Imitate what is good - 3 John 0

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 12th August 2007.

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During the nineteen twenties a millionaire lawyer called Eddie O’ Hare, also known as "Easy Eddie" was involved in illegal gambling rackets with the notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone. Eddie had the patent rights to the mechanical rabbits used in dog racing and he was brought into the Hawthorne Kennel Club by Capone as a major partner. The races were usually always fixed and although dog racing was illegal Capone and Eddie kept the matter tied up in the courts. This allowed them to continue to run their tracks. When dog racing was finally declared illegal Eddie and Capone simply switched their tracks over to horseracing, which was legal, and continued to fix races and rake in money. In addition to his race track interests Eddie performed a variety of legal services for the Capone Mob. He looked after mob members arrested for murder, gambling and prostitution and set up elaborate real estate and stock transactions for Capone, himself and other insiders of the gang. There was however another side to Eddie. Eddie was a father. He had a son and daughters whom he loved dearly, and the wealth he had amassed allowed him to shower everything money could buy upon his beloved children. And in many ways he was a good father. Eddie sought out the best schools for his children and spent lots of time with them attending their school productions and sporting events, and just hanging around together.

But there was one thing Eddie's money couldn't buy - integrity and respectability. Eddie's son finished high school and declared he wanted to go into the naval academy at Annapolis. But to get there you needed more than money. You needed the approval of the congressman for your state. Eddie decided his son's future was more important than his own. He approached the authorities and indicated he would be willing to testify against Capone. On the basis of Eddie's witness Al Capone went to jail for 11 years and his stranglehold on Chicago was broken. Eddie's son also got into the Annapolis Naval Academy. But for Eddie the price was severe. Capone swore he would kill Eddie and in 1939 Eddie was shot as he drove his car home from work. In his pocket the police found a poem which read: “The clock of life is wound but once And no man has the power To tell just when the hands will stop At late or early hour. To lose one's wealth is sad indeed, To lose one's health is more, To lose one's soul is such a loss That no man can restore. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.”

            Well it’s true to say that what we consider most important will affect the way we act and think. For Eddie O’Hare it meant putting his family first because that was what was most important to him. And for us there may be all sorts of things that are important to us and which affect the way we live our lives. It might be family, it might be our jobs, it might be our health, any number of things. But for the Christian, there must be one overriding priority which affects everything we do. And that it is to know and love and the Lord Jesus Christ. And really that is the key issue at the heart of the letter of 3 John which we are looking at this morning. John is writing a personal letter to a friend of his called Gaius and Gaius is a man whose actions reveal what his priorities are. He is a wonderful example of someone who walks the walk of the Christian faith, whose puts his money where his mouth is, spiritually speaking.

Now you may remember from 2 John that one of the issues that John was concerned with was the presence of false teachers in the church. And John had warned his readers that they must have nothing to do with such teachers. But he’d also urged them to love each other. And one of the ways that Gaius was showing his love was by welcoming and showing hospitality to faithful teachers, quite possibly sent out from John himself, who were passing through town on their mission work. But others in the church had not welcomed such teachers and had in fact opposed them and those in the church who were hospitable to them. And their actions revealed a great deal about the state of their hearts. It was a very painful situation for this church to be in. In effect it was divided from within and the trouble centred on the leader, a man called Diotrephes. So John writes to encourage Gaius and send a warning to Diotrephes about his actions. And he puts the letter into the hands of a faithful man called Demetrius. And it’s these three characters, Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius that the letter revolves around, and those three characters will be our focus this morning. Because as with 2 John, although 3 John is a very specific letter addressing a specific issue, yet it will challenge us as to what our priorities are and as to how we are doing in our walk with Christ. So we’ll look at the letter under three headings:  

1) Gaius- A Real Friend (Vv 1-8)

2) Diotrephes- A Real Fraud (Vv 9-10)

3) Demetrius- A Real Follower (Vv 11-14)

1) Gaius- A Real Friend (Vv 1-8)

So first, we see Gaius who is a real friend. So let’s read from verse 1: “The elder,      

To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.” Now clearly John is very close to Gaius because he calls him a dear friend no less than four times in the letter. This is someone that John loved very much. And notice that his love in verse 1 is in the truth. We saw in 2 John that that phrase meant that they share a common gospel heart. They both love the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to follow him. They are both Christians. And John loves him in the truth of the gospel. But there are two reasons in particular that John is pleased with his friend.

a) Faithfulness to the Truth- First because Gaius is faithful to the truth. Let’s read from verse 2: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Now what’s interesting here is that John is concerned for two things. He’s concerned for Gaius’ physical well being and his spiritual well being. So he prays for Gaius’ health that he might enjoy good health and that all may go well with him. So it’s not wrong at all to lay before the Lord our concerns for one another’s physical well being. We should be praying for each other in this way. Maybe for health issues, safety on journeys, job worries, family issues and a whole host of others things. It’s not unspiritual to pray about those things. But notice what else John is interested in. It’s Gaius’ spiritual well being. And in fact that is what really gets him going. So he says in verse 3: “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” This what John is really excited about. He delights that Gaius is still walking in the truth. That is that he is pressing on as a Christian, that he is growing in his love and knowledge of the Saviour. In all the ups and downs that Gaius is facing in the church and in his personal life, the best thing about him, according to John, is that he is pressing on in the truth. That he is faithful to the truth.

            Now we saw last week the challenge that this gives us to consider what we are really most excited about. For John it is spiritual growth and it shows where his heart truly lies. It lies with God and God’s kingdom concerns. As Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God. That is the most important thing. And John’s concern for Gaius reflects that kingdom priority. But I want to suggest to us a slightly different application from this joy of John’s. You see if our greatest need is to keep going in the faith and if that is what excites the apostle the most, then we must make sure that we are pressing on. In short, every so often it is worth giving ourselves a spiritual health check up.  

            Now this was suggested to me as I reflected on whether Gaius would have gone to his doctor or not. Clearly he didn’t need to as he was in good health. But maybe he might have had a check up or two in his time. But far more important is a spiritual check up. So imagine we go into Dr. Jesus’ spiritual health clinic, and as we sit before Doctor Jesus, he begins with our heart. He gets out his spiritual stethoscope and he asks us, “How is your heart? Where is it centred? Is it on me, he asks, or something else, some ambition, some person, some possession? Where is your heart?” Then Doctor Jesus examines our eyes. He wants to know what we have been looking at this last week. What have we allowed our eyes to feast on? Is it unhelpful images on the internet or the TV? Is it alluring advertising or the like? Then Dr. Jesus asks us to show him our tongues. What have we been saying? How have we used our tongues? Are we trying to get rid of bitterness or anger or malice or distasteful jokes? Next Dr. Jesus takes a blood test. He wants to know what our blood is like. Is it running with the Bible? In other words are we taking in the Word of God, reading it and chewing it over, so that like the preacher of the 17th century John Bunyan, our blood will be said to be Bibline? And finally Dr. Jesus tests our reflexes. Like doctors might knock our knees with a hammer, so Dr. Jesus wants to know how we react to sin? Do we hate it? Does sin still hurt us and grieve us so we will want to get rid of it? You see that’s the sort of spiritual MOT that we need. We need to be in the business of examining ourselves from time to time to see if we are making good spiritual progress. Because whilst our physical health is important, John says that our spiritual health is even more important. And that is what he rejoices in with his friend Gaius. He’s faithful to the truth.

b) Faithfulness to the brothers- But not only that, he is also faithful to the brothers. Let’s read from verse 5: “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” Now what seems to be happening here is that Gaius is welcoming into his home some travelling Christian missionaries. He doesn’t know them personally, but he is taking them in, supporting them and encouraging them and giving them food and shelter. And John wants to encourage him to keep doing it, to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. And notice that it is for the sake of the name that these missionaries went out. In other words, they bear the name of Jesus. They are his ambassadors. So when these missionaries turn up on Gaius’ doorstep it is as if the Lord himself is there. And Gaius is to treat them as he would the Lord, in a manner worthy of God. Now this is in stark contrast to Diotrephes as we will see in a moment, because he flatly refuses to give these men the support they need. And if Gaius was one of the few in the church that actually stuck his neck out and did it, then he would value the support of the apostle. But the fact is says John, Gaius is doing it and he is faithful. He is loving as Jesus commanded and putting his faith into action. His love for Jesus is seen in practical love for others. And as such he is commended and encouraged by the apostle. And so says John “we ought to show hospitality to such men so that we might work together for the truth.” This is gospel partnership says the apostle. We ought to give practical support to these missionaries and so be partners with them in their ministry.

            So Gaius then is a great example of faithfulness in practical love towards fellow believers, even if he has never met them. Now it has to be said that we don’t often have the opportunity to put up travelling missionaries. But that is not to say that we cannot be in partnership with those who take the gospel out. One of the great things here at St. John’s is that we are in partnership with a number of different mission partners around the world, from here in Hull to Australia. And it’s perhaps us worth thinking about how we as individuals, and not just as a church, can support our mission partners. Maybe it’s through writing a letter or an email. All our mission partners say how greatly encouraging letters are. It might even be by visiting them personally. Certainly it’s not too far to go and visit Hull Youth For Christ at the Boulevard. It might be supporting them financially. It might mean a commitment to pray specifically for a particular mission partner regularly. The wonderful thing is that we too can be partners with them even though we don’t leave Hull. And that is part of what it means to love in the way Gaius did. You see the wonderful thing about Gaius was that his love for Christ showed itself in practical love for others. And that is always the way in the NT. Your love for Jesus is seen in the way you treat fellow Christians. The way you treat the present disciples reveals a great deal about what you think of the absent King. Because believers are Jesus’ children. So like the spiritual check up of before, we need to consider how we are doing in the loving stakes. Are we loving fellow believers practically, sacrificially. It means not just supporting those overseas. For true love begins at home, with fellow believers around us. Those in our Home groups, those in our fellowship. Are we willing to get involved when trouble strikes, perhaps to put people up, to give people meals, to support people in need. For every person, there are a thousand different applications. The point is genuine Christianity loves. And for Gaius it was second nature. Could we say the same? For Gaius you see was a real friend.

2) Diotrephes- A Real Fraud (Vv 9-10)

Which is precisely what Diotrephes was not. So let’s look secondly at Diotrephes, a real fraud. And to find out what John thinks of Diotrephes we need to read verses 9-10: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So 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.” Now what seems to have happened here is that John has written to the church about various issues, probably concerning the missionaries and the fact that the church needs to welcome them, but his letter has fallen on deaf ears. And the centre of the trouble seems to be this man Diotrephes. And notice particularly how John describes him. “He loves to be first.” Now there has been a great deal of speculation as to what Diotrephes was up to, but one thing is clear. This man was a domineering force in this local church. He might have been one of the chief elders, or he may have been a member with a lot of power. Either way, he has great deal of clout in the church to such an extent that seems to be the driving force behind everything that happens. He refuses to bow to John’s apostolic authority, because John says that Diotrephes refuses to have anything to do with John and his friends. And so Diotrephes has isolated himself and proudly taken up the reins of leadership and is imposing himself on this church. “He loves to be first.” Maybe he loves the power, maybe he loves the attention, maybe he is actually a weak man that will crush others to make sure he is still in charge to cover up his own insecurities. Maybe he genuinely believes that what he is doing is for the good of the church and the gospel. But John’s view is clear- he loves to be first. The reality is Diotrephes is a proud man whose hunger for power has caused him to neglect the brothers. So not only does he refuse to welcome John and his friends, but also verse 10 he is gossiping maliciously about John. It’s often the way isn’t it? When our authority is questioned, then the smear campaign begins. We try and knock our opponents’ character or their reputation or their integrity or their motives. We slander them and seek to undermine them. And says John, Diotrephes even withholds his love from the travelling missionaries. He refuses to welcome the brothers. And he even puts out of the church those who try and welcome the missionaries and give them a bed for the night. This man is so insecure that he bullies people into acting against their consciences, and if they disagree, then he shows them the door. Disagree and you’re out. You’re booted out of the church! That was Diotrephes’ model of leadership. He’s proud, self centred, authoritarian, without a loving bone in his body, and to cap it all he slanders those who oppose him. Not exactly from the Jesus school of leadership is it? Not loving servant leadership at all!

            Now the big danger for us is that the Diotrephes’ are still with us today. And I want to suggest that we look in our own hearts first of all to see whether we are guilty of the same charges. Because many of us will have positions within the fellowship and it’s very tempting to fall into that same trap of wanting to be first. Perhaps as Home group leaders or student Bible student group leaders or leaders of Tuesday Group or children’s groups. And the danger is we impose ourselves on others instead of serving them. The power goes to our heads, and when we are questioned we lash out and either slander those who disagree or seek to get rid of them by other means. We tend to bristle against authority and just want to do things our own way. And for those who are strong characters, that is an especially big danger. And it’s a danger too for the overall leadership of a church fellowship. Some will know the pain of being involved in churches which have been torn apart by division and struggles over leadership, and often at the heart is a Diotrephes, a man who loves to be first and imposes his will on all and sundry. And what is interesting about Diotrephes is that John does not take him to task for doctrinal reasons. It doesn’t look like Diotrephes is a false teacher. In fact he may have been the most sound and clear person in the church. His problem was his heart. He was proud and he loved to be first. So you could be the soundest most theologically clear leader and yet still be fatally flawed in this area of pride. So please pray for those with any sort of leadership responsibilities here at St. John’s. And please pray for those of us in overall responsibility that we be humble and listen and lead in a godly and servant like way. Because a Diotrephes can do a great deal of harm.

            By contrast consider this true story which happened a few years ago. A theological college which trained people for leadership in the church was having to make some cut backs due to financial pressure and they had to lay off their cleaning staff. So it was decided that the students should help out with the cleaning. A blank sheet of paper was put up on the notice sheet and people were asked to sign up to help clean the toilets every day. Well after a week or so, no names were on the list. Everyone thought the place would go to wrack and ruin. But mysteriously every day, the toilets were cleaned before everyone arrived at the college. Now this went on for some months, until one student happened to come in to college early one morning. And who did he find coming out of the toilets carrying a mop and bucket but the college principal. He’d been the one cleaning the toilets day in day out for weeks without anyone knowing and without ever telling a soul. Now that is servant leadership. A person who simply gets on with the job with no concern for prestige or glory. Not wanting to be served, but to serve, just as the Lord Jesus himself did. It’s a long way from Diotrephes who was a real fraud.

3) Demetrius- A Real Follower (Vv 11-14)

And that leads us lastly to the third character in this letter. Demetrius a real follower. So let’s read from verse 11: “Dear 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. Demetrius 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.” Now we don’t know anything about this Demetrius character expect what is written here. Reading between the lines, some suggest that Demetrius was sent by John with the letter and John is telling Gaius to receive him well. Why? Because he is spoken well of  by John and his friends and that is no mean reference. Also Gaius himself seems to know him. “You know that our testimony is true,” says John. But notice what John says in verse 11. He says that Gaius is to “imitate not 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.” And then straight after that he mentions Demetrius. It’s as if John is saying that Demetrius is precisely the sort of person that Gaius is to imitate. Gaius should not look to Diotrephes as a model to follow but Demetrius. He is spoken well of by everyone, even by the truth itself. That probably means something like he lives a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus. Here is a man who does good and not evil. This is the sort of person Gaius is to follow and use a model for his own Christian life.

            Now that begs two questions for us. First am I the sort of person who is a good model for others to follow. Is my life so obviously a life which imitates what is good as opposed to what is evil. Am I a Demetrius in this way? It would be wonderful wouldn’t it if this church was known as a place where we imitate what is good as opposed to what is evil. That our lives were so transparently good and godly that others would be spurred on to follow Christ. Are we models in that way? It’s not that we want followers- perish the thought. Rather that our lives are so full of the love of Christ that we are naturally attractive in this godly way. But also we need to ask ourselves what kind of people do I model myself on? What kind of person do I positively hope to be like? Is it a sporting hero, a famous person known for their looks, a very wise knowledgeable person, or is it someone who is known for their prayerfulness, or their patience, or their encouraging words, or their sacrificial giving? What kind of person do you model yourself on? What sort of person do you long to be? You see there is such a thing in the Bible as a good model to follow and a bad model to follow. And John wants us to be godly models to others, and to follow godly models.

            You see what John is teaching us in this letter is that our lives matter. How we act reveals a great deal about what the state of our hearts is like. Whether it be negative like Diotrephes or positive like Gaius and Demetrius. And our behaviour can be a positive force for good. So as we finish, let me tell you about someone who clearly took the teaching of 3 John to heart as he loved people, was humble servant and was a model to others. This true story begins with a young man called Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of university. He is a little odd, but he is brilliant, one of the brightest students in his year. And Bill became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it. One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now people are looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer and closer and closer to the pulpit and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right at the front on the carpet. Of course, to Bill this was normal, but it certainly had never had at this church. By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick. About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, the elderly church warden is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the church warden is in his eighties, has silver-grey hair, a three-piece suit, and a pocket watch. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves, “You can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some student on the floor?” It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy. The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can’t even hear anyone breathing. But then, when the elderly man gets to the front, he drops his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships alongside him so he won’t be alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. There seems not to be a dry eye in the entire congregation. When the minister finally gains control he says, "What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget."

            That elderly church warden is someone I would love to be. He clearly understands the gospel and lives the gospel. He is faithful to the truth and the brothers like Gaius was. He clearly has no interest in being first unlike Diotrephes. And he is a wonderful model to others, as Demetrius was. So let us pray for ourselves that we too would be people about whom it can be said: “There is someone who imitates what is good and not what is evil.”        

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