Five Minute Devotions: 3 John 1
The last of John’s epistles is also the most personal. Like 1 John and 2 John, its primary concern is the spiritual health of the church and its defense against false teachers. While 1 John is an epistle to the churches and 2 John is a narrower letter to a specific church, 3 John narrows even further and is addressed to a specific person. In this epistle, John writes to Gaius to commend him for showing hospitality to certain missionaries that John had sent out (3 John 1:5) and requests that he continue to do so, noting that he is the only support they are receiving since neither the pagans (3 John 1:7) or the church leader Diotrephes (3 John 1:9) is welcoming them.
At the heart of 3 John is an implicit contrast of two people: Gaius and Diotrephes. Diotrephes is a self-serving and self-promoting. He refuses to listen to or allow the influence of any other church leaders, specifically John and his traveling missionaries, and excommunicates anyone who dares challenge his authority. In effect, Diotrephes has hijacked the church for his own purposes.
It is interesting to note that John does not call out Diotrephes for heresy. 1 John and 2 John deal heavily with false teachers proclaiming that Jesus was not God in the flesh. If Diotrephes was one of these heretics, you would think John would mention that. It is likely that there is nothing wrong from Diotrephes’ head knowledge—he knows what to believe—the problem is in how he has set himself up as sole proclaimer of that belief. We can have all the right beliefs and still be a heretic if our focus in on our pre-eminence and power rather than God’s.
Diotrephes’ primary problem is that his focus is on power, rather than love. He is the pastor more concerned about the size of his church than the depth of his church. He is the pastor who sets himself up as the sole leader without whom the church cannot stand. And he is the pastor who takes the church inward away from the world rather than outward into it. This is why John sets up Gaius as an anti-Diotrephes. Gaius is a minister to pastors. He is focused not just on his church but the global church. He focuses on the spread of the word, not the consolidation of his power. And he promotes Jesus, not himself. We must have a heart for the community and a heart for the believers, not simply a love for oneself and one’s ministry.
A third person mentioned by name in this letter is Demetrius. It is likely that he is John’s messenger, one of the traveling ministers sent by John to deliver this letter and receive Gaius’s support. He exemplifies those willing to go and do. As an itinerant pastor, Demetrius also serves as a contrast to Diotrephes. Diotrephes has sought power in being stationary and by building a church around himself. Demetrius has made his power through going from place to place, building churches around the message he preaches. The church cannot be an insular, people-hoarding organization. It is to be a vibrant, people-sending organization.
3 John is the shortest letter of the NT, but packs itself with contemporary meaning and application. Very likely, many of us know churches and church leaders with the spirit of Diotrephes. John’s warning about Diotrephes and commendation of Gaius provides for us clear and practical examples of how a local church should function in a global context.
Father, we ask that you make our spirits sensitive to the influence of Diotrephes, that you would nudge us forward when we become stuck, that you would help us keep our priorities straight, that would keep us from a worldly desire for power. Make us individuals and churches who will equip, train, call, and send missionaries the world over. Let everything we do be done for your glory and not our own.
How do we see the spirit of Diotrephes in our churches today?
What are some practical ways individuals and churches can follow the example of Gaius?
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