“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” 3 John 4
I’m not a parent myself*, but I imagine that every parent would agree with John – that there is no greater joy than knowing that your children are making good decisions, living honest and honorable lives, and especially that they are walking with God. It is what every parent seeks, works hard for, prays for, hopes for.
But John is not talking about his physical children. He is writing this to Gaius whom he loves dearly. Gaius is not his physical child – he is John’s disciple.
Paul often uses the imagery of children to talk about those whom he is pouring his life into. He refers to Timothy, his closest disciple, several times as his child and his son. When he writes to the Galatians, he uses the metaphor of birth labor to describe his involvement in their lives to see them become more like Christ (Galatians 4:19). He tells the Corinthians that he became their father through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15). In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul compares his involvement in their lives as he disciples them to being both a mother and a father.
Even though I’m not a parent, I am still able to deeply understand how John feels. That’s because the Lord has graciously enabled me to disciple dozens of women over the years, especially when I worked with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ). One of my very first disciples in 1987 is serving on staff with Cru with her husband. When I arrived at Clemson University in 1994, the Lord gave me an incredible group of freshmen women to pour my life into for four years. All the women who were in that Bible study for all of those years are still walking with the Lord. It amazes me, overwhelms me, and gives me great joy. These are just a few of the “children” God has graciously given me. How thankful I am for His work in their lives and the ways He is using them for His kingdom wherever they are.
John’s statement gives me encouragement. One is that all of us can experience the joy of children walking in the truth whether we are physical parents or not. Paul never got married, but he saw himself as having children everywhere he went. I hope that is encouraging for all women who are infertile, those who may have lost a child, and those who never married or married too late to have their own children. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, let’s go after making disciples and having children anyway!
Another encouragement is the reminder of a way to have great joy. Of course, Jesus said that He came that His joy would be in us and that our joy may be made full (John 15:11), and joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). So whether we are making disciples or not, we can have joy. But if you are struggling with joy, consider pouring your life into someone else to encourage them to know and walk with Christ. Proverbs 11:25b says, “He who waters will himself be watered.” As we give to others, it comes back to us. When you feel “dry”, sometimes the best thing to do is give to someone else.
Jesus calls all of us to have “children”. In Matthew 28:18-20, He commands us to make disciples of all the nations. This is His plan to spread His kingdom both near and far (Acts 1:8). You don’t have to have a seminary degree to make disciples. You just have to be a few steps ahead of the person you are discipling. Of course, for those who are parents, their children are their disciples. But God calls all of us to go further, to pour our lives into others like Paul and John did, and to make disciples who walk in the truth and make disciples of their own. THIS is a source of great joy!
Who could you disciple? Maybe it is a co-worker. Maybe another woman at your church. Maybe a neighbor. They don’t necessarily have to be younger than you in age. It’s a step of faith and a commitment of time and energy and love, but the joy it brings as you see God work in their lives is worth it.
*Full disclosure – When I got married, I became a step-mother to two boys who were in their early twenties. While I love both of them, I know that it is never the same as being their birth parent.