The Local Church – A Mixed Multitude

Every local church is a mixed multitude of faithful followers and harmful hypocrites, wheat and tares, the true and the false. In this last post from Third John, let’s group together those whose living demonstrated their believing.

Those doing good – Good works don’t save anyone from the wrath of God. If I’ve heard it once this fall, I have heard it multiple times. On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the core teachings of ‘soteriology’ – the doctrine of salvation have been explored. We are saved by GRACE alone, through FAITH alone, in CHRIST alone, to the GLORY of GOD alone, on the basis of the SCRIPTURES alone.

‘For by grace you have been saved through faith….’ Paul reminds the Ephesian believers in chapter two of this Spirit-filled church letter. Though we were once dead in our sins, demonstrating the original condemnation of our first ancestors and manifesting in a multitude of ways our bent towards evil, God showed us His mercy. No one may boast about God’s rescue plan of salvation. Remember, Jesus Christ is the author and the finisher of this powerful deliverance.

Now back to 3 John.

Although good works do not save, those who are saved manifest God’s work through their actions. Jesus had said to his earliest followers, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your GOOD WORKS, and glorify Your Father who is in heaven.

So who, in 3 John, is doing good? Who is manifesting the grace of God and confirming their words (I believe in Jesus Christ) through their deeds?

The elder – This apostolic author is following Jesus Christ and has been for many years. He is in a unique relationship as a foundation layer (Ephesians 2:20), and is experiencing the Truth-guiding and preserving Spirit as he pens these fourteen verses. We have documented his leadership priorities clearly in an earlier post.

In addition to the elder, there are many other believers who are doing good and providing an example well worthy of imitating.

i) Gaius has been showing hospitality to travelling missionaries and has been actively continuing in the truth.

ii) ‘Some brothers’ have been travelling with the good news (v.3), obeying that they have understood Christ’s LAST command (Go into all the world….) to be their FIRST concern (Be disciple-making….)

iii) ‘The church’ which is located with ‘the Elder’ has received the report of the evident love of Gaius to the brothers and provides a community base for believing in and living for Jesus Christ, the One who was continuing to build His church.

iv) Demetrius, though described minimally, is impacting others. Noone has a bad word to say about him. Though not sinless (none of us are), he is an evident believer whose life bears evidence of truth.

The majority of Christ followers in the letter are doing good. But there are others in the assembly and John exposes his evil doing.

v) Diotrephes is described in four sentences. He remains embedded in this short letter as an example of someone surrounded by truth, who is living a lie. That is the essence of hypocrisy, isn’t it? He loved to be first. He sinfully misused his tongue in gossip and his ‘spiritual gift’ of leadership (if it really was that), was being misused in an authoritarian, self-centred kingdom-building way!

Every church is a mixed multitude of such people. I’ve met more than my share of behind the scenes people quietly serving Jesus Christ and others on a regular basis. They are not sinless, but the core of their life reflects the truth they profess to follow. Others see it, hear it and know that truth matters. They have believed in ‘The Truth’ (namely Jesus Christ). They have been transformed by ‘the truth’ of God’s word and work in their lives. They ‘can’t help’ but live out the life change in their community. May their tribe increase.

But then there are others. 3 John doesn’t varnish over the reality of mixed motives, of those who occupy roles they are spiritually unqualified to fulfil.

We interact with both types of people. We should be quick to be ‘grace spotters’ and glorify God from what we see of the imitation of good. We should be able to challenge, yes even at times rebuke, those whose ongoing sinful conduct proves an evil doing which is totally detached from God.

Did Diotrephes ever repent? Did John’s planned later visit accomplish the purpose for which church discipline is designed? Galatians 6, penned by another apostolic leader, guides us in the process of dealing with those ‘caught in the web of their own sinful choices.’

Let’s use 3 John to examine our own hearts and lives to see what ‘fruit’ or lack thereof, is being manifested for others to evaluate. ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart…..’ If someone was to pen a 21st century on the same theme on which side of the equation would we be seen?  What examples do we provide in the mixed multitude?

Four ‘Fellows’ From The Fellowship

I preached through 3 John last Sunday morning and entitled the sermon, ‘Four Fellows From The Fellowship.’ Okay, maybe there’s too much alliteration in the title, or perhaps subconsciously I was already thinking about attending a ‘Fellowship’ convention this week in Toronto. How would you answer the question, ‘What makes for a good sermon title?’

The four men, whose lives were providentially woven together into this fourteen verse personal yet church integrated first-century letter, were The Elder, Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius.

The Elder – This ‘fellow’ is a key leader in the congregations of this region. He lives in one location and writes this letter to a friend in another community. Some English versions call him ‘the pastor.’ Elsewhere the New Testament clearly delineates a plurality of elders in one local church. Read Acts 20, I & 2 Timothy, Titus and 1 Peter–in fact read through all the New Testament letters and you’ll see the biblical dynamics of leadership for a local congregation. The ‘office’ is that of an ‘elder.’ The role or function is described as that of a ‘pastor/shepherd’ or ‘overseers.’ The elders oversee the local congregation under the Good, Great, Chief Shepherd/Pastor, namely Jesus Christ.

As I proved the obvious leadership role of the elder, typically understood to be the Apostle John, I began to explore some questions related to leadership. What makes leaders ‘tick?’ What is their central motivation? How do they experience God’s grace? How do they access God’s power? How do they lead God’s people?

The priorities of John are reflected, as we have seen elsewhere, in the verbs–the action words of the letter. What is this leader doing? Loving, praying, having, hearing, writing, coming, calling, rejecting and hoping.  Leaders have a bundle of priorities in their God-given assignment and they must find their way through all these responsibilities.

Gaius – This ‘fellow’ is a key friend to the ‘Elder.’ Again there are questions to ask about motivation, priorities, grace, service and impact on God’s people.

Four times this ‘fellow’ is spoken of as a dear friend. Leaders need friends and many suffer from a lack of iron-sharpening relationships. Read through Proverbs, a wisdom book packed full of friendship principles we would do well to heed.

So how was this friendship marked? This calls for another reading of the text. The Elder and Gaius had a relationship marked by love, truth, prayer, encouragement, service, support, instruction, personal interaction and peace. Shall I continue? Wouldn’t we all benefit with such fellowship.

The last two ‘fellows’ in this fellowship stand out in marked contrast with each other. They are as different, as my English missionary friend once said, ‘as chalk and cheese.’

Diotrephes – This man, only known by these few sentences in one book is cited for his sin. He is self-centred. He loves leadership but for all the wrong reasons. He gossips, stirs up divisions and will have to be confronted in due course.

Demetrius – In contrast, his ‘foil’ is well spoken of by everyone and by truth itself. He is a man of integrity, whose interaction is strengthening the community of God’s people.

So where do you fit on this leadership scale?

Are you a mature leader, maintaining biblical priorities over the long haul of your ministry?

Are you a faithful leadership friend, actively living out the ‘good works’ which God prepared in advance for all the saved to demonstrate?

Or are you a over-the-top leader, clammering to be in the limelight, misusing your speaking opportunities and running your leadership programs with your priorities, not God’s?

Lastly, some of us may simply be described as ‘faithful.’ What adjective would dominate the conversation of those probed about your contribution to the work of the kingdom?

This little letter, tucked away in the latter part of New Covenant writings, is often overlooked in the area of leadership. It’s time we reread it and asked the Spirit of God to assess us all in the light of its divine standards. Let’s aim to be one of the ‘better fellows’ in the fellowship!

Counting My Blessings

Today is November 11th, a day set apart in our country to remember. Remember the sacrifice of multitudes of men and women who courageously defended freedom to the point of their own death. How soon we forget! How soon we misuse the freedoms which were supplied at an inestimable cost.

I’m headed to a Remembrance Day memorial service, preceded by a solemn march in which a beloved family member (son-in-law) will participate. There will be the haunting reminder of the music. There will be a time of silence. There will be reflection on the price that was paid. I intend to spend time counting my blessings.

I recall many years back while serving in Northern Ontario, I attended another Remembrance Day memorial. I stood quietly beside a man in his later years who seemed unusually emotional. Following the ceremonial portion of the service, he unpacked for me the account of his brother who ‘never made it home.’ His brother was a pilot in World War II. He had flown many successful missions and had written the family to indicate his soon departure from the front lines to the safety of Canada.

He never made it. There was a need for a pilot, someone to do recognizance over a harbour that was suspected of containing hostile ammunitions. This air force pilot had no requirements to serve. He was done. He had completed his duty and was ‘on leave.’ But why not one more flight? Why not serve where he could with the abilities God had given him? And so he volunteered–far beyond the call of duty–and flew off the runway into the skies above the harbour. Noone knew that the ‘enemy’ was anticipating this flight and he was met with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire which turned his craft into an inferno and he was taken into eternity.

What sacrifice! What devotion! I grew completely still, my breathing paused, as this man’s surviving brother wiped fresh tears from his eyes to describe the memory of the news received through an official visit to the family home informing them of the death. And then the letter came, postmarked 1 day before the flight with the promise ‘Mom, I’ll be home soon. I’ll be home.’

I’m not sure what memories flood your minds on this Remembrance Day. May we make wise use of the freedom we still enjoy. Lest we forget! Lest we forget!

Leadership Profiles

I have met with all kinds of leaders, and worked with many varieties as well through several years of ministry. I love biographies and try to sketch in my mind (though I’m no artist!) the profiles of these individuals.

What makes them tick? What is their central motivation? If they are Christians, how did they experience God’s regenerating power? How have they understood God’s will? What does ‘calling’ look like to them? How about character? If they are honest, what is their biggest character struggle? How did it develop? How are they seeing God change them ‘from the inside out?’ What skills do they possess?

Honestly, the questions just keep on coming. At my previous place of employment, I was nicknamed ‘Larry King’ for my hosting of panels, and a barrage of questions. I’ve read Larry King’s biography (not his real name) and found his journey into journalism broadcasting to be fascinating. By the way, I’ve done a few ‘radio’ shows and my home church invited me to ‘act the part’ in a Christmas production several years back.

Now….back to 3 John. Let’s sketch a profile of the leaders who are in this 14 verse letter. Today, we’ll start with ‘The elder’ whom most believe to the Apostle John.

The elder – A mature, seasoned Christian leader. Probably nearing the end of his ministry, this leader still communicates with friends. I wonder if he really knew that this short epistle would be ‘Spirit-breathed’ and included in the canon of Scripture.

What activities is the elder involved in as he writes? I think this frames his philosophy of ministry clearly as you study the verbs in the text.

I love. I pray. I have. I hear. I wrote. I will call attention. I do not. I hope.

Love – Leaders have their own love language. Some leaders have a hard time showing their love, while others probably err on the side of sentimentality. Leaders need to be ‘comfortable in their own skin’ as they serve groups of all sizes.

Prayer – Prayer is an essential part of ministry. In Acts 6 the apostles prioritized prayer to the Lord, to the congregation they served, to the deacons and to themselves. We can all learn to pray better, more in line with the will of God, more with a sense of dependence upon God for ourselves and those He has entrusted to our care.

Possessions – What did John ‘have?’ Not all possessions are material. The old hymn writer admonishes us to count our blessings, and so we should. ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits…’ Leaders need to take inventory of what they have in resources and then navigate the stewardship of what God has entrusted to them.

Senses – Leaders have physical senses, though, to various degrees of impairment, they do not use them equally. I’ve known two blind preachers, two paralyzed teachers and learned tons from their spirit of perseverance with their life challenges. Sign language opens up new venues for communicating, as I recently learned from a friend whose relative remains absent from local church fellowship as she asserted ‘no one there speaks my language.’

Planning – What have you done? What will you do? What are your future plans? Who holds you accountable for planning? The elder, in this text, planned to come, planned to fellowship with his friend, planned to address a problematic leader who was disrupting the fellowship by his authoritarianism.

Boundaries – What do you not want to do? What things won’t you do because they would be a) outside of your calling; b) wrong; c) unproductive for the time required. I’m being pushed by an excellent leadership coach who won’t accept my lack of implementation of boundaries. We all need iron-sharpening colleagues to help us grow, to establish, assess, maintain and explore proper boundaries for ourselves and those we lead.

Do you see any other leadership principles in the life of ‘the Elder?’ In future posts, we’ll dig deeper into the lives of the other men who are referenced.

More Virtues Please

Godly virtues are woven into the tapestry of one’s life by the remarkable hand of God, the Master Weaver.

Third John is a short letter between two Christian friends. The elder (John) writes to, prays for, encourages and challenges his friend. This letter precedes a planned visit at a future date. Let’s track through the text and explore further the other virtues which are noted. We saw the pivotal place of truth in the last post we shared together.

a) joy – Joy comes from commended testimonies. The conduct of Gaius and his reported loyalty to the truth and evident obedience stirred the heart of his mentor.

b) faithfulness – Faithfulness is measurable. Gaius evidenced fidelity to God and to God’s servants. He was reliable, trustworthy and his actions demonstrated this complete commitment.

c) hospitality – The love of strangers was an essential virtue in the expansion of the church. Jesus had sent out His followers, anticipating their welcome and also their rejection depending on the perspective of the host. In this short letter, John commends the hospitable welcome provided by Gaius to the strangers who had shown up, proclaiming the gospel message.

d) goodness – John uses a significant amount of ink to contrast the evil example of Diotrephes with the good and godly example of Demetrius. Goodness reflects God the ultimate origin of all that is good.

So what would a life look like that was based on truth and had woven intricately into it the virtues of joy, faithfulness, hospitality and goodness?

Divine Weaver, thank you for Your Master plan for my life. I thank You for what you created in me by the power of Your Holy Spirit. I confess I do not see the design as I should, but I am learning to trust You. Thank You for the good works You prepared in advance for me to accomplish. May Jesus Christ be seen in and through me. Remove the deception, the anger, the faithlessness, the self-centredness which comes so naturally. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me! Amen.

Valued Virtues

So…how is your reading of 3 John? What is God teaching you through His word? I love the promises of Psalm 119:98-100 –

“Your commands make me WISER than my enemies, for they are ever with me.

I have MORE INSIGHT than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

I have MORE UNDERSTaNDING than the elders, for I obey your precepts.”

Persistent meditation on God’s word combined with obedience results in life transformation. While I love hearing others teach and preach the Scriptures, I find great delight in studying, pondering and applying biblical principles which I have been taught through my own Bible engagement.

Now back to 3 John… (Here are a few insights I’ve been pondering)

The virtues or graces that were essential to the writer (John) in his gospel-centred relationships were

a) truth; b) love; c) joy; d) faithfulness; e) hospitality; f) goodness. 

Let’s probe into truth.  Regarding TRUTH, God commends

loving in the truth – Truth matters in relationships. We are called to speak the truth in love to each other. Deception is disastrous. Witness marriages and friendships that blow apart when one of the participants is a practised liar.

faithfulness to the truth – We commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, but here it seems the standards of truth reflects the doctrines and practices of the Christian faith. The Bible is our final authority for what we believe. Billy Graham shouldn’t be the only one who is known for the quote, ‘The Bible says….’ Gaius was marked by fidelity.

walking in the truth – There is a sense of progress, of development in the Christian life. If we are walking in the truth, we are surrounding ourselves with it. Our living, our giving, our working, etc is all truth-based. We are honest with God, with others and with ourselves. There is nothing quite so dangerous as ‘self-deception,’ as illustrated in 1 John 1 in our relationship with sin and its impact on our lives.

working together for the truth – Missionaries, pastors, those involved in ministry to any degree (e.g. Sunday School teachers, club leaders, small group facilitators) are part of a larger group, a local church which is filled with a team of people working together for the truth. We are not alone and others have a multitude of gifts that we do not possess.  Truth is our standard, our reference point, our objective as we seek to live it out, obey it and pass it on to others who so desperately need it. Those who line up with God’s standards are ‘well spoken of ….by the truth itself. Let’s keep company today with those to whom absolute truth matters because it does!

 

Observation – Seeing What The Text Says

One of the greatest challenges in studying the Bible is having a keen eye for observation. We must see what the Bible says before we wrestle with what it means.

I am amazed at the number of times I have asked people to answer a question from a Biblical text and they have given strange answers. They see ‘truths’ that are not there, or perhaps they’re simply trying to give the answer based on the cornucopia of Bible information they have garnered throughout their lifetime.

I recall one my Bible college professors who raised his voice and said to a keen, but misguided student, ‘Read the text! Read the text!’

Would you join me in reading the text of 3 John. 13 verses. It can’t be that difficult, can it?

Read it and read it and read it again. Read it repeatedly. Don’t try to draw any conclusions and don’t use any study notes. Just read 3 John.

Now….what did you see in your reading? For today, let’s simply list the various people cited by the author.

  1. The elder (the author himself) – not identified by name, but the spiritual leader who wrote to his dear friend to address the people and problems which were on his mind.
  2. Gaius – This man is referred to as ‘dear friend’ 4 times. How had the friendship started? Where did they meet? The details aren’t included in the text, but godly, close friendships are a huge blessing!
  3. Groups of believers – ‘some brothers’ ‘the brothers’ ‘strangers’ ‘the church’ ‘such men’ ‘The friends here’ ‘the friends there.’ These groups of Christians are spoken of in terms of ‘family’ and ‘friendship.’ Perhaps the Quakers historically have understood this better than many groups, calling their movement, ‘The Society of Friends.’   Caroline Stephen in 1908 wrote – ‘”A Friend’s meeting, however silent, is at the very lowest a witness that worship is something other and deeper than words, and that it is to the unseen and eternal things that we desire to give the first place in our lives. And when the meeting…is awake and looking upwards, there is much more in it than this. In the united stillness of a truly ‘gathered’ meeting, there is a power known only by experience, and mysterious even when most familiar.”  Deep friendships rightfully exist in gathering of God’s people. I have discovered even ‘strangers,’ who share my faith in Jesus Christ, soon become ‘friends.’
  4. The pagans – These are the unbelievers who do not know God, nor do they support in any way those who propagate the truth. A pluralistic culture bristles at such a term, and at times it was been pejoratively used.
  5. Diotrephes – This is a church leader, self-promoting and authoritarian in his style. This man was in the church, but clearly not following the example of Jesus Christ in his leadership. He sought to block ‘the elders’ influence and refused to welcome the traveling ‘brothers.’ The elder (John) intended to expose his evil conduct, probably through an act of church discipline at a future visit.
  6. Demetrius – This leader had a great reputation and was living out the truth he claimed to believer. John (the Elder) endorses him to Gaius as this man provides a good, godly example.

Keep reading and rereading the text. Make your own notes, and let’s compare ‘observations’ in the coming posts on this blog!

Digging deeper into the depths of Scripture…

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