Third John – Study #3 (3 John 11-14)
Recognizing a Good Example
John the Elder and Apostle wrote this short personal letter to Gaius, a Christian he loved in truth. Gaius lived his life according to the truth God had made known, and had a good reputation for this. As men traveled around promoting the teachings and work of Christ, Gaius gave them a place to stay and cared for them. He even sent them on their way with supplies. Hearing these good reports about Gaius stirred great joy in the Apostle.
But there was a problem in the church. A man named Diotrephes was troubling the faithful believers. Instead of having a servant’s heart and promoting the work of Christ in the church he loved power and prestige. He had no respect for the Apostles, falsely accusing them with angry words. He would not offer hospitality to those sent out to promote the name of Christ, and he forbid others from helping the travelers, even threatening excommunication for those who showed them hospitality. John planned to come to see Gaius soon, and would help the church deal with this man.
In our last study we looked at the danger of letting our attention dwell upon bad examples. Instead, we need to turn our eyes toward good examples we can imitate.
When there is evil present in some, God also provides evidence of his grace in others.
3 John 11, ” Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”
Good is not natural in any of us fallen humans. All who are naturally descended from Adam are separated from God in spiritual death. Therefore in separation from God we can do nothing that is truly good.
Psalm 14:2-3, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:12, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins”
This depraved condition spread to all humans from Adam’s sin when he acted “federally” as the representative for the whole human race.
Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–”
Therefore all the good we see must come from God, and is done by us only because of his mercy and restraining power. So when help is given to those in need, but the glory is directed to the person rather than to God, it is an offense to God. God may use the acts of selfish humans for good results, but their fallen hearts imagine some inner good in themselves that produces the good. This denies what God says about fallen humanity and our desperate need for Christ. When good deeds are seen or done, God must receive the glory for it.
Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
How do we know that someone is doing things truly good as moved by God? The expression in this translation, “from God” is literally “out of God” [“ek tou theou” (ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ)]. The person is acting by what flows out of God through him, and is there to bring glory to God.
True believers have no delusions of good coming from some inner good in them aside from God’s mercy. They give God the credit for it, and see themselves as his agents taking no credit for the good. They strive to replace evil with good because of their love and dedication to their Redeemer, not to compensate for their evils. Their good is a true righteousness that is done by and for Jesus Christ.
1 John 3:10, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
So good is not done to become children of God, but as a sure evidence that we are born of him.
1 John 2:29, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”
Those who are doing evil have no grounds for confidence that they are in fellowship with God. There is no evidence that they have “seen” God. To “see” God is not meant physically. God has no physical body. He is a spirit. But he is “seen” in the sense of being understood by his revelation.
John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
John 14:9, “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
These who are typified by evil, who oppose the church, are not sons of God, but aliens from him. They are frauds. They have not clearly “seen” the revelation of God. The evidence that surrounds them is suppressed by their sin corrupted minds. The redeemed in Christ have had their eyes opened spiritually to God’s truth.
1 John 1:3 says of those truly redeemed, that their “fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Demetrius is one who had a good reputation.
3 John 12, “Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.”
The contrast is dramatic: Diotrephes on the one hand, Demetrius on the other. His mention right after verse 11 indicates that he would be a good example to follow.
Who was this Demetrius? John gives us very little information about him. Evidently Gaius would know who he was when he got this letter. There’s no evidence that he was the Demetrius the silversmith who made idols in Ephesus in Acts 19:24. We do know that this Demetrius had a good reputation and should be recognized for that.
Dr. Lenski makes an interesting suggestion in his commentary on this passage. He reasons that if Demetrius was someone who was part of the church where Gaius was, or lived in the same town, he wouldn’t need an introduction from John who didn’t live there. He may have been one of the traveling brothers mentioned in verses 5-8, and being attacked by Diotrephes. Maybe he was the one carrying John’s letter to Gaius. These comments would then be an introduction that encouraged the recipient of the letter to trust this one John was sending. Paul had certified Titus similarly in 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 when he sent him to Corinth. In either case it would be important to let Gaius know that Demetrius was a good man of God.
His good reputation is testified to by John, and by many others. He is also confirmed as a good example because of his conformity to the truth God had revealed. The result is that Gaius ought to trust this man as a good representative of Christ.
When there are evil men like Diotrephes, God raises up good examples like Demetrius to represent what is truly good among his people. In the days of the Great Flood most of the human race had become evil. Morality and worship had become degraded and society created its own ungodly examples and standards. But God did not leave the world without an example to follow. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He continues to be an example to us as one who obeyed God in the midst of a lost and corrupt world.
In the days of ancient Israel when the worship of Baal seemed to replace the worship of Jehovah, God raised up and preserved Elijah to whom the nation looked for its spiritual strength.
In the time of the captivity when God’s people were blended in with a pagan culture, God put heroic resolve into the heart of Daniel.
John warned Gaius about the false teachers and the evil influence of Diotrephes, and recommended Demetrius to him, a godly example to follow.
We need to take encouragement from the godly people God raises up among us. There are no perfect examples. Even Noah, Elijah and Daniel had their human weaknesses. They were but sinners saved by Grace. But they evidenced that God works in the hearts of fallen men to transform them, and to restore them to faithful fellowship with the living God.
There were more issues to deal with.
3 John 13-14a, “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. …”
The idea here is almost identical with 2 John 12. There were more issues to deal with, but John planned to come soon to deal with things personally. That is a better way to deal with the rest of the issues than just writing about them in a letter. He said that he didn’t believe they would be best handled with “pen and ink”. The literal words represent the use of black ink and a reed pen [“melanos kai kalamou” (μέλανος καὶ καλάμου)]. Many matters are best handled interactively where there can be questions and answers.
The letter ends with a final closing and greetings.
3 John 14b, “… Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.”
Some versions show this last part as verse 15. The division of the books of the Bible into chapters and verses came later and were not a feature of the original inspired letter.
Peace was a common blessing that was pronounced upon others. The Hebrew idea of wishing God’s covenant blessings on one another continued in the church. The peace of God is that true inward tranquility and calm that is given to those redeemed in spite of circumstances. The blessing of “peace” was used often by Jesus and the Apostles. Here John pronounces this peace upon Gaius in the form of a benediction.
John passed on greetings from friends who were with him as he wrote the letter, and he wanted Gaius to pass on his greetings to all the friends there. The ESV translation says “every one of them”, but the actual Greek text uses an idiom that was common then. It literally says to greet the friends “by name”. It was understood as the ESV words it, meaning greet “each one” we know by name.
This warm note ends a very personal letter. How carefully and warmly John looked after the flock of God even when dealing with such trying matters. A good lesson for all of us.
Bob Burridge ©2017
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted