What is the greatest danger to your faith? Please don’t let that question slip quickly from your mind. Consider it carefully. What is the greatest danger to your faith? As we take a moment to reflect on that question I want you to think back to the three Scripture readings for today. Did you notice one of the things they had in common? In Genesis 6:1-8 we heard about the dangers that immorality and the wickedness of the world posed to the faith of believers before the Flood. That is certainly still a danger to our faith. Every day we face the allure of sin through the internet, movies, television and the ever increasing immorality around us. Or doesn’t that happen in Wood Lake since life here is pure and unsoiled by sin? And consider the message in our second Scripture lesson from Romans 9:30-10:4. The Apostle Paul reminded us of the unbelief of the Israelites who substituted their own “religion” for what God had revealed to them. Generations of Jews appeared to be zealous for God and religious people. They may have seemed to follow God’s commandments in their lives. But they tried to make themselves right with God in their way instead of his way. Once again that too is certainly a great danger to our faith as well. Because the pride in our sinful nature we are frequently tempted to think that our good lives and our religious behavior make us righteousness in God’s sight. And also recall the Gospel Lesson for today. In Luke 19:41-48 we again heard about the unbelief of the Jews and how they substituted their own “way of salvation” for God’s plan of salvation. And finally in our Gospel Lesson we heard about Jesus clearing out the Temple. Many of those merchants had let greed override their devotion to God. Yet another danger to our faith that can be added to the list!
So with all of these spiritual “landmines” around us and within us what should we do? First of all, we see that there isn’t just one “greatest danger” to our faith. There are many great dangers to our faith! But ultimately the response to all of these temptations and dangers to our faith is found in the Means of Grace—the Word and Sacraments. God promises us that nothing can separate us from his love. Jesus said that we are protected by “his hands” and his “father’s hands.” And yet we are told to remain faithful to the truth of God’s Word where those promises and God’s power to preserve us are found. Regarding the Scriptures then we make it our goal in life to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”
We find an example of this kind of Christian life in the Scripture upon which we will meditate during our sermon together today. The disciple whom Jesus loved describes it for us in his Third Letter. Listen as I read verses 1-8 of 3 John. (Read text.) A follower of Christ walks in the truth of God’s Word each day. Additionally, John tells us that Christians show their faithfulness to the truth as they work together with fellow Christians for the truth. Here we find the best defense against all the great dangers to our faith. Let’s consider both of those thoughts under the simple encouragement that John gives us as he says to each of us:
“SHOW YOUR FAITHFULNESS TO THE TRUTH”
I. Walk in the truth
II. Work together for the truth
So who was Gaius? Since Gaius was a very common name in the Roman culture we can’t say for sure. We know of at least three other men named Gaius in the New Testament. They were all associated in some way with the Apostle Paul. And there doesn’t seem to be a strong case that any one of those three Gaiuses is the man to whom John wrote this short letter. From 3 John we can determine that this Gaius was a faithful lay leader in his congregation. This Gaius had been offering his home as a place for traveling pastors and teachers to stay. John calls him a “dear friend” whom he loves. John says that he loves Gaius “in the truth.” By this he probably means that what makes his relationship with Gaius so satisfying is that it is rooted in the work of spreading the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were connected by the truth of Christ, and they were joined in ministry through that same truth.
After simply identifying himself as “the elder” and addressing Gaius as “my dear friend…whom I love in the truth,” John then went on to identify a key behavior in a Christian’s life. It is faithfulness to the truth. But since there are so many people in the world today saying what Pontius Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?” it would be good for us to remind ourselves of the answer to that question. What is truth? Is there any truth? Can each person decide what truth is for himself or herself? The one answer to all such questions is that Jesus is the truth! Not only is he the truth but we also remember that he declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Also recall that in John’s Gospel Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So just as he is the truth so too Jesus’ teaching is the truth. And also recall what Jesus said about all the Scriptures. In John 17:17 he asked his Father in heaven to, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” So to be clear, we can say that faithfulness to the truth means being faithful to what Jesus taught and what confirmed as the Word of God.
John then goes on to speak specifically about how a Christian let’s his or her faithfulness to the truth be seen. “2 Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” I am sure it was a great comfort to Gaius to know that John himself—the disciple whom Jesus loved—was praying for him! John was praying for his physical health and the everyday things he faced in life.
Then John gets to the heart of his short letter to Gaius and to the heart of a Christian’s life. “3 It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Twice John stated just how Gaius showed his faithfulness to the truth. He walked in the truth as he lived his life.
And what exactly did that mean? First of all, that meant that Gaius knew the truth. He studied the Scriptures and in turn he found ways to apply them to his life. He listened to the “brothers” (those faithful teachers and preachers) that came to him with the truth. Then Gaius took the lessons and sermons to heart and applied them to his life. In turn, the way he lived his daily life reflected his faithfulness to the truth. We could say that Gaius wasn’t just a “good person” who got along with his neighbors and obeyed the laws of the Roman Empire. He walked in the truth. That meant that his decisions about what he said and did were determined by the truth of God’s Word. The life he lived went beyond a bland love for others or social responsibility. He loved others because Christ loved him. Gaius showed his faithfulness to the truth by walking in the truth.
Now let’s get back to the question I asked you before. If Gaius had been asked, “What’s the greatest danger to your faith?” he could have listed all of the things that we heard in our Scripture Lessons today. “The world around me, the devil and his temptations, and my own sinful flesh are all great dangers to my faith!” And if we had said to Gaius, “We face those dangers too! What can we do about it?” From experience he could say, “Show your faithfulness to the truth. Walk in the truth each day!”
So how can we live the type of Christian life that Gaius lived? First of all, like Gaius we learn the truth. We learn it and relearn it so we can walk in it. As we age, and as the world in which we live changes, we continually look at how we can apply the truth of God’s Word to our lives. Our decisions as a spouse or parent are made as we walk in the truth of Scripture. What we do at work, how we act on vacation, what we say to others, are just extensions of walking in the truth. We apply God’s Word to all the situations of every day life. That is walking in the truth as John declared to Gaius.
From this basic idea of what it means for Christians to walk in the truth we quickly see a need for well-trained pastors and teachers. Rarely do we have traveling preachers and teachers like those that instructed Gaius. In our time we gather ourselves into congregations like St. John’s here in Wood Lake and larger fellowships like the Minnesota District and the WELS. And then together we train pastors and teachers to help us all walk in the truth.
Most of you probably know that I am no longer one of the pastors at St. John in Redwood Falls. I now serve as one of the Vice-Presidents at Martin Luther College, in New Ulm. At MLC we train future pastors and teachers to preach and teach the truth so that all of us can walk in it more fully and faithfully. We provide continuing education for current called workers as well so that they can continue to apply the truth of Scripture to an ever-changing world. Think about the instruction you have received over the years in sermons and Bible classes. That teaching has helped you walk in the truth. In your confirmation classes you learned answers to the question, “What does this mean?” for your life. Over the years you have learned from pastors through sermons and Bible classes about ways to walk in the truth. Through the public ministry all of us have also received correction at times. Through the preaching of the LAW we have been convicted of our sinfulness when we were not walking in the truth. Through the proclamation of the Gospel and the faithful use of the Sacraments in our life we by God’s grace have been empowered to walk in the truth.
For that reason I am boldly asking for your support of our ministry at MLC. Before you leave here today I ask you to take one of these “cards” as reminder to pray for more pastors and teachers and for your college of ministry. Be specific in your prayers. Look around your congregation and pray for the young people here to consider serving in public ministry. Also, before you leave here today take one of these “booklets” with you. It tells the story of MLC—our mission and ministry—and in the last couple of pages you will find information about a variety of ways that you can support your college of ministry so that more and more we can walk in the truth.
That request for your prayers and support leads me back to the second way that Gaius showed his faithfulness to the truth. Yes, he let it be seen as he personally walked in the truth. But he also let his faithfulness to the truth be seen in another big way. Listen again to what John wrote as he continued his letter to Gaius, “5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” Before there were colleges and seminaries the Apostles trained the next generation of pastors and teachers. We can think of Paul’s Missionary journeys recorded in the Book of Acts. As he established churches he also trained workers in those churches. And before there were what we would call “congregational mission offerings” or sources of funding for pastors and teachers they relied on the hospitality of the people who received their messages for their food and lodging. Gaius had been showing such hospitality to the “brothers” even though they were strangers to him. John encouraged Gaius to continue that practice.
Obviously the times and circumstances have changed. But we still have this same way of showing our faithfulness to the truth. We do that by working together with others for the truth. You work with Pastor Berg for the truth as you support him in a manner worthy of God. He has expressed that to me numerous times. And here at your congregation all of you work together for the truth. Some of you serve in a formal way as a church officer or on a board of committee. Others of you serve in informal ways. You volunteer here and there for a variety of tasks. You faithfully bring your offerings. Together you are working for the truth.
This past May, on graduation day at MLC, I had the privilege of processing into the gymnasium with other faculty members and the 2015 graduates. I have in my hands the Commencement Service program. You may know some of these young men and women. But there is a better chance that you don’t know them and likely won’t meet the majority of them until we gather around God’s throne in heaven. I can’t help but see a connection to John’s words to Gaius where he acknowledged that he was supporting the traveling preachers and teachers, “even though they are strangers to you.” And yet he said, “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” You showed hospitality to these men and women as you supported them with your prayers, your encouragement through your congregation, and your offerings which St. John’s sends on to the synod. Yes, brothers and sisters, you have been working “together for the truth” with these young Christians, and with many others. May God bless you as you continue to do that. May he encourage you to show your faithfulness to the truth by working together for the truth.
What is the greatest danger to your faith? When I began this sermon I encouraged you carefully consider that question. Like the believers before the flood we will be tempted by the wickedness and immorality of the world. Like the Jews in the Old Testament and those who rejected Jesus himself we will be tempted to substitute our own religious system for God’s plan of salvation. Yes, there are many great dangers to our faith! Thankfully we have God’s promises that those things won’t overcome us nor will they cause us to lose our faith. We can be certain of that. And that is why we cling to powerful promises of God which are found in the Scriptures. And like Gaius—whom we meet here in 3 John—we show our faithfulness to the truth. That’s where we find God’s power for us to stand up against the dangers to our faith! So friends in Christ, continue to walk in the truth and continue to work together for the truth! Amen.