Study 10 TWO GOOD EXAMPLES AND ONE BAD ONE
THE LETTERS OF JOHN
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: 3 John 1-14)
In concluding this series of studies we turn to John’s Third Letter. It would seem that the key-verse of this short letter is verse 11, which Dr Weymouth renders: “Do not follow wrong examples but right ones: he that does what is right is a child of God; he who does what is wrong has not seen God.” The letter is a private one in which we read of three characters: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius. John tells us some exceedingly good things about Gaius and Demetrius, but in the case of Diotrephes he can only write of bad things. Then comes the exhortation: ‘Follow the right examples’ – in other words, do not follow Diotrephes, but follow Gaius and Demetrius. It is possible to follow the wrong examples, and to do so is always fatal. When we get absorbed with someone we become like that person, for they influence us – and in turn we influence others. Here, then, we have pictures of three members of the church of long ago. Let us look at them with the prayer in our hearts that God will give us grace to follow the two good ones and not the bad one!
1. GAIUS (VERSES 1-8) – A GOOD EXAMPLE!
In his informative pen-picture of Gaius, John tells us three very significant things about him:
- He abounded in spiritual health (verse 2). He may have been physically unwell, and possibly he was poor materially, but the thing that is emphasised here is that his soul was brimming over with spiritual life and vitality – look up and compare John 10:10. Some Christians live in a constant state of spiritual invalidism; they are never really well and do not know anything about life more abundant; they exist, or endure, but they do not enjoy living in fellowship with the Lord from day to day. The secret of spiritual health is in verses 3-4. It consists of receiving the truth and walking in it – look up Matthew 4:4.
- His life harmonised with his profession (verses 3-4). Not only did Gaius believe the truth (for it was in him), but he lived out what he believed (he walked in the truth). He not only had the truth in his head, he had it in his heart also. His faith really worked – look up James 2:20. It is most necessary that we should stand for the truth and for the whole counsel of God – look up Acts 20:27; but there is a still greater need for Christians to demonstrate the truth in their lives – look up Titus 2:7-10.
- His life and his service were dominated by faithfulness, hospitality, large-heartedness, generosity and, above all, love (verses 5-8). What an example for us to follow! Gaius knew what it was to be faithful to the Lord and to his brethren, to give hospitality to those itinerant preachers who visited the churches, to be open-hearted and generous and, above all, to be loving in his relationship with others. If there was any way in which he could help the work of the Lord, Gaius would do it, and the dominant motive he had in all his service was that of love – look up 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 2 Corinthians 5:14.
2. DIOTREPHES (VERSES 9-10) – A BAD EXAMPLE!
This man reminds us of the weeds and the wheat – look up Matthew 13:25; Romans 8:9; 2 Timothy 3:5. How did he get into the church? Or, having got in, why did he deteriorate so terribly?
- He was a proud, self-willed man who always wanted to be first. Verse 9 makes it clear that he loved the public eye and was always pushing to the front. He was certainly not content to work behind the scenes; he wanted the limelight. He was insufferably proud, and this was the root cause of all the trouble that he was to himself and to others. What a tragedy it is when anyone pushes around like this in a church! How unlike the Lord Jesus to act in this way! – look up Matthew 11:29; 20:27-28, and compare 1 Peter 3:4. Do not follow the example of this man who was dominated by self and was obstructive, destructive, critical and jealous.
- He had an undisciplined and dangerous tongue. He was guilty of prattling (verse 10), which means he overflowed with words which were usually malicious or evil. Be careful of the loquacious person! Diotrephes talked much, and in so doing tried to build up his own reputation, usually by belittling others and speaking against them. What damage is caused by undisciplined tongues! How much we need to pray the prayer of the psalmist – look up Psalm 141:3!
- He turned others away from the church. Fancy casting others out of the church, excommunicating them! Why did he do this? Because they resisted him. Anyone who would not play up to him became his enemy. Have we ever been guilty of turning anyone away from the church by our bad example, our criticism or lack of love? Do others avoid us because we are like Diotrephes? – look up and meditate on Philippians 2:1-8.
3. DEMETRIUS (VERSE 12) – ANOTHER GOOD EXAMPLE!
In all probability Demetrius was the bearer of this letter. We are told three things about Him:
- Everybody spoke well of him (verse 12). Sometimes, of course, it is not good when everyone speaks well of us, but in this case it was good. Wherever Demetrius went, in the church, among his friends, at home or in business, everyone had a good word to say for him. Even his enemies could not fault him – look up Daniel 6:4-5.
- Like Gaius, he lived out the truth (verse 12). Here are five rules for Bible-reading and study:
- look it up;
- write it down;
- pray it in;
- live it out; and
- pass it on.
This is just what Demetrius did. The truth itself attested the reality and the spirituality of this man.
- He had the commendation of his spiritual leaders (verse 12). John, along with other men of spiritual maturity and insight, was able to commend him as a godly, Christ-honouring, Spirit-filled man.