I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face (3 John 13-14).
There are men and women of my acquaintance who have burnished their careers and professional reputations by writing handwritten notes of gratitude and encouragement. One friend, a healthcare professional, has built his practice into one of the top ten in the nation in no small part due to a habit of writing five "thank you" notes every day to patients and colleagues.
Receiving a handwritten note says that the writer cares enough to take the time and effort to let you know. It conveys a thoughtful consideration not achievable through the technological mediums of email or smart phone texts.
Sending a written communication can provide clarity, but it can also come off as harsh, indifferent, or cowardly. Every lover jilted by a "break-up" note, employee dismissed with a "pink slip" without explanation, unwitting spouse served with a summons to divorce court, and struggling soul censured by a cold written edict from a church official, knows this.
Written spiritual counsel and encouragement is important. That's what the New Testament is about. But taking the time to meet, explain, listen, understand and pray together has no substitute. An email or letter cannot convey tone of voice, demeanor or facial expression.
I have a client who needs to receive counsel in person. Putting advice in writing seems to convey a negative, authoritarian spirit to him and makes him anxious and anguished. If he can see my face when he hears my voice, he is able to receive the information with calm acceptance even when it is the same thing I've written.
John knows that sometimes putting it in writing, is not enough. His Third Letter is a private communication "to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth" (v 1). He writes as a spiritual mentor seeking to cement their relationship of friendship and hospitality.
John is grateful for Gaius' faithfulness. He writes the line often used by Christian parents, "There is no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (v 4).
John encourages Gaius to show hospitality and support for traveling missionaries so they do not have to accept support from non-believers thus compromising their mission (vs 5-8). He contrasts such caring help with the abusive actions of Diotrophes who refuses to acknowledge the restraint of spiritual authority, makes false accusations, arbitrarily refuses to welcome the same traveling missionaries, and even disfellowships other believers who want to welcome the visitors (vs 9-10).
Offering a simple test for discernment between those serving God's will and those pursuing their own selfish agendas, John admonishes Gaius, "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God" (v 11).
John gives a recommendation for the trustworthiness of Demetrius who carries the letter to Gaius. Then he tells Gaius, "I have a lot more things to tell you, but I would rather not use pen and ink. I hope to be there in person and have a heart to heart talk (vs 13-14, Msg).
I find this last thought endearing. In the love of Jesus Christ, John had been transformed from a volatile zealot seeking to fire-bomb a Samaritan village for rejecting Jesus to a tender-hearted shepherd (Luke 9:51-56; 1 John 1:1-4). He never tired of telling his flock about the Jesus "we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life" (1 John 1:1).
When John saw Jesus touch a leper, hold children on his lap and bless them, tenderly apply spit and clay to heal a blind man, affirm the worth of broken and fallen women, and wash the dirty, callused feet of his friends and his betrayer alike, it profoundly affected him. On the night before Jesus was crucified, tradition says that John reclined at the supper table with his head against Jesus chest and he felt Jesus' heartbeat (See John 13:23).
Whether that last is true or not, John referred to himself ever after as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23-25; 19:26-27; John 21:20-23, 24). He was the one disciple who found the courage to follow Jesus through his trial to the foot of the cross as he died (John 19:26).
Slick Power-Point lectures on the cosmic prophecies of the Book of Revelation have never conveyed the passion of John for Jesus to me. Preachers in suits and silk ties standing behind pulpit ramparts while thundering "And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free," never seem to me to know for themselves the love of Jesus that liberated John's heart. At the end of his gospel, John said there is a lot more to know about Jesus than was ever written down (John 20:30).
A wise, old theologian told me once, "Don't forget, Kent, that John saw Jesus and wants us to see him too. The Book of Revelation is 'the revelation of Jesus Christ,' not the revelation of John. Never take your eyes off Jesus."
John wrote to Gaius with no thought that his letter would show up in the canon of Scripture. He simply knew that kind hospitality and a personal conversation with a friend was the best way to share Jesus. It still is.
"O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him" (Ps 34:8).
Kent Hansen is a business and healthcare attorney from Corona, California. This essay first appeared in his weekly email devotional, "A Word of Grace for Your Monday." Kent's devotionals can be read on the C.S. Lewis Foundation blog at www.cslewis.org.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6590