When I was growing up, the Daily Nation used to run a comic strip series called ‘Love Is…’ I have since learnt that the cartoons were done by a New Zealand artist called Kim Grove initially for her future husband Roberto Casali. Kim tried to capture in a simple image and few words what love looks and many people looked forward to her various depictions of what it looks like to love your spouse. The Daily Nation no longer serializes ‘Love Is…’ but for fans out there, the cartoons are available online and on social media platforms.
In this rather short and snappy letter, John tells us what true love looks like and for clarity, he contrasts it with what it does not look like just so we are very clear. The letter is addressed to Gaius, a Christian brother who showed love and hospitality to believers (verse 5 – 7). It is likely that he is the same man commended by Paul in Romans 16:23 but Gaius was a common name and it is used severally in the New Testament. So what does true gospel love look like?
- Love is… Walking in the truth
John describes Gaius as one whom he loves in the truth. Truth and love go hand in hand because they are two sides of the same coin. There is no true love without love in truth. A man cannot truly be loving his wife if he is hiding certain things from her. We cannot merely know gospel truth and not lovingly tell it to our family, friends and neighbours. This is best demonstrated in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the personification (embodiment) of love and truth at the same time. John tells us in his gospel that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and that greater love has no one than him (Christ) that he should lay down his life for us. (John 15:3). We err when we divorce love from truth. John tells Gaius that he has no greater joy than to know that his Children are walking in the truth. I think it is a great delight to know and walk in the gospel. It is a wonderful thing to hear of brethren you have not seen in a long time that they are still clear about the gospel and they are living it out. May the Lord help you and I to walk in the truth.
- Love is … Wishing others well
In verse 2 John prays for Gaius that all may go well with him, some translations render that as prosper, and that he may be in good health even as it goes well with his soul. I realise this is a rather uncomfortable phrase for most people as it has been abused by ‘prosperity false teachers’ to mean that God want us all to be wealthy, healthy and famous. What I see here is the elder wishing a dear brother well. There is nothing wrong with praying for the well being of the other. There is a big difference between praying and promising and what the elder is doing here is praying that all may be well with Gaius. This is no different from your prayers or mine.
That is not to mean that frustration, pain and suffering are eliminated, on the contrary they are part of the package of following Christ (John 15:20, 2Timothy 3:12). In fact if this Gaius is the same one in Acts 19:26, he would have known first-hand what it means to suffer for the gospel.
John wishes this beloved brother well. In verse 15, he wishes him peace. It is right to wish and indeed to pray for the well being of others. This is contrasted with a divisive character in the early church called Diotrephes who liked to put himself first . True Christian love puts others first and wishes them well. In fact, true love wishes other Christ, the epitome of our wellness and our peace (Ephesians 2:14).
- Love is … Generosity
Gaius is commended ‘for the faithful thing you do in your efforts for the brothers’. Gaius had shown hospitality to brethren who would have been itinerant evangelists or missionaries (for they have gone out for the sake of the name…verse 7). These brothers had testified of Gaius’ love for the church, demonstrated in Christian hospitality (verse 6). True love for the gospel is here depicted as faithful support for gospel work with our gifts. The elder says… ‘We ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth’. If this Gaius is the same one in Romans 16:23, clearly he was a generous man – hospitable to the whole church.
On the contrary, if we don’t really love the gospel we begin to compare more with Diotrephes – who is self-centered (likes to put himself first), rebellious (does not acknowledge our authority), malicious (talking wicked nonsense against us) and mean/stingy (he refuses to welcome the brothers, stops those who want to, and puts them out of the fellowship). You don’t want to identify with Diotrephes. But if you do in any sense, the surprising thing is, Diotrephes is in the church and if that in any way points to you or me, we need to repent.
Someone has said that you can give without loving but you can’t really love without giving. God himself so loved the world that he gave. Generosity is second nature to us when we truly love. It is effortless, lavish and other-centered. How does your love for the gospel measure up?
- Love is … Imitating the good example.
John warns Gaius against following the bad example of Diotrephes and encourages him to imitate the good example of another man named Demetrius. We do not know much about this man as his name comes up only twice in the NT, here and in Acts 19:24. Probably two people sharing the same name. If it is the same person, the Gospel had truly converted him from an idol designer working for the goddess Diana and trade unionist in charge Idol Developers Union of Ephesus to one who is commended by everyone even by Jesus himself (verse 12). We don’t know if it is the same person but clearly the man in 3 John 12 is an example to emulate. We are to follow the pattern of those who have gone ahead of us in faithfulness. The writer of Hebrews says in 6:12: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”
Perhaps the question to ask is, as we follow the examples of those who have gone ahead of us; will others want to follow our example. Are we those who are commended even by Christ himself? The words of Steve Green’s song ‘Find us Faithful’ come to mind;
O may all who come behind us Find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave, Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live, Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us, Find us faithful.
- Love is … Longing for one another
I particularly enjoy John’s writing because he is quite emotive in language. The gospel is not all knowing and doing and no feeling. On the contrary it is loaded with deep affections. In verse 13, John tells Gaius what I used to copy in my love letters in high school ‘I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I long to see you soon, and we will talk face to face’. You cant read those words and not be emotionally moved. Love is not merely a thought or idea it is indeed a deeply felt emotion. Love is a true longing for one another and a desire to talk face to face. There are no lone ranger Christians, we are called to be a community.
We live in a time when expressing emotions is frowned upon. Most of the appeal today is aimed at the head (knowledge) and hands (actions) and not much for the heart (affections). Granted, emotions have been abused in the past, especially by the charismatic movement where truth was/is reduced to mere feelings and subjective personal experiences. Emotions still have a place in our experience and expression of true gospel love. I long to see you, says the elder to Gaius.
In an age of social media, how refreshing it is to see brethren and talk face to face; real fellowship with real people. If we truly love God’s people we will long to meet them. We will not be giving up the habit of meeting together (Heb 10:25). Love is showing up. Love is greeting the brethren by name. Love is the gospel. The gospel is love.