Motherly Affection for the Church
Scripture: 3 John 1:1–15
Motherly Affection For The Church
3 John 1-15
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
We just spent over one hundred Sundays working our way verse-by-verse through the book of Matthew. Next week I would like to start the book of James, but today I have chosen a small letter hidden away in the back of our Bibles. The entire letter is only 15 verses long and short enough to cover in one day.
I specifically chose 3 John because of the special day we are celebrating. When we think of our moms, most, hopefully all of us consider caring hearts, tender affections and kind dispositions. Moms are symbols of love. God uses them to hold the family together. Often they are first on the front lines to confront wrongdoing, solve problems, reaffirm doubts, heal wounds and promote unity.
I chose 3 John this morning because that same love a mother has for the family is the same love a Christian is to have for the church. The apostle John is pushing ninety years old. He is the last of the original disciples. His love for the Lord and His people still burned brightly evidenced by what we will learn this morning.
I would like to examine his motherly affection for the church as he addresses three specific people. And may God address your heart to see if your affections for the church line up with his.
1. GAIUS: A MAN OF PRINCIPLE
The first man that is mentioned by John is a fellow by the name of Gaius, a common name in the ancient Roman world (Ac. 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14). He is identified as the "beloved" Gaius and one that John loves in truth (cf. 2 Jn. 1).
When John says he loves Gaius "in truth" he is not saying he truly loves Gaius. I am sure he does, but his point is to highlight the special relationship they have with each other because of their common bond in Christ.
You do realize that Jesus Christ died to bring us to God the Father. All Christians have a common spiritual Father, and therefore by implication we are spiritual brothers and sisters with each other. We have a unique and unbreakable unity not based on gender, skin color, intelligence, wealth or interest, but rather based on the fact that God has adopted all of us into His spiritual family. Therefore we accept one another in the faith. We love one another in truth.
Love promotes prayer. We pray for the people and things we love (or wish to start loving). John identifies his prayer for Gaius in verse 2: "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers."
This is not a verse to support the so-called prosperity gospel. God's greatest goal for all of you is not to be healthy and wealthy. As a matter of fact He uses pain and suffering to accomplish His greatest goal, which is to draw you deeper into conformity to Jesus Christ. Yet there is nothing wrong with praying for another's health and wellness. We see it in the Bible, and we do it in our church corporately every Wednesday night because of our love for one another. John loved Gaius and desired to see him in good health.
What we cannot miss from this verse is the comparison John is making with Gaius' physical health and his spiritual health. He is confident of Gaius' spiritual health which is more important. The prayer is that his physical health will match up. "Where I know you are spiritually, I hope you will be physically." Are you ok with that prayer? How about God aligning your physical health with your spiritual health? If that were the case, there may potentially be some people right here in this sanctuary that would just drop over dead!
We are concerned about so much. First and foremost, is your soul prospering? Nothing is more important. How much time and devotion is given to your soul in comparison to all the other things in which you wish to prosper? Do you spend more time watering your lawn than reading your Bible? Did you spend more effort this morning getting your hair prepared for today's service than you did your heart? Are your biceps being exercised more in the gym than your knees in the prayer closet? Is your financial portfolio more of a concern than your treasures in heaven? God wants concern for your soul to come first. And when we put our souls first, we also display a love for the church because of the example we set for others.
John found great encouragement in the spiritual example that Gaius set. Others took notice. Verse 3, "For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth." Obviously it was well known how the soul of Gaius was prospering. He knew the truth, and he lived it out. News made it back to John. John was "very glad." He rejoiced!
I want you to think to yourself for a moment. What brings you joy? I do not deny that there are many honorable sources of joy, but what brings you the greatest joy? Or let me phrase the question another way. If God were to give you one thing, what would you ask for? Obviously your answer to that question would be your greatest source of joy.
As I mentioned, the apostle John was about ninety when he wrote this letter. I am sure he experienced most of what life had to offer. I am also positive that his desires were in line with God's. What do you think he would have desired? Imagine if we could learn the Apostle John's (the disciple whom Jesus loved) greatest joy!
In verse 3 John we saw that many were talking about Gaius' outstanding spiritual walk. In verse 4 we learn how John felt about it. "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." How refreshing is that! A person with the right priorities and priorities that centered on a love for the church!
How many of us would say that the spiritual stability of the church brings us the greatest joy? Let me see if I can support John's statement logically. What is the greatest fruit of a Christian? Love. Which humans should be the greatest recipients of our love? Our spiritual family, God's people, the church. What is evidence of that love? Desiring to see these people achieve their greatest good. What is their greatest good in the eyes of God? Seeing them walk in the truth, conform to Christ. If that is God's greatest desire for them, what should be our greatest desire for them? You get the point? You see that when we find greater joy in anything other than this, we reveal to ourselves that either God's greatest goals are not in line with ours, and/or we simply do not love people enough to want their greatest good. Can we say, "God's greatest goal is to see all of you walking in a rock-solid relationship with Him, and my greatest goal is nothing less. What brings Him joy brings me joy because I have a heart after God's own heart!"
And if we believe this, we will be doing what we learned last week (Mt. 28:18-20). We will be acting as mature disciples of Jesus, and then through the overflow of a Spirit-filled life, will be discipling others though our example and instruction. Like everything else in life, we will vigorously pursue that which will bring us the greatest joy. For you, as for the apostle John, is it fellow believers walking in the truth? It is like a mother coming alongside a child and finding great joy that the child is maturing based upon the instruction she gave.
Back in the later first century the Christian church was growing rapidly. There were more converts than people available to shepherd them. Therefore there developed itinerant or traveling preachers. They would travel from church to church on a circuit and depended on the churches to provide for their support.
We spoke about Gaius' love for the church. Word also made it to John how Gaius' supported these traveling preachers. John reports in verses 5-8: "Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth."
Again, do you see Gaius' love for the church? His passion to see others learn the truth. His insight in knowing that a church will never mature without being exposed to gifted teachers. His desire to practice hospitality toward these teachers. His care for Christians that were "strangers" to him. His willingness to put his money where his heart was.
2. DIOTREPHES: A MAN OF PRIDE
That sets us up for our second point. From Gaius (a man of principle) to Diotrephes (a man of pride).
Let's look at the contrast John sets up between Diotrephes and Gaius. Look halfway through verse 10, "[Diotrephes was] unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts themout of the church." Gaius received the traveling teachers. Diotrephes did exactly the opposite. He refused them. The reason for his actions was because he hated authority. Nobody was going to tell Diotrephes what to do!
In my ten years of being here I have developed my fair share of critics. I have been viciously attacked. My wife has been attacked. Even my children, because of their relationship to me, have been attacked. And the common denominator that brought about all of this hostile aggression was because I am not afraid to tell people what they need to hear. Why? Because I love to see people walking in the truth.
If my child were playing in the middle of the street, I would seek to remove him from a position of danger. When people live in unrepentant sin, they put themselves in a position of greater danger as well as the church through their negative words and conduct.
Many realize I am acting in love. Others, however, simply cannot stand authority, take offense at me for confronting their actions, and do all they can to malign me and subsequently the church I represent. At least I am not alone. I do not feel so bad when I realize that this is how Diotrephes treated even the apostle John. John says in verse 10 that he brought forth unjust accusations with wicked words.
Because Diotrephes hated John, he hated everything that John stood for. His ungodly hatred was even so strong that to boost his own ego he was willing to reject these traveling teachers because they were sent from John regardless of how it affected the church. As a matter of fact, verse 10 even goes so far to say that he would even reject those in the church who received these teachers. He believed in second and third degree separation! "I don't like John, therefore I don't like anyone from John and therefore I don't like anyone who accepts anyone from John!"
The church was not number one in Diotrephes' life. You know who was? He was! Back up to verse 9, "I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say."
None of us are immune. John learned this lesson from the school of hard knocks himself. I remember the time that Jesus just announced to the disciples about his upcoming date with Jerusalem that would involve condemnation, crucifixion and resurrection (Mt. 20:18-19). In the next verse we read about John's own mother making a simple request on behalf of her two boys: "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left" (Mt. 20:21). Clear evidence of a love for family over a love for the church. The text says even the other ten were indignant (Mt. 20:24). Was it because they were offended by her loveless comments? No, it was because they wanted these places for themselves! Jesus closes His rebuke of this attitude with the following words: "Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:26-28). The church comes first!
Pride, self-will, the sin did not stop at the end of the first century! Power struggles are so common in the church. The damage we are willing to bring to the precious bride of Christ and the techniques we will use to justify it simply because our ego was wounded in not getting what we want. As I have said so often, it is not about you or me. It is about the church. And when we love the church, we willingly put ourselves last if it means promoting the greater good of God's flock. That is impossible for the Diotrephes' out there because they love to be first. Subsequently in God's economy they will be last (Mt. 19:30).
John and any pastor worth his weight does not play games with fools like these. The beginning of verse 10: "For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does."
As a side note I find the whole ordeal with Diotrephes ironic. The whole purpose of 2 John is to avoid traveling teachers who did not bring apostolic doctrine. Now in 3 John, teachers come with apostolic doctrine in direct connection with an apostle, and they are refused.
3. DEMETRIUS: A MAN OF POPULARITY
A third individual mentioned is Demetrius. I am calling him "a man of popularity" because of the testimony he lived.
While he is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, he is introduced by the comments in verse 11. "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God."
We are called in Ephesians 5:1 to "be imitators of God." Yet almost every other time we find that Greek word "imitate" ("mimeomai" from where we get the English word "mimic), it is used in the context of imitating others (cf. 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thes. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thes. 3:7, 9; Heb. 6:12; 13:7). The implication is that we are to be examples of Christlike living for each other. We can, as Paul said, imitate him as he imitates God (1 Cor. 11:1). Find a person and say, "I want to be like him or her." Unfortunately, especially our children find more desire in imitating pagan stars from the world than godly individuals. This is John's concern. Find the good and imitate it (cf. 1 Pet. 3:13). Be able to recognize the evil and reject it. We had better take this one seriously. For the one, as verse 11 says, who enjoys imitating evil has obviously not seen God.
So if Gaius and the church he shepherds needs some help in finding someone to imitate, John is quick to provide a suggestion. There is a man named Demetrius among them. In verse 12 John says, "[He] has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true."
Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius - two good and one bad. Who do you most identify with?
John wraps up this short letter in verses 13-15: "I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face [another indication of one's love for the church]. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name [see the intimacy]."
We are thankful for our moms. God has placed them in our lives that we might learn from them. May the affection, care, concern, sacrifice, service and love we see in them be an example of the attitude we should have for the local church. May each of us understand the grace that forgave our sins and drew us to the Father. And may we see that grace still operating in transforming our hearts to love that which the Father loves. May we love the church as He loves the church. And may our love for the church be practically demonstrated in the way we love each other in truth and prosper in spiritual health and rejoice to see the spiritual growth of others and encourage each other and put others above ourselves and set worthy Christian examples and follow what is good and desire to see each other face to face.