3 John 9-15 – Godliness in the Midst of Abuse
- 3 John 9-15 – Godliness in the Midst of Abuse
- 3 John 1-8 – Truth is a Practical Thing
Diotrephes and Demetrius: A Contrast (v. 9-12)
Negative Teaching: Diotrephes (v. 9-10)
Diotrephes’ Abusive Ambition Was Incompatible with Apostolic Teaching (v. 9).
I wrote something to the church [Some say 2 John, but this cannot be proven for sure.]; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them [That is, he pursues supremacy in rank and in teaching authority.], does not accept what we [John and his fellow leaders] say [Or, “acknowledge us.” He ignored any authority for positive teaching or correction.].
Diotrephes’ first problem was ambition motivated by self-love. Thus, John describes him as “loving to have the pre-eminence.” He loved to have the first position. How interesting that detriment is involved in the first mention of a solitary assembly leader. It is no wonder that there is always plurality in an assembly’s leadership in Scripture. No man can be trusted with prominence among God’s people. Only Christ holds the central place.
Diotrephes’ second problem was the rejection of positive teaching and correction. When a man loves himself and loves his position, he rarely trusts anyone else who has a voice. After all, the key to controlling people is to control their thoughts, and the key to manipulation is to filter their teaching. So, Diotrephes rejected John’s letter. Whether John’s letter was corrective, we do not know. Regardless, Diotrephes rejected apostolic authority; he did not acknowledge John nor his fellow leaders.
Diotrephes’ Spiritual Abuse Invoked John’s Discipline (v. 10).
For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does [When the assembly is at stake, simple forgiveness is not the answer. Discipline must take place.], unjustly accusing us with wicked words [communication rooted in ill-will]; and not satisfied with this [a mark of tyrants: dissatisfaction with present power and a constant striving for more], he himself does not receive the brethren, either [delegates sent from John to correct and observe the condition of the assembly], and he forbids those who desire to do so [control of the membership’s thoughts] and puts them out of the church [Control of the membership’s population. Essentially, he was forming a cult headed up by himself.].
Diotrephes’ spiritual abuse was so extreme that a personal apostolic rebuke was in order. In situations of abuse, reconciliation and forbearance are not the first response. While we are to love our enemies, we are equally to defend victims. Here, since John was the main target, he had to address the situation personally. There are two steps here: (1) confrontation and (2) disclosure. We cannot solve such situations by being passive or vague. The person must be addressed. The sin must be stated in all clarity. Abusers are cowards who must disguise their insecurity and illogicity by violence.
Diotrephes’ spiritual abuse took on three levels. He was essentially forming a cult under his lordship. John’s key phrase “And not satisfied with this” suggests that spiritual abusers rarely have a tangible goal, thus ever expanding the scope of their abuse. Dangerous reality! Notice:
- The false accusation of John and his fellow leaders. Diotrephes could not refute their truth; so he degraded their character. It is much easier to degrade people than to refute truth; past actions cannot be disproven (making gossip and rumors easy to fabricate), while truth must be examined objectively. To degrade people rather than concepts is a subtle shift, but it is a very large shift. We must watch for this.
- The rejection of traveling brethren. Lest they expose his false accusations he could not tolerate brethren who came from John either.
- The rejection of supporters of the traveling brethren. He controlled what people were taught, who taught the people, and who had a voice in the matter. If people even supported the traveling brethren, Diotrephes excommunicated them. This is a sure sign of a cult. A man of God is to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”; he can objectively refute error. Diotrephes had none of this; he could only manipulate the assembly.
Positive Teaching: Demetrius (v. 11-12)
Gaius Had to Pattern Himself After the True Knowledge of God (v. 11).
Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good [implying there will always be examples for either to some extent]. The one who does good [chiefly displayed in doctrine and in the assembly] is of God [in that he replicates the character of God]; the one who does evil has not seen God [implying that Diotrephes was an unconverted man].
Spiritual abuse demands a positive response from the victim. John’s advice to Gaius was not one of retaliation but of encouragement. He needed to fight, not for the assembly’s freedom at this point, but for his own commitment to that which is good. “Do not imitate what is evil” implies this experience gave Gaius a discerning eye. “But imitate what is good” tells Gaius to pursue the positive for his own sake.
A good response to error is never reactive only; it is primarily proactive. In other words, it doesn’t aim to refute the error first, but it seeks to establish the truth. We will destroy ourselves if our ambition is merely to correct error, for will not error increase as the last times progress? Would that not be endless frustration? We must first rejoice in that which is positive, objective, proactive, and real. We must rejoice in the truth. We must follow godliness. We must shun evil and embrace the character of God. Believer, there will always be some positive example or reality in your life; aim for that before you aim to adjust the negatives of your situation. Only then will God equip you to confront the evil that surrounds you.
The behaviour exhibited by Diotrephes’ was a salvation issue. There is some debate as to Diotrephes’ salvation. Verse 11 shows that his behaviour marked a man who has not seen God. “Seeing God” by John’s definition equals knowing God (1 John 3:6); both are marks of salvation. Therefore, Diotrephes was most likely an unsaved man. But God still had His people marked by doing good; and “the Lord knows them that are His.”
This teaches us to be thankful for every true believer—every true believer—for when we taste the bitterness of false profession and the world, we learn that God’s things are rare and precious. This also teaches us to be discerning of a man’s salvation when he is an abuser. Paul told Timothy,
Men will be lovers of self. . . boastful. . . unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited. . . holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. (2 Timothy 3:2-5)
Men do not deserve our trust when they exhibit these Diotrephes characteristics. In fact, we would be unfaithful to our Lord to entrust ourselves to them or unreservedly accept their profession of faith. Our calling is clear: we must avoid such and rather follow that which is good. There may not always be an escape, but there will always be good to follow. May we pursue it.
Demetrius Was Approved by the Truth, Thus a Positive Example (v. 12).
Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone [subjective confirmation], and from the truth itself [objective confirmation]; and we add our testimony [complementary confirmation by John and his fellow leaders], and you know [innate confirmation] that our testimony is true [by clear evidence and built-up trust in John’s testimony].
To counter Diotrephes threefold condemnation, John gives five supporting testimonies for Demetrius. In every sphere, Demetrius was a man of integrity. He is the true definition of “above reproach.” These are the men with which we must surround ourselves in days of departure.
- Subjective confirmation. While the majority is not the standard of truth, it is certainly necessary to have a good reputation in all of our interactions. This is what Demetrius had. In all of his interactions with God’s people, he was above reproach. This is integrity. This is an example to follow in a time of departure.
- Objective confirmation. Not only did God’s people confirm him, but the truth objectively approved Demetrius. In other words, his life was in full accordance with revealed truth, and it therefore validated him. It is not good enough that the Christian be in favor with God’s people; the truth itself must be his support.
- Complementary confirmation. John “added” his testimony to the others that had been given.
- Internal confirmation. Gaius knew within himself that what John was saying was true, and here, just as the Spirit of God assures us of our own salvation, so He assures us of the goodness of other believers.
- Factual confirmation. John’s testimony was true by the fact of the thing, and so Demetrius’ integrity was obvious. It was undeniable.
John: A Communication (v. 13-15)
John Desired Better Communion, That Is, Personal Interaction (v. 13-14).
I had many things to write to you [Thorough communication is vital for the health of fellowship.], but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink [Relational communication is vital for the health of fellowship.]; but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face [Clear communication is vital for the health of fellowship.].
John’s mind was full of things to write even though he did not write them. This tells us that thorough communication establishes God’s people. When we love an infinite Christ together and face an ever-increasing evil, we should not be at a loss for words. How fitting are Paul’s words to Timothy, “Be ready in season and out of season,” that is, in convenient or inconvenient times. Teachers especially should always have some burden, some message to convey. Carers are communicators.
John believed that true clarity and fellowship were inseparable from personal interaction. Regardless of the postal system or convenience of letters, they simply did not substitute for teaching nor for fellowship. An assembly is just that, an assembling of God’s people. We are a family, not just by name but in experience.
John Salutes Gaius on Behalf of the Friends (v. 15).
Peace be to you [personal benediction]. The friends greet you [“friends” being the members of John’s assembly]. Greet the friends [“friends” being the members of Gaius’ assembly] by name [showing the depth and specificity of the fellowship].
How much Gaius must have needed peace! Nevertheless, John was confident that God could supply it. Do you find yourself in an oppressive situation? Peace! God does grant it.
John introduces the concept of friendship here. We could take the friends to be believers from John’s and Gaius’ respective assemblies. John’s assembly greeted Gaius, and John greeted Gaius’ assembly. He specifically tells Gaius to greet them “by name” that they might know his personal care for their individual well-being. Though we may have a very high respect for a particular man in an assembly, that in no way voids our obligation to love every member with true care and passion.