Diotrephes, Demetrius and Benediction (3Jn 9-12, 15)

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3 John 9 ESV I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
11 Beloved do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 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.
15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends each by name.
The sermon topic this morning is “Diotrephes, Demetrius and Benediction”
By way of introduction, let me do a brief overview of 3 John
3 John is the third of three letters which John the Elder wrote to a group of house churches
In 3 John, John the Elder wrote to a person call Gaius who is from one of these churches
This letter mentions 3 individuals and one travelling party
The three individuals include firstly Gaius himself
John wrote very complementary words of commendation to Gaius…
In terms of Gaius’s faithfulness and his love for the brothers, he was such a great role model and brought much joy and delight to the heart of John
John the Elder also wrote about a party of travelling missionaries whom Gaius had hosted
John had met these evangelists – and they were just full of praise for Gaius…
Gaius had shown them much appreciated hospitality and had looked after them well – well done Gaius!
Then, John wrote about Diotrephes
John had lots to write about Diotrephes - unfortunately, nothing he wrote was complementary!
And then finally, John wrote about Demetrius – the one who hand carried and delivered this letter to Gaius
Like Gaius, John reserved only words of praise for Demetrius
Now since you have already covered John and Gaius in preceding sermons, I will keep to my brief and focus on Diotrephes and Demetrius
What does John write to us about Diotrephes?
If we listed out the words used by John to describe Diotrephes, we will find the following
i) likes to put himself first (v9)
ii) does not acknowledge our authority or in the NIV, he will not welcome us (v9)
iii) talking wicked nonsense or spreading malicious gossip against us (v10)
iv) refuses to welcome the brothers (v10)
v) stops those who want to (welcome the brothers) (v10)
vi) puts them out of the church (v10) (“them” being “those who wanted to welcome the brothers”)
We know people by what they say, what they do, and who they are inside
If we classify John’s description of Diotrophes into these three categories, this is what will find
From what we see, Diotrophes was a dominating personality in Gauis’ congregation who opposed John’s leadership and teaching
People who need to be head, to be boss, to be followed without question, regularly instill fear and pain in their congregations
They will reject other leaders who they see as competitors and enemies
They will also regularly speak evil, make false accusations, about the people they disagree with publicly – which seems to be the case here
What I find interesting in Diotrophes’ action in 3John 10 is the irony when you contrast with John’s teaching about not welcoming people in 2John
If Diotrophes had said “Do not welcome” here in 3John, John the elder similarly had said “Do not welcome” in 2John v9-11
Same same, but actually very different
2John 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
If you read John’s gospel and the epistles, John is very, very particular about two matters in the church
One that the church is faithful in its teachings about Jesus and the other that the church is a community comprised of people who deeply love each other
For those who stray from the teaching of Christ and don’t practise love, John the Elder says, “Don’t welcome them!”
But here Diotrophes is rejecting and chasing out the wrong crowd
He is rejecting and opposing those who are committed to following the truth of Jesus and those who are committed to love the brothers
And he is rejecting them because he has a huge ego, scheming and suspicious of matters not under his control, and ready to undermine what is good and right in the eyes of God and of others
One of the things I often get my students to reflect on is the concept of authentic spirituality
In his article “At the heart of Christian Spirituality”, Prof Graham Cole elaborates the marks of authentic Christian Spirituality
Authentic Christian Spirituality must be characterized by three marks: the mark of orthodoxy, the mark of orthokardia, and the mark of orthopraxis
Orthodoxy is about having right beliefs…
Orthokardia is about having right attitude and intentions…
Orthopraxis is about having right actions and practical applications
Those of you who have been through national service know about the fire triangle
For fire to burn, you must have three ingredients: heart, fuel, and oxygen
Every ingredient is necessary, but any one by itself is not sufficient!
You cannot just have heat and expect the fire to burn
You cannot just have fuel, and expect the fire to burn
You cannot just have oxygen and expect the fire to burn
You need to have all three for fire to burn
In the same way, you cannot just have orthodoxy and expect to evidence authentic Christian spirituality
You cannot just have orthokardia and expect to evidence authentic Christian spirituality
You cannot just have orthopraxis and expect to evidence authentic Christian spirituality
You need to have all three aligned for Christian spirituality to be authentic
The problem with Diotrophes is that he had serious flaws in all three areas and yet he was in a position of influence in his congregation
That was the issue that John the Elder was trying to flag in this letter to Gaius
How about Demetrius the letter deliverer?
John devoted only one verse in this letter to Demetrius, but there is so much positive commendation packed into that one verse
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.
You know, the test of a good person is not how many good things you can list about yourself, but what good things people above, around and below you are saying about you!
I’m a really great chef – my food is fantastic man!
Wah you should taste my wan tan mee, and my siew yoke, my beef rendang…
I’m also very versatile – I do French, Japanese, Korean, Thai… (muah, muah, muah - shiok ah)
Look at my chef’s jacket – double breasted
And my chef’s hat – it’s called a torque bleu!
But in the background, others are shaking heads, shrugging shoulder, saying “Cannot make it – food’s quite nasty!”
It would be different if you didn’t self-promote
It would be so different if the compliments came from not just one person, but from many
Wah – that chef is really, really worth 3 michelin stars!
Well, that’s exactly what we read of in v12
John writes of three sources testifying that Demetrius is stellar ministry material
First source - from everyone – that is to say, there is wide recognition and strong public consensus that Demetrius is a mature loving brother
Second source – there’s the testimony of the truth itself
What does “the testimony of the truth” mean?
I really like how the eminent NT scholar, the late I Howard Marshall explains the phrase “the testimony of the truth” in his commentary on the Epistles of John
Professor Marshall wrote:
“If the truth could speak, it too would testify that Demetrius’ life was in accord with its own standard!”
Demetrius’ life was a walking testimony of alignment – what he did, said, and was – was totally consistent and mirrored the truth and the love of Jesus
The messenger was the message itself!
And then thirdly, from John himself – John being the saintly, honoured, treasured, senior Christian statesman
That’s like the CEO of a company personally but publicly recognizing someone in company and singling him or her for commendation – definitely a high honour!
So, if Diotrophes was someone you wish would stay away from the congregation, Demetrius was that someone you wish would stay around in your congregation
We praise the Lord for people like Demetrius in the time of John the Elder, we praise the Lord for people like Demetrius in our time and midst
Friends, what applications can we draw from our scripture passage this morning?
I want to suggest three
The first is a rather stark and sobering point
The church that John was writing to had a situation of a strong negative influence that was hurting the congregation
John did indicate he was going to do something about it
Twice in his letter he wrote about coming over to deal with the issue
10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us.
14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Reading vv10 and 14 however, you are not left with any assurance that John was actually going to come
John shared possibilities and hopes, “if I come” “I hope to see you soon”
…but that’s all we are left with
There is nothing in the text to suggest that John would actually come to settle the matter once and for all
After all, John is now in his senior years, and travelling might be less possible for the elder
What does that leave the congregation?
The reality of living in an imperfect situation with unresolved tension and a strong dominating leader who could force you out of the congregation for doing what is right!
I teach a course on conflict resolution and reconciliation at SBC and there are tools and strategies we use to guide congregation through situations of conflict
But I also recognize that there are situations where there are impasses and where there is no way out of the mess!
There are situations in church life/work life when that happens and there are no easy answers to situations like that
We just need to hope in the Lord
We can only trust that the Lord’s hand of protection and justice will prevail through it all
The second application is found in v11
11 Beloved do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
Never underestimate the power of mimicry
A story is told of a little boy who entered P1
Being busy parents, mom and dad arranged for the boy to travel to school by school bus!
At the end of the 5 days and 10 trips on the school bus, the parents were called to school because several other parents had complained that the 6 year old was using S words and A words and F words on their kids!
What did they discover when the parents met the principal?
Eh, don’t blame the school bus uncle – it was the father who was using the SAF words!
Father SAF, son also SAF!
It’s the same in organizations – if the top person treats everyone like dirt, a lot of your middle management is going to treat everyone like dirt because of the tone and culture set by the top dog!
It is into such a situation where negative behavior was present that John the Elder wrote to encourage the congregation to resist the power of uncritical mimicry
11 Beloved do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
Its ok to mimic behavior, but make sure to imitate good, not evil
Mind you, it was probably easier to imitate evil than good in the church John was writing to
Imitating good takes effort, it needs to be cultivated, it needs to be patiently restored!
But the fruit of imitating good? That is definitely something worth working for and living for!
My third and final application this morning is to receive the peace
3 John 15 reads
15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends each by name.
There was a season in my life when I spent time with people in the drama community
One of the things we did a lot of improv theatre games
From my time in that space, I learned one interesting point
When a fellow actor says or does something to you in an acting situation, they are making an offer
When someone makes you an offer, you never refuse it, you have to respond
So if he says, “Good morning my friend!” I’m suppose to respond “Good morning John”
Or even if it is “Huh!!!!” (with angry eyes and arms folded) – that’s still a response, and then will he need to respond again!
I think you get the drift!
How does John expect us to respond to his words “Peace be to you”?
We don’t refuse it, but we receive it
We receive it because this is a messy, challenging world and boy do we all need peace!
When I think of John’s words “Peace be to you!”, my mind is drawn to Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-9
Let me read Philippians 4:6-9 first and then I’ll explain why
Phil 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:6-9 speaks of a peace of God that descends on those who take the time to seek God and to discover for themselves an unexplainable, extraordinary sense of calmness in the midst of the greatest storm!
But note, that this peace is not just for anyone
If you read v8-9, we note that “And the God of peace will be with you” is for those who imitate and practice good
It is for those are committed to surround themselves with that which is honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy
Friends, receive God’s peace, and then, make an offer to someone else so that he or she can receive and offer, receive and offer, receive and offer!
That is how we overcome evil with good, that is how we change the world!
May the Lord give us strength, courage, and wisdom to live for him in this season of COVID confinement!
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