5Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. 7For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. 9I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10So 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. 11Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 12Demetrius 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.
3 John 1:5-12
It must be frustrating for John knowing about Diotrephes. In verse 9 John said that he wrote something to the church, containing an instruction of some sort to help the brothers that John sent for the purpose of doing ministry over there. The letter is lost and we don’t have it with us, so we don’t quite know what is in that lost letter. What is clear from the letter that we have with us is that Diotrephes did not accept John’s instruction, but instead he undermined the apostle’s authority. Who is this Diotrephes? All commentators agree that Diotrephes must have been a very important person in that church. He could be a prominent elder, or a bible teacher, or even an evangelist. Yet Diotrephes used his position to oppose John by “10…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.”
Four negative actions Diotrephes did: 1) talking evil against John and the church, 2) refusing to welcome John’s missionaries, 3) stopping those who desired to help the poor missionaries, and 4) excommunicating them who wanted to care for the missionaries. What Diotrephes did was very hostile, not only to John and his missionaries, but also to the ministry of the kingdom. Once John’s authority as apostle was undermined, then Diotrephes established himself as the authority. This act was the most dangerous act since it cut off the direct line from Jesus Himself. Jesus did not give the authority to Diotrephes. Jesus gave the authority to His disciples, in which John was one of them. One of the duties of Jesus’ disciples or apostles was to guard the pure teaching. In the midst of many false teachings going around, the role of Jesus’ apostles could not be undermined. For this context, certainly the authority of John must not be undermined.
When Diotrephes set himself up against John, he immediately also set himself up against Jesus. John, led by the Spirit, sent out missionaries to do important kingdom works to the scattered churches of the first century. This missionary work was very difficult in itself. The missionaries had to travel to distant places, to support themselves, all the while doing the ministry. John said that his missionaries did not take anything from the Gentiles. The proper support should have come from their brothers and sisters in the Lord. But, as this letter indicates, Diotrephes, who “9…likes to put himself first,” opposed supporting the missionaries. And this created a big problem. Not only that the missionaries were not supported, but also the works were interrupted. And worse, the future kingdom works were also at risk, because some people in the church could be swayed to Diotrephes’ position, especially because Diotrephes was such an important person in that church. At this rate, the entire ministry that John built in that church could crumble down.
John was clear on Diotrephes’ action. He called it “evil” (11). I trust John’s judgment, for he was led by the Spirit of Christ Himself. This problem was very serious, and one that could not be taken lightly. When a leader suddenly derailed and took the opposite path, the people would be confused and divided. Division in the church was unacceptable because it would destroy the church. Paul wrote a very serious message in 1 Corinthians regarding the division in the church. Paul said very strongly in vv. 16-17:
16Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
The label that John put on Diotrephes, and whoever did what Diotrephes did, and the four negative actions that these people did, was a very transparent and honest label. The church had to know the evil nature of those actions. The church had to recognize the evil deeds that Diotrephes did. And the church had to act upon it by stopping whatever Diotrephes was doing and the poison that had infiltrated and divided the church.
Our modern church is no different than the church back then. The Diotrephes’ kind of threat is also lurking in many churches today. A lot of traditional and established churches no longer have the appetite to help those in need. And what’s worse, many modern churches today do not feel it is their duty to care for the ministers of God in a dignified and honorable way. Many excuses came from these kind of churches against doing good to others.
For example, churches do not wish to help others in need for fear of being exploited. Years ago I knew a church that decided against helping someone who was in need. This person desperately needed financial support for his medical condition. The church only sent prayer without any financial support whatsoever. Not long after, the person died because of the lack of medical intervention. Others also reported a similar treatment, in which when they needed financial support direly, the church only came to pray, even though the church had the means to help. Their excuses? They said that they were being exploited once by a member of their congregation who took the financial support and used it for something irresponsible. Other churches also said similar things claiming that in the end those they helped did not deserve to be helped because they used the money they got from church to buy cigarettes, drugs, or drinks to get drunk. So they chose not to help those in need just because someone might misuse the help. Behind all those excuses were strong leaders who were very prominent and persuasive like Diotrephes.
Many established churches, especially in Asia, also tend to neglect the welfare of their ministers or missionaries. There is this unwritten law about ministers and missionaries that they ought to be kept poor. And so their salary and honorarium are put at the lowest row of the remuneration scale. And thus these ministers and missionaries are not supported properly. They struggle to put food on the table, or to send their kids to good schools, or to buy good clothing, or to have a decent house, or even to upgrade their knowledge in theology and skills in ministry. The excuses from these churches? They say that: 1) ministers and missionaries are servants of God so they do not work for money, 2) God will take care of them and so the church is not obligated to provide for them, 3) they ought to live by faith – that’s what they do anyway, and 4) they signed up to live a life of poverty so the church’s money can be used for other things (may I remind you that most of it is spent on building?). Again, behind these excuses are strong leaders who are prominent and very persuasive like Diotrephes.
The implications? The kingdom works are hampered. Ministries are stalled. The needy are not helped. The church sends out the wrong impression that they are not there to help those in need. And very few bright and talented people go into ministries the old fashioned way. In the meantime, the church of God must be attended and in need of more ministers and missionaries. These churches are busy building fancy buildings in order to satisfy the current church members. Whereas those ministers and missionaries who are already in the field wither away, because they do not eat well, plus they are stressed out with the household needs and their kids school needs and their medical needs, and also because they can’t upgrade themselves in theology or ministry skill because they lack the financial resources needed.
This is what we witness now in the world. Churches become ineffective. Ministry is outdated. The impression that the church sends is that it is just an exclusive club for the haves. At the same time, the ministers and missionaries are dying in their disappointment with the church. Their kids grow up resenting the church because they do not take a good care of their parents, besides the church always take their parents away from them in the name of ministry. In this way, the church does not do the good thing, but the evil thing instead.
So John had to battle Diotrephes’ evil influence. Verses 11 was meant to remind the church to stay true to her nature:
11Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
The church ought not to do evil. The church ought to do what is good. The good comes from God, the evil does not. What good deeds to do? Verses 5-8 laid out the good things the church must do here:
5Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. 7For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
The church ought to support God’s ministers, who “have gone out for the sake of the name.” Hospitality is the name of the game. Jesus said in Matthew 7:12: “12So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The measurement of hospitality is ourselves. How we want to be treated should also be how we treat others. Unlike Diotrephes who refused to be hospitable to God’s ministers, God’s church must provide hospitality to God’s ministers in a “in a manner worthy of God.” When we support them, we become partners with them in working for the truth. And such path is provided by God to include us in the sharing of His ministry. This is God’s grace for His church.
Practically, God’s church must be united in doing good. God’s church must not be divided, just because some rogue leaders charismatically influence the church to do “evil” by suggesting not to help those in need and not to support God’s ministers honorably. If the church is what we claim to be, God’s church, then the church must express the good deeds. In that way the church works for the truth.
Let go of all those excuses. Start doing what the church must do, good deeds. A sociologist by the name of Rodney Stark wrote a book called: “The Rise of Christianity.” In that book he recorded the surprising catalyst to the booming of Christianity in the first century, which was the hospitality that Christians exhibited to non-Christians. At that time, diseases were killing people. Most of the time not only the disease that killed them, but the abandonment. People in the Greco-Roman world was known to abandon their sick for fear of catching their diseases. As they abandoned them in the streets, the sick slowly died in their loneliness and pain. But the Christians could not let that happen. They risked their lives and took care of the sick. They could catch their diseases, but they were prompted by the love of God to take care of those in need. And miracles happened. As they took care of the sick, the sick slowly got better. And in the process of being taken care by the Christians, they had a turn of heart. They started believing and receiving Jesus as their Savior. Stark pointed out that those abandoned people came back to life and became Christians. So Christianity grew tremendously. Hospitality was one of the greatest catalysts for such growth.
More than fifty years ago in South Korea, a similar explosion occurred. Hospitality became the catalyst for the growth of Christianity. The kingdom works were greatly enhanced when Christians support those in need. The non-Christians in South Korea were attracted to Christianity because they have tasted the goodness the Christians brought to them. And so in the 20th century, Christianity grew exponentially in South Korea.
Today, many churches and mission agencies are starting to understand this dynamics. And so they begin allocating their church budget to hospitality ministry. And more, they also allocate a big portion of the church budget toward supporting ministers and missionaries in “in a manner worthy of God.” They do not put their remuneration at the bottom of the salary scale. Because they put themselves in those ministers and missionaries’ shoes, thinking what if I were them. They then support them with dignity. No, they do not glamorously support their ministers and missionaries like many prosperity gospel kind of churches are doing. But they support them in such a way so that their ministers and missionaries do not wither because of the lack in financial resources. Those ministers and missionaries could then put proper food on the table for their families, send their kids to good schools, buy good clothing, have a decent house to live in, and upgrade themselves accordingly in the area of theology and ministry skills. By doing so, those churches have partnered with them in ministry for the sake of the truth. Ministry flourishes abundantly. And God’s name is honored.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today I want to challenge you to do the good deeds God’s church ought to do. John instructed that church to imitate what is good. John taught them to be hospitable to others. John also warned them of Diotrephes, although prominent and influential but evil in his words and actions. Diotrephes like leaders must not lead in God’s church. These people ruin God’s church. Not only are these kind of people preventing the church from doing good, but they also are dividing the church. Instead of listening and entertaining excuses that prevent you from doing good, I challenge you to focus on being hospitable to all and supportive to God’s ministers and missionaries. This is not just a challenge, but also an encouragement, because this is actually God’s abundant grace for you as He provides you with an opportunity to join in His glorious ministry through hospitality and being supportive to ministers in a godly way. I shall leave you with that.