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?