Third John – Study #2 (3 John 9-11)
Imitate What is Good
John the Elder and Apostle wrote this short personal letter to Gaius, a Christian he loved in truth. Gaius lived his life according to the truth God had made known, and had a good reputation for this. As men traveled around promoting the teachings and work of Christ Gaius gave them a place to stay and cared for them, even sending them on their way with supplies. Hearing these good reports about Gaius stirred great joy in the Apostle.
But there was a problem in the church where Gaius was part of the fellowship.
9. I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.
John had written something to the church previously. We don’t know for sure what letter he is referring to. Some have suggested that he was referring to 2nd John which had been circulated to the churches. Others believe it was a letter which was not intended to be one of the inspired books of the Bible. It doesn’t effect the meaning of this letter either way. Diotrephes was obviously aware of this other writing.
John introduces us to this man named Diotrephes.
There is an obvious contrast here. Gaius was presented as one walking in the truth. Diotrephes rejected what John had formerly written, and was intolerant, proud, oppressive, and un-hospitable.
John was not trying to inform Gaius who would have had first hand knowledge of all this. He was writing to deal with the problem introduced by this troublemaker in the church.
Diotrephes loved preeminence. The expression in the original Greek text most literally means he was “the lover-of-being-first of them”.
It appears that he had little regard for the church order God gives in Scripture. Each local church is to be ruled and shepherded by Elders working together for the spiritual benefit of the congregation by faithfully applying God’s word. This man wanted to have things done his way. He loved having top authority over others.
Instead of having a servant’s heart he loved power and prestige. This is not the way Jesus taught us in Matthew 20:26-28, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Diotrephes was not treating the Apostles as brothers in Christ. John says that he does not “receive” us. He showed no respect for the apostolic office. The “us” would mean either John and those with him as he writes, or John and Gaius together. He obviously was not treating them as fellow members of the family of Christ. In verse 10 he uses the same word pointing out that he also does not “receive” the brothers in the church.
John explained that the actions of Diotrephes needed to be exposed.
10. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
John saw a need to have these deeds called to attention. He said that if he came to visit the church he would deal directly with the Diotrephes situation. But he would not take authoritative action against him alone. John respected the church order God set up in his word. He would not come in and defy the authority of their local Elders. His method would be to call attention to this person’s misdeeds. More literally the Greek text says, “I will remind them of the works which he does.”
They were all certainly aware of the acts of Diotrephes. All John had to do was to review the sins out in the open so they could be dealt with. Perhaps in doing so, and with his being there, he would help them not to be intimidated.
The deeds of Diotrephes are then mentioned. He unjustly accused the Apostles using wicked words against them. Very literally John said that this man was, “with evil words babbling about us.” It means he was saying meaningless and unfounded things about the Apostles and their followers. Paul used this same word when he warned Timothy about young widows. He said in 1st Timothy 5:13, “… they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” This kind of idle talk is nothing less than “gossip” and should not be listened to or tolerated. The 9th commandment (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20) forbids false witness as direct sin.
Diotrephes also opposed showing hospitality to brothers in the church.
10. … he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
Diotrephes was not satisfied with simply spreading false accusations about the believers, he went farther! He made it hard for traveling teachers sent out by the Apostles to help the church learn and grow. He refused to receive them himself, and he persecuted those who wanted to show them hospitality. He would stop those who want to help them, and he would try to have them removed from the church. No individual person has the authority to deny others the freedom to obey the revealed obediences God has commanded.
This appears to be a threat of excommunication. The power to bar someone from the sacrifices rested with the meeting of the Elders in Israel. Jesus gave that same power to the Apostles in Matthew 16 and 18. Clearly, from references in the Epistles and the Book of Acts, the Old Testament principle of excommunication continued in the church as carried out by the ruling Elders acting as a church court. Instead of baring the unrepentant from the sacrifices, they could keep them from partaking of the Lord’s Supper, or even remove them from membership in the church.
However, no one person acting alone was ever given that power in Old Israel or in the New Testament church. Excommunication in Scripture always required a decision by the church court that convincing evidence had been presented of heresy and a lack of submission to the authority Christ vested in the church.
The first concern in any matter of discipline is always to clarify and maintain God’s truth. That is done to uphold Christ’s teachings, and to reclaim believers who had been taken in by temptation.
There is the principle of imitating what is good.
11. Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
Humans have a tendency to model their behavior after others. This is part of our created nature. This is how parents are told to raise their children. The home and influences they are exposed to ought to show children how to live by God’s principles. This is one of the means God uses by which we all grow in Christ. This is also how we in our fallen nature are tempted to conform to evil.
Selecting our examples, those who influence us, is an important obedience. While we obviously should avoid as much influence by bad examples as possible, we need to seek out friends and places where our minds can be filled with good examples. Four times in the New Testament this word “imitate” is used: Here (3rd John 11) and in other passages this principle is very clearly taught.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.”
Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
In other places too we are told to follow good examples. Paul calls believers to follow his example in his First letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 4:16, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
That’s the way God designed our minds to work. Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
We should represent the moral nature of God as a model for others, as an example for them to follow. Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:16, “… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Our behavior reveals our relationship with God.
If we have been restored to fellowship with God through Christ, we should become good examples. Nobody will be a perfect example in this life. But if our lives show no change and no sanctification in progress, we lack evidence we are regenerated. When we see evidences in our lives of good works and love, we should be humbled by realizing that it shows Christ at work in us.
This was one of John’s main themes in 1 John.
1 John 2:29, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”
1 John 3:9-10, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”
1 John 5:18, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
None of these verses teach that spiritual or moral perfection is possible for any believer in this life. But there should be some evidence that sin and hatred toward other believers are not dominant in the life of one redeemed by Christ. The grammatical structures in theses verses clearly state that those who continue to serve sin as their master are not born of God. Those born of God have been delivered from the mastery of sin. Paul goes into much more detail about this in Romans 6, 7, and 8.
Our serious concern and prayer should be for God to be maturing us in Christ to care for one another’s true needs and to both conform to good godly examples and to be good examples to others.
Bob Burridge ©2017
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted