New Testament Postcards – 3. Love in Action - A Tale of Three Men
3 John v. 1 speaks of Gaius—the man to whom John wrote his letter. v. 9 speaks of Diotrophes—an opponent of John. v. 12 speaks of Demetrius—a good and faithful man. Last Sunday - What should you do when false teachers come knocking at your door? This week - What should you do when godly teachers come to your door? Last week was about the bad guys, this week is about the good guys. Last week — Truth in action. This week —Love in action. This short letter contains a fascinating snapshot of 3 personalities in 1 first-century church. We don’t know where the church was located (we assume modern-day Turkey) or when the letter was written (we assume AD 80 - 95) but we do have these 3 names. 1. Gaius—A Generous Man (v. 1 – 8) v. 1 – 4 - Evidently a Christian leader in a local church who was both well-known and well-loved by John the apostle. He may have been led to Christ by John for the apostle counts him as among his spiritual “children.” John considers him to be a man of trustworthy character whose soul is prospering in the Lord. He is, in short, a fine Christian man. Look a bit closer – A. Balanced man - walking in the truth - built his life on the Word of God and maintained his Christian faith in the midst of temptation and persecution. v.6 - well-known for his love. Here is a man who walks in the truth and demonstrates his love—true spiritual balance. B. Faithful man – v. 3 refers to what he believes and v. 5 to the life he lives. He is faithful in belief and behaviour. Here is a man you can trust with your life. He knows what he believes and has the courage to stand behind it. No double-talk or veiled messages from Gaius. If he says it, you can count on it. C. Big-hearted man - refers to the way he treats ministers of the gospel – v. 5 - 8. In the earliest days of the Christian movement, churches were established by the apostles on their various journeys. Later they would send out ministers, teachers, prophets and evangelists to serve these new churches. These travelling ministers had to stay in homes of church members. The church leaders would welcome those travelling teachers and then send them on their way to their next appointment. Gaius excelled in this gift of hospitality even though these men were strangers to him. v. 8 adds the lovely thought that by supporting God’s workers we actually become “fellow workers” of the truth. That means that when we invest in missionaries - when we pray for them, write to them, give to support their work, when we share news of what they are doing for the kingdom of God -in a true sense we have become partners in their work even though they are on the other side of the world. Gaius was that kind of man. He welcomed God’s workers into his home, he supported them and sent them on their way so they could preach in other places. In so doing, he became a “fellow worker” with them and shared in their victories for the Lord. 2. Diotrophes—A Divisive Man v. 9 – 11 He is as bad as Gaius is good. John minces no words - A. Self-willed—"loves to be first.” Here is a man who pushes his way to the front of every line. He doesn’t simply want to be first, he has to be first, and he’ll do anything to get in the driver’s seat. B. Rebellious to spiritual authority - “will have nothing to do with us.” Remember who John is—the apostle whom Jesus loved. He walked with our Lord throughout his earthly ministry. Yet this Diotrophes arrogantly wants nothing to do with him. C. A Slanderer—"gossiping maliciously” - means to babble nonsensical slander and empty lies. D. Ungracious—"refuses to welcome the brothers” - means he refused to welcome the travelling teachers—the very ones Gaius gladly put up in his own home. So Diotrophes rejects both the apostle and his representatives. E. An Abuser of power—"stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” Here is the worst of it - this man has taken control of the leadership of the church and has cast out anyone who disagrees with him. This is terrible for the simple reason that it is one thing to do evil yourself, but it is another thing altogether—and much worse—to oppose those who wish to do good. The First Church Boss He is the first in a long line of men (and women) who rise to power in the local church only to use that power for ungodly ends. He is clearly influential, probably a pastor, an elder, a deacon, a chairman of some committee. He is a self-appointed big shot! He is ambitious, powerful and well-connected. When he speaks, others listen because he has a strong voice in the church. There was nothing wrong with his theology. Diotrophes is in the church as a leader but he doesn’t know God. Diotrophes was doing evil and John calls on Gaius not to follow his example. Diotrophes is an unsaved church member who has risen to a position of power. He’s probably orthodox in his theology but he is thoroughly ungodly in his methods. He is just as evil as the false teachers John warned about in 2 John—and probably much harder to spot because he says all the right words! Politics in the Church He “loves to be first.” I find this statement challenging because as a pastor, I enjoy leading the people of God. But there is fine line (sometimes almost invisible) between proper enjoyment and improper ambition. Sometimes people are surprised to discover that there is politics in the local church. But it’s true. In every church there are leaders and followers, there are those on the inside and those on the outside, there are newcomers, oldtimers and rising stars. For the most part, this is not bad in itself. However, occasionally someone will come in with ulterior motives. He finds the “in group” and attaches himself to it. Over time he gains respect and eventual authority. He may eventually become a leader himself. Only at that point do his bad motives become evident. By then it is often too late to stop him. How to Spot Diotrophes Here are 10 signs. 1. Talks too much—dominating every conversation. 2. Has a critical spirit toward those who disagree with him. 3. Always taking sides and counting noses to see who has the power. 4. Thinks he could do things better than those currently in leadership. 5. Has a rebellious attitude toward the leaders who are over him. 6. Focuses exclusively on his group of friends. 7. Argues endlessly over minor details of church life. 8. Takes it personally when his advice is not followed. 9. Clings to positions of authority at all costs. 10. Sees new people as a threat to his power. How does such a person emerge in a congregation? The first and most obvious way is through giving money. It may also happen through years of service in various volunteer positions. But on a deeper level, Diotrophes arises because godly people refuse to confront this evil attitude when it first surfaces. 3. Demetrius—A Reputable Man v. 12 Here is a man with a good reputation. In biblical terms he is a man “above reproach"—meaning that his character is so strong that no accusation made against him can stand. He was grounded in the truth to the point that the truth itself could speak on his behalf. Demetrius was consistent in every area of life. There you have the 3 men of 3 John: Gaius the generous, Diotrophes the troublemaker and Demetrius the faithful man of God. These 3 men were all known to John and apparently were found together—for a time at least—in the same 1st-century church. 5 Applications A. There is no such thing as a perfect church because there are no perfect people. When you get married, you are really marrying 3 people: The person you think you’re marrying, The person you’re actually marrying, The person they’re going to become in the future. The person who marries you is marrying 3 people too. No wonder marriage is so tough. It involves 6 different people! For marriage to succeed you need 3 things: patience, forgiveness and a long-term perspective. The same is true of joining a church. You’re actually joining 3 churches: The church you think you’re joining, the church you’re actually joining and the church it will some day become. That’s the reason people sometimes join a church in high excitement only to bail out later in disillusionment. You need that same patience, forgiveness and long-range perspective to stay in the same church year after year. No, we’re not perfect. No church is. If you do find a perfect church, don’t join it. You’ll ruin it! B. We become like the people we follow. John urges Gaius not to follow evil but to follow what is good. In the end, our lives mould themselves after the folks we follow after. Who are you following? What kind of friends do you spend time with? If you hang out with Gaius, you’ll be generous like Gaius. If you hang with Diotrophes, you’ll be grumpy, complaining and a troublemaker. If Demetrius is your friend, you’ll soon become a faithful man. Let’s flip that principle over for a moment. If we all become like you, what kind of church would we have? C. The spirit of Diotrophes is alive and well today. I’ve seen my share of church problems. Most church splits happen over 2 issues: money and power. Who’s got the money and who has the power? Even many of the splits that seem to be over doctrine often boil down to these 2 basic elements. D. There is enormous wisdom in shared leadership. It’s harder for a Diotrophes to arise when there is a system of checks and balances. Not just 1 pastor - plurality of elders and deacons and deaconesses. There truly is safety in numbers. Diotrophes thought he was the head of the church. That’s always a huge mistake. If you wonder about me, let me state plainly that I am not the “head of the church.” Jesus Christ is. That’s his position and he will share it with no man or woman. As your pastor, I serve as the shepherd of this congregation, as an elder I serve alongside the other elders, as a church member I am simply one part of the congregation. That is exactly how it should be. When did I die on the cross and rise from the dead? Only one Man has done that—and he is the true head of this and every other Christian church. I’m here on temporary assignment from the Lord, even though its been 24 years. That’s an important perspective, because it reminds me that I’m here for awhile, but the church was here before me, and God willing, will be here long after I am gone. E. The important thing is to know Jesus Christ personally. v.7 - They went out “for the sake of the Name.” Jesus is the greatest name on earth—the name above all other names. Everything we do, we do for the sake of the Name of Jesus. That why we have Discipleland—for the sake of the Name. That’s why we have Youthworx—for the sake of the Name. That’s why we spend over 20% on world missions—for the sake of the Name. That’s why we have 3 worship services, that’s why we preach and pray and sing and study and worship and give and serve—all for the sake of the Name. Do you know Jesus? Have you ever met him personally? His name is the greatest name in all the universe. It doesn’t matter who else you know or don’t know. You may know leaders and kings and presidents, but if you don’t Jesus, you’ve missed the reason for your own existence. Do you know him?