Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
A Minister's Chief Joy
3 John 4. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
THERE exists between a minister and his people a relation which may not unfitly be compared with that of a father and his children. The metaphorical expression of a father is more strictly applicable to those whom a minister "has begotten through the Gospel," but it needs not to be restricted to this sense: it may be used with greater latitude in reference to those over whom a minister watches, and for whose benefit he labors, with parental anxiety, especially where the person to whom the paternal relation is ascribed is somewhat advanced in years. It should seem that Gaius, to whom John wrote this epistle, was converted to the faith by the ministry of Paul: yet John properly includes him among his children, because he felt the same regard for him as for those who were the more immediate seals of his own ministry; the whole body of his people being in his different epistles frequently designated by that favorite appellation.
Respecting the state of Gaius' soul, the Apostle had heard the most satisfactory account; so that he could not show his anxiety for the bodily health of Gaius more strongly, than by wishing it to prosper in every respect, "even as his soul prospered." Having declared the joy which this information had afforded him, he states, in general, that he had no greater joy than what arose from such tidings as these.
From hence we shall take occasion to show,
1. What is the great object of a minister's desire in behalf of, his people.
To bring men to the acknowledgment of the truth is the first labor of a minister: and, until that has been effected, no other relation exists between him and them than that which he has by nature, or that which he has in common with all mankind. But when they have embraced the truth, and are become members of the family of Christ, then the minister seeks their advancement in the divine life.
Christianity, as experienced in the soul, is not a sentiment, but a habit: it not merely informs the mind, but regulates the life: and, while it introduces "men from darkness unto light, it turns them also from the power of Satan unto God." Having brought souls to an enjoyment of Christ, and to a conformity to his mind and will, the minister desires to see them walk in the truth,
He longs to behold in them a holy consistency; a high state of heavenly affections, and a careful attention to the duties of morality. Morality however will not satisfy him if detached from fellowship with God: nor will the most sublime fellowship with God in prayer and praise approve itself to him, if it be not accompanied with a conscientious discharge of every personal and relative duty.
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: he would have his converts to be "steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." A fixedness of mind he regards as absolutely essential to the Christian character; and he is never satisfied with the state of his people unless he find that, in the midst of the severest persecutions, they are enabled to say, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but finish my course with joy."
This is implied in the term "walking," which is a progressive motion necessary to the Christian life. There is no possibility of standing still in religion. Our motion, if not progressive, must be retrograde. Now, 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. He hopes to see in them a more entire devotedness of heart unto their God and Savior; evincing itself in a greater spirituality of mind, an increasing indifference to the things of time and sense, and a more laborious engagement in every good work—In a word, he wishes to see their progress like that of the sun in the firmament, "their path shining brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."
The emotions with which John beheld this conduct in Gaius were most sublime: and such they will be in every faithful minister; as will appear, while we show,
II. Whence it is that the attainment of that object fills him with such exalted joy.
John was not inferior to any one of the Apostles in holy joy. He had been pre-eminently favored by his Lord and Savior, insomuch that he was known by the name of "the Disciple whom Jesus loved." He had beheld his Lord transfigured on Mount Tabor, and shining forth in all the glory of the Godhead. He had lain in the bosom of his Lord, as on many other occasions, so especially on that evening, when the commemorative ordinance of the Lord's supper was instituted: yet even "he had no greater joy than to hear that his children walked in truth." Much more therefore may we expect that ministers, less favored than he, should have no joy more exalted than that which the sight or hearing of their people's prosperity affords them. This is their sublimest source of happiness;
1. Because it is by this only that the ends of their ministry are answered.
If the minister impart to his children "the sincere milk of the word," it is, "that they may grow thereby," or, if he set before them "the stronger meat" of the Gospel, it is, that those who are able to receive it may be the more nourished and strengthened for their future labors. If he see no growth in them, "he stands in doubt" whether they have ever been truly and savingly converted to the faith of Christ; and "he travails, as it were, a second time in birth with them, until Christ be fully and visibly formed in them." But when he beholds the plants, which he is daily watering, thriving, and diffusing all around the fragrance of holy and devout affections, he sees of the travail of his soul and is satisfied: and what the angels enjoyed at the first symptoms of their conversion, he enjoys from day to day: his very life is bound up in their welfare; and "he then lives, when they stand fast in the Lord."
2. Because by this only can God be glorified.
Nothing brings more dishonor to God than an inconsistent conduct in those who profess godliness. The very name of God is often blasphemed through the misconduct of those who call themselves his peculiar people. The ungodly world are not content with condemning the offending individual; "they speak evil of the way of truth" itself, as though that countenanced and even produced the evils that have been committed. On the other hand, "the person who brings forth much fruit glorifies God," and "by his well-doing puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men." To a minister who loves the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and is jealous for the honor of his name, nothing can be more delightful than to see truth triumphing over error, and the kingdom of Christ exalted on the ruins of Satan's empire. On every fresh report that is brought to his ears, he will exclaim, "Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigns!."
3. Because without this they can have no hope of ever meeting their people in the realms of bliss.
How joyful is the thought of that hour, when the minister shall go with his people into the presence of his God, saying, "Here am I, and the children you have given me!" And how glorious will be the recompense of his labors, when he shall "have them as his joy and crown of rejoicing" to all eternity! If an earthly parent hear of his children, that they are advancing visibly in everything that is good, so that, though he have no hope of seeing them in this world, he feels assured that he shall meet them again at the right hand of God, and dwell with them forever in his immediate presence; the thought of a temporary separation from them is swallowed up in the joy that the blessed prospect affords him. So it is with the spiritual Parent, when beholding or hearing of the prosperity of his children: for he knows that he shall "rejoice in the day of Christ, that he has not run in vain, or labored in vain."
Permit me now to address you,
1. In a way of retrospective inquiry.
What report must I hear of you? What report have you to give me of yourselves? Has your walk been consistent, uniform, progressive?—Be assured, I am prepared to rejoice in your welfare with a truly paternal joy.
2. In a way of prospective admonition.
Great and manifold are your dangers, whatever progress you may have made. That you may escape them, "take heed to God's word," and follow the steps of your blessed Lord: and look to him for all needful strength. "Be strong in him," and you shall "be more than conquerors through him."