Sunday, August 19, 2012

Persevering Through Faith

Texts:    Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:19-25, 35-39; 11:1-6; 12:1-3

   HERE'S SOMETHING SHOCKING: I didn't watch much of the Olympics.  It's not that I didn't care, it's just that I don't have a working TV since the government switched everything to digital.  But even without being glued to the screen, I was aware of the accomplishments of our U.S. team and the other athletes who competed.  Talk about drive and determination!  Talk about pushing through against all odds and reaching the goal!  Those athletes were perfect illustrations of what it means to persevere.

    "Perseverance."  We don't use that word much in everyday speech, but it's an excellence principle for life.  It means to keep on keeping on.  To never give up.  To maintain confidence and  "just do it," despite all the obstacles in the way.  The entire Letter to the Hebrews is about perseverance, about focussing singlemindedly on one goal and not letting anything get in the way of our achieving it.  This goal is beyond anything earthly or temporal; no, set before us is the glory and joy of the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ our Lord, which we will enter fully when He comes again at the last day.  Reaching that goal involves living every day as witnesses to the grace of Jesus Christ, in our behavior, in our decisions, in how we treat one another, in what we say about who Jesus is and His will for the world.  It's like being an Olympic athlete in training to win the gold.  Focus. Dedication.  Perseverance.

    But bad things happen in this life.  We run into opposition when we confess Jesus Christ as the only Lord.  Often it's uncomfortable and inconvenient to live the Christian life God has marked out for us.  It can be damaging, even dangerous.  Does God really expect us to keep standing on His word and following Christ in situations like that?  Is it all up to us to grit our teeth and keep going?  Or has He Himself provided us a way for us to stay the course and persevere?  The Letter to the Hebrews gives the answer to this last question as a resounding Yes.   God has provided a way, and we need to take it, if we want to receive the reward He has promised.

    This letter was originally written for 1st century Jewish Christians who were shaking in their confidence in Christ.  Trouble and persecution were tempting them to give up on Jesus as their Messiah and Lord.  Why not go back to Judaism?  After all, the Jews were protected under Roman  law.  As a Jew you got a special religious exemption: you didn't have to worship Caesar; you were free to practice your religion according to the books of Moses.  Why take on more difficulty?   Wasn't the Old Covenant good enough after all?  Why not decide Jesus was just one more of the prophets, and live in peace?

    The writer spends the first nine and a half chapters demonstrating that the Old Covenant was not good enough; in fact, God had given it only to lead up to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.  The prophets were not good enough-- they were sent to speak of Him.  Angels were not good enough-- they are Christ's servants and our servants for His sake.  Moses and the Law were not good enough-- Jesus God's Son is the true Builder of God's house.  Keeping the seventh-day Sabbath was not good enough-- Jesus alone is our true Sabbath rest and He's what the Sabbath observance was all about.  The animal sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple were not good enough-- the blood of bulls and goats could not permanently cover sins, that was done only by the blood of the sinless Lamb of God shed on the cross.  The whole priesthood in the line of Aaron was not good enough-- it took a unique, eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek to offer the one true and perfect sacrifice of atonement, even Jesus Christ our Mediator.  None of these Old Testament types and shadows were sufficient to save the Jews or anybody from their sins.  Only Jesus Christ the righteous one was worthy and able to do what we needed to present us holy and righteous before the face of almighty God.   We really need a Savior, and He's the Savior we need.  That was true for those Hebrew Christians and it's true for us today. 

    Do you believe that?  I hope and pray so, for everything that follows is based on the facts of who this Jesus is and what He has done.

     So in chapter 10, verse 19, our writer draws the logical conclusion.  He begins, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . . " Every Jew would know what the writer was referring to.  The Most Holy Place, or as the King James Version puts it, the Holy of Holies, was that room in the Tabernacle and later, in the Jerusalem Temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was housed.  The High Priest (and only the High Priest) would enter it only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to obtain forgiveness for the sins of the people.  But the Most Holy Place spoken of here is not anything on earth, it is the very throne room of God.  And now it's not the blood of an animal that justifies entry, but the blood of Jesus.  And now it's not only the High Priest who is allowed to come into the presence of God, it's all of us whom the blood of Christ has covered.  Formerly, it was a fearsome thing even for the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies; now we all can have confidence to come before our Lord and God, because Jesus Himself is our great priest over the house of God.  Because of who He is and what He has done, we have every reason to persevere in devotion and service to Him until we taste the wonders of His kingdom. 

    Understand this!  The goal and meaning of human life is blissful fellowship with the God who created us.  Our sin got in the way, but by the blood of Christ we can walk right in to the presence of God and trust that His forgiveness is ours!  Unfortunately we don't have time this morning to explore all the rich Old Covenant imagery the author presents to us.  But see these words he uses.  In verse 22 he urges us because of Christ to draw near to God in full assurance of faith.  In verse 23 he encourages us to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.  Verse 24 incites us to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  All these words hammer home the message that we can keep moving on in the Christian life, and we keep moving on because we can trust in Jesus who has saved us.  So don't give up!  Keep on keeping on as the Day of Jesus' return approaches!  Persevere!

    We did not read verses 26-31; they warn us against turning our backs on Christ as if His death meant nothing.  Verses 32-34 reminded the Hebrews how God had enabled them to stand strong in the face of earlier persecution and should remind us that what we have done for His sake once, He will enable us to do again.

    So in light of all this (as we pick up in verse 35), let us not throw away our confidence.   "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised" (verse 36).

    But let's be clear about this word "confidence."  If we don't watch it, we might think it's some feeling or effort we make in ourselves.  Like telling somebody to keep their chin up.  No.  It's not ourselves or our cheerful attitude we confide in, it's Jesus Christ whose blood enables us to enter the Most Holy Place of the throne room of God.  He's the One we can trust, He's the One in whom and through whom all God's promises to us will be fulfilled.

    And here's some essential encouragement: The time of struggle and trial will not be forever.  The day is coming when Jesus will return as the righteous Judge of the world, and all things will be put right.  Meanwhile (as the writer quotes the prophet Habakkuk in verse 38), God's righteous one-- that's you, who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ-- will live by faith.  By faith we do not shrink back and stop trusting Jesus; for to do so is the deserve destruction.  No, by God's grace we are those who believe-- who keep on believing-- and are saved.

    Faith is the key to our perseverance.  But what is this faith?  Ask people these days, and you'd think it was some kind of force.  Or again, something we ourselves gin up.  But the writer won't let us come away with this false impression.  No, he spends the entirety of chapter 11 giving us illustrations of what faith in God is.  We read only a few of those examples this morning, and what I want us to look at is this: That in every case faith means identifying God as trustworthy and living our lives based on that fact, even when the evidence of His reliability is not immediately before our eyes.

    "Faith," says 11:1, "is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  Our hope is in the return of Christ and the joy we will share in Him in His kingdom.  Is this a fantasy we've made up in our heads?  No!  We can be sure of it, because we have good and reliable evidence of the power of Jesus Christ, first and foremost in His resurrection from the dead.  It really happened.  Even though we didn't witness it ourselves, we can still trust in His promise to raise us, because He kept His promise that He Himself would rise from the dead.

    Again (verse 3), by faith we understand and confess that God made the universe by command of His word.  We have confidence in His nature and His power, that He was able to make everything we see and touch and enjoy out of nothing. 

    Then in verse 6, we read "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."  That should be obvious, right?  After all, why bother to please a being whom you don't believe to exist?  And why try to please a being who doesn't care about being pleased?

    The odd thing is, there are people who think they can be good without God.  They have some vague idea of what is Just or Right, but they refuse to identify that with Him who is just and righteous.  So in the end they are left to their own human conceptions of what is good.  But there is no true good in this world without it being anchored to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faith has an object and a goal, and that goal is the triune God.

    And so, after the great account of the Old Testament saints who lived and died trusting in God and His promises, we come to chapter 12.  If we didn't understand before what perseverance means, if we were in any doubt about the object and focus of our faith, the writer makes it clear here.  "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus," he writes in verse 2, "the author and perfecter of our faith."  Jesus is the goal we run towards and He's the One who enables us to run at all.

    Something about verse 1, however: The "great cloud of witnesses" mentioned here.  Are they sitting in the heavenly stands cheering us on as we run the race marked out for us?  No.  The cloud of witnesses are those who, like the saints of chapter 11, lived and died testifying to the greatness and faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  They are the martyrs, if you will, who ran their races before us and won the crown of life that is promised also to us if we persevere.

    And we can persevere, for we run trusting in Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished for us.  Our faith itself is His doing-- He is its author-- He originated it and established it in us.  He is its perfecter-- He will bring it and us to the final goal of eternal life in Him.

    And He'll do this is in spite of the difficulties and disasters of this life.  For see what Jesus Himself endured: The cross, with its pain, shame, and degradation.  But He kept His eyes on the goal of pleasing God and the joy that would bring.  He is now enthroned as Victor in the great race.  Sure, we will have opposition from sinful men.  What do we expect, when we consider how they treated our Lord?  So let's not grow weary or lose heart.

    When I was a kid in elementary school, I'd walk home through the grounds of a nearby private girls' high school.  One day I picked up a strip of paper, maybe 3" x 12", an art class calligraphy exercise it was, and on it was lettered the motto, "Never lose sight of your goal, and it won't lose sight of you."  To a 5th grader this seemed very profound, and I took it home and taped it to my bedroom wall.  It stayed there for years, till I got to thinking, "Wait a minute, how can a goal keep sight of me or not, either way?"  After all, a goal is only a concept, not a person.

    But when it comes to persevering in the Christian life, this motto is very true.  For our goal is a Person.  Our goal, our object, the course we run and the One who keeps us running our course, are all Jesus Christ our living and victorious Lord.  We can trust in Him, all our confidence and assurance are in Him, and through faith in Him, we will persevere.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

God's Right to Choose

Texts:    Isaiah 41:8-14; John 6:28-51

     SERMON TITLES ARE TRICKY things.  For awhile I thought I'd call this message, "Whose Right to Choose?"  But that might've been a distraction.  Some of you might've spent first two-thirds of the service thinking, "Oh, goodness, is she going to preach on That subject?" and I wouldn't have blamed you one bit.  Even if you thought I might be upholding the position you take yourself, you still might've wondered why on earth I'd march in here and raise such a controversial matter.

    So instead, the sermon title is "God's Right to Choose."  And even though this message won't tackle the subject of abortion, we will be exploring another subject that's been just as controversial in the history of the Church.  And that's the doctrine of God's sovereign right to choose who shall be saved.

    But with all the issues facing the Church these days, especially with all the divisions and troubles facing us in the PC(USA), why bring up a matter nobody cares about any more?  Ask any average Christian about how we get saved, and they'll say you have to make a decision for Christ.  That God gives us evidence about who Jesus is, but it's up to our own free wills whether we come to him or not.  Only those hyper-intellectual folks in the Reformed camp keep pushing the idea that salvation is all up to God.  Right?  Isn't that the popular opinion?  So why should I rake up the matter?  Why not just let sleeping dogs lie?

    First of all, dear friends, because our Gospel reading from St. John clearly teaches that we made our decision for Christ because God the Father first made His decision for us.  Second, because if we take the credit for bringing ourselves to faith we rob God of His rightful glory.  And third, if we go around thinking it was up to us to get ourselves saved, we might well worry about whether we can keep ourselves saved.  No, we need more assurance than that, and it is only the doctrine of God's sovereign choice that is faithful to Scripture, that gives Him the glory, and can keep us happy and secure through the temptations and perils of this earthly life.

    Our text from John 6 is a portion of Jesus' Bread of Life discourse.  You remember that He fed the 5,000 on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and how the crowds chased after Him.  They wanted to make Him king so He could keep on feeding them with miraculous physical bread the rest of their lives.  He must be the Messiah! they think, and that's what the Messiah should do.  Jesus is no politician.  He bluntly tells them they're wrong.  No, He tells them rather to work for the food of eternal life, which He, the Son of Man will give them.  For He is the Son of Man who has God the Father's approval.

    The people conclude that to have eternal life, you must have the Father's approval.  This is true.  And to get God's approval, they assume, you have to do some kind of work to please Him. Well, we'll see about that.

    So at the beginning of our reading the spokesmen ask, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"  Another way to putting this is, "What must I do to be saved?" or "How can I earn eternal life."  Jesus' answer is, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

    Did you notice how our Lord put that?  It wasn't, "The work God requires from you is to believe in Me."  No, it's "the work of God."  Right here we see that belief in Christ is the only way to eternal life, but that belief is not something we do for ourselves, it's all God's sovereign work and grace.

    The crowd wasn't comfortable with that.  They understood that Jesus was referring to Himself.  But if they were going to accept Him as the bringer of eternal life, they weren't going to be hornswoggled, no, not them!  Hey, Jesus, you gave us earthly bread, can you give us some physical bread from heaven?  Let's have some manna and see you outdo Moses, if you can!

    Jesus teaches them, and us, that the true bread from heaven is not the manna God gave through Moses in the wilderness long ago.  The true bread of heaven is Jesus Himself, whom the Father has given.

    We need to remember that and take it to heart.  Too often people see Christianity merely as something that'll make life better for us in this world, and then, oh yes, fire insurance when we die.  And when Christians suffer in this life, unbelievers jeer that our religion "doesn't work."  Or we ourselves wonder if God doesn't love us any more.  No!  No matter how much we may lack the bread of this world, no matter how much we may suffer from grief or want or trouble, God Himself gives us Jesus Christ, the Bread of Heaven, and Jesus has given us life that can never be diminished and never be taken away.  As our Lord says in verse 35, "He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

    We must come to Him if we are to have eternal satisfaction and eternal life.  Again, in verse 40 Jesus says, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life."  But how can we come?  How can we look to Him and believe?  It's our sinful human nature to reject Him!  Jesus says to the people, "You have seen me and still you do not believe."  In verses 41 and 42 they grumble and complain that He dared to claim He was the Bread from heaven.  Wasn't He just the son of Joseph the carpenter?  Never mind the multitude He fed yesterday with a few loaves and fishes.  Never mind all His healings and exorcisms and the dead people He'd raised!  They were too clever to believe He was able to give them eternal life!

    Let's not deceive ourselves.  If we'd witnessed for ourselves what Jesus did we wouldn't automatically believe.  It takes more than great information about Jesus to bring us to faith in Him.  Even some atheists are willing to look at the historical evidence and admit that Jesus really did do miracles and He really did rise from the dead.  But those facts aren't enough to compel them to believe in Him and be saved.

    No.  Salvation is the singlehanded work of God the Father.  "All that the Father gives me will come to me," says Jesus.  To be saved, we must be given to Christ by the Father.  In verse 44 Jesus states, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."  And the word translated "draw" doesn't mean to attract or to woo, it means to drag a dead weight, like hauling a wrecked car out of a ditch, or even to pull someone against their will, like dragging a lawbreaker off the jail.  Because when it comes to Jesus and salvation, we are dead weights.  We are criminal offenders against the holy law of God.  We cannot help ourselves into salvation.  Until God's saving grace comes upon us, we don't really want to be saved.  Eternal life in Christ is the gift of God and comes from Him alone.  Moreover, the choice of  who will inherit eternal life belongs to God and God alone.  He alone has the right to choose.

    But why does the Father choose to save some and passes others by?  The exact choice of who shall be elect and who not is hidden in the mind of God.  But in various places in Scripture, such as Romans 9, we read that His purpose is to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, even us, whom He has called.  God works out His purpose in the mystery of election, and it will bring Him the praise and glory that is His due.

    Some preachers can be heavy-handed with this doctrine. Believe me, I know. I sat under a preacher like that for several months just after I graduated from college.  He probably didn't mean to, but I and a lot of other members of the congregation got the idea that the world was full of people just yearning for a chance to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved, but God arbitrarily chose some for heaven and purposely sent the rest to hell, even if they were seeking for heaven with all their might.  And this was supposed to bring God glory.

    The fact is, we don't start out good, or even neutral.  St. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that all of us were born dead in trespasses and sins; like everyone else, we were the proper objects of God's righteous wrath.  Jesus Himself in John 3 tells Nicodemus that "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed."

    Brothers and sisters, God does not need to choose for anybody to go to Hell!  The Scripture says nothing about God electing anyone to be lost.  Why?  Because tragically, it would be redundant.  God doesn't need to condemn us; we condemn ourselves by our sinfulness and our sins.  The people of this world demand justice.  O, let me never demand justice, for if God exercised His justice on us not one of us could be saved. Our entire salvation depends on the injustice of the sinless Son of God dying in our place!

    No, the thorny question is not, "How could a loving God choose some to be condemned?" but "How could a holy God choose any to be saved?"  As Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn,  "Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"

    But some will worry, "If salvation all depends on God and there's nothing I can do about it, how how can I know if I'm chosen?  How do I know if I'm saved?"  To you I say, "Do you want to be saved?  Do you believe not merely that Jesus died and rose again, but that He died and rose again for you?  Do you look at your past attitudes and actions, especially those things you thought were going to put God in your debt, and see how foolish and wrong they were?  Do you want to do better, not because God will punish you if you don't, but to show how thankful you are for Jesus and what He's done for you?  That is the Father drawing you, dragging you from death to your new life in Christ."

    And because your salvation had nothing to do with your goodness or anything you deserved, the Father worked it according to His sovereign choice, you how can relax and be confident in His love.  Jesus says in verse 37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away."  God is not going to change His mind tomorrow about giving you to Christ!  In verse 39 our Savior says, "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all he has given me, but raise them up at the last day."   Our Lord repeats this promise in verse 40 and 44. God's choice of you is forever!  By His choice He saves us, He keeps us, and one day, by His unchanging choice He will raise us up in glory in His heavenly kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    We have this sure and certain hope of the resurrection, because God chose Jesus Christ to be the living bread who came down from heaven.  For the bread of life is His flesh, which He gave for the life of the world.  Whoever comes to Him will not hunger, and whoever believes in Him will not thirst.  God has exercised His right to choose, and all satisfaction, all joy, all fulfillment of life and bliss of heaven are found in Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord.  In Him we are chosen, in Him we are saved, in Him we find eternal life.  Be at peace, for by God's gracious choice He will keep you in Jesus His Son, and Jesus  will surely raise you up at the last day.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Does the Truth Speak Well of You?

Texts:    Psalm  1; 3 John 11-14

    BROTHERS AND SISTERS, HAVE YOU ever been tempted to fight fire with fire?  There's that coworker who always interrupts at meetings, why not be more aggressive and interrupt him back?  If someone is spreading nasty rumors about you, it'd serve her right if you let slip a few things about her.  Or maybe you've observed that if you really want to get things done in this world, it's best to imitate those who seize the reins whether they've got the right to or not.  Why not?  That arrogant, bossy person deserves to have a fall!  And wouldn't life be so much better if you and I were the ones with the power?

    Well, not exactly.  In today's passage from the Third Letter from John, the elder and apostle calls us by the Holy Spirit to refuse to be tied up with those who do evil, and instead to compare ourselves to and imitate what is good.

    Last week we learned about a bull elder named Diotrephes who was disrupting the local church by his tyrannical, arrogant behavior.  And there might just be a little part of you that envies a man like that.  Oh, you and I know we could never get away with it, but what if we could?  St. John knows his beloved friend Gaius is human.  Just possibly Gaius was entertaining visions of marching into the church and dealing with Diotrephes once and for all, the same way Diotrephes had served the missionaries John sent from Ephesus.  They didn't get a hearing, neither should this overbearing leader.  But John nips that in the bud.   In verse 11 he writes to Gaius, "Do not imitate what is evil."  Don't be like Diotrephes!  Do not do evil for the sake of dong good!  But neither is it enough for us to be glad we "aren't like that" and settle for the creeping comfort of our boring, humdrum sins.  No, if we want to be commended by the truth, we must go on to imitate what is good.  For, John writes, "Anyone who does what is good is from God."

    Oh.  That should be easy, right?  We all know all sorts of people who do good in this world, some Christian, some not.  Take this online community I belong to.  It's dedicated to cats and the people who like them, but the conversation isn't only about felines.  These people are good to one another; they've been good to me.  They're there with concern, good advice, and support in times of trouble. They donate money to help other members and their pets.  They visit one another in the hospital, even stepping in as advocates so sick and injured members get the best medical care. Going by the standards of the world, these are very good people.  Sometimes I compare the good they do with how badly a lot of church members treat one another, and it seems the church would be a lot better off if we were more like this worldwide community of cat lovers.  In many ways, we'd do well to imitate them.

    But is this kind of goodness enough?  Is this a perfect picture of the good the Holy Spirit commands us to imitate here in the Third Letter from John?  John the elder and apostle states that anyone who does what is good is from God.  May I conclude from that that my cat-loving cyber friends don't need the saving blood of Christ?  Some of them admit they don't believe in God, some are involved in anti-biblical sexual relationships and are proud of it.  Are they good enough for God?  Can you and I take a pass on telling our nice unsaved friends about the Gospel, since they're as good and helpful as we know them to be?  Or does this word "good" in this letter go way beyond simply being helpful and nice?

    We've seen these past two weeks that we need to understand the words John uses.  When he calls his friend Gaius "beloved," he speaks of no mere earthly love, but of the deep, unselfish, pure love of God in Christ.  When he speaks of "the truth," we are to think of the reality of all God says and all God is, especially as expressed in His Son Jesus Christ.  For St. John, "good" signifies the perfection of God demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and lived out by each Christian as we pattern our lives after His image.  "Good" is God's love in action, as John taught in his first letter, writing
    This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Well, thus far that sounds a lot like the good that unbelievers can show us and each other in this world.  But remember what Jesus Himself did with this word "good" in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and  Luke 18.  There was that rich young man who asked Jesus, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  And Jesus replied, "Why do you call me ‘good'?" or "Why do you ask me about what is ‘good'?  No one is good-- except God alone." Jesus was not denying being God, as some skeptics claim.  No, He was cautioning against using this word "good" lightly or in a purely earthly way.  God alone is the ultimate standard and perfection of goodness, and no one can claim to imitate the true goodness that is God without being good towards Him.  Remember what Isaiah the prophet said, that apart from God's salvation all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  True goodness cannot begin until we have been clothed with the true goodness and righteousness of Jesus Christ who gave His life for us.

    In this letter, John writes to Gaius and to all of us who confess that Jesus is our Savior, not to those who don't know Him or accept Him.  Jesus is the Good whom we are to imitate.  When we as Christians do good to one another, when we return good for evil when unbelievers persecute us for the Name of Christ, we prove that we're telling the truth when we say we belong to the truth. 

    All of us will mess up at times.  We all struggle with the old sin nature and stumble in places along the road to God's perfect kingdom.  But if we persistently do evil; if we never care about one another; if we take pleasure in vicious gossip, egotistic power plays, and uncontrolled gluttony and greed; if we defiantly disregard God's gracious plan for marriage and sexual purity; if we refuse to worship Him as He deserves, we prove that we have not seen God.  The light of the resurrected Christ has never dawned in our hearts; we have no regard for the truth, rather, our "Jesus" is a god of our own making.

    John the elder and apostle knew we need models to imitate as we strive to do good in the name of Christ.  He calls Gaius' attention to a Christian named Demetrius.  We don't know if this man was a fellow-member of Gaius' church in that town, or if he was one of John's students, maybe the bearer of this very letter.  Regardless, John holds him up as someone worth emulating. 

    Demetrius, he says, is well-spoken of by everyone.  Now, Jesus told His disciples (in Luke), "Woe to you when all men speak well of you."  But St. John is not speaking here of "all men," but of sound Christian men and women whose good opinion is worth having.  If people like that can commend your attitudes and behavior, you can know you're on the right track.

    But there's a commendation more valuable still.  John says that the truth itself speaks well of Demetrius.  What does he mean?

    He says "truth itself," so most likely he's not saying he had a personal word from Jesus Christ in heaven about Demetrius' character.  But the truth is what we know of God, what He has revealed about Himself in His Law and especially in Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we can say about someone, "Oh, he's a wonderful Christian man" or "She's a remarkable Christian woman."  And if we're mature Christians and people look up to us, they might conclude that that person's actions line up with the will of God right down the line.  But we can get lazy and slip.  We can overlook things.  We can make allowances for little deviations and sins, especially when they're sins we share.  But what does the Bible say about that woman or man?  The New Testament is the faithful testimony of the apostles and evangelists to who Jesus was and what He did.  To say that the truth speaks well of Demetrius or anyone is to say that his life lines up with what the Word of God teaches us about Christ and His will. 

    Sometimes, often, if we want the truth of God to speak well of us it'll mean saying or doing what this upside-down world regards as evil.  We must put Christ and His holiness and glory first, even when the world says that's insensitive and intolerant.  It may call us humbly and lovingly to take a stand against popular lies about the nice, harmless Jesus who'd never, ever make anyone give up anything that makes them happy or makes them feel affirmed--!  And do it even though our very friends call us bigots and haters.

    And always, if we want to be well-spoken of by the truth, we will remain aware of our own sins and shortcomings and constantly run to Jesus for forgiveness and guidance in how to imitate what is good.

    John himself can vouch for Demetrius.  He knows him and his godly character personally, not merely by reputation, and John's own reputation for truthfulness is well-known.  Whenever you and I can forward someone's ministry by putting in a good word for them, let's certainly do it.  And let us strive to be the kind of people whose good word is valued and heeded.

    We see by verse 14 that John has decided almost certainly to come visit Gaius.  He will be able to encourage him face to face, and that will be better than mere pen and ink.  That's something to bear in mind in this age of easy electronic communication.  Good as we have it, nothing can replace being in each other's presence as we build up one another in the Lord.

    In the meantime, John closes with a benediction of peace, and sends the greetings of the friends in Ephesus.  The letter ends with a request that Gaius greet the friends in his town by name.  Each Christian is individually important to God, and we should be individually important to one another.  That is yet another way we imitate what is good.

    Life in the church isn't always easy.  It's not necessarily conflict-free to walk in the truth or to work together for the truth.  But if we strive to be spoken well of by the truth, together we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And trusting in His goodness shown for us in His death and resurrection, we will know more and more the precious communion He promises us, until we enjoy it in perfection in His heavenly kingdom.