When Our Children Walk in Truth
July 1st, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
2 John 1:1-4
WHEN OUR CHILDREN WALK IN TRUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 John, 3 John
7-1-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled When Our Children Walk in Truth. It is an exposition of a passage in 2 John and in 3 John; the same expression is found in both letters in the identical place: in the fourth verse of each letter. Now I read 2 John: "The elder," ho presbuteros eklekte kuria, "The elder unto the elect lady"; and if any of you women belong to the Eastern Star, that is where you got the name of one of the points of the star, eklekta, ho presbuteros eklekte kuria:
The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth;
For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us forever.
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.
[2 John 1:1-3]
Now the verse:
I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
[2 John 1:4]
Now, we are going to turn to the third letter, and you are going to find the same identical expression:
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.
For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.
[3 John 1:1-3]
Now the same expression in the same numbered verse:
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
[3 John 1:4]
Now may I read them together? Verse 4 of the second letter, "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth" [2 John 1:4]; now the fourth verse of the third letter, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" [3 John 1:4]. If you look at the last verse of the first letter, John, 1 John 5:21, you will find that affectionate, loving, paternal expression, "Little children, then keep yourselves from idols." The tone of this, the feeling of it, is manifestly, plainly that of an aged man. He is a patriarch. He is between ninety and a hundred years of age. He has been the undershepherd, the guardian keeper, of a precious flock of the Lord for, I would say, over thirty years. The ante-Nicene fathers, Irenaeus and Eusebius, say that Polycarp was won to Christ by this sainted apostle John. Now Polycarp, the pastor of the church at Smyrna, was burned at the stake in 155 AD. And when he was tried before the Roman Caesar and was offered clemency, offered his life if he would just take a pinch of incense and put it on the fire, the flame that burned before the image of the Roman emperor, refusing to do it, he was encouraged in that act of emperor worship to deny the Lord and to acknowledge Caesar as kurios, Lord. Not Iēsous Kurios but kaisar kurios; just a little simple turn of a word. Not Jesus as Lord, but Caesar as Lord. And when Polycarp was urged to do that, Polycarp replied, "Eighty and six years have I served Him; and I’ll not deny Him now." Well, if he was martyred in 155 AD, pull it back eighty-six years and that would mean that Polycarp was won to Christ by John in 69 AD. Well, what is John doing in Ephesus in 69 AD? That also is very apparent, for the war broke out in Galilee against Rome, fanned by the Zealots who chose Josephus as their general, the war broke out in 66 AD and as you know, found its culmination in 70, when Titus destroyed Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and destroyed Judean state. So sometime in the course of that war, John left Israel and found his way to Ephesus and there in Ephesus was chosen as pastor and spiritual leader of the church. Polycrates, who was won to Christ and baptized in 125 AD, and was pastor of the church at Ephesus in later years, Polycrates says that among the ashes of those that sleep in Ephesus are those of the martyred, of those of the sleeping, sainted apostle John. We know, therefore, from Irenaeus, who says that John wrote these three epistles, and from the tradition of the church through the years and the years, that John left Palestine in the course of that war against Rome, that he came to Ephesus, certainly by 69, and that he was the pastor of the church, and as the pastor wrote these epistles; that he wrote them in a great age, that he was greatly loved. Jesus loved him [John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20], and the people loved him.
Have you heard this story? I do not think that there is a story outside of the Bible that has been more beautifully or oft repeated than this one about the aged John. All of the other apostles long had been dead. Simon Peter was crucified somewhere between 65 and 69 AD. All of them, long years ago, have been martyred or otherwise have been translated. And only John is left; and he has reached a great age. According to the twenty-first chapter of his Gospel, the Lord said to Simon Peter, "If I will that he tarry till I come, that he never die, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me" [John 21:22].
"Therefore, went that saying abroad," says the Fourth Gospel, "that that disciple would never die, that he would live to the return of the Lord" [John 21:23]. He writes that to deny it, "For the Lord never said I would never die; but that if I tarry till He come, what is that to thee, Simon?" [John 21:23]. Well, in his great age, the story is told, and I’ve heard it so oft repeated, and I’ve never tired of it, I’ve heard it many times but it is not trite to me; in his great age the pastor of the church in Ephesus, once more, was brought before the congregation by two of his fellow elders. One supported him on one side, and the other supported him on the other side, and brought him before the congregation. Like Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses [Exodus 17:12], so one of the elders of the church held the apostle on one side, and another elder held the apostle on the other side, for a last message. And as the aged apostle looked at the congregation, he said, "My little children," the expression you find here [1 John 2:1], "My little children, love one another." And he repeated it, "My little children, love one another." And he repeated it. And finally one of the elders said to him, "But John, you have said that already. Do you not have another message for us? Is there not some other word?" And the aged apostle replied, "No. That is enough."
You know, the more you think of that, the more you decide for yourself, there’s nothing else needed, nothing. If we love one another there would be no hurt, there would be no violence, there would be no avariciousness, there would be no destruction, there would be no thievery, there would be no crime, there would be no unhappiness, there would be no misery, there would be no criticism, there would be no attitudes to destroy; it would be enough. "My little children, love one another."
Well, the aged apostle speaks here in this passage that I’m expounding, the aged apostle speaks in the passage as a patriarch. He has been the shepherd of the flock for beyond a generation. And he speaks as one who is the spiritual father of those whom he addresses. Many of them he had won to Christ, such as Polycarp; and many of them he had guided in the Christian way. So he writes as a patriarch, "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children, walking in the truth" [2 John 1:4]. And again, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth" [3 John 1:4]. Now we’re going to take the passage, both as a pastor and as a parent – our children walking in the truth.
To one who does not care, to a pastor or to a parent who does not care whether the children walk in truth or not would make no difference. We read in the Bible that Abraham prayed for Ishmael [Genesis 17:18]; but you’ll never read in the Bible where Ishmael prayed for his eldest son, Nebajoth. Didn’t matter to him. And there are parents and there are pastors to whom the souls of their children and of their flock are of no consequence; and they’re indifferent concerning them. If they are healthy in body, they do not care; they’re not grieved if they are stricken with the leprosy of worldliness, secularism, vanity, false pleasure. If they are clever in mind, it is no hurt to them that they don’t know Christ. If they win laurels in art or in literature or political achievement, it is not a grief to them that they lose the crown of life [Revelation 2:10]. If they are socially acceptable, it is no burden of soul that they are not in favor with God. If they place on the daughter silver slippers, it is no care or concern that she walked down the broad way to destruction [Matthew 7:13]. And if the children are successful in business and arrive in the world, it is no cause of grief or pain that they are not born again [John 3:3]. To the parent, to the pastor, who is unconcerned it would not matter whether the children walk in truth or not [2 John 1:4]. But to a parent who loves the soul of the child, and to the pastor who is chargeable before God for the souls of his people, there is no greater rejoicing that they walk in truth. "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth [2 John 4],I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" [3 John 4].
I would suppose that it meant much to Hannah to make that little coat and bring it to Samuel each year [1 Samuel 2:19]. But I would think it was far more meaningful to the godly woman and precious mother that she saw in the little lad that word of truth that God had called him, and that as a child he had come to know the Lord [1 Samuel 3:1-19], and that from Dan to Beersheba it was established that little Samuel was to be a prophet of God [1 Samuel 3:20]. I would think that there could have been no greater gladness that could have come to Abraham than to know that God had chosen Isaac, laughter, gladness, to be the recipient of the favor of heaven [Genesis 17:15-19]. Old Barzillai in his age said to David, "Sir, take my son, Chimham, and let him be with thee and serve thee all the days of his life" [2 Samuel 19:32-37].
If I had ten thousand, thousand tongues, not one would silent be.
If I had ten thousand, thousand sons, I’d give them all to Thee.
[from "Surprising Grace," Samuel Stennett]
Happy Abraham to have a son like Isaac [Genesis 17:19], happy Obed to have a son like Jesse [Ruth 4:21], and happy Jesse to have a son like David [Ruth 4:22], happy David to have a successor like Solomon [1 Kings 1:32-39], blessed Lois who has a daughter like Eunice, and happy Eunice to have a son like Timothy [2 Timothy 1:2-5]: "I rejoiced greatly when I saw my children walk in the truth" [2 John 1:4].
Nor could there be a greater sorrow than to see the children depart from the faith, not loving God: the father, turning his face to the house of God, and the son turning his face to the house of sin; the father singing the songs of Zion, and the son singing the ballads of Belial; the father on the highway to heaven, and the son on the broad way to destruction. In the Bible, there is never, ever, a reprimand, a censure, from God when the parent prays and intercedes for an unworthy son. When you read the tragic and sad story of Absalom and David, David gave commandment to the army that the boy’s life be spared [2 Samuel 18:5]. But when Joab the captain of the hosts found Absalom caught by the hair in a tree, Absalom took three darts and thrust them through his heart [2 Samuel 18:14]. And when word came back that Absalom was dead, David went to his chamber and cried aloud as he went, "O Absalom, Absalom, my son, Absalom, would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son" [2 Samuel 18:33]. And when Joab heard it, Joab came to David and said, "Your cheap sentimentality and your lament and tears over this unworthy boy who was a traitor, and an insurrectionist, is discouraging the people of Israel who fought for your life against him. Now, shut up!" And so Joab censured David, weeping over his son [2 Samuel 19:5-7]. But you will never read in the Bible where God did it. For God was moved by the grief of David over Absalom.
I think God is always moved when a parent grieves over an unworthy child, and that God never censors or condemns a parent who prays for an unworthy child. Abraham stood before the Lord and prayed for Ishmael, "O that Ishmael might live before Thee" [Genesis 17:18]. God never condemned him for that, or was angry with him for that, or brushed him aside for it. But God said, "Ishmael, I will make of him a great nation; I will not forget your praying" [Genesis 17:20]. And the child may be an Ishmael or an Esau or an Absalom; but it pleases and it moves the heart of God for the parent to pray for the child, though the child is unworthy.
And thus for the pastor and the flock. Whatever the people do, and however they are, it is the part of the patriarchal shepherd and pastor of the household of God’s children to intercede for them, to love them, to pray for them. Just which one would you let be lost without a care to you, just which one? If you were to pick out in the congregation, "That one, we’ll not care about that one; or this one, we’ll not care about this one; or the other there, we’ll not care about that one"; that’s a real loss without intercession or prayer or burden or concern. Just which one would you pick out? Just which one? They all are precious, all of them. It is our prayer that all of them will eat with us the paschal Lamb, and come with us out of Egypt [1 Corinthians 5:7].
I must close. This is the assignment and the happy prerogative of the parent and of the pastor: to guide the children into the way of truth. You know, when, now I know you do the same thing, when I am preaching there’ll be a thousand things that run through your mind, just lots of things. Now I know, when I’m, say, at a convention, and I’m listening to the speaker, oh the things that go through my mind! Here is an instance of it. I was at a Southern Baptist Convention, and I was listening to the head of our great missionary program. And he was describing the sacrifice and the price that some of our missionaries pay living so far away in a strange and alien land, on a foreign field. And he said this couple had a little boy, just a little fellow, and he was out playing, and he was bitten by a venomous, poisonous snake, and died immediately. There was no cemetery, no such thing as a cemetery. So they took the little fellow, and they buried him in the yard of the missionary home. And the father passed by the grave of the little boy every day, and the mother could see it outside the window. As he told about that, and he did it so effectively and movingly, as he told about that, my mind, just listening to him, my mind went back to something that happened that to me was one of the saddest, most tragic commentaries on the non-Christian home that I ever heard of.
There was a little boy reared in the home. They didn’t love God, they never went to church, they never read the Bible, they never prayed, they were worldly people. And the little boy was growing up in that worldly home. Upon a day, the doctors said to the father and the mother, "The little boy has leukemia and will certainly die." So as the days sped away, the little boy being more stricken, became increasingly ill, and finally came to realize that he was to die. So the little boy said to his father and his mother, "Oh Daddy, oh Mommy, when I die, don’t take me out to the cemetery. Don’t take me so far away from you, please. It’s so cold, and it’s so far. Please, Daddy, Mother, when I die, would you bury me by the door so I can be close to you? Please, bury me by the door."
What was the matter? The matter is so obvious, so plain: they never taught the little fellow that when we lay down this life, we go to be with Jesus [1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23], that we’re not ever taken to some cold cemetery far away, but we are translated to be with God in heaven, that however sweet and beautiful and precious this life may be, it is a sweeter, dearer life in glory. That is the Christian hope. That is the Christian faith. And blessed the home and blessed the child that walks in the truth of the sublime promise and revelation of God. That is why he writes, "I rejoice greatly when I see my children walking in the faith, living in the truth, loving and serving God" [2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:4].
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give himself to the Lord, to come into the fellowship of the church, while we sing the appeal, make the decision now, then come. Down one of these stairways, into the aisle and to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God, and here I come. I’m bringing you my child." Or, "I’m bringing my whole family." Or it is just you. While we sing this song, come now, do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
WALKING IN TRUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 John 4; 3 John 4
A. John, aged, patriarchal
1. Speaks as though he were a father(1 John 5:21; 2 John 4; 3 John 4)
2. He lived far beyond the age of any of the other apostles
B. To some he was their spiritual father – he had won them to Christ
C. To all he was their undershepherd, giving fatherly care over their souls
II. Both the parent and the pastor
A. No joy either way to the parent or pastor who does not care whether children walking in truth or not
B. The golden joy of the parent and pastor is seeing his children walking in the truth
C. The sorrow to a godly parent or pastor when the children depart away from God
1. Heart of God moved when His people intercede for unworthy children
a. David for Absalom(2 Samuel 18:9-14, 33, 19:5-7)
b. Abraham for Ishmael(Genesis 17:18, 20)