4 To walk in truth implies a course of conduct equivalent to living in the truth. The importance of both doctrinal integrity and spiritual vitality is evident in John’s affirmation that nothing brought greater joy to him than to know that his children were “walking in truth.”
4 On joy, see note at v. 3. My children may point to the fruit of John’s patient and faithful pastoral labors. These may have been converts, or they may have been believers who were encouraged by his ministry. Walking in truth means living in a way that honors and pleases God. It could even refer to living “in Christ” since he is “the truth” (Jn 14:6; see 1Jn 5:20).
4 To “walk in truth” (lit. “walking about in the sphere of the truth”) implies a course of conduct or life, i.e., “living in the truth.” The importance of doctrinal integrity and truth is evident in John’s affirmation that nothing brings greater joy to him than to know that his children walk in truth.
4 my children A reference to John’s spiritual children, the members of the churches (or the congregations themselves) that he is addressing. See 1 John 2:1 and note.
4 joy. See 1 John 1:4 and note. my children. His readers are first of all “children of God” (a signature Johannine expression; John 1:12; 11:52; 1 John 3:1, 2, 10; 5:2). But John as their spiritual overseer could view them as his own children too (see note on 1 John 2:1). Paul’s usage was similar (1 Tim. 1:2, 18; Titus 1:4; Philem. 10).
4 I have no greater joy. John’s personal affection for Gaius radiated especially from his personal conduct (Lk 6:46). my children. The word “my” is emphatic in the original. John’s heart delighted in the proper conduct of his spiritual children in the faith. Those who walk (conduct) in the truth (belief) have integrity; there is no dichotomy between professing and living. He had strong fatherly affection for them (cf. 1Co 4:14–16; 1Th 2:11; 3:1–10).
4 — I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
To “walk in truth” means to believe the Word of God and to gladly obey its instruction by drawing on the power of the Spirit. This kind of life brings great joy both to us and to our spiritual forebears.
4 My children is a description Paul uses of those he has led to saving faith in Christ (1 Cor. 4:14–17) and may indicate that Gaius was one of John’s converts. It may also be a term John uses to describe those under his pastoral care, as reflected in 1 John 2:1, 12, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21. To walk in truth means to walk according to God’s Word, the revelation of His truth.
V. 4 So important was this to John that he could say, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Perhaps most of us think of soul-winning as the greatest joy of the Christian life, and it is wonderful indeed to see men and women translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love. But who can measure the heartache to see those who professed to be saved, returning to their former life; like a sow returning to her wallowing in the mire and a dog to its vomit. On the other hand, what a thrill it is to see one’s spiritual children going on for the Lord, from grace to grace. Again this emphasizes the importance of follow-up work in all our evangelistic endeavors.
V. 4. Nothing made John happier (cf. v. 3) than to hear that his children were walking in the truth. This wording is similar to that in 2 John 4. It is possible that by referring to Gaius as one of his “children,” John meant that Gaius was a convert of his (cf. Paul’s use of this idea in 1 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 2:22). On the other hand the elderly apostle may simply have thought of those to whom he ministered from a paternal perspective, with fatherly concern.
v. 4 “my children” This is a common designation in John’s letters (cf. 1 John 2:12, 13, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). The emphasis here is on (1) John’s apostolic authority or (2) John’s term of affection for the churches and Christians of the Roman Province of Asia Minor (western Turkey), where he spent his last days of ministry.
Ver. 4. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
The Christian walking in the truth:—This is little more than a repetition of a declaration made by the apostle in the foregoing epistle. He is addressing there a pious mother, and he congratulates her on the spiritual prosperity of some of her family. Here he is addressing a beloved friend, and he congratulates him on the prosperity of his soul in nearly the same words.
I. Truth. “What is truth?” said Pilate to our Lord with a mixture of incredulity and scorn, as though truth were a thing nowhere to be discovered; and the same question has been asked by the wise men of the earth with the same feelings from Pilate downwards to our day. The real Christian knows where it is to be found, for he has found it. His God has not only made him feel its importance and enkindled in him a desire for it, he has shown him the thing itself, revealed, communicated His truth to him: so that the man has it; has it in his hand whenever he takes up his Bible; has it in his mind and heart, for he has read his Bible, and by God’s help has understood and believed it. That is the truth the apostle speaks of in this text. It is the revelation which God has made to us concerning spiritual and eternal things in His holy Word, and more particularly the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which forms so main a part of that revelation.
II. Walking in it. The term “walking” in Scripture, when used as it is here, is always expressive, not of an act or two, but of a continued course of acting. To walk in the truth, then, means more than for a man once in his life to discover and embrace the truth; it implies besides this a daily familiarity with it, having it constantly before his mind, and his mind and his life being as constantly influenced and acted on by it. 1. That we hold fast Christ’s truth; having had our minds enlightened to discover and opened to receive it, that we retain it in our mind, and this in its pure, simple, unadulterated form. 2. A continued profession of Christ’s truth. 3. To live in the habitual practice of it.
III. This apostle’s joy when he hears of his fellow-Christians thus walking. He expresses this, you observe, in very strong terms. He does not say that he has no joy equal to this, but he does say that he has none above it: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” And this strong language plainly shows us two things. 1. The loftiness of his own character. This favoured, this honoured apostle, with all his remembrances of the past and all his glowing anticipations of the future, with heaven almost opening upon him, says he gets as much happiness from the holy walk of others as he does from any other source. We know where he learnt this. We see the Master’s spirit shining forth again in the disciple. What was self to the blessed Jesus when the good of our lost souls was at stake? 2. The high importance of this holy walking in the truth. Such a man, we are sure, would never have rejoiced in a trifle. It is important, first to ourselves. (a) It is the best test we can have of our belonging to Christ, of the sincerity and reality of our faith in Him. (b) Our enjoyment of the gospel, our spiritual comfort and happiness, depends on it. (c) Our sanctification or holiness depends altogether on the permanency of the place Christ’s truth has within us. (2) Our continued walking in the truth is important also to our fellow-men. Every undecided, wavering professor of Christ’s gospel among us diffuses a bad influence around him—he does mischief in the world though he may not aim to do it; while every consistent follower of the truth does good in the world, though he may scarcely see it. (C. Bradley, M.A.).
The Christian minister’s joy:—
I. To walk in truth implies—1. Sincerity of principle, honesty of intention, in opposition to all dissimulation or guile. 2. Decided attachment to evangelical doctrine. 3. Habitual regard to personal holiness. 4. Progress in Christian excellency.
II. Why this walking in truth should occasion the joy of Christian ministers. 1. In your Christian walk we witness the reality of your personal religion. 2. Walking as Christians secures your personal happiness. 3. When you walk as Christians, we have evidence of ministerial fidelity—that the truth is spoken to you; that the way of truth is marked down and recommended. 4. In your walk as Christians, we observe the fruit of our efforts for your good. 5. When you walk as Christians, we behold the increase of the Redeemer’s cause in the world. 6. Walking as Christians, we see in you the partners of the felicity we hope for in a future world. Conclusion—1. If such as “walk in truth” are our joy, it is evident who are our grief—All they who walk not in truth; who “walk in darkness”; who “walk disorderly”; who “walk in the flesh”; who “walk after their own ungodly lusts.” 2. By your walking, not in truth, but in unrighteousness, the cause of God is dishonoured, his enemies triumph, his friends are painfully affected. 3. Let us all look well to ourselves, and take heed to our own spirit and conversation. (T. Kidd.)
Walk in truth:—
I. The subject matter of the apostolic ministry—it was truth; not only truth in the bare sense of the term, but truth in its highest sense, unmistakable truth, infallible truth, the truth without which we cannot be happy neither here nor hereafter. You may be without much knowledge in reference to geology, or astronomy, or botany, you may be without much knowledge of these things, and not suffer much; but in reference to this, if you have it not, you are a fool indeed, and if you have it, you are made wise unto salvation. It is necessary, for us while here, and for our well-being hereafter.
II. The manner of that ministry. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” I say that the apostle’s ministry was characterised by great earnestness and affection. There is no minister that will ever be useful without it.
III. The joy and satisfaction of the apostle’s ministry. The subject-matter of this joy of the apostle’s was to hear that his children walk in truth. 1. To walk in the truth is to maintain evangelical truth. 2. To walk in truth is constantly to keep and to enjoy the truth. It gives us solid peace, it is “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” 3. Once more, when spiritual children walk in truth they are consistent Christians. Walk is not the position of a lazy Christian. (H. Allen, M.A.)
The parent’s and pastor’s joy:—
I. First, then, one of the parent’s highest joys is his children’s walking in truth: he has no greater joy. 1. And here we must begin with the remark that it is a joy peculiar to Christian fathers and mothers. No parents can say from their hearts, “We have no greater joy than to hear that our children walk in truth,” unless they are themselves walking in truth. No wolf prays for its offspring to become a sheep. 2. Let us, then, remark next that the joy mentioned in the text is special in its object. “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children walk in truth.” There is the point, their practical religion, their actual exemplification of the power of the gospel upon their lives. This proves that the teaching was well received, that the feeling was not mere excitement, that the profession was not a falsehood or a mistake, but was done in truth. 3. It is a healthful joy, in which we may indulge to the full without the slightest fear, for it is superior in its character to all earthly joys. Now, when our children walk in truth and love to God, it makes us rejoice that another heart is consecrated to His service. We may well rejoice in the salvation and in the sanctification of our sons and daughters, because this is the way in which the kingdom of Christ is to be extended in the world. 4. I will tell you why this is peculiarly the great joy of some Christian parents—it is because they have made it a subject of importunate prayer. That which comes to us by the gate of prayer comes into the house with music and dancing. 5. This joy is quickening in its effect. All who have ever felt it know what an energy it puts into them. Have you some of your children converted while others remain unsaved? Then I charge you, let what the Lord has done for some encourage you concerning the rest. 6. Once more, this high joy of which we have spoken is very solemn in its surroundings, for it involves this alternative—“What if my children should not walk in truth?” Well, that means for us during this life many sorrows, nights of sleeplessness and days of anxiety. II. You may view the text as specifying the pastor’s greatest reward. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” No minister ought to be at rest unless he sees that his ministry does bring forth fruit, and men and women are born unto God by the preaching of the Word. Those who are the preacher’s children are often known to him; they were to John, else he could not have spoken of them as “my children,” and could not have had joy in them as his children. From this I draw the inference that it is the duty of every one who receives spiritual benefit, and especially conversion, from any of God’s servants, to let them know it. Put on Christ publicly in baptism, according to His command: unite yourself with His Church, and commune with the people among whom you have been born unto God. It seems from our text that John was in the habit of hearing about his spiritual children: “I have no greater joy than to hear”—mark that—“than to hear that my children walk in the truth.” That implies that, if you make a profession of your faith, people will talk about you. John could not have heard if others had not spoken. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A minister’s chief joy:—
I. What is the great object of a minister’s desire on behalf of his people. 1. He longs to behold in them a holy consistency, a high state of heavenly affections, and a careful attention to the duties of morality. 2. In them he expects to find a steadiness that bids defiance to temptation, and cannot be diverted from its purpose, either by the allurements of sense or the terrors of persecution. 3. As a parent wishes to see in his children a gradual advancement towards maturity both in their bodily and intellectual faculties, so does a minister long for his people’s progress towards perfection.
II. Whence it is that the attainment of that object fills him with such exalted joy. 1. Because it is by this only that the ends of their ministry are answered. 2. Because by this only can God be glorified. 3. Because without this they can have no hope of ever meeting their people in the realms of bliss. (Sketches of Sermons.)
The minister’s greater joy:—
I. The highest spiritual relationship—“my children.” 1. Solicitude. 2. Endearment.
II. The greatest possible rejoicing. 1. It is the greater joy arising out of the greater subject. Man’s salvation is God’s greater work. 2. It is the greater joy on account of the greater influence. The converts were exposed to sharp temptations, and subjected to fiery persecutions. 3. It is the greater joy on account of the greater prospect. (T. Davies, M.A.)
4. ‘The elder’ regarded Gaius as his child, much as all those to whom he addressed his first letter were his ‘dear children’. He had a fatherly affection for them (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14–16; 1 Thess. 2:11) and his joy as a parent was bound up in their welfare (cf. 1 Thess. 3:1–10). In particular he rejoiced if his children were continuing to walk in the truth (cf. the similar statement in 2 John 4). This expression, which has the definite article (en tē alētheia), explains the meaning of the two earlier phrases in the previous verse, ‘your truth’ (‘the truth of your life’, rv, rsv; ‘your faithfulness to the truth’, niv) and ‘how you continue to walk in the truth’ (which has no definite article). To walk in (‘follow’, rsv) the truth is more than to give assent to it. It means to apply it to one’s behaviour. Whoever ‘walks in the truth’ is an integrated believer in whom there is no dichotomy between profession and practice. On the contrary, there is in him an exact correspondence between creed and conduct. Such conformity of life to the truth on the part of his children brought John greater joy than anything else. To him truth mattered. The alternative reading of charin, ‘favour’ (meaning ‘no greater favour from God’), for charan (joy), followed by the Vulgate, and adopted by Westcott and Hort perhaps because it is found in the Codex Vaticanus, is almost certainly a copyist’s error. ‘Joy’ is much more strongly supported.
4 / Literally, the first part of v. 4 reads, “Greater than these, I do not have joy.” Given the problems the Elder faces, hearing that his children are still on his side, i.e., are still walking in the truth, is the best news possible.
The sense of intimacy among the Johannine Christians is evident from the writer’s language in vv. 1–4. He calls Gaius his “dear friend” (lit., “beloved,” vv. 1–2). He refers to the messengers who have told him of Gaius’ loyalty as “brothers” (v. 3). This is a common designation for members of the community in these epistles (1 John 2:9–11; 3:10–17; 4:20–21; 5:16; 3 John 5, 10) and certainly for them goes back to Jesus’ post-resurrection reference to his disciples as his “brothers” (John 20:17; cf. John 21:23). The Elder also continues to call his readers my children, those for whom he feels a fatherly compassion and responsibility. He uses two different Greek words interchangeably (a common Johannine technique of stylistic variation, cf. John 21:15–17) for them as his children (teknon or teknion, in 1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 5:21; 3 John 4; and paidion, in 1 John 2:14, 18). Jesus called his disciples teknia (John 13:33) in the upper room and paidia on the seashore after his resurrection (John 21:5). The author’s use of these terms for his community directly reflects Jesus’ use of them for his disciples. The Johannine community continues the intimacy which was experienced among the loyal eleven apostles. (See also the note on “fictive kin” relationships in 2 John 13).
4 It was the news of this which had given great joy to the elder (v. 3), and he now emphasizes that this was no merely conventional remark by affirming that he cannot have any greater cause of joy21 than the knowledge that his spiritual “children” are living according to the truth. “Children” is a word used especially by Paul to refer to his own converts (1 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 2:22); in the same way the implication here may be that the elder had led Gaius to faith in Jesus Christ, but he may simply be using this phrase to refer to people under his pastoral care, to whom he adopted a fatherly attitude. In any case, the elder makes it clear that his supreme concern as a pastor is to help other people to know the truth and to live by it.
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