I have been wonderfully blessed over the years to know many Pastors and parishioners in a number of different churches. And even though all of these churches and people are different, they seem to fall into one of two general and broad categories. There are those who build, and those who destroy. There are Pastors who create unity and those who create conflict. There are parishioners who bring churches together and those who tear them apart.
In the book of 3 John the beloved apostle writes a brief letter to his friend, Gaius. Gaius was a popular name in John’s day making it virtually impossible to identify this man. In this letter to Gaius John spotlights the character of his friend while at the same time warning him of a trouble-maker in the area. The contrast between these two men will give us a clear choice between the two types of Christians.
THE SUPPORTIVE AND GROWING BELIEVER
John addresses his letter to his friend Gaius and immediately affirms his love for him. He lists several great characteristics of Gaius. First, Gaius was a man who had a healthy soul. John says his soul is “getting along well”.
Gaius was growing in the faith and living in fellowship with the Lord. There was no stagnation in this guy! He was walking with the Lord and growing in that walk. Do you recognize how difficult it is to maintain a healthy soul? It doesn’t happen on its own.
If we want to be healthy physically, we have to work at it. We must watch what we eat, exercise regularly, and get regular physical check ups. I’m beginning to notice that the older we get, the harder we have to work. When we are young most of us could eat lots of things (and plenty of it) without any adverse effect. As we get older we can’t eat anything without seeing it later hanging around our mid-section.
I think the same is true in our spiritual lives. When we are new believers everything is fresh and exciting. We love to pray, we devour God’s Word and there is no place we would rather be than with God’s people, talking about God’s work. However, as we get older, other things occupy our time. Prayer becomes more mechanical and worship too often gives way to preoccupation with church organization and activity.
We will not have a healthy soul unless we work to maintain that health. We do this by regular and practical encounters with God’s word; a consistent prayer life; a regular time with others in worship; a disciplined, regular, and honest inventory of our heart and our living; and a regular exposure to people who will challenge and encourage us in our growth. So, how healthy would you say your soul is at the present time?
Second, Gaius was a man who had a good reputation. Everyone spoke well of Gaius. They knew him as a man of faith and character. I must admit that on occasion someone begins a conversation with me by asking, “Does so-and-so go to your church?” At these times I often brace myself. Often these comments lead to charges of inconsistency in a person’s life. Whenever someone talked about Gaius, John knew it was going to be a positive.
Obviously, we can’t and shouldn’t live to please the world. But we can be consistent. People who do not agree with our beliefs will respect us for being consistent in those beliefs. I believe if we are open, honest, and living as people of integrity, we will have a good reputation even with many non-believers who do not share our convictions.
Third, Gaius demonstrated his faith in practical ways. When the traveling preachers came to town, Gaius opened his home to them. At this time, these preachers went from town to town sharing what the Lord was doing. They refused to take money from non-believers (because they wanted people to understand that God’s grace was free and not the result of their donations . . . a good principle for today). So, local believers welcomed these men into their homes and provided for their needs. Gaius was pleased and eager to help. He put his faith into action.
I must tell you that these kinds of people are a pastor’s delight. I understand what John means when he says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” There is something wonderful about hearing that a person under your charge has developed deep roots in the faith.
These “Gaius-like people” are the folks who see a ministry need and ask how they can help. They hear of a financial need and they open their checkbook. These people are quick to open their homes to guests, they donate supplies to projects, and they give of their time and their resources. These people do not throw away every request from missionary organizations . . . they see these as possible invitations to participate in the gospel in other areas. These are the people through whom God works. The more of the Gaius-type people a church has, the greater impact they will make.
I find myself convicted by Gaius’ example. I want to be more like him and I hope you do too. I have become way to cynical. I tend to want a discipleship that is convenient. But following Christ is seldom “convenient”.
- People get sick at inconvenient times
- Opportunities to share our faith come upon us when we were not planning to take time to witness
- A crisis is never at a convenient time
- Financial needs in the lives of others often present themselves when you feel least able to help.
- And there always seems like there is something else you could do instead of worship personally or corporately.
Gaius gives us an example of a positive Christian life. He is an example of the kind of person who makes a huge difference.
But Gaius is not the only person commended in the letter. John also refers to a man by the name of Demetrius. He writes,
12 Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
Demetrius is admired and respected by other people . . . but John says, He is also appreciated and honored by the truth (or God) himself. Demetrius is no phony. This guy is real, just like Gaius.
Many believe Demetrius was the messenger carrying this letter written by John to Gaius. Basically, John is asking Gaius to show Demetrius the same kind of hospitality that he has shown to others. And maybe, hidden in the message is: “And keep him away from Diotrephes.”
THE PROUD AND OBSTINATE
If the church was full of Gaius-like individuals the church would always be a vital and powerful force in the world. Unfortunately, the church is not made up of only Gaius like people. In John’s day, a guy by the name of Diotrephes was causing problems.
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
Notice what John says about Diotrephes. First, we are told that he “loves to be first”. In other words, the number one concern for Diotrephes was his own agenda and desires. He was a person who began every sentence with “I”. I don’t doubt that he did some good things, but he always wanted credit for doing them. He was a man who believed his way was the only right way. He wanted power (and the smart church will make sure he doesn’t get it).
Diotrephes may have been the local Pastor or he might simply have been a powerful member of the church who wanted to control things. We know he had influence because he had the power to refuse to welcome the traveling preachers and to make like miserable for those who did.
Unfortunately, these kinds of people are found in the church today. There are Pastors who seek to build kingdoms to themselves. They don’t want to consider anyone’s opinion but their own. They are “in charge” and they want to make sure that everyone knows it. They have a tendency to “run over” their congregation and leave fractured churches in their wake.
But it is not just Pastor’s that have this problem. There are church members who want to be dictators. They resist change, they want to control all decisions, and they want things to go their way. They want to “win”. The only time these people are interested in listening, is when you are saying nice things about them.
Second, we are told that he would have nothing to do with John and company. It appears that John sent a letter asking for Diotrephes to welcome the traveling preaches. He refused. Why is that? It’s simple, he didn’t want to share the spotlight with anyone. He is not about to allow John or any other traveling preachers enter his church and take the spotlight from him. These divisive people have no use for fellowship with other Christians. They want to “protect their flock” from exposure to any other teachers. It’s not because they are afraid of error . . . they are afraid of losing power and influence!
Third, Diotrephes actively working against those who see things differently than him. He was not above using force and intimidation to get their way. Diotrephes used gossip, slander and he had those who dared to show hospitality to the traveling preachers kicked out of the church.
I suspect many of you have encountered these kinds of people. They fight every project that wasn’t their idea. They are the first to greet the Pastor at the door when he moves to the community and as soon as he takes some leadership initiative (in other words, doesn’t do what they want) they diligently campaign to push the Pastor out.
Church “dictators” are dangerous people. They are experts in putting labels on other Christians and classifying them into neat little categories. They base their fellowship on personalities, not the doctrines that are fundamental to the faith. The tragedy is that these “dictators” actually believe that they are serving God and glorifying Jesus Christ. Many of you can share personal accounts of the destruction one obstructionist person can bring.
Jay Adams, a noted Christian counselor lists several results of what he calls “sibling rivalry” in the church.
- The contentious person is miserable and makes everyone around them miserable. They stir up bitterness, resentment and discontent.
- It results in division within the body of Christ. In cases of sibling rivalry people have to choose sides and churches split.
- It results in God’s name being disgraced. Christian and non-Christian people witness conflict in the church and conclude that they don’t need any of that grief in their life. They conclude that if God is powerless to bring unity and peace among His own people, there isn’t anything He can do for them. God looks bad when his people are childish.
- It hurts weak Christians. Many people who are young in the faith leave the church because of the pettiness of contentious people. I wonder how many people you know who talk about their religious faith with the words, “I used to go to church but the fighting turned me away. People become disillusioned by the conflict in this place where love is to reign. [Jay Adams, Sibling Rivalry in the Household of God Accent: 1988]
It seems obvious to me that the greatest question for us this morning is simply, “Which kind of person is most like you? Are you more like Gaius or Diotrephes? Are you the kind of person who is active in following Christ, supporting his followers and seeking his glory? Or do you tend to be negative and an obstructionist?” The better question is: “What kind of person do I want to be?”
I am confident that even though we may see hints of an obstructionist in some of the things we do, we want to be people who encourage the growth of God’s Kingdom. To that end let me focus on three lessons we should learn from 3 John.
First, we are reminded of the importance of hospitality. Our times are different from the time of John. In his day there were no hotels or RV’s. They didn’t have the radio or the television. For preachers to get around they had to travel from town to town and depend on the hospitality of God’s people. Today that need is not near as great.
However, the need for hospitality remains high. When we open our homes to others we show that we value people over things. When we extend hospitality we demonstrate our Christianity in a very tangible way. Opening our homes and hearts is the best way to build strong relationships.
In 2 John we were told to be careful not to extend hospitality to those who are false teachers. We are to be cautious but not negligent. What are some ways for us to show hospitality today?
- We can house special speakers and musicians that come through our community
- We can invite newcomers over to our home for a meal
- We can bring a pie to a new neighbor
- We can invite Christian friends over for dinner
- We can give someone a ride to an appointment or meeting
- We can help someone who has car trouble on the side of the road
- We can give of our resources to support a ministry
- We can celebrate the special occasions in a persons life
- We can visit someone in the hospital
The key to hospitality is giving of our self. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. I encourage you to look for ways to extend practical love to the people you come in contact with. Look for ways to give yourself to another.
Second, we are reminded that a good reputation can only be gained from consistent Christlikeness. The child of God does not have to be perfect to gain a good reputation. The person with a good reputation is the person who listens to others and admits when they are wrong. The person with a good reputation is consistent in their Christianity. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard things such as,
- They are nice but only if you do things there way
- They are a good speaker (singer, teacher, leader) but they never admit when they are wrong.
- They have a lot of knowledge but they are constantly fudging on the truth.
- They seem like kind people but if they don’t like you . . . look out!
- They have been greatly blessed by God . . . but don’t expect them to share any of that blessing with others.
It doesn’t matter what kind of reputation you’d like to have . . . people will watch what you do and draw their own conclusions. Our goal is to strive for consistent honesty in our discipleship.
Finally, our goal is to honor the Lord and advance HIS Kingdom and not our own. When it comes down to it, this is the most important principle. Our goal is to honor Him. We can’t do that if our ego gets in the way. We can’t serve the Lord if we are wrapped up in our interests and our desires.
Pastor Rick Warren has written,
“…Worldly Christians look to God primarily for personal fulfillment. They’re saved, but self-centered. They love to attend concerts and enrichment seminars but you’d never find them at a missions conference, because they aren’t interested. Their prayers focus on their own needs, blessings, and happiness. It’s a “me-first” faith: How can God make my life more comfortable? They want to use God for their purposes instead of being used for his purposes. In contrast, world-class Christians know they were saved to serve, and made for a mission. They’re eager to receive a personal assignment and excited about the privilege of being used by God. World-class Christians are the only fully-alive people on the planet. Their joy, confidence, and enthusiasm are contagious because they know they’re making a difference. They wake up each morning expecting God to work through them in fresh ways. Which type of Christian do you want to be? God invites you to participate in the greatest, largest, most diverse, and most significant cause in history—his Kingdom….” Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?,
Which kind of person DO you want to be? Do you want to follow the course of Gaius or the course of Diotrephes? It’s my hope and prayer that we will be people who are eager to serve and to reach out to the world, even as we open our arms to each other.