Walking the Talk

The Gospel Gets Personal  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Encouragement to a young leader.

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We Still Communicate

When is the last time that you received a letter? A written-on paper, snail mail, letter? It has probably been a very long time, and for some, perhaps never. I’m not talking about a birthday card, or a thank you note, but a letter from someone who had something they want to tell you.
When Marci and I were dating, we sent letters back and forth to each other almost daily; and we both looked forward to receiving them. I couldn’t wait for the mail to arrive. I would eagerly check my mailbox, hoping for one of those letters, and if the only thing that I received was “air mail;” that is, an empty box, I was disappointed. But I remained hopeful, because I knew another one would show up soon, perhaps the next day.
Those frequent letters were so important to us at the time that we both kept them. We don’t read them, but we’re not going to get rid of them because they formed an important part of how we grew our relationship with each other while separated. We were separated because we spent our last year in college at different schools that were 600 miles apart.
We visited each other a couple of times, and we called each other a little bit more. But not too often. The pay phone I had access to for those calls was attached to a wall in the dorm hallway next to the lounge area, so it wasn’t exactly a private conversation. It was those personal letters that kept us connected.
Boy have times changed. No one writes “snail mail” letters like that anymore. It’s not that we stopped communicating, but we didn’t need to send letters because we started living together, which meant we could talk about things, and we still do.
But as technology has entered the picture, we are not just talking in person anymore, we are using our phones to communicate on and off every day. We use them to talk when we’re separated, but more often, we are using them to send each other texts, pictures, and videos; which is why we are always looking at our phones, and why we feel a little “naked” without them.
But we are not just communicating with each other, but with lots and lots of other people from whom we are separated. And we don’t want to miss anything important that one of them might need to say to us.

But Is It Personal?

While we wait for something important, a lot of what comes gets communicated, is not. So, we have to sort through it. To help us, our phones now have the ability to notify us when an important communication actually comes in.... but since most of us don’t really know how to set up our phones, we often get notified about things that we don’t really care about, from people we don’t really know all that well.
But when we do get that all important message, we’re more than willing to interrupt the time we have with whoever we’re having it with at the time to check that message. It used to be that we’d say something like, “I’m sorry, I’ve been waiting for this call, it won’t take long;” but now we just pick up our phones and check our messages whenever and wherever.
We can even get a little obsessive about it, because it really is nice to receive a message from someone who wants to tell us something. And that’s the kind of message that Gaius received.


Let’s be honest about modern communication. Sometimes it is hard to know whether the person your communicating with is really who they claim to be; which is why there is a lot fraud these days. I once got a text from Bill Redmond who was in China and lost his wallet and needed some cash forwarded to him so he could get back to where he was supposed to be. Only, it wasn’t actually from Bill. And I wasn’t the only one to get it. And some of them tried to help him before they realized it was a scam. There really are a lot of people out there who are more than willing to pretend to be someone you know, or someone you would like to know, but whose only really purpose is to get you to send them some of your money.
You might not realize it, but they had a similar problem in the first century. People were writing letters about important things, like how to obey God, or about raising money to help those suffering in another place; and attached an important person’s name to it, like Peter or Paul, but they said things that Peter and Paul would never have said, and advocated changes or support that they would never have requested.
Scams were just one of the reasons that they preferred face to face communications over letters. When you are face to face, you know exactly who you’re talking to. And, you have to remember that letters where a fairly new way of communicating back then.
Previously only the very rich could send letters. You had to know how to read and write, or hire someone who could. You had to have the materials on which to make a letter, which were very expensive. Then you had to put some sort of seal on it that the receiver would recognize so they could have some confidence that it was really from you. And then you would have to send it by courier, and they might need a traveling companion to make sure they made it to the destination safely. So that courier would have to be trained because they didn’t just deliver the letter like a postman but had to be prepared to answer questions and explain what was in the letter if the recipient didn’t quite understand it. Or they might have been sent to help the receiver to begin acting on what the letter indicated needed to be done. The goal of a letter back then was to communicate something important that needed to be addressed when the sender couldn’t go and meet with them face to face.
3 John was one of these ancient, personal letters that was delivered to Gaius.


Gaius was a man who was identified in the book of Acts as being from Derbe; which was a small town located in the south-central region of modern-day Turkey. The apostle Paul had passed through this town on his first and second missionary journeys, and had established a church there. We are not told when Gaius first heard and responded to the good news of what Jesus had done for him, only that it was Paul who delivered that news and who baptized him when he responded to it.
It seems that Gaius, like Jesus’ own disciples, left his former life and started following Paul, from whom he learned what it meant to follow Jesus.
That’s why Gaius was in Ephesus with Paul when Demetruis, a silversmith who made his living creating trinkets for those who came to visit the Temple of Artemis, raised up a mob to lynch Paul.
Paul had been preaching that there was only One God and that the Temple and others like it were just man’s creations. Paul did things that evidenced God’s power was behind his message, and there was nothing like it ever done by anyone representing Artemis, so those who accepted Paul’s gospel stopped buying those silver trinkets. It seems that Demetruis wasn’t really fighting for truth, but for a way of life in which he could keep turning a profit.
But some of those in the mob he stirred up really did believe in the old Greek and Roman gods. And they wanted to cancel Paul and his preaching. They rushed those who were preaching, but instead of catching Paul, they ended up grabbing Gaius and another traveling companion of Paul’s named Aristarchus.
We aren’t told why Paul wasn’t with them that day, but when Paul heard of it, he wanted to go down and get in the middle of it. But those with Paul told him that it was too dangerous, and they convinced Paul to slip out of town. Gaius and Aristarchus would later be released and they would catch back up with Paul.
Gaius, by the way, was a popular name back then; sort of calling someone today Bob or Steve. So, if you are wondering, it was a different Gaius who hosted the church in Rome in his house. He was also a believer, but he was a wealthy Gaius. Paul sent greetings to him at the end of his letter to that church. But he wasn’t the Gaius addressed in this letter.
Gaius of Derbe is the one who received this letter; and it is believed that he had returned to help lead the church in Derbe after Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem, although some think that it was only after Paul’s death that he returned. Either way, Derbe is probably where Gaius would have been living and serving when he received this letter. It was pretty far from Ephesus, about 300 miles, which is probably where the Elder lived who sent this letter.

The Elder Writes a Letter

The Elder wanted to encourage Gaius. There is some debate about the identity of this Elder, but most scholars agree that it was, as the title of this ‘book’ proclaims, John. But which John? There is a long-standing debate about this question, but everything in this short letter seems to indicate that it was the Apostle John. He lived until 90 AD, so he grew older, had plenty of wisdom to share, and his later ministry was in Ephesus.
We don’t know how Gaius and John got connected, but since John outlived all the other apostles, a young leader like Gaius may have turned to him for direction and support, especially since there were a lot of people going around from church to church trying to convince these early church leaders to disregard the truth about Jesus that had been handed down to them by the apostles.
We do know that John, the Elder who wrote this letter, developed such a close relationship with Gaius that he came to think of him as a son, a beloved son.

The Elder

The Greek term translated Elder is ‘presbuteros.’ It indicated one who was older. Jesus used it to indicate that the prodigal son’s brother, who stayed home, was older. And it was used by Luke when reporting how Peter quoted from the prophet Joel to explain what was happening on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on them, saying: “young men shall see visions, and ‘presbuteros’ men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2: 17).
In the gospels ‘Presbuteros’ was the title given to the Jewish leaders who served along with the chief priests to rule over Israel. Their “existence” goes all the way back to the time of Moses. He called the elders of enslaved Israel together to tell them God’s plan to set them free.
An elder could represent a family, a tribe, a city, a village, even a nation. And these elders would met together to make decisions for those they represented.
They would meet with the religious leaders to do so. In Jesus’ day those leaders were the chief priests, the scribes, and the Levites. And together they would come up with a plan to govern God’s people. Most of the time they were good plans, but they were also known to make some bad ones; like they did in regard to Jesus, opposing Him at every opportunity.
And there were times when the Elders of the people of Israel didn’t do what they were supposed to do. Ezekiel wrote of some especially bad Elders: “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.” Ez. 34:4
The emerging church used this term, ‘presbuteros,’ for those who represented the people of the church and who met with its leading religious leaders of the time: the apostles. To make decisions that effected the church; that’s why Paul and Barnabus travelled to Jerusalem to talk with them about Gentiles who accepted Christ as their savior, and whether or not they needed adopt Jewish customs in order to be saved.
As the gospel spread, and churches were planted by Paul, he also appointed Elders in these churches. What little we know about these Elders come from the letters that Paul and Peter wrote to some of these churches about the character of the men who would be appointed to serve as Elders.

A Reminder

John, the Elder who sent this letter, felt that Gaius needed to be reminded of his love for him, and that he was praying that Gaius would prosper; just as he was praying for Gaius’ health, both physically and spiritually.
We all need someone, even if they are distant from us, to be praying for us. Our elders are praying for you, just as The Elder was praying for Gaius.
John, the Presbuteros, had received news from some “brothers” who had been at the church where Gaius served, and reported to John that Gaius was still “walking in the truth.” John was delighted to hear this news. In fact, he confessed that his greatest joy was receiving this sort of news. If you want to know a little more about what “walking in the truth” is, go back and read 1 John. It’s a short letter, and you’ll gain a lot of understanding by reading it.
John meant that Gaius had not been deceived by any of the lies that were being spread about Jesus. Nor had he given into the pressure to adopt Jewish culture and customs. Nor had he been convinced by any of the philosophical ideas that were floating around at the time about how spiritual things and physical things can’t mix, like oil and water, which meant that Jesus was only a Spirit and was never really present “in the flesh,” so he didn’t die as we would die, and since he didn’t have the same sort of body we have, wasn’t really raised from the dead. But most of all, John meant that Gaius was expressing God’s kind of love in practical ways that helped people. And in particular, Gaius had expressed his faith in what he did for the “brethren” when they arrived, even though they were “strangers.”

Brothers in Truth

The ‘Brethren’ or ‘The Brothers’ or ‘The brothers and sister,’ depending upon your English translation, was not a reference to those who made up the church that Gaius served. He certainly loved on them too.
But “The Brethren” were more like the 72 disciples whom Jesus had gathered and sent out to preach the good news. It seems that John (not to mention other apostles, like Paul) followed Jesus’ example of making disciples, and when they were ready, sent these disciples out to preach the good news. But instead of going to towns where the gospel had never been preached, they arrived in towns, like Derbe, were it had been preached and a church had already been established.

Welcomed and Supported

When some of these “brothers” showed up, Gaius not only welcomed them, but provided support for them while they were in Derbe, encouraging them to “evangelize” (share the good news). Some had returned to John, but others seemed to have stayed in Derbe, and John was encouraging Gaius to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. Evidently, John wanted them to keep on the move, spreading the gospel, rather than settling down. And to do this, Gaius would need to make sure they didn’t go empty handed.
Gaius, who had once been on the road with Paul, would know just how important it was to support these evangelists.
When the brothers who had returned to John gave their report to the church, they testified about Gaius’ love for them while they were there; that is, they told how Gaius took care of their needs while they were there. And the church must have been very impressed by it.
John notes that these “brothers” had gone out “for the sake of the name,” and would not accept anything from the Gentiles to whom they were sent to share the gospel. So, they were wholly dependent upon the hospitality of fellow believers, like those who made up the church that Gaius served in Derbe.
John was also very proud of how Gaius and these “brothers” had worked together while they were there. And he hoped that this sort of joint effort to reach out in the name of Christ would continue.
These itinerant preachers would have passed through several towns where churches had been established by Paul, for they were traveling along the same routes, but this is the only letter we have celebrating how they were loved on by one of those churches. I’d like to think that they experienced the same sort of thing at the other churches they came across. But that’s part of the story that we just don’t know.

Could this Happen Today?

It makes me wonder, “Could this sort of thing happen today?” Could some “brothers” show up with the sole purpose of preaching the gospel in Los Alamos? Brothers who would proclaim the same truth that we strive to proclaim.
It was quite a few years ago, but one day I had a visitor show up at the church. He was from Africa. He’d been sent by his church to America to spread the gospel. I hadn’t thought of us as a mission field, but he saw us that way. He was working down in Espanola at the time, and was about ready to move on. He came up here to see if we might be fertile ground for a revival. I asked him how I could help, and he didn’t know, but he was going to visit other churches in town and access if this was where God was leading him. We prayed, but I never heard from him again.
Since “brothers” don’t tend to show up, we often invite brothers to come and join us. But generally, they come to give us and update about what they are doing some place else. The next time a brother is coming will be in February, and that brother’s name is Ron Nolen of Cowboy Up International Ministries.
We’re going to have a “cowboy” Sunday when he is here. He will give us an update on the churches they are planting, but perhaps, we might make it an opportunity to do something more. We might turn it into an opportunity to reach out to someone in hopes sharing the gospel with them.
And when someone does show up, I hope that they discover that we, just as Gaius did, are faithfully walking in the truth.
I hope that they find that we are striving to carry out the great commission in Los Alamos. And that we’d welcome any help from them in extending God’s truth to a world that is blinded by Satan’s lies.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us become disciples who make disciples. Help us find the lost that You love and came to save, and may they hear and experience Your grace. Amen.
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