by Robert Dean
Series:3rd John (2003)
Duration:1 hr 10 mins 34 secs

A Tale of Two Christians


Gaius is the member of the congregation who is positive and growing spiritually. In contrast there is Diotrephes who is out of fellowship, operating on arrogance. He wants to be in the limelight, wants to run things, and is indeed running things. He is bullying the congregation and is the one who is calling the shots. Yet it is Gaius who John must address this epistle because Diotrephes is negative to the truth, negative to John's authority. These stand for two different kinds of Christians. Gaius is for the positive believer who is advancing towards spiritual maturity, has a positive attitude towards the Word and is applying it consistently in his life. On the other hand there is Diotrephes who is the poster child of arrogance and the arrogance skills and the consequences of arrogance on a local congregation.

Gaius has a positive attitude to the truth and to the Lord Jesus Christ and so he is walking by means of truth and is demonstrating the character of Christ in terms of his humility and in terms of his priorities. His priority is on the teaching of the Word and supporting the teaching of the Word. When certain missionaries and evangelists came to the area it was Gaius who made sure that they were taken care of. In contrast to him we have Diotrephes who won't even receive these itinerant ministers and those who wish to support them he puts out of the church.

Gaius's application of impersonal love is based upon his personal love for God and that is always the way it is. Our impersonal love for others must be based on our personal love for God, not the other way around. We cannot have real virtue in our love because so often we are operating on our sin nature and carnality asserts itself into the various things that we do. So we must put the motivation on that which never changes, the immutable character of God. For our love to have virtue it must be based on God alone has virtue, and the work of Christ on the cross. The more we come to understand who God is and what Christ has done for us the more we are motivated min terms of impersonal love for others because we realise that no matter how unlovely they may be or how attractive they may be we recognise we are all in the same boat and as far as God is concerned are all equally obnoxious and offensive to God because of our sin. Yet, He dealt with us not on the basis of who and what we are but on the basis of who He is and what Christ did no the cross. That is the model for impersonal love. We treat people on the basis of who God is and what Christ did on the cross. Once we lose that motivation then we are operating on subjectivity.

Gaius's impersonal love was demonstrated was demonstrated by his support of missionaries and evangelism. Our desire to witness is in many cases proportional to our impersonal love for all mankind because we think of people in terms of their eternal destiny, not in terms of how they treat us or how unattractive they are.

In contrast to Gaius's willingness, his selflessness, his grace orientation, his understanding of what he can do as an ambassador for Christ in the local congregation, we have Diotrephes. These are really just polar extremes. Whereas Gaius is just an individual member of the church, somewhat anonymous because he is not out there in the limelight but is there consistently and quietly in the background in terms of his Christian service and hospitality, Diotrephes wants to be in the limelight. He "loves to be first among them," but he is antagonistic to the authority of the apostle John.

Every now and then we run into people who are antagonistic to the authority of a pastor. Biblically speaking a pastor is the leader of a congregation, and that means he is the one the Lord has put in charge. This is something that is inherent in the whole New Testament idea of a teacher: someone who taught had authority because of their position. It is an inherently authoritative position, the pastor the leader. Diotrephes wants to be the leader and he has rejected the leadership of the apostle John. He is operating on the arrogance skills: self-absorption, self-indulgence, self-justification, self-deception and self-deification. He is setting himself up as the man in the congregation. What we have to remember here is that arrogance is the natural orientation of the sin nature, so that at the instant we are out of fellowship we are operating on arrogance. Arrogance is crafty, subtle, deceptive. One thing that we don't want people to think is that we are arrogant so we try to cloak that arrogance in all kinds of pseudo humility and pseudo love. That is really just another way of bringing attention to ourselves.

When we are operating on our own sin natures the one thing we hate is for someone to keep us from pursuing our own arrogant goal and direction, so as soon as somebody starts getting in our way, somebody who is keeping us from doing what we want to do, then we are going to react against them. This happens with Diotrephes in verse 10: "For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, 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 {them} out of the church." He reacts with sins of the tongue, malicious words, slander, gossip; he starts running down John. Furthermore he was not content with that, he would not receive the brethren. He starts to isolate himself. This is typical of those who claim that they are the only source of truth. In fact, those who wanted to support the missionaries were put out of the church. He wasn't going to put up with anyone who didn't see things exactly as he did.

John sets up his contrast between two different people and they are both believers. Gaius is a spiritual believer, advancing to spiritual maturity, and Diotrephes is a carnal believer operating on arrogance and receding down the path of reversionism. So now John is going to come to his conclusion in verse 11 which is a practical mandate to the readers. NASB "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good…" Right there he is contrasting these two individuals: Gaius is called good, and the word that he uses here in the Greek is agathos [a)gaqoj] which has the idea of intrinsic good. In this context it is what we would called divine good, i.e. operation that is done under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. In contrast we have evil. Evil here is indicating the operation of the sin nature, and the sin nature is going to produce either human good or personal sins. Human good might produce what appears to be wonderful, good, moral people but it is all a cover up for the horrible arrogance that is motivating their life. So we have the command here in v. 11 not to follow the example that Diotrephes is providing but imitate that which is good, and this is the illustration of Gaius.

John provides a prohibition, "do not imitate," in the form of a present middle imperative from the verb mimeomai [mimeomai]. This is the word from which we get our English "mimic." We also see part the root word mi in the word "imitate." These are etymological equivalents. What we have in this construction is a present imperative, and a present imperative expresses ongoing or continuous action. It emphasises something that should be a standard operating procedure in the life of a believer; this is something that should be an ongoing character trait. The believer is not to imitate that which is evil but is to imitate that which is good. The sin nature gravitates to that which is evil. It is easy for us to follow the example of someone who is involved in arrogance, in carnality, especially if that person has an area of strength that is similar to our own. If that person is in leadership it is even so much worse because then we use their behaviour to justify our own actions even when we know that it is not right. This is why it is so important for leaders in terms of their character. This is why there are certain character qualifications for pastors and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, because character does matter in a leader.   

"…The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God." Here the word "good" is a compound word from the Greek, agathos plus the verb poieo [poiew]—agathopoieo [a)gaqopoiew]. The good here is divine good. This genitive phrase "of God" in the English but in the Greek it is not simply theou [qeou], the genitival form of the noun, but it is preceded by a preposition, ek [e)k], meaning |"from the source of God"—e)k tou qeou: "he who does good is from the source of God." Some would say that means this is a believer, but that would be wrong. This is not talking about a believer verses an unbeliever. E.g. 1 John 3:7, 8 is a similar passage which is not a contrast between a believer and an unbeliever. The idea of doing good is also expressed in a couple of other passages, e.g. Luke 6:32-36. This is what we see manifest in the life of Gaius and in the life of the mature believer as they are operating on grace orientation and personal love for God.

Another example is found in 1 Peter 2:15, 20 NASB "For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men….For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right [intrinsic good] and suffer {for it} you patiently endure it, this {finds} favor with God." Doing good is the operation of divine good.

The doctrine of the role model – indicated by the verb mimeomai.  

  1. Many times Paul makes the statement to imitate himself—"imitate me." However, there is a restriction on that; he is not saying imitate everything that he does. Paul had a sin nature just as we do. 1 Corinthians 4:16 NASB "Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me." In what area? 1 Corinthians 11:1 NASB "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." In other words, Paul isn't saying to imitate him in everything he does, including his flaws, failures and sins, but to imitate him in that he has made doctrine the number one priority in his life and he is imitating Christ. So he restricts the imitation to the area of his obedience to Christ.
  2. We are only to make a role model of another human being in the arena that they are operating in fellowship and in obedience to Scripture. We don't make a role model of people just because they are a wonderful personality and a wonderful leader. To make a role model out of one's self is nothing more than arrogance—role model arrogance, where we make a role model out of ourselves or out of someone else. Role model arrogance always develops into inordinate competition and an intensification of the arrogance skills.
  3. Role model arrogance really works in two directions. Direction one is when we make a role model out of ourselves (Diotrephes); direction two is when we make a role model out of someone else.
  4. When we make a role model of someone else, when we start elevating somebody to a position which they should not have, this is iconoclastic arrogance. The word "iconoclastic": the beginning, "icon," has to do with making something an idol. The suffix added has to do with tearing down an idol. So when we use that term "iconoclastic arrogance" it has to do with the whole process of building up the idol, the person being worshipped or being blown out of proportion, and when their feet of clay is discovered tearing them down. First of all there is idolising a person, then he is torn down.
  5. Role model arrogance is preoccupation with people instead of occupation with Christ; they are the role model, not Christ.
  6. Christ is the only role model, Hebrews 12:1. We have to learn His character and the only way we can do that is to study the Word of God.
  7. How do we fix our eyes on Jesus? How do we become Christ-like? This is developed through the basic mechanics or spiritual skills: confession of sin, walking by the Spirit, staying in fellowship. That is the position where growth takes place. What are some of the mechanics? 2 Corinthians 5:14 says that it is the love for Christ that motivates us. As we focus more on Him and we realise what He has done for us then in gratitude we are motivated to pursue the Christian life and continue toward spiritual maturity. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we are to sanctify Christ in our hearts. There the idea is in our thinking. We realise the importance of Christ's likeness, the importance of knowing the mind of Christ, the importance of thinking like Christ thought. When we reach spiritual maturity we realise, Philippians 1:21, that living is Christ and that dying is gain.
  8. Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 7 NASB "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia." In the same way that they saw Paul responding by using the problem-solving devices in Tribulation so they responded to persecution and adversity and they became an example to other believers of how to apply the problem-solving devices. 2 Thessalonians 3:7 NASB "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you." They had an example of a disciplined Christian life. 1 Thessalonians 2:14 NASB "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they {did} from the Jews." So when we look at Scripture the only time Paul uses the idea of looking at another believer as an example is when that person is producing divine good and is imitating Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who is the role model, not another human being.

3 John 1:12 NASB "Demetrius 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." Demetrius must have been an example in context of doing that which was doing good. He had a good testimony and this we know is a key word for John, the perfect passive indicative of martureo [marturew], a word that has to do with a legal witness, a legal testimony. Demetrius is one who has this agathos demonstrated in his life, and he has a threefold witness as a matter of fact. There are many people who testify to the quality of his Christian life and his spiritual maturity. Secondly, he has a testimony from the truth itself because he is applying doctrine consistently in his life. Third, Demetrius has a witness from John and his companions who know Demetrius—"and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true."

3 John 1:13, 14 NASB "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." In other words, John has many things to say but is not going to take time writing them all out because the implication is that he would be there soon. He needed to come and straighten out the problem with Diotrephes. There would be a face-to-face confrontation with Diotrephes. Some times that is necessary when there is a church leader causing problems.

Then he closes with a typical closure. 3 John 1:15 NASB "Peace {be} to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name." When there is orientation to doctrine there can be peace no matter what trouble no matter what trouble Diotrephes may be causing.

As we conclude 3 John we are reminded of the emphasis on truth. Truth was also a key idea in 2 John and the 1st epistle. The believer is to walk in the light, walk in the truth; he is not to walk in darkness. We do this through the use of those ten problem-solving devices.