A Tale of Three Men
August 31, 1997
John’s third epistle has often called a “Tale of Three Men.” That is indeed an appropriate title for if you know these three men, you know what 2 John is all about.
Verse 1 speaks of Gaius—the man to whom John wrote his letter.
Verse 9 speaks of Diotrophes—an opponent of John
Verse 12 speaks of Demetrius—a good and faithful man.
Last Sunday we talked about Second John, which deals with the question—What should you do when false teachers come knocking at your door? This week we deal with the opposite question—What should you do when godly teachers come to your door? If last week was about the bad guys, this week is about the good guys.
Last week — Truth in action
This week —Love in action
This short little epistle (only 14 verses) contains a fascinating snapshot of three personalities in one first-century church. We don’t know where the church was located (we assume Asia Minor—or modern-day Turkey, but that’s not certain) or when the letter was written (again, we assume A.D. 80-95, the traditional date for John’s other letters), but we do have these three names.
I. Gaius—A Generous Man 1-8
We begin with Gaius—a truly generous man. Verses 1-4 introduce us to him.
The elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
He was evidently a Christian leader in a local church who was both well-known and well-loved by John the apostle. He may have been led to Christ by John for the apostle counts him as among his spiritual “children.” John considers him to be a man of trustworthy character whose soul is prospering in the Lord. He is, in short, a fine Christian man.
If we look a bit closer at the text, we discover that he was a …
1. Balanced man. Twice in verse 4 John mentions that Gaius is walking in the truth. This means he built his life on the Word of God and maintained his Christian faith in the midst of temptation and persecution. Then in verse 6 John adds that Gaius is well-known for his love. In this context, it means he shows hospitality to traveling Christian teachers and welcomes them into his home. Here is a man who walks in the truth and demonstrates his love—true spiritual balance.
2. Faithful man. In verse 3 and again in verse 5 John mentions his faithfulness. The first refers to what he believes and the second to the life he lives. That is, he is faithful in belief and behavior. Here is a man you can trust with your life. He knows what he believes and has the courage to stand behind it. No double-talk or veiled messages from Gaius. If he says it, you can count on it.
3. Big-hearted man. This refers to the way he treats the visiting ministers of the gospel. Verses 5-8 tell the story.
Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.
A word of background will help at this point. In the earliest days of the Christian movement, churches were established by the apostles on their various journeys. Later they would send out ministers, teachers, prophets and evangelists to serve these new churches. And since there were no reliable hotels and motels, those traveling ministers had to stay in homes of church members. Thus, it was the responsibility of church leaders to welcome those traveling teachers and then send them on their way to their next appointment.
Gaius excelled in this gift of hospitality even though these men were strangers to him. That leads me to remark that many of us have underestimated the New Testament command to practice hospitality. The Greek word literally means “love for strangers.” Too many of us think that hospitality means that we buy some chips and hot sauce and invite our friends over to watch Monday Night Football. Now I’m all in favor of watching football with your friends, but that’s not what biblical hospitality is all about. True hospitality involves opening your heart and home to those in need. It means sharing your time and resources with those people whom you may not know very well.
Verse 8 adds the lovely thought that by supporting God’s workers we actually become “fellow workers” of the truth. That means that when we invest in missionaries in Nigeria, India, Japan or Belgium—when we pray for them, write to them, give to support their work, when we share news of what they are doing for the kingdom of God—in a true sense we have become partners in their work even though they are on the other side of the world.
Gaius was that kind of man. He welcomed God’s workers into his home, he supported them and sent them on their way so they could preach in other places. In so doing, he became a “fellow worker” with them and shared in their victories for the Lord.
II. Diotrophes—A Divisive Man 9-11
That brings us to the second man—Diotrophes. We can sum him up by saying that he is as bad as Gaius is good. If Gaius is the sunlight of noonday, Diotrophes is the blackness of midnight. John minces no words in his condemnation of this man.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.
Consider John’s fivefold indictment of this divisive man. He is …
1. Self-willed—”loves to be first.” (9a) Here is a man who pushes his way to the front of every line. He doesn’t simply want to be first, he has to be first, and he’ll do anything to get in the driver’s seat.
2. Rebellious to spiritual authority: “will have nothing to do with us.” (9b). Remember who John is—the apostle whom Jesus loved. He walked with our Lord throughout his earthly ministry. Yet this Diotrophes arrogantly wants nothing to do with him.
3. A Slanderer—”gossiping maliciously” (10a) The word means to babble nonsensical slander and empty lies.
4. Ungracious—”refuses to welcome the brothers.” (10b) This means he refused to welcome the traveling teachers—the very ones Gaius gladly put up in his own home. So Diotrophes rejects both the apostle and his representatives.
5. An Abuser of power—”stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” (10c) Here is the worst of it. Evidently this man has taken control of the leadership of the church and has cast out anyone who disagrees with him. This is terrible for the simple reason that it is one thing to do evil yourself, but it is another thing altogether—and much worse—to oppose those who wish to do good.
The First Church Boss
Who is this man? Someone has called him the first “church boss.” He is the first in a long line of men (and women) who rise to power in the local church only to use that power for ungodly ends. He is clearly influential, probably a pastor, an elder, a deacon, a trustee, a chairman of some committee. He is a self-appointed big shot! He is ambitious, powerful, and well-connected. When he speaks, others listen because he has a strong voice in the church.
As I study this text, a strange paradox comes to mind. In Second John the apostle spares no words in condemning the wrong theology of the false teachers. But in this letter he makes no mention of the theology of Diotrophes. Why? I believe it is because there was nothing wrong with his theology. That is, he could sign the statement of faith and recite the key verses as good as anyone else. Theology wasn’t his problem.
Here’s the truth in a nutshell. Diotrophes is in the church as a leader but he doesn’t know God. That’s what verse 11 means when it says “do not imitate what is evil.” Diotrophes was doing evil and John calls on Gaius not to follow his example. Why is this so important? Because “anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” That is, he is unsaved.
Now the paradox is clearly seen. Diotrophes is an unsaved church member who has risen to a position of power. He’s probably orthodox in his theology but he is thoroughly ungodly in his methods. He is just as evil as the false teachers John warned about in 2 John—and probably much harder to spot because he parrots all the right words!
Politics in the Church
Verse 9 uncovers the basic problem: He “loves to be first.” I find this statement challenging because as a pastor, I enjoy leading the people of God. But there is fine line (sometimes almost invisible) between proper enjoyment and improper ambition.
Such unbridled ambition may be cloaked in pious phrases, but underneath the heart is filled with wrong desires.
Sometimes people are surprised to discover that there is politics in the local church. But it’s true. In every church there are leaders and followers, there are those on the inside and those on the outside, there are newcomers, oldtimers, and rising stars. For the most part, this is not bad in itself. However, occasionally someone will come in with ulterior motives. He finds the “in group” and attaches himself to it. Over time he gains respect and eventual authority. He may eventually become a leader himself. Only at that point do his bad motives become evident. By then it is often too late to stop him.
How to Spot Diotrophes
How do you spot a modern-day Diotrophes? Here are ten signs.
1. Talks too much—dominating every conversation.
2. Has a critical spirit toward those who disagree with him.
3. Always taking sides and counting noses to see who has the power.
4. Thinks he could do things better than those currently in leadership.
5. Has a rebellious attitude toward the leaders who are over him.
6. Focuses exclusively on his group of friends.
7. Argues endlessly over minor details of church life.
8. Takes it personally when their advice is not followed.
9. Clings to positions of authority at all costs.
10. Sees new people as a threat to his power.
How does such a person emerge in a congregation? The first and most obvious way is through giving money. It may also happen through years of service in various volunteer positions. But on a deeper level, Diotrophes arises because godly people refuse to confront this evil attitude when it first surfaces. Write it down: No church can prosper when the Diotrophes spirit prevails.
How do you deal with such a person? In verse 10 John promises to take care of the problem himself: “If I come, I will call attention to what he is doing.” This probably means following the pattern of Matthew 18. Private rebuke followed by public rebuke followed by eventual excommunication.
III. Demetrius—A Reputable Man 12-13
With that we pass on to the third man—Demetrius. We know very little about him, but everything we know is positive.
Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
Here is a man with a good reputation. In biblical terms he is a man “above reproach”—meaning that his character is so strong that no accusation made against him can stand. He was grounded in the truth to the point that the truth itself could speak on his behalf.
Some of you know Dick and Ann Baer who attended Calvary until a few years ago. Dick’s parents—both aged 88—died within the last month. His father died a week ago. After the funeral I called Dick to see how he was doing. As he spoke about his father, Dick made a wonderful statement: “He practiced what he preached. He never asked us children to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. He was consistent in every area of life.” That’s a high compliment for a son to pay his father.
Demetrius was that kind of man—consistent in every area of life.
Five Final Thoughts
There you have the three man of third John: Gaius the generous, Diotrophes the troublemaker, and Demetrius the faithful man of God. These three men were all known to John and apparently were found together—for a time at least—in the same first-century church.
I’d like to suggest five applications from this little letter called Third John.
1.There is no such thing as a perfect church because there are no perfect people. All of us instinctively know this, but it’s good to be reminded of it from time to time. This week I received a letter from a woman I’ve never met who does not attend this church. She wrote to offer some criticism of the way we do certain things. As I read the letter, it occurred to me that even from the outside we’re far from a perfect church, and those of us on the inside know full well that we far short in many areas.
Yesterday I helped officiate at a beautiful wedding in our sanctuary for Jimmy Quandt and Nancy O’Brien. The wedding took awhile because it was a “tripleheader” involving three pastors At one point Dave Frederick, pastor of the Vineyard Church of Oak Park, gave the charge to the couple. He was explaining a truth that all married couples know but newlyweds don’t discover until much latter: “You have no idea what you’re getting into.” He explained it this way. When you get married, you are really marrying three people:
1. The person you think you’re marrying
2. The person you’re actually marrying
3. The person they’re going to become in the future
And the person who marries you is marrying three people too. No wonder marriage is so tough. It involves six different people! For marriage to succeed you need three things: patience, forgiveness, and a long-term perspective.
The same is true of joining a church. You’re actually joining three churches: The church you think you’re joining, the church you’re actually joining, and the church it will some day become. That’s the reason people sometimes join a church in high excitement only to bail out later in disillusionment. You need that same patience, forgiveness, and long-range perspective to stay in the same church year after year.
No, we’re not perfect. No church is. And if you do find a perfect church, don’t join it. You’ll ruin it!
2. We become like the people we follow. That’s why John urges Gaius not to follow evil but to follow what is good. In the end, our lives mold themselves in after the folks we follow after. Who are you following? What kind of friends do you spend time with? If you hang out with Gaius, you’ll be generous like Gaius. If you hang with Diotrophes, you’ll be grumpy, complaining troublemaker. If Demetrius is your friend, you’ll soon become a faithful man.
Let’s flip that principle over for a moment. If we all become like you, what kind of church would we have?
3. The spirit of Diotrophes is alive and well today. Over the years I’ve seen my share of church problems. It’s been my observation that most church splits happen over two issues: money and power. Who’s got the money and who has the power? Even many of the splits that seem to be over doctrine often boil down to these two basic elements.
“Lord, do I love to be first too much.” “Is there a divisive spirit in me?” Ignore this at your own peril!
4. There is enormous wisdom in shared leadership. It’s harder for a Diotrophes to arise when there is a system of checks and balances. That’s one reason why I am assisted by several pastors who serve with me on our staff. That’s why we have a plurality of elders and deacons and deaconesses. There truly is safety in numbers.
Diotrophes thought he was the head of the church. That’s always a huge mistake. Lest anyone should wonder about me, let me state plainly that I am not the “head of the church.” Jesus Christ is. That’s his position and he will share it with no man or woman. As your pastor, I serve as the shepherd of this congregation, as an elder I serve alongside the other elders, as a church member I am simply one part of the congregation. That is exactly how it should be.
Sometimes people may talk about “Erwin Lutzer’s church” or “Bill Hybels’s church or “Ray Pritchard’s church.” But I know enough about Erwin Lutzer and Bill Hybels to know they want nothing to do with such talk. As for me, when did I die on the cross and rise from the dead? Only one Man has done that—and he is the true head of this and every other Christian church.
In case I am tempted to forget that, the chart on the Dining Room wall reminds me of the truth. That chart traces the 83-year history of this church. On the top are the 12 men who have served as pastor here. On the bottom are the events of the 20th century. At the left is the name Louis Talbot, our first pastor, followed by J. C. O’Hair, Lee W. Ames, Robert Devine, and Pastor Fardon. Still later comes Wayne Buchanan, Gordon Kemble, John Emmans, Bob Gray and Don Gerig. Then over on the right edge of the chart there is a little space that says “Ray Pritchard.” I’m just hanging off the end. That chart reminds me of a vital truth. I am the 12th pastor. If Jesus tarries, there will be a 13th someday.
I’m here on temporary assignment from the Lord, the same as all the other men before me. Bob Gray was your temporary pastor for 16 years, Don Gerig for ten years, and I’ve been your temporary pastor for eight years. That’s an important perspective, because it reminds me that I’m here for awhile, but the church was here before me, and God willing, will be here long after I am gone.
5. The important thing is to know Jesus Christ personally. Look at how John describes the work of the traveling ministers in verse 7. They went out “for the sake of the Name.” What a lovely phrase. It reminds us that the name of Jesus is the greatest name on earth—the name above all other names.
This week I met the Bishop of the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India. As we talked, he told me that since the church’s founding in 1965, they have established 230 congregations in India and are sending out Itinerant workers into villages all over India. Why? They do it “for the sake of the Name.”
The same is true at Calvary. Everything we do, we do for the sake of the Name of Jesus. That why we have Sunday School—for the sake of the Name. That’s why we have .Awana—for the sake of the Name. That’s why we have Caraway Street—for the sake of the Name. That’s why this year we will spend over $200,000 on world missions—for the sake of the Name. That’s why we have three worship service, that’s why we preach and pray and sing and study and worship and give and serve—all for the sake of the Name.
Do you know Jesus? Have you ever met him personally? His name is the greatest name in all the universe. It doesn’t matter who else you know or don’t know. You may know leaders and kings and presidents and potentates, but if you don’t Jesus, you’ve missed the reason for your own existence.
Do you know him?
A Tumor the Size of a Baseball
This week I’ve been meditating on the brevity of life. About a month ago a friend from Texas days came through Chicago and we went out to eat together. I had known him when he was student at Dallas Theological Seminary. Later he got a Ph.D. at a state university, pastored a church in Indiana, taught at Denver Seminary, and a year ago joined the faculty at Dallas. When he came through, it was the first time I had seen him in over ten years. We ate lunch after our services on Sunday and traded swapped stories. He looked and sounded great. A few days a friend called and asked if I had the news. What news? My friend has a brain tumor. When I called him, he told me that he had been having bad headaches and an MRI revealed a tumor the size of a baseball on the front of his brain. The doctors don’t know if it is malignant. He faces major surgery in a few days. When I asked how he was doing, he said fine. Your wife? She’s doing okay most of the time. Your kids? His voice broke and he spoke about them and about what might be ahead if the operation reveals a serious malignancy.
I thought about the words of James 4:14, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” That’s all you are, that’s all I am. Just a mist, a little breeze, a puff of air, and then we’re gone.
Do you doubt my words? Consider this. Twenty-four hours ago Princess Diana was still alive. She died last night in a terrible car accident in Paris. They say that when her car hit the concrete abutment, it was going over 100 miles an hour. She survived the accident but died several hours later.
What a sad, tragic figure she is. People all over the world knew her and loved her. She seemed to have an amazing gift for reaching out and touching people. Yet somehow she never seemed to find the happiness she so desperately sought. Now she is dead at the age of 36.
Where did she go? Where is her soul this morning? We know that Billy Graham, Luis Palau and others preached to the royal family. But we know nothing of their personal response. We can only pray that in the last few conscious moments of her life, she cried out to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness.
“Preach Well This Sunday”
Earlier this week, a friend said, “Preach well this Sunday. Someone I love will be in the service. I want my friend to know Jesus.” I have done my best to bring Jesus before your heart. Do you know him? Do you trust him? Is he the Lord and Savior of your life?
While I was driving home from Loyola Hospital a few days ago I happened to catch a few minutes of “Open Line” on WMBI. That night Erwin Lutzer was discussing his little book “One Minute After You Die.” I listened as a woman called with a gripping question. She said that all her friends would be surprised if they heard her call, because they all looked to her as a good Christian. But in her heart she had no assurance. She prayed the sinner’s prayer every day just to be sure. Her question was simple: “How can I be sure I’m going to heaven?”
Erwin Lutzer gave a wonderful answer. “I want you to think about the cross of Christ and what it represents. Do you believe that what Jesus did on the cross was enough for your salvation? Or do you think you need to add anything to what Jesus did?”
That’s really the central question for all of us to consider. When Jesus died, was his death enough so that there is nothing else you need to do for your own salvation? If the answer is yes, then you can be saved and you also be sure. If the answer is no, then you can never be sure because you can never do enough.
Thank God the answer is an eternal Yes! “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
Who will say, “I believe the Cross was enough for me.”
Who will say, “ I am willing to trust Jesus Christ completely and absolutely!”
Who will say, ‘I want to go to heaven and I’m trusting Jesus to take me there.”
Who will say, “I’m trusting my whole life into Jesus’ almighty hands.”
Who will say, “Lord, Jesus, be merciful to me, a sinner. Come into my heart and save me.”
If you want to be saved, run to the cross of Christ. Lay hold of Jesus by faith. Fix all your hope on him. Those who trust in Jesus will never be disappointed.