Title: Illustrative Summarization
Text: III John 9-15
FCF: We often struggle placing too much on our part in sanctification.
Prop: God changes His people to be more like His Son, so we must be sure we are of God.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to III John. Today we say goodbye to another book. This time it hits a little harder because in saying goodbye to another book, we say goodbye to a series, and even a human author. Next week Tim Parker will bring a message from Psalm 73 for us. And the following week we will begin another series of 3 books. We will begin a study on the pastoral epistles which include First and Second Timothy and Titus.
John left off last week in commending exhortation to Gaius. He commended him for being a man who rightly cared for traveling preachers and teachers who went out for the sake on the name of Christ and did not accept money from pagans. But in his commendation, he also expressed his desire for Gaius to continue this practice.
Now last week we wondered perhaps why John exhorted Gaius to do what he is already doing. Certainly, the apostle does not NEED a reason to do this. But the text goes on to give us insight. There were some things happening in the church at that time that prompted John to make sure Gaius continued doing what he was doing. And today, John will elaborate on that.
Today’s passage is also providentially an encapsulation of all John has been saying in these three epistles. What we see is an illustration of the general principles we have labored with John to see over the last several weeks. John will bring up a negative and positive example of all that we have been learning since we started I John. Thus, these last 7 verses of III John provide the perfect Series finale for us as we close out the Epistles of John.
Let’s read in III John starting in verse 9. I’ll be reading again from the NET. You can follow along in the pew bible on page 1378 or the version you have in front of you. If you don’t have a bible of your own feel free to take a pew bible home with you.
As we close out the series, let’s look to what John has for Gaius and for us.
I.) Those who clamor to be first show signs that they are not of God, so we must be sure we are of God. (9-11)
a. [Slide 2] 9 – I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them,
i. So right of the bat we have to ask ourselves which church John is talking about.
ii. So far, John has only spoken of his own church overtly. When the traveling preachers came back from Gaius and gave a report on his love for them.
iii. It is obvious that this church is not his own since he is writing to it and does not include himself in these statements
iv. Is Diotrephes from Gaius’ church though? It is difficult to know whether or not this is true and there are several layers to this problem.
1. Diotrephes loves to be first among them (3rd person plural) which would seem to indicate that this is another church than Gaius’.
2. However, if Gaius is not in any form of church leadership and Diotrephes is, it is possible that John is talking about Diotrephes loving to be first among the Elders and leaders of Gaius’ church. Although this would require a subject that John does not supply.
3. Similarly, it could be Diotrephes likes to be first among them as in those who are part of Gaius’ church but of a particular theological or social faction.
v. Since John uses the third person and the nearest subject is the church, it makes most sense that Gaius is not part of the church Diotrephes is controlling, but is at least aware of Diotrephes and his church.
vi. Diotrephes desiring to be first among the church or the elders within the church – either way – there is no first in the church. There is Christ and then those in Christ.
vii. That is not to say that there is not an authority structure or a hierarchy of sorts. But Jesus’ words predict how that authority structure operates – let he who desires to be first be last.
1. The Elder is the servant leader of the church. Although he inherits authority, that authority is not based on his title, but rather who he has been made to be.
2. A servant of the body, one that strives for its protection and holiness, this is one who will be recognized and appointed to the watch care role of Elder.
3. Thus, in a sense, abuse of power as an Elder is actually not possible. The only way a person is qualified to wield the Eldership authority is when they are submitted to the Word of God and selflessly serving the body of Christ. The moment they purposefully cease to obey God’s word or purposefully cease to be servants of others and decide to serve themselves, the Elder is disqualified and should be removed from office.
viii. So Diotrephes, elder or not, desiring to be first among them is an act of arrogance and idolatry. This alone would disqualify him from leadership – and his desire was to control or lord over the church.
ix. But a further expression of arrogance is that he…
b. [Slide 3] Does not acknowledge us.
i. Since we know that John had written to the church there and by extension, to Diotrephes himself, we can start to understand what John means by this statement.
ii. This verb normally means to receive into one’s presence. Almost like a King would grant permission for someone to approach the throne.
iii. It is perhaps not this sharp of a meaning, but we do get the idea that John is essentially saying that Diotrephes did not accept the authority of John to speak on the matter at hand, or perhaps, any matter at all.
iv. The authority of John as an Elder let alone an apostle was being disregarded and going unrecognized by this man. This is a FURTHER expression of his arrogance and idolatry.
v. If he wants to be first, and lord his authority over the assembly in his church, he cannot possibly heed the advice or wisdom of someone outside his church. Especially not one who could be perceived as having authority over him. This would only make him look weak, and call into question whether he really had the authority he was exercising.
vi. So, although the issue at hand is very much the reception of traveling preachers and teachers – really, we find that this is merely the flower of the weed. The flower is connected to the stem of a rejection of church authority, which is connected to the root of pride which is idolatry.
vii. John intends to act upon this when he is able.
c. [Slide 4] 10 – Therefore, If I come, I will call attention to the deeds he is doing – bringing of unjustified charges against us with evil words!
i. John could be expressing uncertainty on whether or not he will be able to come to address the situation, but more likely he is saying when he comes rather than if.
ii. His plan was to expose Diotrephes’ deeds to the church he is in and perhaps surrounding churches as well. John intended to bring church discipline upon Diotrephes.
iii. Then John cites other expressions of his pride and idolatry. Other flowers connected to his failure to submit to church authority.
iv. The first is his words against John.
v. Another tell tale sign of pride and failure to submit to church authority is to lash out with words against the leaders themselves. Anything to bring doubt into the minds of others or even to mask or justify their pride and excuse their lack of submission.
vi. They might say “How can I submit to a church leader who would Lord over me in this way?” or “How could I submit to a church leader who was so unloving to impose his viewpoints upon the assembly I have been given to shepherd.” Or “How could I submit to a church leader who would write this uncompassionate letter telling me to stop what I am doing. I mean when was the last time John was even here! Does he even know my flock and what we need?”
vii. Now we have no way of knowing what these unjustified charges were against John, and what evil words he said about John’s character. But hopefully this illustration of mine brings it out of the realm of theoretical and into the realm of the practical.
viii. I can tell you that these kinds of statements are uttered by assembly members in the visible church all the time about their leadership. Sometimes these accusations are justified – but most of the time they are not. And certainly, none of these accusations, even when true, would justify blatant disrespect and lack of submission. There is a way to address the sin of an Elder, but this is simply not it.
ix. And John plans to correct that, publicly. As he should.
x. Sadly, this is not the end of what Diotrephes was doing. There are more flowers to this weed.
d. [Slide 5] And not being content with that, he not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but hinders the people who want to do so and throws them out of the church!
i. As a further expression of his idolatrous pride and disrespect for church authority, Diotrephes not only had unjustified and evil words for John, but he also refused to submit to him.
ii. This expressed itself in two ways.
iii. First, was to disregard the request of John, which was to accept the traveling preachers and teachers into his home in hospitality and affiliation. Not only forbidding them from being affiliated with his church, but refusing to show the common decency to put them up for a night.
iv. Now why would he do this? Springing from the root of self-worship and shot forth from the stem of disrespect and lack of submission to church authority, it manifests in despising not only the instruction of the authority but even those who are associated with that authority. Everyone with John is against Diotrephes. Which leads us to the second expression of lack of submission which is
v. That he hinders others who want to welcome these preachers – to the point that he actually excommunicates them from the church for welcoming them. If he has so built this root of self-worship – masked as piety, And that has manifested itself in some holy war against John’s authority, he could now easily see himself as robin hood fighting against the oppressor. And if he sees himself this way, of course he would conclude that any who betray him to follow the oppressor is sinning and ought to be cast out.
vi. What I am trying desperately to communicate to you – is that even though we read the description of Diotrephes in disbelief, wondering how he got there, in reality it is not only believable but friends… it is EASY to become Diotrephes.
vii. It is only a series of steps. It is only a little idolatry here, and a little selfishness there – and before you know it – you are opposing an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
viii. The horror story of Diotrephes for us is not that we watch out for such people…
ix. Rather it is that we are careful not to BECOME such people.
x. And just in case you think that isn’t what John is getting at, read with me verse 11.
e. [Slide 6] 11 – Dear friend, do not imitate what is bad but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does what is bad has not seen God.
i. John doesn’t tell Gaius to watch out for Diotrephes. He tells Gaius not to become Diotrephes.
ii. But lest we think this is another instance in scripture where the scriptures seem to suggest that we can by works either forfeit or earn our salvation, John clarifies and assures Gaius with an axiom. A truth statement etched in stone.
iii. The one who does good IS OF GOD. His identity is where his action flows out of. He IS, therefore he acts. But the opposite is also true.
iv. The one who does what is bad HAS NOT SEEN (at any time) God. You can’t be His child, having never approached His throne.
v. If I can translate the thought of John it would be this…
vi. Gaius… my friend… do not be like Diotrephes! But fret not, if you are a true child of God, you won’t. So, since God has enabled you to do good, go and do good!
vii. I and II John were full of these kinds of statements. John tells us what actions will flow from someone who is born of God, but then commands that his readers go do them. In this, there is no contradiction… in fact, there is great assurance.
viii. Those who are truly God’s are destined for good works… which gives us confidence to go do them
f. [Slide 7] Passage Truth: So John to Gaius warns and illustrates the power of self-love and desiring to be first. Such idolatry is devastating to the church and ultimately will leave one in ruin and rebuke.
g. Passage Application: So John tells Gaius not to imitate what is bad but to imitate what is good. John has another example that he is going to give to Gaius very shortly, but in brief, we could see the antithesis of Diotrephes as a good start on a template to follow.
h. [Slide 8] Broader Biblical Truth: Zooming out from III John, the idol of self has been around since the garden of Eden. Where Eve and then Adam were tempted to turn their hearts in on themselves and seek power and knowledge without God. The ripples of this root (which some say is the core of all sin) have many flowers. And lack of submission to church authority and even lording over people and excommunicating people for not agreeing with you would be expressions of that idolatrous heart. In truth we all long to sit on the throne of our hearts. [Slide 9] John Stott says it well “Self-love vitiates all relationships. Diotrephes slandered John, cold shouldered the missionaries and excommunicated the loyal believers – all because he loved himself and wanted to have the preeminence. Personal vanity still lies at the root of most dissensions in every local church today.” Pg 235 stott.
i. [Slide 10] Broader Biblical Application: So for us the application is the same as to Gaius. Watch out! Not that some of these men may creep in among you. Although that certainly could be one aspect of this. But primarily John says to watch out so that you too do not become another Diotrephes. Selfless, submissive, love is the true fruit of those born of God. Lacking that, is evidence that you may not be Fathered of God at all.
[Slide 11 (blank)] My points are vastly uneven in this message. The first point is far larger than the others. My seminary professors would not be amused. Well – they aren’t here are they. 😊 So John’s first point is an illustration of a bad example. His next point is one of a good example. One that Gaius ought to love and even emulate.
II.) Those who are of God will testified about by God and His people, so we must be sure we are of God. (12)
a. [Slide 12] 12 – Demetrius
i. There is only one other mention of a man named Demetrius in the scriptures and that is in Acts 19.
ii. In that context he is a silversmith who made idols. He roused the crowd in Ephesus to oppose Paul and his companions. The crowd was sent away by the authorities having found no charge against them.
iii. There is a certain bit of potential poetry here if this Demetrius is the same as in Acts 19.
1. For one, to go from making a living off of false god worship to now refusing any money from that source to preach Christ, makes this man being one and the same quite enticing.
2. Secondly, Gaius, a Macedonian traveling companion of Paul, was involved in this riot and was drug with Aristarchus to the theater where the ruckus occurred. So John’s insistence that Demetrius was actually a good guy may be warranted if this Gaius and the one in Acts 19 are the same. Afterall, before this man tried to have Gaius killed. What a shock to find him now on his doorstep preaching the gospel.
iv. Still, as poetic as it might be to see this as the same Demetrius, there are several reasons why this is probably not the case.
1. This Gaius is probably not the same one from Acts 19. He could be, but it is unlikely.
2. Demetrius is never said to have changed course or to have seen the truth in Acts 19. Again, he may have, but it is unlikely.
3. And as poetic as it may be for this Demetrius and Gaius to be the same men from Acts 19, anytime God brings a child from darkness to light is poetic and beautiful. So even if there is no history between these two men, it is still beautiful what John has said about Gaius and what he will say about Demetrius. Their story is beautiful because it is what the Lord has done in them and through them.
b. [Slide 13] Has been testified to by all, even by the truth itself
i. The assembly itself has recognized the power and grace of God in the life of Demetrius.
ii. So much so, that he has become, as John puts it, quite famous in the sense that he is a man who follows God.
iii. But even if the assembly were not testifying this – the truth – the gifts of the triune God to His children – testify to this.
iv. Demetrius is a child of God. His life, and His brothers and sisters in Christ agree.
v. And not only that…
c. [Slide 14] We also testify to him, and you know our testimony is true.
i. The we here could be John and his church, it could also be Elders, or perhaps even an apostolic we meaning that the apostolic confession agrees that he is a child of God.
&nbsnbsp; ii. In any case the point is made – Gaius – you trust us, you know we only vouch for those whom we are convinced of. And of Demetrius, we are convinced.
d. [Slide 15] Passage Truth: So John says that Demetrius fits the bill. All the prerequisites for supporting a traveling preacher, he meets. And after seeing an example of someone unwilling to show this welcome hospitality and love because they would not submit to authority because they were serving the idol of self, John tells Gaius to do what is good.
e. Passage Application: So what is good for Gaius? To accept this man. To take him in and show him hospitability. Namely – to not be Diotrephes - welcome him and affirm his message and the authority of John.
f. [Slide 16] Broader Biblical Truth: For us then, we are left with a similar truth that we saw last week. Zooming out in all of scripture we see the overwhelming evidence that this should be true of all of us. From the negative examples of Israel rarely listening to their prophets, to the positive teaching of Christ to love those who are brothers and sisters, it is obvious that we ought to care for those who preach the gospel depending on God and His people alone.
g. Broader Biblical Application: And so we ought not emulate Diotrephes and be so enamored with ourselves but ought to humbly love those who come to us, welcome them and do what is good. Why? Because that is what true children of God do.
[Slide 17 (blank)] All that is left now is the closing. And it is a beautiful one. It looks to the future as a bright hope of community and peace among this church that has been so affected by false teaching and sin. Something we probably need too right now.
III.) Those who are of God have a caring community not built on love, so we must be sure we are of God. (13-15)
a. [Slide 18] 13 – I have many things to write to you, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink.
i. With almost the exact same words John concludes his letter to Gaius as he did to the church in II John.
ii. Although this does take on a more personal note. The topic John needed to cover was addressed, but the friendship was deeper than simply an Elder telling a man to do something. It was a friendship.
iii. John desired greatly to simply speak to him in person.
b. [Slide 19] 14 – But I hope to see you right away, and we will speak face to face.
i. Somewhat different from II John, John desires to meet with Gaius soon. Hopefully right away.
ii. He has already expressed a desire, yet uncertainty, to come and confront the problem of Diotrephes.
iii. So while there he’d like to meet with his friend and brother face to face.
c. [Slide 20] 15 – Peace be with you.
i. Peace only comes from God. Along with the other expressions of God’s gifts to us His children.
ii. So why Peace? Why does John specify peace and not love, grace, mercy, or other.
iii. Even though this is Peace be with you the Greek text is simply – Peace to you.
iv. I believe John is expressing his desire that God gifts stillness and rest in this difficult time to Gaius. That even as the problems of this other church continue that God would give Gaius an extra measure of comfort and rest in His plan and promises.
d. [Slide 21] The friends here greet you. Greet the friends there by name.
i. Certainly, John could be talking about Gaius’ friends or mutual friends of them both
ii. More likely though, John is varying his expression from brothers to friends. He is speaking of his church and the children of God there sending greetings to Gaius’ church.
iii. John asks Gaius to express warm Christian greetings to each of his people by name or individually. Not a blanket greeting, but a personal one.
e. [Slide 22] Passage Truth: So John wants Gaius and his church to be at peace and feel loved by the apostle. He wants them to restore community in that area and look in hope to a future where this discord would subside.
f. Passage Application: In application, it is asked of Gaius to share that love from John’s church to his own. Not in impersonal ways but in personal ones. With the assurance that he will be with them soon.
g. [Slide 23] Broader Biblical Truth: Zooming out, we see how the church even in Revelation is splintered and decimated by sin and false gospels. That allowing false teaching to permeate the church and sin to be tolerated continued to eat away at the coalition of the gospel.
h. Broader Biblical Application: For us today – we may wonder – is there hope for unity among the true church? But the question is actually a backward one. What we must understand is that the true church is always united. It is united by Faith and Practice. Those who hold to the confession of the apostles and live out that confession in obedience and love – they are the ones who are truly fathered of God. And they are dispersed throughout the world. They are His bride. And they are distributed in churches everywhere. We’d like to assume that all who come into our doors are members of the true church – but the only way to be part of the true church and united to it is to first be born of God. And how do you know you are born of God? You are confessing, obeying, and loving. John extends this invitation for his church and Gaius’ to be united in community – but that is because they hold to the same faith and practice. That is what unifies. Not being tolerant of many views – but rather being intolerant of any view that is contrary to the faith and practice of the true God and His Son.
[Slide 24(end)] What then is our great conclusion to the Epistles of John?
It is fitting that this series concludes with such tangible examples of exactly what John is saying in all three of his epistles.
Growing faith, active and progressive obedience to God, and selfless love for other believers are all evidences that God has recreated you. That you have been new birthed. That you have been fathered of God into a new life. Not in the death of sin but in newness of life through Christ as you are united to Him.
Diotrephes in III John, the apostates and false teachers in II John, and the Secessionists in I John – all demonstrate that they are not united in faith, obedience or love. They do not possess these things. And so they are not part of the household of faith.
But those who are abiding in Christ, Fathered of God, and true Christians, the readers of I John, the church of II John and Gaius and Demetrius of III John, all of them have a faith, obedience and love that speaks of God’s work and power in them.
These three letters demonstrate vividly what it means to be God’s child.
Let us finally and fully put to rest the notion that all those who claim Christ are different and therefore we can’t judge whether or not someone is saved just because they don’t believe some things that the apostles taught or that they don’t live certain ways the apostles said to live. No! The message of the Epistles of John is exactly the opposite of that. And I would say the message of the New Testament is exactly the opposite of that.
All those who are God’s true children are united to Christ. So even though we are all individuals and possess our own personalities and idiosyncrasies – the fact of the matter is that God’s people look more the same than they do different. Why? Because we are all being conformed to Christ.
ALL GOD’S TRUE PEOPLE are united in faith and practice. What we believe about God, His Son, The Spirit, Salvation – and what we have believed about these things since the apostles – This we must be united in. Any who deviate are not of us.
How we live based on the teachings of scripture and the practice of the church since the apostles is the standard. Any who deviate are not of us.
You cannot continue to practice sin or confess doctrinal deviation and still be called a follower of Christ.
Jesus said that the way is broad to destruction and narrow to the kingdom. Few find the narrow way and many walk the path of doom. And yet we come to John’s message of unity in faith and practice and we think – wow that is kinda narrow isn’t it? YES! Yes it is.
But John’s words are not intended only for this purpose. His words primarily are intended to bring comfort to God’s people. That as they look at their life and they see a deepening trust and understanding of the Words of God… as they see themselves gain victory over sin with long hard battels that somehow are won… as they see compassion and empathy burst out of them to God’s people, those who bear “The Name” , and they just can’t help but welcome them, and care for them, rejoice with them and mourn with them. As all this manifests in their life they shake their head and say – how? How did this happen to me? Who am I?
The gospel -the power of God unto salvation from sin – to the Jew, and now to the whole world.
This is what the freedom of the gospel brings. Freedom to be what God has planned for you to be.
And so the Epistles of John resoundingly answer that question. Who am I that this is happening in me? Answer… You are God’s child – recreated in Christ – for His purposes. And you will be purified until you meet him and then you will be like him.
What glorious hope it is leaving the epistles of John to those who have seen God’s work to progressively conform them to Christ since they confessed His name.
But what absolute terror it is to leave these letters knowing that God sets a humanly impossible bar to reach for His children. True change is evidence of true sonship.
For those who are – you are guaranteed that God will raise all this up in you – so with John I say – Go and do good. Be and do all that God would have you be and do.
For those who are not – Seek God. Seek only Him. Not for what He can give you – but Him alone. He promises that He will reveal Himself to those who diligently seek Him.
These are the Epistles of John… and they are some of the most powerful letters I have ever studied. I trust you would agree.