until the saying was current that John would not die, but he would be here when the Lord came back from glory. In the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, John closed his Gospel with the twentieth chapter, formally closed it; and then after he had written that Gospel and closed it formally, years and years later, we do not know how many years, but Simon Peter had been dead for a long, long time, and years later after John closed that Gospel, he wrote an addendum, he wrote a chapter in deference to, in love of and appreciation of his old friend Simon Peter.
And that’s why you have the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. He wrote it after Simon Peter had died many, many, many years later, and dedicated it to his old friend Simon. And in that twenty-first chapter, you have the story of Jesus calling Simon Peter to crucifixion and to death: “Follow thou Me” [John 21:19]. And when Simon Peter followed the Lord unto crucifixion and unto death, he turned around and he saw John the disciple whom Jesus loved, who lay in His bosom at the Last Supper and asked, “Who is it that betrayeth Thee?” [John 13:21-25], he saw John following;
And seeing him, Simon Peter said, Lord You call me to crucifixion and to death, what about this man, what about John? What shall this man do? And Jesus said, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Thou, you, follow Me. Then went abroad this saying among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth these things, and which writeth these things.
So John lived so long, so very much beyond what any of the other disciples lived, until it gave credence to this saying that he would not die until Jesus came back again.
You have every historical and secular verification of the fact that John lived to an old, old age and that he lived in the Roman Asian province capital city of Ephesus. Irenaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was converted by the apostle John, Irenaeus and Eusebius, the great church father and first great historian, Irenaeus and Eusebius say that Polycarp was converted by the apostle John in the city of Ephesus. Polycarp was martyred in 155 AD.
And when Polycarp was martyred, he said, when they asked him to deny his Lord and live, Polycarp replied that “Six and eighty years have I served Him, and I’ll not deny Him now. He has never let me down.” Now in saying that, if Polycarp referred not to his age but to the length of his Christian life, “Eighty and six years have I served Him,” then coming back from 155 AD when Polycarp said that, coming back eighty-six years, that would mean that Polycarp was converted under the ministry of the apostle John in the year 69 AD, in Ephesus.
Apparently what happened was this: at the beginning of the Jewish war that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus in 70 AD, either at the beginning of the Jewish war or some time during the four years of that conflict, John the sainted apostle, along with other Christians, fled from Palestine and from Jerusalem, and made their way to the capital city of the Roman province of Asia which was named Ephesus. And there John labored for over thirty years. He died in about 100 AD. There John labored for over thirty years; wrote his Gospel, wrote the Revelation, and wrote his epistles in the Asian province, in the capital of the Asian province Ephesus.
Now Polycrates was the pastor of the church at Ephesus and was baptized in 125 AD. And Polycrates, in referring to the many Christian saints that were buried in Ephesus, Polycrates refers to the fact that among those saints is this apostle John; his ashes slept somewhere in the city of Ephesus. Irenaeus says that these epistles were written from Ephesus and so all of the tradition of the early church. And Patmos, the isle of Patmos, upon which John was exiled, and in which place he saw the Apocalypse [Revelation 1:9], the isle of Patmos is off of the shore of the Roman province of Asia, about twenty-five to thirty miles south and west of the capital city of Ephesus. So the apostle John lived to this aged, aged time of life; and somewhere in that period of time, when he’s ninety, ninety-five, when he’s a hundred years of age, he writes these letters; one to Gaius, and one to Eklekte.
Now in those letters he speaks of himself as a patriarch, as a father. “Little children,” he says, “keep yourselves from idols” [1 John 5:21]. Don’t bow down to graven images, whatever they be named. Whether they be named Joseph, or Mary, or Venus, or Adonis, or Jove, or Juno, or Palace Athena, whatever the name of the idol don’t bow down to it. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” For idolatry is the sin of witchcraft. It’s a perversion of true spiritual religion. Whether that idol be in a so called church, or whether that idol be in a Pantheon, they’re all the same. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Neither shalt thou bow down thyself before them [Exodus 20:4-5],Little children, keep yourselves from idols” [1 John 5:21]. Isn’t that a funny thing? He never said a thing about idols anywhere; and then just before closing this epistle, writes that little note, “Little children, do not bow down before a graven image.”
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” [3 John 1:4]. Now he was a father; he was the spiritual father to many of them who had been converted under his ministry. And of course, he was a shepherdly father to all of the flock there in Ephesus and beyond Ephesus to those churches in Asia to which the Apocalypse is addressed, “My little children.”
Truly I’ve always thought one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read is this story that’s beyond the inspiration of the Scriptures, but sounds so true. In his old, old, old age, they carried John once more to the pulpit of the church in Ephesus, the church over which he’d been shepherd for thirty years. They carried the aged John back to his pulpit in Ephesus that he might speak one more time to his people. And as they held him up, an elder on either side, the old sainted disciple said, “Little children, love one another.” Then repeated it, “Little children, love one another,” and repeated it. And finally one of the elders who held him up said, “But John, you’ve already said that. Isn’t there something else?” And the old and aged apostle replied, “No. It is enough.” Sounds like him. Sounds like his spirit, sounds like his heart, sounds like the words of my text. “Little children . . . and I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the light” [3 John 4].
Now I want to take that text, and in the little while that remains, I want to speak of it as a pastor looking over his flock, his children, and then especially, that it might apply to all of us as a parent looking upon their children. “I have no greater joy than to see, and to watch, and to observe, and to behold, and to hear that my children walk in the light and the knowledge of the glory of God.” I have no greater joy, of course it would be no joy either way, be no joy at all to a preacher or to a parent to whom it was no care, it was no concern how the people walked and how the children walked, whether in the light or in the dark, whether in the truth or in error.
Men that do not care about their own souls naturally would not have any care or concern about the souls of their children. We read in the Bible where Abraham prayed for his son Ishmael [Genesis 17:18]; but you’ll never read in the Bible where Ishmael prayed for his son Nebajoth. There are parents that are very happy if their children are healthy and sound in body, but they’re not grieved if their children are leprous in soul and in life. There are parents who are very delighted if their children are clever in learning and astute in business, but they’re not grieved that the children may not know God. They are very happy for their children when they receive laurels and rewards in literature and in art and in acceptable society, but they’re not heartbroken when they do not receive the crown of life from the hands of God.
There are parents who are very happy when their children are received in favor in the world, but they’re not burdened and sad when the children are not in the favor of God. Very happy to place their daughters in silver slippers, but never care whether the children walk the broad road to destruction and to death. Very pleased when the children are prosperous in this world, but they’re not heartbroken if they’re poor toward God. To them, of course, there’d be no joy either way that a child should walk in the light of the knowledge and the glory of God. But let me turn it positively. “I have no greater joy than to see, to hear, to behold, to watch my children walk in the light and in the truth and in the knowledge of God.” To a Christian parent and to a faithful pastoral undershepherd, there’s no joy comparable to seeing his people and the parents seeing the children walk in the light of the knowledge of God.
Hannah must have had a great gladness, making every year a little coat, and taking the child’s coat up to Shiloh, and seeing him put it upon him and how it fit, and to look; must have been a joy to make the little coat [1 Samuel 2:19]. But I would think it’d be a far greater joy for Hannah to see so early in life the grace and the fullness of spiritual life that characterized the growth of that little child, Samuel, as she gave him to God and watched him grow up in the love and nurture of the Lord [1 Samuel 1:19-28; 3:1-21].
Old Barzillai, when David fled before Absalom in the rebellion that almost destroyed his life and did cost him his kingdom, when David fled before Absalom, old Barzillai the Gileadite, on the other side of the Jordan, helped David and his army across the Jordan and fed them and ministered unto them. And when finally the battle was won for David, and David returned back to his kingdom and back to his throne, old Barzillai who was over eighty years of age said to David, “I cannot follow you any longer. My life is spent, and my days are done, and I can serve no longer.” Then he did a magnificent thing: old Barzillai said, “Here, here, take my son Chimham, and let him be thy servant in my stead, for I am old and no longer able to serve” [2 Samuel 19:31-39]. What a glorious thing it is, when we come to the end of our strength and the end of our ways, just to think that here is a child who will carry on in the same devoted, yielded way of service to Christ. “Here take my son.”
Had I ten thousand thousand tongues, not one would silent be
Had I ten thousand thousand hearts, they all should be given to Thee
[“Surprising Grace”; Samuel Stennett]
What a marvelous thing for Abraham to be followed by Isaac, to have a son like Isaac [Genesis 21:1-3]. What a wonderful thing for David to be succeeded by Solomon [1 Kings 2:10-12]. What a wonderful thing for Lois to have a daughter like Eunice. And what a wonderful thing for Eunice to have a son like Timothy [2 Timothy 1:3-6], nothing finer, more glorious, than to see a child walking in the light. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” [3 John 4].
And the obverse of that is so very true. What a heavy, heavy-heartedness it is to see a godly parent and an unworthy child, the father in the house of the Lord, and the child out in the house of worldliness and sin; a father singing the songs of Zion, and the child repeated the ballads of Belial; the father and the family on the great high glory road to heaven, and the child on the broad road to destruction. And God Himself sympathizes with godly parents in their anguish of heart over their children.
It is said in the Book that Abraham prayed for Ishmael [Genesis 17:18]. And unworthy as Ishmael was, God never chided Abraham for praying for that boy. And Joab chided David when David prayed for Absalom and cried, saying, “O Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, would God I had died for thee. O Absalom, my son, my son” [2 Samuel 18:33-9:7]. But God never chided David. The son may be unworthy like Ishmael, or unworthy like Esau, or unworthy like Absalom; but God never finds fault with His servants when they plead and intercede in behalf of their children.
In fact, there is no hurt and no sorrow comparable to that that comes to a Christian family to see one of the family circle that is lost. O God, that my whole household might eat with me the paschal lamb, and go with me out of the land of Egypt into the Promised Land that is yet to come. That’s why Lot lingered in Sodom: somewhat because his possessions were there, and his life was there, and his investments were there, and all that he possessed was there, but mostly because his family was there, his children were there, and they had married there in Sodom. And the angel had to take hold of Lot and snatch him away simply because Lot lingered to see part of his family left behind [Genesis 19:15-16]. And that’s explicable.
If God were to come to one of you and say, “I want you to pick out one of your children to be lost, all the rest of the family saved, all of them but one, just one, pick out one to be lost and all the others saved,” just what would you do? Thank God He imposes upon us no such misery. But suppose He did? Just pick out one of your family to be lost, what would you say? What would you do?
Do you remember that old, old timey story, long and involved, but so pertinent? There was a poor family whose children were as numerous as they were needy, and they didn’t have enough bread to go around. And a kind friend offered to take one of the children and adopt it away. And the family never seeing them anymore, but give up the child, and going to adopt it in a home far, far away. And that would relieve the family somewhat. So the long story proceeds. Do you remember it? And the father and the mother sit down that night, and they discuss which one of the children they’re going to give up. So they start with the oldest. “Oh, we couldn’t give up the eldest child; he’s our firstborn. We couldn’t give him up.” Then they name the second one: “Oh,” said the mother, “we could not give him up; he’s so like his father. I couldn’t give him up.” Then they named the third one: “Oh,” said the father, “we couldn’t give up that third child; he looks exactly like his mother. I couldn’t give him up.” Then they name the fourth child: “Oh,” said the mother, “we couldn’t give him up, he’s poor and sickly, and he needs a mother’s care.” And they go through all the family, and finally come down to the baby, and finally say, “Oh, we couldn’t give up the baby. Why, that’s our darling little baby; we couldn’t give him up.” And finally they decide they’d just all starve together rather than give up one of them. That’s that old time story, and it’s got such a truth in it.
If you sat down in the circle of your family and let one of them be lost, going to give up one of them, just which one would you give up? Isn’t that the supremest joy of all of our hearts: Lord, that all of us be in glory. When the roll call is made, the circle is unbroken, there we are, all of us; without loss of one. “I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” [3 John 4]. May I conclude?
Last Monday night, we had a speaker here that told the story that brought back so poignantly to me this last appeal I want to make to our hearts; to me, as a pastor, shepherding the teaching ministries of this church, and to all of the fathers and mothers under whose hands these children are growing up. The story that the executive leader of our Foreign Mission Board spoke of last Monday night, at the Lottie Moon annual Christmas banquet, was this: he was describing something altogether different but brought back to my heart this thing that I am speaking of this morning. He was describing the sacrifices of the missionary and spoke of one of our missionary couples in Africa whose little child was bitten by a venomous poisonous snake and died immediately. And because there was no cemetery there in that heathen far away darkened continent, why, they buried the little fellow in the yard. And every time that the missionary went to work, passed by that grave, and every time the mother would look out the window, see that grave, talking about the sacrifices of the missionary, oh, you could just see the sadness of a thing like that.
Well, what brought back to my heart as he told it was something that when I came across it, I thought, “This is one of the most pitiful things I have ever seen or heard in my life.” In our midst is a worldly family, not Christian. They’re not saved, they’re not godly. And by the way, if you ever would like an assignment that baffles you, let a great sorrow come into a family that’s not Christian, that’s worldly and ungodly, and then try to say words of comfort; you don’t know what to say.
Well, the doctor announced to this family that their little boy had an incurable disease and was dying and would soon be dead. And the little fellow, when he learned it, that he was going to die, to him death was just that cemetery that he’d seen way out here on the edge of town. And it was cold out there, and it rained out there; and the wind blew, and it was lonesome. And the little fellow cried to his father and mother saying, “Oh Daddy, oh Mama, don’t let ’em take me away. And don’t let ’em bury me in that cemetery. Please, Daddy, please Mama, keep me close to you. Bury me by the door, please, by the door.” How infinitely better, and how infinitely more precious had the father and the mother in godly patience and in the hope and assurance of heaven taught the little fellow, “Sweet little boy, you’re not going to any cemetery. And we’re not going to leave you in any cold, damp ground. Honey child, you’re going to heaven to be with Jesus. And just wait a while, and we’ll see you again. He can take care of you better than we, and you can grow up in the glory of God, and just wait for us, and we’ll see you, son, by and by, in God’s day, in God’s time, in God’s will.”
How infinitely better to teach our children in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. Then when exigencies arise, and troubles come, and times are cruel, and fortune rests and turns and twists and hurts, how infinitely better to look up and see, in the promise of God, all that we have loved and lost for a while, teaching, teaching our children in the love and nurture of the Lord. “My little children, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children, my children walk in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” [3 John 1:4].
Oh, I often wonder why would a man ever sit down to decide against Christ? To me, it is so obvious the thing a man ought to do. This is what he ought to do: give his life in trust to Jesus, and bring his whole family with him; thou, and thou, and thine household, all of us, all of us. Not even hesitate, not even war, not even discuss; “This is a settled commitment for me, my house, for me and for mine, this day and forever, I choose God.” And that’s the choice that we pray you shall make for Him, and that God will bless this morning in this appeal and in this song of invitation.
In this balcony round, or on this lower floor, somebody you, give his heart to Christ, come into the fellowship of the church, “Pastor, here I am, and this is my whole family; here we come.” Would you make it this morning? Is there one somebody you to take Jesus as Savior? Or to put your life with us in the church? As the Spirit of heaven shall make the appeal, shall open the door, would you make that decision now? Would you make it this morning? While we stand and while we sing.