Join us as we wrap up our 1, 2, 3 John series with Dr. Marty Baker's sermon from 3 John.
Are you sold out to your football team? I mean, is this your team, no matter what? I have a friend from Massachusetts who is all about the New England Patriots. He enjoyed the Tom Brady years, but before and after this particular quarterback’s winning ways, he was and is a Pats fan. Even with an unimpressive 5 and 4 record this year, well behind the Dolphins with a 7 and 3 record, he is still supportive of his team. Any comment I make regarding some of the team’s weaknesses is met with statements like, “Well, you know, they are rebuilding, and it will take them a few years to be back to being the champs.”
What a fantastic viewpoint. I’d say my bro is committed, wouldn’t you?
- Committed fans don’t talk the team down when the chips are down.
- Committed fans look for the strengths in the players, not the weaknesses.
- Committed fans give new players the grace to grow into their positions.
- Committed fans still purchase team memorabilia.
- Committed fans still purchase their season tickets.
Does your commitment to your team run deep like this?
What about your commitment to this team, I mean, this church? You are more than a fan. You are a player. Does your allegiance run deep? How do you know? How do other people you know outside of this team know this is your team without question?
From our study of First and Second John, we know the seven churches that composed this ancient team had gone from a winning season to a challenging one. Because of some problematic players, team unity suffered, and some good players weren’t on the roster.
Enter John, the wise, gifted coach. In his first two chalk talks with the team, he talked openly and honestly about how to rebuild team unity, what key disciplines they needed to practice to make them winners again, and what had to occur for each player to have a great relationship with the team owner, Jesus.
With John’s third chalk talk, he gets down to talking about the play of specific players. One player named Gaius is held up as an excellent example of what a sold-out player looks like. Another player, identified as Diotrephes, is held up as an example of how not to play on the Lord’s team. We don’t know if Gaius played at the same church where Diotrephes appears to be a key team leader, but from what we can learn from the coach’s analysis, the play of both men is worth studying for one man empowers the team, while the other man enfeebles the team. After the coach’s chalk talk about these two men, we are all left with a highly personal question as team members:
Does My Commitment Empower This Team, Or Enfeeble It? (Third John)
Here is another way to pose the question: Which player am I, Gaius or Diotrotphes?
Gaius-types Empower The Team (3 John 1:1-8)
Watch how the seasoned, skilled spiritual coach highlights the positive play of the team’s pivotal players:
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and bore witness to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.
John knew how to build up and motivate excellent players to play even harder and better. Before he gets to what he wants to talk to Gaius about, specifically in verse 5, he builds the player up. How does he do this?
- First, he tells him he loves him as a brother in Christ. The truth of who Christ is and what He did for us on the cross and in the empty tomb should move us to love each other. Yes, the love which moved Him to leave glory to bear our sin and shame so we, at the moment of faith (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9), could be on His eternal team should cause us to love other team members without question or limitation. If you’re a leader on this team, and we have many because of the team size, you need to ask yourself: Do I tell my players I love them? Better yet, do I show them I love them? Nothing positions a spiritual team for a winning season better than love.
- He prays for the player to prosper physically as he has spiritually. This is interesting. Gaius was a mature, godly player. John knew this from reports he had received from others. John also learned that sometimes sickness is wedded to sin (James 5:13-16; 1 Cor. 11:29-30). In the case of Gaius, John merely prays for God to continue to make this crucial player as physically well as he is spiritually so the team can advance. John also knew any prayer of this sort had to be related to God’s over-arching and wise will (1 John 5:14), but this didn’t keep him from making the request. Are you praying for the players in your care to be spiritually and physically sound?
- He compliments the player for living his life according to the Team Owner’s playbook, the Bible. Put differently, Gaius obeyed the Lord’s commands, and his life showed this reality. If you are a leader on our team, you have to ask yourself another personal question: Do I take the time to tell given players their level of play for the Lord brings me much joy? When players know you appreciate their efforts, they’ll play even harder. I’ve had coaches in sports who yelled and ridiculed me, no matter how good I played, and I’ve had some who believed in me and patted me on the back when the play was exemplary. I can tell you which coaches I played harder for. The same applies spiritually.
What kind of leader are you: one who enfeebles the team or empowers it?
With these opening thoughts in mind, the skilled coach, John, gets to the nitty-gritty of his chalk talk with Gaius. Like any coach who identifies a great, gifted player, John wanted to challenge the player to take his game to another level for the team.
5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth (3 John).
To understand what John is saying here, you have to understand the historical context of how ancient churches operated.
Ancient churches did not have pastors and staff like we have today. They relied on spiritual lay leaders, or elders, deacons, and deaconesses, to oversee the functioning of the various home churches. More skilled leaders like apostles, prophets, missionaries, and evangelists frequently traveled to help these infant churches grow and flourish. Since accommodations were not optimal at this day and time, these traveling leaders needed places to stay. This is where the saints in the home churches were challenged to step up and assist these leaders by providing lodging in their homes. These unique leaders didn’t receive a paycheck, meaning pay for their spiritual services fell on the churches they ministered to.
With this background information in mind, you can better understand John’s compliment and request from Gaius. Gaius had a track record of providing lodging, at his expense, for these traveling leaders whether he knew them or not. In addition, the host also typically gave to make sure the leaders in question had supplies and money for the next leg of their respective journeys. Gaius must have been a man of means, for he was known as an active supporter, in every way, of these gifted leaders because John commends him for “acting faithfully.” Sacrificial, generous giving was just how Gaius lived his Christian walk, and by so doing, he, according to John, he became a fellow worker with those who sacrificed so much for the Name of Christ.
How do you function as a team member? Do you give sacrificially or minimally? When a spontaneous ministry need arose, Gaius arose and gave liberally. His giving model reminds me of the Macedonians Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 8. When Paul presented the ministry need of the poor mother church in Jerusalem to the financially challenged Macedonians, they acted like Gaius:
1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality (2 Cor. 8).
They could have manufactured all kinds of rationalizations for why they couldn’t give, but they didn’t. They sowed bountifully, so Paul reminded them they would reap bountifully for their selfless, spontaneous obedience in supporting another needy church (2 Cor. 9:6). Show me a saint growing and maturing in the Lord, and I’ll show you a Gaius-Macedonian-type who sees a spiritual ministry need and steps up to take radical action to meet it liberally. Are you ready and willing to be a Gaius to this local church? At the end of the fiscal year, we, like most churches, have numerous monetary needs. May the Spirit move you to become a Gaius. Are you already a Gaius-type? Then may your tribe increase.
And if you are a Gaius-type, you know you are one spiritual leaders can challenge and lean on when needs arise. This is what John did with Gaius. Read verse 12 and I’ll help you connect the dots:
12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we also bear witness, and you know that our witness is true (3 John).
Who is Demetrius? He, I believe, was one of those traveling leaders. John had placed his seal of approval on the gifted leader, and, in turn, he challenged Gaius to sacrificially love him as he had done with so many other leaders who traveled in the area.
Applied to our current situation, I, like John challenge you to give generously as the year draws to a close so we can meet all of our budget and ministry obligations. When you do, you not only honor and trust the Lord, but you also become fellow workers in what each leader and worker are doing here in the name of Jesus Christ. Talk about a pivotal way to store riches in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21). Additionally, I challenge you to learn the joy of giving not just with a monthly tithing plan but of sharing in the spontaneous nature when not if, the Spirit brings a spiritual opportunity your way. This is all why Gaius played so well on his ancient team. This is also why Gaius empowered his team. He ensured the team had what it needed to be positioned for a spiritual win. In light of this, my prayer is for the Spirit to convict more of us to step into the well-worn shoes of Gaius and be spontaneous liberal givers to the cause of Christ. When you do this, the end result is always the same: the team is empowered to win even more victories for the Team Owner, the Lord Jesus.
Moving from a positive to a negative team player, John turns in verse nine to address a Christian man who did everything in his arrogant, selfish power to hamstring the team he enjoyed leading. His name? Who can forget it? It’s Diotrephes, which means “God nutures.” What a misnomer, as we shall see. He didn’t live up to the meaning of the great name his parents entrusted to him. From his small, sordid, selfish spiritual life, we encounter this life truth:
Diotrophes-types Enfeeble The Team (3 John 1:9-11)
How do they do this? Read on, and you will find your answer:
9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 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, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church (3 John).
Who was Diotrephes? He was probably one of several elders of one of the seven churches in Asia Minor. What was his spiritual problem? He loved “to be first among them.” In vernacular, ol’ Diotrephes loved to be in control, to have the final say, to call all the ministry shots, to be the big cheese, or to be the El Jefe (Spanish for “the boss”). Let me say this is NOT why you want to become a leader in the local church in any capacity. You step into leadership because you want to serve people humbly, not they you (Mark 10:45). You step into leadership to be a person who plays with the team, not one who thinks you are the team, resulting in you playing against the team to protect your power position. Say, buddy, leadership is not about you protecting your power position, but in you unleashing His position (that’s Christ) through your selfless, sacrificial service to the body of Christ.
How does Diotrephes typically operate in a church? We can isolate his sinful and aberrant (abhorrent?) behavior from the minimal evidence John gives us in these three verses:
- One, Diotrephes-types don’t follow the wisdom and counsel of other spiritual leaders (v. 9). Diotrephes rejected John’s leadership because John’s biblical leadership challenged his unbiblical leadership. You can hear his arguments, can’t you? “John is old, and he is really out-of-touch with how to lead in a place like Asia Minor. Leadership takes a firm, strong hand like mine, not a weak one like this old man.”
- Two, Diotrephes-types thrive on bringing unjust, evil accusations against godly leaders (v. 10). Why? They say evil, unfounded things about godly leaders to diminish them in people’s eyes so they can remain in power. The Greek for “unjust accusations,” phlyareo (φλυαρέω) means words not wedded to reality or words composed of empty charges lacking foundation. When Diotrephes cannot handle godly leaders, he resorts to manufacturing all kinds of unfounded claims to cast the leader in the most negative light before people. As stated, his motivation for doing this is power preservation. Suppose he can keep enough folks/sheep off balance regarding the concerns of a godly leader. In that case, he can fortify his leadership position as people are all caught up investigating or talking about the wrong man. I’ve experienced my share of this type of behavior from modern-day Diotrephes leaders. I’ve been called all kinds of names: unloving, unkind, mean, arrogant, and so forth. I started keeping a list as a young pastor, but I quit adding to it years ago as it easily and quickly when beyond one page.
- Three, Diotrephes-types are never satisfied with their bullying ways (v. 10). Such is the nature of sin. It’s like drinking seawater. It doesn’t quench the thirst, so you keep drinking more, thinking it eventually will. When a person is drunk on power, especially in a church setting, their paranoia of being unmasked and removed drives them to constantly look for new ways to harass, intimidate, and dominate leaders who’d dare hold them accountable for their unbiblical and evil leadership model. As I’ve told you before, I had one Diotrephes-type at my last church who felt he had the inside track to what the Holy Spirit wanted for the church. Because I didn’t cow-tow to the words he constantly received from the Spirit about how the church should function, he hammered me for about seven years with lengthy hand-written letters he wrote DURING my sermons. He “lovingly” slid them under my office door for consideration. A bully can wear you out as a leader, but don’t let them do it. Like John, you need to deal with them face to face when you get the opportunity for their and the church’s sake. Lovingly confront their sin with the facts and then call them to repent so they can be restored.
- Four Diotrephes-types reject those who don’t kiss the ring of their power (v. 10). Diotrephes didn’t lovingly accept any of the leaders John sent his way because those leaders were a potential threat to his (weak) ecclesiastical power. Put differently, since John threatened his power and these leaders were associated with John, Diotrephes couldn’t risk any of them being shown sacrificial love by having folks provide them with food, lodging, and money. The longer these leaders would stay in town, the more significant the potential threat to his power as they might uncover what he was really up to. Hence, Diotrephes intimidated everyone at church by excommunicating those who expressed the desire (wow, they didn’t even do anything) to help the traveling spiritual leaders. I’m sure after a few nasty ex-communications, nobody wanted to challenge this wicked Christian leader. Once more, John told Gaius how he would confront Diotrephes for this unbiblical behavior when he arrived. This is how godly leaders function. They always do the hard thing. What is that? It is lovingly admonishing out-of-control leaders for their unbiblical methods of leadership. Years ago, I had an elder who said in private, “Of all the elders on the council, only I am qualified to be an elder because of my excellent gifts in teaching.” In classic John fashion, I took him to task regarding his prideful statement, but he never really backed down. The rest of his time at the church was fraught with one power move after another and one admonishment after another. He eventually moved on, but he didn’t come clean in Diotrephes fashion. I hope things have changed for him over the years. On another occasion, I had an elder who wanted to run the entire church without pastoral oversight or input. As the church plant grew in California, we had an elder meeting to discuss our organizational chart. Each man took his turn writing what he envisioned on a large whiteboard. When this man picked up the felt pen, he drew a large box in the middle and placed Christ’s name in it. He drew a line from the bottom of this box to another box. This box he labeled the elder council. He then drew additional boxes underneath the elder box to show power lines of authority to various staff and ministry divisions. Before he sat down, he drew one more small box in the left-hand quadrant of the board. Everyone could see that this box wasn’t tied to any part of the ministry. “What’s that box?” I innocently asked. “That’s you,” he replied. “You are a gifted teacher and preacher, so I want you to be over here by yourself doing your thing while leaving the running of the church to us.” He really meant, “Leave the running of the church to me.” Believe me; we didn’t adopt his unbiblical model. Later, when we had addressed his additional Diotrephes ways, he eventually left the church. I always wished for a better outcome, but sometimes it is impossible. In the meantime, godly leaders must lead, so the church body is empowered, not enfeebled. I thank the Lord we have church leaders at many levels focused on empowerment, not enfeeblement.
May the Lord protect you from Diotrephes-types and give you wisdom and discernment, so you know the qualitative difference between sound and unsound leaders.
Lastly, may the Lord find you obeying a command you might need to hear:
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 (3 John).
As we have seen before in our study of these three books, a present imperative (to imitate, μιμέομαι) is preceded by a negative (μὴ). This particular constructive forbids an action in progress at the time. What does this mean? It means that some believers in these churches were mimicking the negative behavior of Diotrephes. Isn’t this how this typically plays out? One bully gives birth to other bullies? From John’s viewpoint of how to empower the churches in this area to do more incredible things for Christ, these types of sinful activities needed to stop. What about your life? Are you following the example of a Gaius or a Diotrephes?
As for me and my house, we shall follow Gaius, who was known as a selfless, loving, and strategic giver. Will you be Gaius, too?
Or stop and ask yourself: Which helmet am I weareing?
 H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1955), 301-302.