“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. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friend, every one of them.” 3 John 13-15, ESV
To end 3 John, John gives a last fond farewell to the people in the church that he is writing to. John writes like someone who is ending a letter to their children or grandchildren. There is a lot of affection in his voice, there is tenderness in his tone. He is ending a heartfelt letter to a church that is in transition.
John was an apostle. He had walked with Christ, he knew Christ personally. The power of Christ had led to the creation of the church and the church had grown to the point where there were issues that needed to be taken care of. Through Christ a family of Christians had begun, and now there were problems that John, a patriarch of the family, was called upon to handle some issues. But he loves his family, he served his family, and he would die because of the person who began the family. He would go on to die, separated from his family, on an island called Patmos.
3 John speaks to the environment of the church. We as Christians are a family. We are brothers and sisters. We have big brothers and little brothers. We love little sisters and big sisters. We are called to serve each other. Sometimes there are tiffs, sometimes our siblings move on, but through thick and thin we stick together and love each other, because Christ loves us first. Please don’t forsake the words of 3 John. Please be in peace with those who are truly in the body. Serve them with grace as you have been served with grace through the sacrifice of Christ.
In 3 John 9-10 we say that Diotrephes had taught a false gospel. The church that John was writing too was a strong church that loved sound doctrine. Demetrius had hear that what the church was saying was good. The church that John was writing to was imitating good. They were not acting like Diotrephes, but they were acting like Christ. They were imitating good and not doing evil.
The wording of “imitating good” can kind rather phony in our very individualistic culture. It has long been noted by psychologists and sociologists that our society is becoming less and less community centered. We are turning in on ourselves. Think about our movies. Most movies focus on one character and his or her individual struggle and triumph. What does imitation say about integrity? What does imitation say about personal faith? Imitation sounds rather phony. So why is John telling this church to imitate good.
Imitation is not necessarily evil or phony. For instance, I am typing on computer about Jesus. I am not the first to do this. I know several people who are doing this, maybe at the exact time that I am. They have done this for a lot longer than I am. In a way I am imitating them. However, I am doing it in a personal way. I am doing what they are doing but for myself. I take their mantle. Christ says that we are called to carry the cross, just as he did. We are called to take his yolk. We are called to serve his truth. This doesn’t make us zombies, this makes us friends and family of Christ. We are not called to cut our hair like Christ, we are called to love as he did. We are called are not called to wear what Christ wore, we are called to serve those who needed the gospel like he did.
The key to why we should imitate is found in verse 12. John writes that the testimony of the apostles is good. The gospel, the testimony of the apostles, is found as good not just to the community but the larger church. In a way we all imitate. The songs that run through your mind are usually not yours. The movies you love you did not create. When you play football you are probably trying to throw like Aaron Rodgers or tackle like Ray Lewis. When I write I think of people like C.S. Lewis, Mark Driscoll, and Matt Chandler. I am seeking to be an imitation of them while living my life. In the same way this church that John was writing to was being called to imitate the good leaders in their church.
In an age of hyperindiviualism it is important to imitate Christ. Don’t go rogue, serve Christ. Don’t try to be something special, try to be like Christ. It’s not about us, our society, or our rights. It is all about Jesus. Serve Christ, die to yourself, and live.
In 3 John 9-10 John warns the church about Diotrephes. Diotrephes was an unfriendly dude. He had elevated himself to a place where he was in control of the workings of the church. He had put himself in a place where he decided who would come into church. In verse 10 we see that he would refuse people access to the church. Not even unsaved sinners, but brothers in the faith. He was a bouncer, but not for Jesus, but for himself. Diotrephes main problem was not that he was a jerk, Jesus saves jerks, but that he would not come under authority. He continued in sin because he refused to listen to those who were in authority in church.
Our society expects a certain level of democracy. If you listen to protestors you will hear chants like, “power to the people” where people express their desire to hear and be heard. Many people believe that a church should be a democracy. Individual members of a church come together to make decisions. In a sense this is true, every member has decisions to make, however when it comes to the structure of a church there is a very real authority.
When we become a part of the family of Christ we are called to be in it, but we also choose to be in it. So I am a member of my family because that is what God desired, I was born into my family. However I am also an active participant of my family, which is a choice on my part. I could run away and cut myself off from my family, but I choose to be a loving member of my family’s community. It’s the same with church. We are all saved because of God, but we are a member of a church by our own choice. We love the bible and so we go to church to hear God’s word preached. That is our choice.
When I am a part of my family I accept that my parents are over me. That is a biblical rule. I am called to honor my parents. In the same way when I enter in a church I am called to honor the leadership there. I am called to love the elders, pray for the pastor, and listen to the deacons. My parents get their authority from the same place my church leadership does: Jesus Christ. God died to create the church. He hands authority. Some people have much, some have little. All of us are called to submit to somebody. I am a member and a Sunday school teacher at my church. The kids I teach are called to submit to me. I am called to submit to my Sunday School leaders, they are called to submit to the elders, and the elders are called to submit to Christ. There is not a Christian who is a true Christian on this earth that does not submit to someone. (more…)
I live in Denver, Colorado. It is a bussling metropolis that is expanding rapidly. People are moving to Denver in droves from all over the country and all over the world. However Denver is not really a place where people settle. It is more of a hotel than a house. People come into Denver, stay a few years, and then leave the city for the suburbs or other parts of the country. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does create a unique opportunity for service among church leaders in Denver. Denver churches have to focus on developing people for ministry, showing them the gospel in it’s glory, because eventually most of the people in Denver will leave for other parts of the world. They will leave for service in other areas. This is what was happening in the church in 3 John. In verses five to eight the church was sending out people. We aren’t sure where they were going or what they were doing but they were going out and they were commanded to keep truth with them. Sometimes people leave churches for commercial opportunities like a new job. Sometimes they leave because they are starting new churches. Sometimes they want to go to a church that is closer to their neighborhood. These are all good reasons to leave a church, and John tells the church to bless these people as they go.
This speaks to who the church is and what the church was at the time that John was writing. The church that John was involved with was a family. I am sure they had stylistic differences, doctrinal differences, and personality conflicts, but as far as we know from this letter that wasn’t the reason these people were leaving. They weren’t leaving to find better music, better doctrine, or better community. They had come into the church and learned and were now being sent to other parts of the universal body to serve those parts. This is the beauty of church. We are not a set of competing corporations, we are a universal body. When a great server from one church to another the other church is blessed.
I pray that this generation of Christians would serve their churches well wherever life takes them. We live in a world that is increasingly global. We will move more than our parent’s generation and our kids will move around more than us. Churches need to be dedicated to the idea that they are building and sending. Churches should call the local community to faith through love and engagement, then build those converts into believers. Then strengthen the converts through good teaching and preaching, community, and calls to repentance and service. Then as these converts leave the church rejoices because these converts, who are strengthened in their faith and in the grace of Christ, are gifts to other congregations.
If you are in a church seek to grow in your faith and serve those around you. If you are older and established serve those who are young and might be dispersed to where God has them go with truth, love, and community. Reflect Christ so that as they go out you might rejoice because you know they go to reflect Christ to their new community.
When you read the epistles, the books that were written by the apostles, you will see that there is a family orientation surrounding them. The apostles would use words like son and daughter to describe the people they were writing to. They would called them beloved, denoting a higher status. They would end their letters by expressing their deep desire to be with those who they are writing to. Their letters correct rightly, but not harshly. Their love for those in these churches are evident. 3 John is no different.
3 John begins with John saying that he was praying for their health. In the ancient world there were many reasons to pray for good health, however what the church that John was writing to was experiencing was probably persecution. As Christianity spread it became less and less welcome. John prays that the church would be in good health. John then congratulates the church and says that he was very happy to hear that they were staying in the truth of the gospel and not falling away. Then John says something very significant in 3 John verse 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
I teach a Sunday School class. I have taught Sunday school for 10 years and I really love watching the kids grow up. Most of the kids I don’t see very much after they leave class, but a few come by to say hi every now and again. I am always interested in seeing and knowing how they have grown in their faith and to see what they know. I am very aware that I, as a Sunday school teacher, am not called to get them to believe something or pressure them into traditionalism, but present them with the truths of the gospel and let the Spirit do his work. So there are fewer things more exciting to me than seeing the look in a kid’s eyes when they see and understand the truths of the gospel and grow to love those truths.
The heart of John at the moment he heard that this church was continuing in truth must have been melted, just as my heart is when I one of my Sunday school parishioners get the gospel. They see the truth of Christ and the love of Christ, and they act it out. The church that John was writing to was experiencing suffering but they were still continuing not only in the church but through suffering.
I oftentimes wonder what the disciples felt when they heard of the persecution that was happening. They knew it was coming because Jesus had said that they would experience suffering, but knowing that what you started and what the gospel was doing was causing your fellow believers, you fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, to be harassed or executed must have been difficult. John was filled with joy when hearing that the suffering church was still a truthful church.
If you have a ministry leader or pastor who is worn down, one of the best ways to reinvigorate him in his ministry is to discuss the good work that God is doing in your life because you are participating in the ministry. Nothing fills the heart of someone who has served than to hear what God is doing with their service. People who pour themselves into service long to hear that it was a good investment. They will be filled with joy at the smallest of growth. Take time out today to honor your Christian fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who have ministered to you with good news of what God is doing in your life. It will fill their heart when they are disheartened. It is the right kind of boasting that we as Christians need to be doing.
John wrote a large chunk of the New Testament. He wrote John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. He was the beloved disciple. He walked with Christ. He was part of the inner circle of disciples that walked with Christ all the way into the garden of Gethsemane. John’s proximity to Christ gave him authority in Christ’s new church. John is one of the four gospels, 1-3 John are letters to churches and church leaders. Revelation was the final book that John wrote and it is the final book of the New Testament. Throughout John’s ministry he was subject to persecution. John wrote Revelation in isolation on an island called Patmos.
3 John is the last epistle of John. 3 John is written to Gaius, an elder in a church that John knew. We know that John knew Gaius and the situation within the church that Gaius had connections to. 3 John was written to Gaius in a time of transition. Some people had just left the church to go on mission elsewhere. Whenever people leave us it is hard. Whether to move for a job, a new church planting opportunity, or to be closer to family, people move. It’s not a bad thing, but it can be difficult. 3 John speaks to the church as they send people out, but it also mentions those who are harming the church. 3 John speaks about Diotrephes, who is power hungry. He does not like being under authority so much that he subverts and erodes the authority of those who are under him. 3 John ends with a commendation for good service to the word of God and revealing the heart that John has for this local church.
3 John says a lot about what a healthy church looks like. Americans are busy. We have to decide where we are going to invest our time, treasure, and talent. When looking at 3 John we see why we should invest our lives in churches. Churches are families. 3 John is John, the grandfather of this family, talking to a father in this family as he works through struggles in the family. My prayer is that as we go through 3 John we will love one of the greatest gifts that God has given Christians: other Christians.