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The Fly-Over Books: 3 John – 3 People You’ll Meet in Church



Three People You’ll Meet in Church

3 John


Family gets messy sometimes, doesn’t it? One of the reason the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are so stressful is because we know we’ll probably be spending time with members of our family we really don’t like all that much. We may love them, but we certainly don’t like them. Johnny Carson, former host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, once offered this cynical take on Thanksgiving: “Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often.”


Well, one family, the Ledbetter family likes to spend time at home together – just not in the same room. So they built a 3,600-square-foot house with special rooms for studying and sewing, separate sitting areas for each kid, and a master bedroom far from both. Then there’s the escape room, where Mr. Ledbetter says, “Any family member can go to get away from the rest of us.”


The Mercer Island, Washington, industrial designer says his 7- and 11-year-old daughters fight less, because their new house gives them so many ways to avoid each other. “It just doesn’t make sense for us to do everything together all the time,” he says.


After two decades of pushing the open floor plan-where domestic life revolved around a big central space and exposed kitchens gave everyone a view of half the house-major builders and top architects are walling people off. They’re touting one-person Internet alcoves, locked-door away rooms and his-and-her offices on opposite ends of the house. The new floor plans offer so much seclusion, they’re “good for the dysfunctional family,” says Gopal Ahluwahlia, director of research for the National Association of Home Builders.


The approach isn’t for all architects. William Sherman, chairman of the department of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, says all the cut-up spaces make families more isolated and lonelier than ever. “People don’t even gather in the same spot to watch TV anymore,” Mr. Sherman says. “It’s sad.”[i]


Now, let me ask you this – what do we call our church? One of the things you might be saying is, “I miss my —” CHURCH FAMILY, right? One of the primary ways we conceptualize a church, probably after “body of Christ,” is “church family” or the “family of God.” Well, I’ve got news for you. This family can get just as messy as our human families. And that’s what the tiny book of 3rd John, located just two books before Revelation at the end of the New Testament, deals with. The messy family of God. And it’s been that way from the beginning. The church in Corinth dealt with tons of conflict. The churches in Colossae and Galatia dealt with doctrinal error. The church in Jerusalem was on the verge of financial collapse, so much so that St. Paul asked the churches throughout the Roman Empire to take up an offering for the Jerusalem church and he delivered it to them himself. The church in Laodicea was almost ruined by a shallow obedience to Christ. The original disciples were constantly dealing with false teachers and conflict. 3rd John is, by number of words, the shortest book in the Bible, and in this brief letter, St. John identifies three people you’ll meet in any church. Let’s look at 3 John.


Now, there’s something I want to point out before we go any farther. There is absolutely no mention of Jesus by name in this letter. He is referenced only indirectly as “the name,” and God is directly mentioned once. There is no doctrine in this letter. This is, in its brief entirety, a letter about practical Christian living. And it is dealing with relationships within the body of Christ.


This isn’t to say that doctrine isn’t important. Although scholars disagree as to exactly which John wrote this letter, many agree, and I see no reason not to join them, that this letter was written by the apostle John, known as the disciple whom Jesus loved. The other most common theory put forward is that this particular John wasn’t St. John the apostle, but was one of the disciples from Judea mentioned in the gospels, one of the many who heard Jesus teach, saw him perform miracles, and was sent out by Jesus to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God while Jesus was still on earth, engaged in ministry. Either way, John was someone who knew Jesus, who had heard him speak and had seen him perform some incredible miracles. And John includes plenty of doctrine in 1 John and of course in the gospel of John. The New Testament is full of doctrine. But it is also full of practical instruction for living for those who follow Christ.


A disciple, or follower, a true Christian, is someone powerfully transformed by the power of the gospel. We don’t and can’t earn our salvation by being good. But if the power of God that raised Christ from the dead really lives in us, we can’t help but be transformed. Here’s the thing though – God doesn’t do that without our active involvement. Remember, he wants a relationship, not robots. He wants us to be actively engaged in our faith in body, in mind, and in soul, or heart. So there’s plenty of instruction in how to live as a follower of Christ and how to live together as the body of Christ, the often messy FAMILY of God. And that is what St. John deals with in this letter.


And this letter is addressed to his friend, Gaius. We don’t know a ton about this Gaius, other than he was probably a member of a house church led by a man named Diotrephes. The name Gaius appears several times in the New Testament, but we can’t be sure that it is always the same Gaius, because Gaius was the most common Roman name in existence at the time. So we just can’t be sure that these are all the same person. It’s likely they aren’t. In our 4H club, four of the moms have the name “Rebecca,” or “Becky.” So at fair, or at a 4H meeting, if I yell “Hey Beck!” four women get annoyed and look up and yell back “WHAT?!?!” Gaius was that kind of a name back then.


One thing we do know is that John dearly loved Gaius. John calls him “Beloved” twice. The root of that word is “agape,” the highest, unconditional, self-sacrificial form of love the Greek language could communicate. And John calls Gaius his child. The context here would indicate that John likely led this Gaius to his faith in Christ. He is one of John’s spiritual children. But their relationship has grown far beyond that to a true and deep friendship.


And it would appear that Gaius was in some kind of ill health. Look at V. 2. His soul is healthy. Spiritually, in Christ, before God, Gaius is doing well. And so John prays that his physical body will arrive at the same health that his spiritual life enjoys. Look at this. Gaius is doing well spiritually, even though he isn’t doing well physically. His faithfulness to Christ isn’t dependent on his situation in life, his health and vitality and wealth. He remains faithful, even as he struggles physically.


And we need to see that because this verse is one of the primary verses in scripture that is, incorrectly, used to defend prosperity gospel. That’s the teaching that says that it is God’s will that his people all prosper physically, mentally, emotionally, and in their life situation in this life. In other words, they’ll attain wealth. And that isn’t what this verse is saying at all. If that’s the case, most of this world’s Christians aren’t really Christians. Only those who are, by our standards, upper middle class and higher are really following Christ, and that simply isn’t true, and it isn’t taught in the New Testament. Oral Roberts first developed that line of thinking, and it was really popularized by teachers such as Kenneth Hagin, but it isn’t biblical.


So Gaius is struggling physically, and John prays that his friend will get better, that his life journey will smooth out, but his spiritual life is going well. How do we know that? Look at V. 3. Gaius wasn’t out there broadcasting his spiritual exploits. He was just living life as a follower of Christ. But other people noticed. At the time this letter was written, it was common for leaders like St. John to disciple and then send out missionaries throughout a region. It was up to the local house churches to provide for and support them and to host them, because inns were very seedy and dangerous places to stay. And some of these missionaries had given testimony in a worship service the John attended of the generous hospitality of Gaius. Kind of like our “God Moments” in worship at Christ Church. And this made John heart happy, because this was someone he had led to Christ and discipled. Now remember, it is our love for one another as the family of God that serves as one of our primary witnesses before an unbelieving world. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” says Jesus in John 13:35. Look at how they encourage, and care for, and support, and protect one another. Gaius was doing the right thing, living by the truth of Jesus Christ in really practical ways, showing hospitality, even though it cost him dearly. It is entirely possible that this is Gaius’ first real encounter with any conflict in the body of Christ or push back to his faith. And that’s why John writes to encourage him. Sometimes we think that if we’re opposed or struggle in some way, we’re doing something wrong in our faith, when its more likely that we’re doing something right.


And Gaius’ hospitality really stood out because one of the leaders of his house church was doing the opposite. If Gaius is the friend, Diotrephes is the fraud. Unfortunately, it would appear that he has a position of authority, because he was actively kicking people who disagreed with him out of the church. And its interesting, because we don’t have any evidence of any real doctrinal conflict between John and Diotrephes. John doesn’t launch into a lofty doctrinal correction here. He states the problem simply as “Diotrephes likes to put himself first and does not acknowledge our authority.” Diotrephes doesn’t want to submit to John in any way. He wanted the status that leadership would, in his eyes, provide. Personal ambition. Ego. Those were Diotrephes’ problems. His name, Diotrephes, was typically an aristocratic name, a name usually used by those a little higher in social status than most. He was used to being listened to, rather than listening. He was used to being important, not humbling himself and serving. And so, when John sent missionaries his way to aid in teaching and provide encouragement and correction to the family of God there, Diotrephes refused them hospitality, and kicked out of the church anyone who tried to offer them hospitality. Gaius did, so it’s likely that he had been kicked out too.


No evidence of an actual doctrinal dispute. Diotrephes just didn’t want to submit to authority. He was arrogant. And here’s what we have to understand. We all battle sinfulness, so sinfulness will show up in the church. Every manifestation of sin that we find in Scripture will find its way into the church, because the church is a collection of very forgiven because we need forgiveness people. Now, I want you to notice John’s response. He had sent a letter to the church, and Diotrephes intercepted it and destroyed it. So he will come in person to deal with the situation. We don’t like it when leadership in the church confronts us, do we? Whether it be from the pulpit, or in person. When a leader does confront us we cry foul by yelling “You’re being judgmental.” But there’s a difference between a judgmental attitude and a leader acting in discernment for the good of the follower of Christ and the body of Christ. And that of course assumes that the leaders recognize themselves as being under authority themselves – the authority of the church board, or the authority of a denomination, and ultimately under the authority of Christ. It isn’t something you lord over people.


Unfortunately, Diotrephes was not only refusing to acknowledge any higher authority, he was also lording his own authority over the people in his church, kicking them out if they dared oppose him. Status-seeking. Arrogance. Pride. Ego. And his primary tool was his tongue. Gossip. Spreading lies. And he was about to be confronted by St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, himself. Can you imagine having the arrogance to go toe to toe with St. Paul, or St. Peter, or St. John? Were they perfect men? Of course not. In fact, at one point St. Paul had to confront St. Peter over his racism. The difference is Peter humbly admitted his error.

In his book on parenting teenagers, Like Dew Your Youth, pastor and author Eugene Peterson writes:


A search of Scripture turns up one rather surprising truth: there are no exemplary families. Not a single family is portrayed in Scripture in such a way so as to evoke admiration in us. There are many family stories, there is considerable reference to family life, and there is sound counsel to guide the growth of families, but not a single model family for anyone to look up to in either awe or envy.


Adam and Eve are no sooner out of the garden than their children get in a fight. Shem, Ham, and Japheth are forced to devise a strategy to hide their father’s drunken shame. Jacob and Esau are bitter rivals and sow seeds of discord that bear centuries of bitter harvest. Joseph and his brothers bring changes on the themes of sibling rivalry and parental bungling. Jesse’s sons, brave and loyal in service of their country, are capricious and cruel to their youngest brother. David is unfortunate in both wives and children – he is a man after God’s own heart and Israel’s greatest king, but he cannot manage his own household.


Even in the family of Jesus, where we might expect something different, there is exposition of the same theme. The picture in Mark, chapter three, strikes us as typical rather than exceptional: Jesus is active, healing the sick, comforting the distressed, and fulfilling his calling as Messiah, while his mother and brothers are outside trying to get him to come home, quite sure that he is crazy. Jesus’ family criticizes and does not appreciate. It misunderstands and does not comprehend.


The biblical material consistently portrays the family not as a Norman Rockwell group, beaming in gratitude around a Thanksgiving turkey, but as a series of broken relationships in need of redemption, after the manner of William Faulkner’s plots in Yoknapatawpha County.


Most of the time, there isn’t an exemplary church either. But there are examples within her. Look at Vv. 11-12. Demetrius was a person worth emulating. If Gaius is the friend, and Diotrephes is the fraud, Demetrius is the testimony. He is someone worth emulating. John gives three reasons why Demetrius is worth emulating. First, pretty much everyone speaks well of him. Second, the truth of Jesus Christ is very evident in his life. And third, John himself knows him and can vouch for him. So John writes to Gaius to encourage him to imitate the humble service of Demetrius, not the arrogance and ego of Diotrephes. Again, we don’t know exactly who the Demetrius is, but he was either someone in the church who had been kicked out along with Gaius and who was still doing right anyway, or he was the one delivering this letter to Gaius, and had been sent by St. John ahead of his own arrival to prepare for him and to encourage Gaius.


Yes, church family is messy. Just as messy as any biological family. Sin still rears its ugly head, and when it does, we must confront it in love. And there are three people you’ll meet in any church.


Gaius: the younger believer and faithful friend, who continues to walk in the truth of Christ even though it costs him dearly.


Diotrephes: the self-loving, arrogant one who desires position, prestige, and power. Who gossips about others to lift himself up.


And Demetrius: the one whose life, while certainly not perfect, is worthy of emulation. The one whose life is evidence of the power of God at work in him.


I know that I see a little bit of all three of these people in me. How about you? Let us pray.

[i] June Fletcher, “The Dysfunctional Family House,” The Wall Street Journal (3-26-04), pp. W1, W8; submitted by Steve Eutsler, Springfield, Missouri