Friday, September 11, 2009

3 John 5-14

V5-14 – 5Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. 9I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 11Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone – and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. 13I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

John continues to commend and encourage Gaius for his behavior. One commentator elaborates, “In the Early Church there were itinerant evangelists and missionaries. They left their full-time labors and they devoted themselves to the spread of the gospel. They traveled from church to church and they launched out to preach the gospel to Gentiles in places where the gospel could not be heard, and Gaius is welcoming these traveling evangelists and missionaries who love the truth into his home. He’s encouraging them. He’s supporting them. He’s giving them food and means that they can go about their missionary labors…even when he doesn’t have a personal relationship with those teachers. Some of these teachers he knows – they’re brothers that he knows – but others, John says, are strangers. When they first come, he doesn’t even know them. They’re certified by the church; they’re faithful in their doctrine; but he didn’t know them before. But he takes them in and he shows them hospitality. And John in v5-6 says, ‘Well done, Gaius! That’s how we ought to be behaving towards missionaries, Gaius. Keep it up! Way to go!’"

John gives three reasons why Gaius and others should show this kind of hospitality to missionaries. First, they are working “for the sake of the Name.” They presumably left their homes, land, jobs, inheritances, and maybe even families to sow the seed, to spread the Word of God, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s a good reason to support missionaries. Second, they have no other means of support. These missionaries did not rely solely on support from their local congregation, and they wouldn’t dare ask the pagans to whom they went for money. There’s usually a catch when someone asks for money first, before telling good news. No, these evangelists gave the gospel at no charge to all who would hear. And they needed support from people like Gaius. One commentator notes, “One day when they become believers they too can support missionaries to go to unbelievers, but until then we who are believers now will be the ones who will support those who are going to tell the good news.” Third, we should support missionaries because we are all parts of one Body, sharing in the work of Christ, the advancement of God’s Kingdom. When we support missionaries, we cooperate for the truth.

John moves now into the negative reason for his writing to Gaius. He has positively encouraged him, but now he has to remind him of the reason for the positive encouragement. There was a man named Diotrephes, who apparently forbade helping missionaries – maybe for good reason, out of caution or inability to distinguish between the godly and false teachers. He went so far as to excommunicate anyone in this local congregation who dared to “welcome the brothers.”

John gives Gaius six reasons to disregard Diotrephes and to continue helping Christian missionaries. First, Diotrephes has control issues – he “loves to be first.” This is a personal attack, but it must have been the truth. Diotrephes wanted the power in this local congregation, and perhaps he saw John as trying to take it away. But submission to apostolic authority would have been the better solution. Second, he “will have nothing to do with” John and those who side with him on this issue. Again, refusal to submit to apostolic authority is a clear problem. Diotrephes is rejecting Jesus’ “last shall be first” teaching, and the contrast between him and Jesus is obvious. Third, Diotrephes is “gossiping maliciously.” A disciple of Christ should not do such a thing. Fourth, “he refuses to welcome the brothers.” Diotrephes is condemned for failing to do the very thing for which Gaius is commended. Fifth, “he also stops those who want to” help missionaries. This reminds me of Romans 1:32, which proclaims the nadir of the downward sinful spiral, when you not only practice sinful behavior but you approve of those who join you. In this case, Diotrephes is prohibiting righteous behavior. Sixth and finally, this man is excommunicating church members he finds supporting traveling missionaries.

Notice that the reasons John gives begin with attitudes and character and then extend to behavioral issues. Looking only at Diotrephes’ behavior, we might not be able to discern his motive; he may have been trying to protect the church from potential false teachers. But once we capture his selfishness and pride, we can then more clearly see that his behavior aligns negatively with his faulty character. Robert Lewis Dabney once said that “second only to Adam the most representative man is Diotrephes who wants to be first among them.” One preacher says, “There are so many Christian leaders who want to be first. They want to be preeminent. That’s what they desire. They want to be. It’s about them. And John is saying to Gaius and to this whole congregation and to us today, that is not what a Christ-wrought Christian leader looks like. A true Christian leader is here to serve the truth not his own self-interest.”

In v11, John says to do the obvious – don’t imitate evil, for “anyone who does evil has not seen God.” Instead, imitate good, for “anyone who does what is good is from God.” John is applying the moral test that he noted in 1 John, that the gospel when embraced by faith always means a transformation of character. It always shows itself forth in a morally transformed life. Diotrephes doesn’t appear from his fruits to know anything of grace or even the love of Christ. But John does point Gaius to one – Demetrius – who does exhibit the fruits of faith. “Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone.” This man is worthy of emulation. One commentator says, “He has a good testimony to his character from the whole congregation.” But even if he lacked the testimony of others, his godly character is self-evident from “the truth itself.” Demetrius had orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right behavior), coordination between the faith that he professes to believe and the life that he actually lives. Besides the evidence of others’ testimony and the truth itself, Demetrius also has the commendation of John and those with him. And Gaius can trust this testimony, knowing that John speaks the truth. Now we don’t know much about Demetrius, but he is trustworthy and emulation-worthy, and that’s a fine compliment to have your name recorded in Scripture as being such a person.

John has effectively with this letter given Gaius the task of reuniting this congregation apart from Diotrephes. John has more to say (v13), but he’d rather come and talk in person (see 2 John). So John ends with a short blessing, that of peace. It’s the shalom of God that Gaius needs to stand firm in and with this divided congregation. And the conclusion, albeit unusual, is entirely appropriate, given the context. The friends send their greetings to you; and you, Gaius, are to greet the friends by name. There were likely many fractured friendships in this congregation, but that can restored thanks to the peace we have from God. We ought to go longing for God’s blessing and at the same time longing to be the blessing of being a gospel friend. We ought to seek out gospel friends by name and bless them with the peace of God.

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