Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 50-51; 3 John Scripture: 3 John 9-12 (NRSV) – I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Everyone has testified favorably about Demetrius, and so has the truth itself. We also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true.
Observations: It has always been a sobering thought for me to recognize that even in the earliest days of the church, there were those who tried to stir up trouble and seek their own good above that of others. In this letter, John is writing to Gaius, who obviously has some level of authority and responsibility in a local church that John has shepherded. He begins the letter by commending Gaius for “walking in the truth” (v 3), and reminding him to help those who are spreading the Gospel (vv 5-8).
But then he goes on to talk about Diotrephes: he likes to put himself first (v 9a), does not acknowledge our authority (v 9b), spreads false charges against us (v 10a), and refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church (v 10b). So in a church that was overseen by the apostle John, in the early days of the Church, someone was trying to take control and disregard the direction of those who had true authority. It’s shocking – but it shouldn’t be, because there will always be those who seek to use the Church for their own gain, or who refuse to accept the authority of those whom God has placed over them.
So how does John respond? First, he tells Gaius not to try to “fight fire with fire”: do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good (v 11a). Second, he encourages Gaius not to try to take matters into his own hands, by promising that if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us (v 10a). People arguing and quarreling with each other within the body means that nobody wins (except Satan); we need to leave matters in the hands of those to whom God has entrusted them. Finally he tells Gaius to support and encourage others in the faith – which, after all, is what the Church is supposed to do. Diotrephes wasn’t doing it, but John reminds Gaius that Everyone has testified favorably about Demetrius(v 12a), as a reminder that we’re supposed to encourage and support others who are doing God’s work. The Church is not “in business” to expel people, like Diotrephes was doing (v 10b); we are called to welcome, encourage, support, and lead people to Jesus. If the Church looks for reasons to expel people, they will look for reasons to withdraw – which is not what God wants. We’re not supposed to look for reasons to “kick people out,” and we’re also not supposed to look for excuses to “disengage.” God has called us together to be the Church.
Applications: God is encouraging me today with the example of John’s leadership. He says that if I come, I will call attentionto what Diotrephes is doing – not “kick him out,” or “read him the riot act,” or act in other ways that would call attention to John’s authority rather than God’s authority. This was the example that Jesus set for his disciples: “he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” (see Philippians 2:5-11) If Jesus was content to allow God to handle things, I should be, too. That doesn’t mean that we don’t do anything; it simply means that we only do what God directs us to do. If we’re listening to God, he won’t lead us in the wrong direction.
Prayer:Father, thank you today for the reminder that you lead us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Help me today to know how you’re leading me, and then to follow faithfully, that your name might be glorified in me. For yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.