Evaluating the Pattern of Your Life (3 John)

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3 John

Evaluating the Pattern of Your Life


Late last week, in Crystal Springs, Mississippi (about 7/27/12), Rev. Stan Weatherford called Charles & Te’Andrea Wilson to inform them that there was a problem.  They were scheduled to be married at the church that weekend, but it would be necessary to relocate their wedding to another church nearby.  As their pastor, he’d still be able to perform the ceremony, but they couldn’t use the building.

The bride had been coming for a year, her parents and family for quite a bit longer.  The groom had just started attending First Baptist.  What was the reason for the change of venue?  They were black.  Weatherford had been receiving anonymous calls from various members who strongly opposed a black marriage in their church.  It had never been done before there.  They insisted that if Weatherford married them, he’d be voted out of his job.

Weatherford didn’t want controversy–in his church, or at the wedding.  So he made the decision to relocate the wedding.  They graciously consented, but neither feels welcome at First Baptist any longer.  “All we wanted to do in the eyes of God was to be man and wife in a church that we thought we felt loved.  What was wrong with that?” (Charles Wilson).

Do you make trouble for the Gospel, or take trouble for the Gospel?  Pastor Weatherford could’ve gone to bat for the Gospel on this.  A self-professed peacemaker, he didn’t see the Gospel implications of his decision.  Rather than confusing the true Gospel for the Wilsons and many others in their town, Weatherford could have taken the trouble to himself.  He could have forced the hands of that vocal minority by keeping the event at the church.  He could have risked his position to communicate that the marriage, the Gospel and the Church is for all people, regardless of color or ethnicity.

I’m sure that his decision was more difficult than it looks on this side of it, but the reality is this.  Every day, you make choices that will either (a) cost you, or (b) cost the Church and its mission.  You may diminish the name of God by exalting yourself, or you may diminish your own status and privileges for the sake of exalting Christ.

Let me give you some examples from our church. The evangelism team does outreach at the mall most weeks.  You may have looked at that, thought about seeing friends there, and decided, “No, I don’t think I want to be seen there.”  You weren’t willing to be associated with that.

Every week there’s new visitors at FBC.  Last week I saw one man make the choice to invite a stranger out to lunch.  It was a new couple, and their first time at FBC.   You may not feel comfortable, but you’re willing to exalt Christ that way.

You may have heard of Julie Martin, or somebody else’s needs to be driven to the doctor, and you thought, “Ugh, sick people, and time alone in a car with somebody I don’t know–not into that.”  So you stayed home and figured other people would respond.

And then there’s the many of you who volunteered at Summer Camp.  You gave up a significant part of your annual vacation time, and you paid money out-of-pocket, to go and serve our students and staff at Lake San Antonio.  Others of you loaned equipment worth hundreds and even thousands of dollars to people so that the camp could go smoothly.  Some of you paid for unsaved kids to go to camp.

Every week, most every day, you have a choice.  What pattern of life will I follow?  Am I going to take on trouble for the sake of the Gospel?  Or am I going to make trouble for the progress of the Gospel?  It doesn’t always feel that way.  More typically, it feels like a choice of, “Who do I put first?”  That’s the choice you’re familiar with–that’s the one that you wrestle with.  Am I going to act in my best interests?  Am I going to sacrifice my best interests for the progress of the Gospel?

If your children or your parents had to evaluate your life, what would they say?  What pattern of life do you follow?  Would they say that you tend to live for yourself?  Or would they say that you tend to sacrifice your desires for the sake of the Gospel?

Third John shows us both paths.  It describes two patterns of life that people follow.  Some make trouble for the Gospel.  Others take trouble for the Gospel.  And John wants us to consider what pattern of life you will follow.  Open up to 3 John, at the back end of your Bibles.

This is another postcard-type letter, written to a man named Gaius, a friend of John’s.  John is still old (80s), nearing the end of his life, but he’s not out of it.  He’s got some fight left.  In 2 John, he addressed false teachers who were trying to corrupt churches.

In 3 John, he’s going to speak about faithful teachers of the Word, and how they should be treated in churches.  And you’ll see that Gaius was a stud.  Diotrephes was a dud.

Let’s read 3 John in its entirety–that way you can say that we read a whole book of the Bible in church today.  Third John presents two patterns of life and asks–which will you follow?  You can . . .

1)  Take Trouble for the Gospel (verses 2 to 8)

Every day you make choices about how to live.  Will you live for your own benefit, or at cost to yourself?  Will you make tough choices that cost you, or will you take the easy way?

I think about Paul Emielita who was laid off and looking for work for some months.  He was offered a job in Utah, and decided against it because he and Debbie thought their spiritual life would suffer.  They had been growing at FBC, and didn’t think they were ready to move.  He kept looking, and God faithfully provided a job locally just over a month ago.

I think about the various RMGs that meet in homes around our valley.  Josh and Jenny Gumbert move into a new home in Menifee, and then have their carpets trampled by more than forty people for a year’s time.  They sought eternal benefit over nice flooring.  How do you choose to live?  John gives four marks of the one who takes trouble for the Gospel.

a)  Marked by truth (verses 3 to 4)

This is the very start of all the praise that John lavishes on Gaius.  It is the thing that John cherishes.  Gaius is walking in the truth.  Verse 3 describes how men had been with Gaius, and then later come to Ephesus where John was.

When I went back to the east coast for my mom’s 70th birthday, all my cousins, aunts and uncles asked about Beth and the kids.  They wanted to know what was going on and see pictures.  They then told me all about my more extended family, some of whom I remembered, describing how they were doing, and telling stories about what had happened in the last year.

I’m thinking that this happens to you too, when you go visit distant family and friends.  That story-telling is not that different from what happened back then.  It was normal, when traveling from one area to another, to fill in common friends on how people were doing.  We see men do this in 1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, and many of Paul’s epistles.

Here in 3 John, they brought a joyful report to John.  Gaius was walking in the truth.  Three times John describes Gaius as marked by truth.  We know from last week that John equates walking in truth with obedience to God’s commands.  John says that Gaius, and all who take trouble for the Gospel, will live in a way that exalts truth.

Living for God means obeying God.  A lifestyle of obedience will be a clear, defining mark of all who are living for the truth.  There will be some who make sacrifices for the Church, but do not walk in truth.  They give their money, but cheat their friends.  They give their time, but it’s to ease their conscience.  They give their talents, but it’s to gain praise from others.

Do you walk in the truth?  Is your obedience from the heart?  You can do things for the Church sometimes, but lack the truth.  But the one who walks in the truth will consistently and faithfully take on trouble for the sake of the Gospel.  You will give up your desires for the progress of the Gospel.

If you’ve ever heard of John Paton, you know he was a great example of this.  Paton was to become a missionary to the New Hebrides, some South Pacific islands.  He was a successful pastor in Glasgow, ministering to hundreds of unsaved people, and seeing great fruit from his ministry.  He sought to give up the comforts of home, the familiarity of Glasgow, and the care of friends.  He gave up his desires for the progress of the Gospel there.

One older Christian man would regularly remind him of the danger, saying, “The Cannibals!  You will be eaten by cannibals!”  And after some weeks of this, Paton responded to him by saying, “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”  Is your life marked by an obedience to the Gospel, no matter the cost to you?  The second mark of a godly lifestyle . . .

b)  Marked by hospitality (verse 5)

In verse 5, John commends Gaius for his faithful care of fellow Christians, and especially of those who were unknown to him.  He was acting faithfully.  The word “accomplished” is consistently used to describe something that took work, something you labored for–something you worked at.  Gaius took trouble in his life to care for the needs of others.  He worked to further the ministry of others.

The brethren and strangers described here were mainly teachers who were passing through the area.  We talked last week about the false teachers who were to be shut out and guarded against.  Here we have the other men–the faithful ones, the ones who kept the teaching of Christ.

Gaius went out of his way to care for these men.  The context makes clear that it was at considerable cost to himself.  It hurt his reputation with some in the church.  They didn’t agree with what he was doing.  But he kept doing it.  The pattern of his life was marked by hospitality.

About a year and a half ago, Beth and I were in the process of moving houses, and we got a call.  A man I’d known from seminary long ago was getting medical treatment for his daughter, and needed a place to stay for a night.  We had nowhere for them, so I called one of you.  And the answer was immediately a yes.  Bedrooms were rearranged and the family arrived, and one of you loved on them immensely.  Then they had car trouble, and immediate help was provided, and even another night’s lodging.

Is your life marked by hospitality?  Do you work to care for other believers?  Are you willing and wanting to welcome others into your home, even those who are completely unfamiliar to you?  Do you take trouble for the sake of the Gospel?  If so, your life will be marked by obedience to truth, hospitable care for others, and . . .

c)  Marked by love (verse 6)

You see, the men who Gaius helped didn’t really talk about the stuff they received.  They weren’t overwhelmed by the house.  They didn’t talk about the food or the money.

Look at verse 6.  They have testified to your love before the church.  They got home and Gaius’ love for them had stuck in their head.

You know how when you see a particularly good movie, you want to tell others about it?  You have an amazing meal and you bring it up in conversation the next day?  They had been overwhelmed by Gaius’ love.  It wasn’t the next day, but many days after seeing him.  And they were still telling people about how particularly loved they had felt by him.  Love for others is a defining mark of all who live for the Gospel.

We do pretty well at this as a church family.  I see needs taken care of before they’re even made public.  I see people greeted and warmly welcomed by some of you.  I hear of you reaching out to hurting people in the community around you.  I know that a number of you open your homes for ministry in the church and to the world.  But I know the tendency of my own heart is to be self-focused.  If I am prone to loving myself more than others, I know that some of you feel that pull also.

Are there ways that you have ignored or shut down someone in need this week?  Have you heard of somebody who was hurting and done nothing?  Would others describe you as warm, embracing and full of love for them?  Love does not hide behind a cold veneer.  People are to feel loved–not smothered, not weirded out.  But they should feel loved and cared for by you, if you profess Christ.

God’s love for you was marked by taking trouble.  Jesus did not hide or stay silent.  He did not say, “I’ll take care of it next time.”  Out of love for you, He lived without sin and died on the cross.  Out of love for you, He willingly laid down His life.  Out of love for you, He paid the price your sin deserved, absorbing the wrath of God.  Out of love for you, He welcomes all who believe and hope in Him.  Love for others is the hallmark of all true Christians.  John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  And  last . . .

d)  Marked by generosity (verses 7 to 8)

The men who Gaius had been serving were missionaries, men sent out from other churches to go and proclaim the Gospel and establish churches.  They ministered to the lost, and like Paul, accepted nothing from them.  Second Corinthians 11:9, “When the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.”

Gaius had practically and financially cared for these men in a generous way.  He didn’t do this because he was friends with them.  He did this because they were God’s servants.  They were working for the truth (verse 8).  And that is what a missionary is.  And that is what a pastor is.  They are not employees.  They don’t really report to you–they report to God . . . He employs them.  And we are called to support God’s men.  Non-Christians won’t support them–believers are called to do it.

And what’s amazing is the reason John gives in verse 8.  We ought to support such men so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.  John says that by our support–practical, spiritual and financial, we are partners.  We work together with them.  You are a fellow worker with them.  When you support Shannon Hurley, you are working alongside of Him for God’s word in Uganda.  When you support Robert Clark, you are partnering with Him to bring Christ into the Philippines.  When you support FBC, you are tangibly joining in the work of God being done through our church.  That is cool.

In our day, we are used to things being free.  Music is free online.  Books are freely available from friends, libraries and the internet.  News comes to us on our phones.  We go to stores and get free wi-fi.  We get free refills.  A great deal of software and phone apps are now free.  And we come to church with the same mentality.  And we read missionary reports with the same mindset.

John says that those who live for God’s glory will be marked by generosity.  Look at what he says to Gaius in verse 6, “You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.”  Do you support God’s work in a manner worthy of God?  Are you generous to those who work for the Gospel?  Do you support such men?  Do you know how much and how often?  We are called to support the work of the local church.  We are called to support men who are sent out to proclaim the Gospel.

Maybe you need to start by budgeting, so that you become good stewards of God’s money.  Listen, here’s an easy test–what do you spend more money on . . . Starbucks or missionaries, groceries or giving to the Church?  I am not trying to guilt you into anything.  I didn’t even know this was in the text when I chose the book.  I just want you to consider what the Word says.

Second Corinthians 9:6 to 8 says, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

God wants you to give generously and cheerfully.  He will provide the grace necessary for this.  Oh you think it’s too hard, or my wife/husband will never go for it, or we’d have to eat out less and I’d have to cook more.  Do you take trouble for the sake of the Gospel?  Do you want to support and partner with those who work for the truth?  If so, your life will be marked by obedience to truth, hospitable care for others, love and generosity.  Third John is presenting two patterns of life and asks, which will you follow?  You can take trouble for the Gospel or . . .

2)  Make trouble for the Gospel (verses 9 to 10)

Every day you make choices about how to live.  Will you live for your own benefit, or at cost to yourself?  Will you make tough choices that cost you, or will you take the easy way?  If you profess Christ but are not living for God, you are, at the core, making trouble for the Gospel.  Rather than living for the Gospel, you choose to live for yourself.

Just as Gaius demonstrates a life that takes trouble for the Gospel, now we see Diotrephes as a man who made trouble for the Gospel.  And as Gaius provided four marks of a man who lives for God, so Diotrephes displays four marks of one who makes trouble for the Gospel.  They’re all in verses 9 to 10.  We see there that John had written to the church which Gaius was apparently part of.  What he’d written is not clear.  It’s likely that John was requesting help for some missionaries passing through.  One of the reasons we don’t have that letter is because Diotrephes suppressed it.  What we can tell is that Diotrephes was in the church, he was professing Christ, and the pattern of his life was to make trouble for the Gospel.  Here’s how we see that:

a)  Marked by false words

In verse 9 John says, he does not accept what we say.  The apostle John, the oldest and only living apostle, writes a letter of instruction to the church.  Diotrepehes doesn’t like the truth in it, and refuses to accept it.  Do you get that?  He blew off an apostle!  That takes some guts.

In this instance, it was guts motivated by pride.  We see that because John is clear—“he loves to be first.”  Pride drove Diotrephes’ actions and words.  He wanted to be first, and so he said whatever was necessary to win.  Maybe you’ve done that in arguments?  You distorted the truth in order to win the argument?

That’s how John describes Diotrephes’ actions in verse 10, “For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words.”  Diotrephes’ speech was marked by false words.  He spoke in a way that made him big and others small.  He used words to discredit others who disagreed with him.  He manufactured reasons for people in the church to ignore what the apostle said.  He cast doubt on the character and truthfulness of the man.

Do you speak in this way?  Do you speak in a way that makes you look big and others small?  Do you discredit others who disagree with you?  Do you attack their character?  Those who make trouble for the Gospel are marked by false words.  Though they profess Christ, there is a profound lack of truth in their speech.  The second pattern of life that’s evident is:

b)  Marked by lack of hospitality

John says that Diotrephes was not content to simply accuse John and discredit him.  Not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren either.  In contrast to the generous hospitality of Gaius, Diotrephes did not help men who served God.  He was likely a leader within the local church, but he was stingy and unkind.  His lack of hospitality and charity would surely be called “wisdom” or “discernment”, for he needed to appear better.  He couldn’t look selfish, so he had to justify himself.

Rather than extending kindness to these ministers of the Gospel, Diotrephes spent what he had on himself.  He put himself first, as verse 9 says.  Rather than share with others, he kept things for himself.  He had the ability to share, but he spent all that he had on his own fame.

Those who make trouble for the Gospel are marked by a lack of hospitality and charity to others.  Though you profess Christ, your greed makes Jesus look bad to the world.  Though you claim to love Jesus, you love yourself even more.  First John 3:17, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

In contrast to that, Paul describes the churches in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 8:2 to 4, “In a great ordeal of affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.”

The godly are hospitable and give generously.  Those who make trouble for the Gospel are marked by a lack of hospitality/a lack of generosity.  They use false words, they are unfriendly, and they are . . .

c)  Marked by hindering the faithful

You see, it’s not just that Diotrephes chose to not do anything himself.  He actually hindered others from helping the missionaries.  Verse 10 says, “And he forbids those who desire to do so.”  The word used for “forbid” describes more than mere words.  It describes active opposition–putting in effort to stop someone from doing what they want.

It’s not that Diotrephes merely instructed people to stop helping.  He worked–he took pains to make sure that those who wanted to help the men of God could not actually do so.  There were people in the church who wanted to act like Gaius but were hindered.  He made trouble for the Gospel.

Do you keep people from doing what God wants them to?  Ladies, you may remember the opening scene of Sense and Sensibility.  Mr. Dashwood has died.  Their half-brother, John, realizes that he must care for his stepmother and her daughters.  Though charged by his father to care for them, his wife Fanny talks him down.  “Help them?  What do you mean help them?  Three thousand pounds?”  It goes to 1,500 lbs, then 100 lbs a year while the mother is alive, then 20 lbs now and then, to which Fanny responds, “Although to say the truth, I am convinced within myself that your father had no idea of you giving them MONEY.”

Do you keep people from caring for others?  Do you hinder them from doing what God would have them do?  Diotrephes was not content with personally closing his doors to them.  He believed that everyone needed to do as he did.  In his pride, he thought that everyone should live exactly as he.  What they did was wrong unless it aligned with his actions.  Diotrephes hindered the faithful by his lack of care for the missionaries, and his active opposition towards those who sought to help them.

d) Marked by hostility

We see at the end of verse 10 that Diotrephes used church discipline as a weapon and puts them out of the church.  God designed church discipline to be a tool to draw clearly sinning believers back to repentance.  Instead, Diotrephes used church discipline to force out those who disagreed with him.

God made it a tool for repentance and restoration.  Diotrephes used church discipline to divide, separate and isolate.  It created a climate of fear and distrust within the church.  While there may have been a cloaking of pseudo-righteousness, those who visit and even those who are far away can tell that hostility marks his actions.  Gaius worked to oppose, dethrone and take down any who resisted him.

The grammar of each verb that describes Gaius indicates that this was his state of life.  He regularly and actively was hostile towards faithful believers.  He probably did not appear that way when you first met him.  He may not have even recognized these things were true about him.  But someone who makes trouble for the Gospel will be marked by hostility towards faithful Christians.

Men like Gaius will take trouble for the Gospel.  John shows us that much of that trouble will not come from the world, but from some within the church who do not see what they are.  Maybe like you, Diotrephes professed Christ, but he was marked by deceitful speech and a love for himself that overrode concern for others.  He hindered godly, faithful men, and in the guise of unity, created division and hostility.

The apostle John ends this letter with a choice for us.  You must decide–how will you respond to the Gospel and those who labor for the Gospel?  Verse 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.”

Will you take trouble for the Gospel by doing good?  Or will you make trouble for the Gospel by imitating evil?  Will you be marked by pride, the great sin of the evil one?  Will you be marked by love, the greatest act of Jesus?  Apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ in your life, you have no choice.

You will never be able to act good enough to please God.  You will try and try to imitate what’s good, but you’ll fail.  But for Christians, for those who’ve placed all their hope in Jesus, God enables you to choose.  You are no longer enslaved to sin, but able to obey.  The question is, will you?  That is the choice that John presents to all who read and hear this epistle.

How will you respond to the Gospel and those who labor for the Gospel?  He commands us to imitate what is good.  To Gaius, he commends Demetrius as an example of such a life.  John is clear that he wants us to live for the Gospel and not ourselves.

If you decide to take trouble into your life for the sake of the Gospel, you will be loved by some and hated by others.  We see this in 2 John.  Gaius was putting people out of the church.  He was shaming them and creating division.  But John and his friends loved them (verse 15).  Prayers for Gaius’ soul, his health and his prosperity were being made (verse 2).

The choices you make this week may not make national news the way that Stan Weatherford’s did.  But you have the same potential to love people towards Jesus, or separate people away from Jesus.  I pray that we remain and grow even more into a church that’s marked by truth, hospitality, love and generosity.  Let’s pray.

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church