Day #351: Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 14th
Scripture Reading: III John …
It must have been lonely at times … being a believer in Christ during the first century. I am afraid that some have a romanticized view of the early church, and even after the persecution had ended for a brief time, an inaccurate understanding of the life of the early Christians. They seem to think they all agreed and were all together, constantly loving and encouraging one another. Sadly, however, such was not the case, even then. Some in foreign lands understand what it is to be a small minority. It is at times like that when true friends are hard to come by! In this short letter John addresses such a friend - "Gaius." As he writes to his friend he reveals the source of their friendship: the Truth … the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers. It is oneness in the truth that makes real friends!
The particular reason for John's letter was apparently due to a problem in the congregation Gaius was part of. Some brothers in Christ, among them a man named, Demetrius (vs. 12), had come to the city where Gaius and other believers lived, but they had not been received by a man who must have been a leader or at least a prominent person in the church. John doesn't give a reason for this response, except that "Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us" (vs. 9). Within the church, even then, were people who would not and did not live in love with others in the church. They made it about THEM rather than Christ. This is nothing new!
John, the last of the apostles, had written to the church and was now writing to Gaius to address this situation. As he does so, God speaks to all of us in the church today. John commends his friend with great joy because he has been told that Gaius and others are continuing "to walk in the truth" (vs. 3). He says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (vs.4). The "truth" that John speaks about is outlined clearly in his first letter to the churches, I John. There he says, "We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (I John 4:19-20).
Diotrephes, and perhaps others, were not showing love to those who were coming either to visit them or to partner in ministry with them. It may have been jealousy or a sense of competition (such as exists in many communities today), but whatever it was, Diotrephes was NOT walking in the truth of God's call to love Him and to love one another. John declares, "So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us" (vs.10). This man had "taken over" the church and was telling those who disagreed with him that they should leave. In my experience as a pastor of several churches I have witnessed some who have attempted to do what John describes here in one way or another. Those who "walk in the truth" must be willing to confront such individuals and to exercise biblical discipline. Otherwise, they become a cancer that can quickly destroy the oneness and love of the entire body.
It may have been John's intention to encourage Gaius to "take the bull by the horns," knowing that he had the support of John, an apostle who had walked with Jesus. At that time there was no higher authority in the church. John doesn't reveal whether Gaius or Diotrephes were Elders in the church, but the situation reveals why God has established the role of elders in every local congregation in order to govern His people and to guide them in the truth of His Word. Accountability must be on a local level and without such accountability the sheep AND those responsible to shepherd the sheep may easily go astray.
John encourages his friend, who unlike Diotrephes, was walking in the truth and showing love to the brothers. John also commends those who had gone out preaching the Gospel, saying, "It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth" (vss. 7-8). The Apostle Paul often spoke about the "partnership in the Gospel" that exists between true believers in Christ's true Church. In the visible church there are always those who are not true "friends in Christ," as well as those who are immature and who need to be instructed and corrected. None of us ever reach the point where we do not need the instruction and correction of God's Word, and sometimes its rebuke! What results from such correction is a partnership in Christ that cannot be broken when difficulties arise. That is the beauty of the true and faithful body of Christ.
John's desire was to speak with his friend face to face and he instructs him to greet the rest of their friends, their brothers and sisters in Christ, by name. How many friends in Christ do you have? In smaller congregations it is often easier to know everyone and for everyone to be "connected." As a congregation grows it becomes more of a challenge to make sure that no one is lonely, but it is nonetheless necessary. Partnering in ministry within the body, in the community and in the world provides many opportunities to build friendships that will last a lifetime.
It is important, though, to understand that the Church is different than any other "organization." The Church is the Body of Christ and Jesus is our Head. True friendship must revolve around love for Jesus and love for His Body, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Diotrephes was missing that! He wanted to be noticed, he wanted to be "first," and his actions were causing division in the body and harm to the body of Christ in the eyes of others. People are watching how we treat each other. More importantly, GOD is watching!!
Peter wrote in his first letter to the churches, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul (like wanting to be first!). Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us" (I Peter 2:11-12).
As you live together with other believers, build friendships on the truth of the Gospel, knowing that Jesus has called you to love Him AND each other, and to "work together for the truth" (vs. 8). Friends in the truth share more than getting together once a week, we share life in the kingdom of God … we share Christ, who IS the Truth!
"Heavenly Father, it is such a joy and privilege to be part of the Body of Christ, His Church, and to work together with others to proclaim the Gospel, in word and in deed. Move my heart to love others as You have loved me. Fill me with Your Spirit and help me to continue to walk in the truth and to help others to do the same, knowing and experiencing the reality that Your truth sets us free from all the negative, sinful attitudes and behaviors of the old nature of sin. Thank you, Father, for Your love and for all of my friends in Christ! In Jesus' name, Amen"