i have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
3 John 4
It is not universally agreed upon exactly which of John’s books was the last, but it is generally expected to have been either his third epistle or the Revelation. I lean toward his epistle being his last, and it certainly captures his spirit.
Jesus called John and his brother James the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), and though we do not know exactly why Jesus gave them that name, it could have likely been because they wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the unbelieving villages (Luke 9:54). Christ responded to this desire, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56). Then the gospel added that Jesus led the disciples to another village.
It is intriguing to see John’s change, from being a “Son of Thunder” to becoming the Apostle of Love. His brother James was the first of the apostles to be martyred, and tradition has it that John was the last of the apostles to die, living even beyond 100 A.D. He developed a loving, fatherly tone – softening from the hard righteous crusader to becoming the gracious, loving beloved servant-leader. He learned to give a witness of the love of God to the lost world through patient endurance, and not through calling down fire from the heavens.
Though scholars give different dates on John’s writings, there is general agreement that he wrote them as an old man. Very likely Paul was in heaven for a generation before John wrote any of his books we have in our Bibles. His faith had matured in this time, it had seasoned, and he had grown. In his gospel he not only used the word “love” more than any other New Testament writer, but he ever referred to himself throughout his gospel as “the one Jesus loved.” This was not to say that Jesus did not love others, or loved John more, just that this became John’s new understanding of himself. Who am I? I am the one Jesus loved!
Because Jesus loved him, he loved others. In his last words he turns in compassion toward the believers and blesses them, urging them to be faithful, but saying it in a loving and kind way. No threats. No bombastic speech. No guilt-inducing twists. Just a simple statement of what brought him joy.
As we grow in Christ through our life, our joy should come more from seeing the spiritual progress in the lives of others around us, than through ourselves being accepted or praised or even affirmed. We delight in encouragement not out of a need to be encouraged alone, but often more out of the happiness of seeing the other person’s growth in their faith – not because we need to hear it but because they need to say it.
For several decades John had been fading physically, despite the fact that he lived to such a ripe old age. He knew, as we all should, that the end of his physical life will come one day. His heart turned toward the succeeding generations. It is sobering to consider that people will probably not remember how smart we were after we are gone, nor how powerful we were, nor how talented we were. They will remember best what we thought about them. This is the legacy that John left and it touched so many people, and continues to touch them.
There is a word of encouragement here for us all: Be patient with our own spiritual growth. We must let God do it in His time and in His way, realizing that He works with eternity in mind. Miles Stanforth in his classic, The Principles of Spiritual Growth, wrote these words:
It seems that most believers have difficulty in realizing and facing up to the inexorable fact that God does not hurry in His development of our Christian life. He is working from and for eternity! So many feel they are not making progress unless they are swiftly and constantly forging ahead.*
Any time we try to hurry in our maturing we seem to be dominated not by a loving spirit but by a spirit of competition. The method of God in our maturity is to simply do the work in His time and in His way. What is begun below will be finished in heaven, so we should relax and rest in Him.
Look forward to more growth, do not be in despair and defensiveness on where you are or where you are not at this stage of life. Look forward to the opportunities and the people He has sent your way. Value and cherish them. Love them. Pour your life into them, and you will have a lasting legacy.