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3 JOHN - The Usual Suspects

Walking In The Light - The Epistles of John  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:36
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Last winter Selah got to be in the Reitz Theater’s production of Frozen, Jr. (I know, I know, Disney is the devil, but in our defense this was before they went full goblin-mode with their sodomite agenda, so we looked on it as a matter of conscience. So you eat your lizard-fritter and we’ll eat ours…)
One of the things that was remarkable about the production was how tightly Disney controlled every aspect of the show—the costumes for the leads were shipped directly from Disney, the backgrounds were all supplied by Disney—the kids were even warned not to ad-lib their lines too much because Disney representatives had been known to anonymously attend performances and issue fines for shows that deviated too far from the script! But their intent was to protect their intellectual property by making sure that every performance in every town was as close to identical as possible.
I remember reading an article a while back written by a pastor who realized that, in a way, you can see the same kind of thing with churches. He noticed that as he went to different conferences and got into conversations with pastors from all over the country that it began to feel like they were each putting on a production of the same play with the same “characters”—each church had the cranky budget-minded naysayer, each church had the warm, encouraging discipler or the glass-chewing theology fanatic, or the once-a-month casual attender… you get the idea. He said it was very encouraging as a pastor to realize that the struggles and conflicts and challenges that he was presented with at his church were not unusual at all, that the life of a local church wherever it is seems to have “the usual suspects” (to use Claude Reins’ memorable line in Casablanca).
This third letter from the Apostle John we are considering this morning was written to a church that seems to have been in the middle of a breach in fellowship caused by the sin of one member in particular. (If 2 John described a threat to a church’s fellowship over a failure of truth, 3 John describes a threat to a church’s fellowship over a failure of love!) In the course of addressing this breakdown in the church, John names three individuals by name: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius. Each one of those men (along with John himself) give us a picture of four different men with four different personalities and reputations. And I think that we see these same personalities, these same “characters”, if you will, present in churches even down to this day.
And you can see by the situation the letter describes that it is vital to the life and health of a church that we understand from God’s perspective what role we are playing in the life of our fellowship. And so my goal this morning is to help you understand this small book so that God’s Spirit will then use these verses so that you can ask yourself: “Am I a Gaius or a Diotrephes? Am I ministering to the Body or tearing it apart?” My prayer for you today is that God will use these verses to open your eyes to
Evaluate the ROLE you are PLAYING in the LIFE of the Church
We read these verses this morning in the presence of the elements of the Lord’s Supper laid out before us—I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered why we set this table before our worship begins versus bringing them out at the end? At least part of the reason we do this is so that we spend our time in worship being continually reminded that we will be celebrating this meal together at the end.
In other words, we are going to observe this Supper in a few moments, and that means that you must spend this time today preparing to receive this Supper in unity, the way you are called to. And so I want us to look carefully at what the Scripture says about the different hearts on display in this short book—I pray that God will give you insight into your own heart so that you might rightly understand and judge the role you are playing in the life of the church.
The first character we meet in 3 John is the man John addressed the letter to:
3 John 1 (ESV)
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
When we look at Gaius in this letter, we see

I. Gaius: A man with the RIGHT BALANCE (3 John 1-8)

John spends most of his time writing to encourage Gaius, who he calls his “dear friend” (“beloved”) no less than four times in this short note. The first thing that we see about him is that he was a man who knew how to
Live SPIRITUALLY (vv. 1-2)
Look at verse 2:
3 John 2 (ESV)
2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
It sounds like Gaius was not physically well when John writes this letter, but he says he is praying for Gaius’ health in an interesting way: He says that he prays “that you may be in good health as it goes well with your soul”. In other words, John could think of no better way to pray for Gaius than to pray, “Lord, make him as healthy physically as he is spiritually healthy!”
Think about that for a moment! What if someone prayed that way for you? “Lord, let his physical health match his spiritual health!” We take care of our physical health with diet, exercise and expert care as necessary, but do we feed ourselves spiritually by God’s Word, exercise our spiritual lives by serving God and gathering with His people, seek out opportunities to be discipled and mentored by God’s people? What would happen to you if someone prayed that your spiritual state would be reflected in your physical state?
Gaius knew how to live spiritually, and he knew how to
Walk TRUTHFULLY (vv. 3-4)
3 John 3–4 (ESV)
3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
As we’ve seen over the past few months, John writes a lot in his letters about what it means to “walk in the truth”—certainly part of what it means is that in Gaius there is no contradiction between his profession of faith and his practice of faith. He confesses that Jesus Christ has purchased him with His blood, and he lives like it. He lives a “contradiction free” life, and the consistency of his life is confirmed by those who know him—his life and his walk was watched by other believers—the “brothers” who told John that Gaius was “the real deal”. Would the people who know your identity as a believer say the same about you to other Christians?
Not only did Gaius live spiritually and walk truthfully, he was a man who knew how to
Serve FAITHFULLY (vv. 5-6)
3 John 5–6 (ESV)
5 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.
Because Gaius lived consistently with what he confessed, he loved to serve the ones who served His Savior! These “brothers” that John refers to here were most likely itinerant evangelists and ministers who went from town to town throughout Asia Minor proclaiming the Gospel and planting churches. Gaius was faithful in his ministry to them—they knew that they could depend on him to do what he needed to do to serve them however they needed.
And not only that, Gaius sent them on their journey “in a manner worthy of God”—he honored them. Think of how we honor veterans that we meet with statements like “Thank you for your service”—Gaius was quick to honor these men with “Thank you for your ministry”. Far too many pastors and evangelists and ministry leaders burn out and give up because there are so few men like Gaius who will support them in a manner worthy of God—to love and encourage them the way that God would (and to honor them for who they are—ambassadors of God Himself!)
Gaius knew how to live spiritually, walk truthfully, serve faithfully—and he knew how to
Minister GENEROUSLY (vv. 7-8)
3 John 7 (ESV)
7 For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.
John says that after these brothers moved on from their time with Gaius, they went out “accepting nothing from the Gentiles”—in other words, Gaius was so generous with his wealth that they didn’t need to have their ministries funded by unbelievers!
It might be treading on some toes to say this, but we have to ask the question: Is it possible that so many churches have to supplement their ministry budgets with reliance on selling things to the public—bazaars, craft fairs, fundraisers, dinners and whatnot—because there are not enough Gaiuses in their churches? Is it worth considering that perhaps if there were more members like John’s generous friend Gaius that churches wouldn’t have to go begging to the world to keep their ministries going?
Gaius wanted to give generously—so that the ministers would not have to depend on the Gentiles, and because he understood that to do so was to become a partner in their ministry!
3 John 8 (ESV)
8 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
Gaius was a man with the right balance—let his example recorded in Scripture guide you as you evaluate the role that you play in the life of the church.
The second man that John writes about in his letter is Diotrephes—and it doesn’t take much investigation of verses 9-10 to see that he is the polar opposite of the example of Gaius. Diotrephes is

II. Diotrephes: A man with a HARMFUL AGENDA (3 John 9-10)

3 John 9–10 (ESV)
9 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
Where Gaius wanted to serve God’s people, Diotrephes wanted to dominate them. Where Gaius wanted to put others first, Diotrephes liked to “put himself first”. We have this example from Scripture to warn us--
Do not be driven by PRIDEFUL AMBITION (v. 9)
Evidently John had written a letter to the church that Diotrephes was actively rejecting—people like Diotrephes don’t want anyone else to be heard, anyone else to have the spotlight. Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus holds first place in everything, but people like this (whether leaders in the church or not) want people to look to them and need them more than they need Jesus!
Diotrephes’ prideful ambition leads to the next warning for us--
Do not be driven by POMPOUS ARROGANCE (v. 9)
Think of what this man was doing—he was so arrogant that he would not even accept the authority of the Apostle John! Imagine the arrogance of a man who could look into the face of the last living Apostle—the face of the man who leaned his head on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper—and say, in effect, “Shut up, old man--we don’t need anything from you!”
And before you say to yourself, “Well, I’ve never been arrogant like that--” consider: The letter that Diotrephes was disputing here in this passage may be lost to us, but John wrote five books of the Bible, and his Apostolic authority conferred by the Holy Spirit is routinely challenged by pompous and arrogant men still today.
In verse 10 we see another warning from Diotrephes’ example:
Do not deliver PERVERSE ACCUSATIONS (v. 10)
Look at the first part of verse 10:
3 John 10 (ESV)
10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us...
This is a man who was full of “malicious gossip” (as the NIV puts it)—a man who was willing to slander other members of the church in order to get his way, slander the Apostle John himself in order to get out from under his teaching. And in the rest of verse 10, John goes on to say that Diotrephes was not content to slander others, but
3 John 10 (ESV)
10 ...he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
So here is another warning from Diotrephes’ example:
Do not dominate with PROFANE ACTIVITY (v. 10)
Evidently Diotrephes was a leader in this church, because he had the kind of authority to excommunicate members who crossed him! He wanted to completely cut John out of the church, he wanted to deny the missionaries any support or help in their ministries, and he would kick anyone out of the church who opposed him.
I wish I could say that there are no more Diotrephes in churches today, but sadly, far too many churches have been torn apart by men (and women) like this. In fact, a well-known Biblical Greek scholar named A. T. Robertson once wrote a scholarly paper on the character of Diotrephes, and his paper was rejected by over twenty church deacons who objected to the way his paper personally attacked them! (Akin, D. L., Platt, D., & Merida, T. (2014). Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) [E-book]. Holman Reference. loc. 3291)
We must listen to what God’s Word says here in 3 John as we evaluate the role that we are playing in the life of the church. Gaius was a man with the right balance, Diotrephes was a man with a harmful agenda, and in verses 11-12 we meet

III. Demetrius: A man with a GOOD TESTIMONY (3 John 11-12)

3 John 11 (ESV)
11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
For all the destructiveness of a man like Diotrephes, there is still a temptation for some people to see his forcefulness and willingness to do “whatever it takes” to win as character traits to imitate. But John says, “Don’t look up to wicked men like Diotrephes; instead,
Pursue a GODLY EXAMPLE (v. 11)
John revisits a theme that he has written about throughout these letters—you demonstrate who you belong to by your behavior!
1 John 4:7–8 (ESV)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Diotrephes did not love—therefore, Diotrephes does not know God. He was not born of God—he is the raccoon in the puppy litter. John says pursue the example of those who do good—that demonstrate that they are from God!
And so John points to Demetrius, a man who is known by all to
Possess a GOOD REPUTATION (v. 12)
3 John 12 (ESV)
12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
Here is a godly example to look up to—everyone who knows Demetrius knows he is from God! Not only so, but John says he has received that good testimony from the Truth itself! In other words, Jesus Christ Himself testifies to Demetrius’ faith!
Matthew 10:32 (ESV)
32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
We’ve seen three personalities, three kinds of “characters”, that we find in the church—the right balance of Gaius, the harmful agenda of Diotrephes, the good testimony of Demetrius. And there is one other personality on display here in this letter, and we can’t complete our study of these letters without considering the Apostle John himself:

IV. John: A man with a PASTOR’S HEART (1 John 13-15)

Look at how he finishes his letter:
3 John 13–14 (ESV)
13 I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Here’s another question for you as you evaluate your role in the body of Christ here at Bethel. Do you
Desire the PRESENCE of fellow believers (vv. 13-14)
John says that paper and ink are not the way he wants to communicate with Gaius and the church—he wants to meet “face to face”. If we brought this forward to today, I think John would say, “I would rather not use Zoom or Facebook or texting or podcasts—I want to see you face-to-face!
Again, you need to come to church with steel-toed shoes if you don’t want them stepped on by God’s Word—but here it is: Zoom Church IS NOT CHURCH. Turning on a TV channel and streaming a service is not church. There may be a very limited time when it is necessary, but your attitude to those things, Christian, should be the same as John’s attitude towards pen and ink—you want to get away from them as soon as you can and get into the same room with your fellow believers! And if you’re perfectly happy with Zoom church, remote church, whatever—you do not have the kind of heart John had. (It’s interesting that the phrase “face-to-face” literally reads in Greek “mouth-to-mouth”—the one piece of our anatomy that the State insisted everyone cover when they met to worship!)
Notice also here that another reason John wanted to come face-to-face with the church is because he was planning to have a conversation that Diotrephes was not going to enjoy! (“So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing!” —there is still some of the “Son of Thunder” left in this elderly Apostle!) There’s something to be said about being willing to have hard conversations in person. Too many people want to either avoid the hard conversations, or try to use pen and ink (or texts or posts or social media threads) to deal with difficult people. But John’s love for the church meant that he was willing to deal with people face-to-face when there were hard conversations to be had.
But John didn’t want to come to the church because he was itching for a fight; he wanted to come because of his
Desire for PEACE for fellow believers (v. 15)
Look at verse 15:
3 John 15 (ESV)
15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.
John is the only New Testament author to refer to believers as “friends”—he is following the example set by Jesus Himself:
John 15:15 (ESV)
15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John says to this beleaguered, weary church, worn out by the malice of a false brother, you are friends of Jesus Christ! And that means you are also friends of everyone who loves Him!
And see here the pastoral heart of John led him to show that friendship— “Greet the friends, each by name!” John’s love for “the church” wasn’t some abstract love from a distance. He showed that love by knowing each person in the church.
Measure yourself by that love—do you know each person by name here at Bethel? It seems silly to ask that in a group of twenty people, but I have honestly been shocked at how often members come to me and ask the name of someone who has been attending here for months! And in a congregation as small as ours, there is simply no excuse for not knowing every single person’s name in this fellowship. And not only name, but how they came to know Jesus, how they came to worship here, where they are from, how to pray for them in their struggles, how to rejoice with them in their blessings.
And again, it should go without saying (but since God’s Word says it I will say it), in order to know everybody’s name at church, you have to come to church. You have to participate in the life of this church family—in our weekly Worship services, in our fellowship times through the week, at Bible studies, in each other’s homes—the peace and joy and love and belonging that John desires for his people comes from those meaningful, intentional relationships formed through the bond of love that we share for Jesus Christ.
We are about to take these elements of this Supper before you—the Scriptures say that you must examine yourself before you participate. What does 3 John tell you about the role you are playing here at Bethel? Are you a Gaius, with a healthy spiritual life and a generous faithfulness in ministry here at Bethel? Are you a Demetrius, seeking to find godly examples to follow and seeking to be a godly example for others? Are you a John, dearly loving your fellow members and wanting to be with them at every possible opportunity?
Or does the ambition and arrogance of Diotrephes stir in you when decisions at the church don’t go your way or people don’t give you the recognition you think you deserve and so you feel justified in pushing even harder to get your own way? You chafe at the sermons, you bite your tongue at Bible study because you don’t like the way the Scriptures run crosswise to the direction of your life and desires. You’re quietly growing a list of grievances against the way things are at Bethel—the worship, the leadership, the budget, the ministries, and so on—and even though you’d deny it if someone asked you, you know there’s a day when “someone is going to have to do something about all this”, and you figure it’s going to have to be you.
If that’s you, if you can hear and acknowledge that voice of Diotrephes in your head, then the grace of God that is extended before you today is this: You can kill that sin before it kills you. Repent of that “me first” spirit, turn away from your disdain for the authority of God’s Word and God’s people before you take these elements so that you don’t eat or drink damnation upon yourself. Lay that rebellion down at the foot of the Cross, plead the blood of Jesus Christ before the Throne of Heaven, and come to these elements in freedom and joy!
And if you’re here today listening to this sermon about these personalities, these “characters” that appear in every “production” of a church and you realize that you’re not even a cast member because you don’t belong to Jesus at all, then let me extend to you the invitation from God’s living and powerful Word this morning--
Romans 10:9 (ESV)
9 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Jesus died on that Cross to suffer the death-penalty you have earned before God by your sin against Him. You can be free from the death-penalty you are under because of your sin—your hatred, your anger, your bitterness, selfishness, lust, greed, lies, self-destruction—all of it was paid for already. So be done with all of it—turn away from all that guilt and shame, and turn to the One who promises a new, eternal life that begins right now. Come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.


Which of these men do you identify with most? Which provides the most needed corrective in your life?
What would happen if God blessed you physically to the same degree as your spiritual health? How can you become more faithful in nurturing your spiritual life?
Why is it so important to John to be face-to-face with other believers whenever possible? How does his priority for “being there” compare to your attitude towards gathering with the church for worship?
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