At the start of this, let us remember that this is a letter that is intended to be in the larger context of Christian hospitality. One of the ways that the church showed hospitality is to support Christian teachers who travelled from place to place speaking to and teaching the saints in the churches. Inns were unsafe places to stay and not only could expose the teacher to danger, but because of the day in which this occurred, could have landed the whole church in persecutory trouble. It was much better to love the brethren by giving them shelter in your own home, where perhaps the church met.
You have to understand that the whole organization of the church in those days was to protect it and even make it thrive under persecution. It’s truly genius. Everything either exposes the part of the church that can best handle it, or hides the church from persecution, right down to the language John uses, consciously or not. Beloved, we are truly blessed to have a building to meet in. I have been a member of a gathering that met in homes, by the way. We weren’t being persecuted, but we were ready if it happened. It turns out that’s what Pastor James Coates had to face during a certain recent medical situation that shall remain nameless. He was arrested because he would not stop being a shepherd. After his release on eventual bail (6 weeks later), all while the church was allowed by authorities to continue to meet, the church began to meet in undisclosed locations to avoid conflicts with the law, all in a more rural area outside of Edmonton, Alberta, right here in Canada. Your pastors are in the figurative firing line for this, and as such, it is the purpose of every pastor to train others to know the Word, to be able to test the spirits as John told us in 1 John 4:1, and to feed the sheep of His flock, all while keeping the flock safe. Believe that we can use all of the helpful hospitality we can get.
With that said, this is how I broke the text into paragraphs:
KV8: Fellow Workers of the Truth
8:Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.
5-8: To faithfully support the truth
9-10: False leaders hinder that support
11-12: Take care to imitate the good
13-15: Walk in the truth until we meet face to face
Before we dive in, I should say that you do not have to be a preacher to be a fellow worker in the truth. Gaius here ran a house of hospitality for visiting preachers. God saw that as him supporting the truth, and we know this by the kind of praise John gives Gaius here. So what does this mean? We will dive in and see.
KV8: Fellow Workers of the Truth
8:Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.
This has to do with the way we support the ongoing work of God directly or indirectly. John in this verse is telling us that if we are not directly engaged in it, we should support the men who are. Both are acceptable ways of being fellow workers with the truth, to use John’s turn of phrase. This is like when David and his men pursued those who had attacked his city Ziklag and carried off all of his treasures and the women and children in the city while he and the men were out to battle. There were some who were not able to go with David because of exhaustion, so they stayed behind to watch the stuff. David and the men who went with him recovered everything, and then some of the men began to say that because those who were exhausted weren’t there for the fight, they shouldn’t have any share in the regained treasures. David didn’t like that idea. He reminded them that they had watched the stuff, and that was good enough. I am reminded of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, when in a description of the angels in heaven he said, “…they also serve who stand and wait.” Supporting ministry in any way you can is enough for God to call you a fellow worker with the truth. Let’s get into the text and see what John says.
5-8: To faithfully support the truth
The idea that John seems to me to be touching on here isn’t the preaching of the Word or the Gospel. If we are honest, not every saint is the most gifted or most equipped person to do that work. Although it is true that we all have a testimony of how Christ found and saved us that we can share and share gloriously, not everyone is gifted with the ability to speak the gospel or other more complex theological concepts eloquently and with persuasiveness. That is left to the preacher/teacher set that God gave to the church as gifts according to Ephesians 4. You can read that yourself.
No, in my view, John is saying that the best thing to do to support the truth is to be faithful in whatever God sets you to be about. He will supply the gifting and ability if we will step out in faith, and I can and do prove that every week we have a bible study like this. Do you think I have this ability in myself? I certainly did not before I became a believer. The “knowledge” so-called is many years of sitting under men who were also faithful to exercise their gifts and abilities. The “wisdom” is from the Spirit and certainly not my own. No, I am completely inadequate in and of my own devices for this work that God has told me to perform. So how am I adequate? 2 Cor. 3:4 says, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God…” So as long as you do what God is telling you to do, you are being faithful to Him and thus a support of the truth. Let’s dig in here.
5: Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers;
- See? “FAITHFULLY.” John is, remember, speaking to Gaius who ran a house of Christian hospitality that would give safe shelter for those who were doing the work of preaching and teaching and shepherding the flock of God. Have you ever asked yourself who shepherds the shepherd? While it is true that the Great Shepherd Jesus Himself does shepherd the “under-shepherds” he has for Himself, He does so through MEANS, and Beloved, you are sometimes those means. How do you care for your own shepherds? Well, one way I can think of is that you show up to the bible studies. The fellowship we have during and around these times is food for my soul, friends. I am being totally honest here. I have stood in an empty room and delivered my sermons to the Lord who I am unable to see with my eyes. I much prefer to give them to Him when you are also able to benefit directly. Another way I can think of is to just be my friend. I’m not asking you to do anything for me that I don’t already do for you. Let’s go have a coffee or lunch at Tim’s or Wendy’s or something. Let’s talk about the Lord! You know you want to. [wink]
- John’s point is that in whatever acts of love you do for these servants of God, if you are doing them to God and being faithful in the actions themselves and your motives in performing them, you are doing faithful service to God…especially if they are strangers to you, because it requires a faith in God that is displayed in your faithful service. Yes, I said your motives. You should do this service because of love for your Saviour, not because you want to somehow obligate your pastor to do things that you can do yourself for you. Beloved, no one can do the things God gave you to do as a stewardship FOR you. He called YOU to do that. So do it faithfully. Keep your selfish motives crucified like the ungodly flesh that it is.
6: and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.
- So what happens when you do all that in verse 5? Well, verse 6 tells us that word gets around in a good way for everybody. A couple of things are important here. First, the believers give a good report of your selfless hospitality toward them. That is what John means when he says that “they have testified of your love before the church.” Beloved, God’s people will hear that you have been a faithful servant of Christ and rejoice that the light of God has gone out into the world because of it.
- Second, you will be rewarded for your faithful service with more service of the same kind in my experience. If you are faithful to serve the pastor/teacher that stays with you, MORE pastors/teachers of the word will stay with you if that is what you want. I should explain that if God is calling you to this, it should be something you will have a real and godly desire for, and not something you fell obligated to do. Rather it will be a joy for you and for the ones you serve.
- Finally, John says this: if you are being faithful, you will send them on their way just as if God Himself had been your guest. Yes, I know the Holy Spirit lives inside all believers. That isn’t what we are talking about entirely. I’m talking about what if Jesus Himself had to stay with you at your house? You’d want to fuss and dote on Him, to be sure. If he wanted pizza, let’s say, you’d get or make Him any pizza He named. If he wanted to go for a walk, you’d want to go with, would you not? If he wanted to be alone to pray, you’d make the environment as conducive to that as possible, and you KNOW you would, it’s the Lord Jesus we are speaking of! That’s what John means when he says, “…in a manner worthy of God.”
- Think of the words of Jesus Christ Himself here. Matthew 25:34-40 read, ““Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” That points out something VERY specific. They didn’t do it for the King because He was the King. They did it because it was part of their nature. They did it the same way for everyone, not in partiality, you might say. Contrast vv.41-46 of that passage on your own time and you’ll see what I mean. They did it because it should be done for everyone. Even the least of them, Jesus says. You sort out for yourself what that means for you, but as for me and my house, we know what to do.
7: For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.
- John even provides some reasoning as to why this should be done for servants of the Lord Jesus. These are men that go out “for the sake of the Name.” What name? The Name of Jesus, the Christ, and there is no other name under heaven by which a person may be saved!” THAT Name! HIS Name! King of all kinging! Lord of lording! THAT Name! And they went out as they were because He told them to. Beloved, that’s how we are ALL sent to the work. As we are, accepting NO help from unbelievers, which is what “the Gentiles” means here, because I am a genetic Gentile. This is spiritually discerned, not genetically. When someone goes out for the sake of HIS name, our attitude should be, “What can I do to help them on the way?” Can I put gas in their car? Can I pack him a lunch? Can I go WITH them? Why? Because HE is WORTHY! Not because of anything we can do, or anything the one going out can do. But for HIM! The WORTHY One! We need to help anyone who is ACTUALLY going out in HIS name. Even the least of them who go.
8: Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.
- What does John say? THESE are the men which we ought to support. Men like Andre Sibomana, who we heard a bit about on Saturday, our partner in mission in Kenya, Africa. These men are not supported by governments, Beloved. WE support them, and not just us. And that is only one example.
- What are you saying Gerry? Are you saying that we are supposed to give money to people that are working for Christ? I heard that question from you skeptics in the back row of the internet. I will answer with the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:9–“For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He?” No, He is not, not in that sense. Oxen do not have mortgage payments or groceries for hungry dependents. Human servants that have gone out for the sake of the Name taking nothing from unbelievers DO have expenses. We should seek to ease those in any way we can when we can.
- Okay, I hear the shouting again from the internet back row. Do I have a conflict of interest here, they shout. Well, yes, and no. I do because I too have gone out for the sake of that great Name of Jesus at which every knee should bow and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is lord to the glory of God the Father. Beloved, at the moment, I support myself just like Paul did while he was in Corinth. I have no more conflict of interest than he did. In fact, I support our pastor here in a number of ways, with my time, my talent, and my treasure. Because I know that God is not really concerned about oxen the way he is about His servants. He WILL take care of them perfectly even if you won’t by the way.
Wow, those are some pretty bold words, Brinkman. Not really. I know who is behind them. For those that will deny God’s servants their necessary provision, and I could name them, though there is no profit in that so I won’t, God promises faithful judgement. To those that will support them in their ministry with their time, treasure, or talent, God promises faithful reward. To the servant himself, God promises that in the end, he will here those words that we all long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
It isn’t my intention to make this personal, and I’m CERTAINLY not talking about monetary support. What I am talking about is what John meant when he wrote these words originally. Beloved, show hospitality to all who name the name of the Master in truth. Show it liberally and generously. And be content with what the Lord provides you. This isn’t about keeping up with the Joneses. Above all, be gracious and benevolent to those who serve Christ by serving you.
9-10: False leaders hinder that support
Now there is a reason that this isn’t openly talked about a lot in pulpits, and I’m not talking about lack of people to preach on the topic, or even shyness on our part to do so, though that certainly exists. No, there is a more diabolical reason: bad leadership in the house.
Today’s churches have boards of deacons or councils or other bodies that control the funds of such activities, some faithfully, some not so much. All of them will face accountability before a holy and just God, some for reward, some for penalty of some kind, some to be exposed as false believers to their everlasting sorrow. God will not be mocked. These false “leaders” will hinder the real servant of God any way they can, especially if they can silence them or put an end to their work for the Lord Christ. Let’s see what John is talking about, because he is about to name a specific example.
9: I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.
- And the name has been named. John has identified one Diotrephes as the false leader here, and as the text unfolds, we will see what that means. Before that, I am about to say something controversial within this group, although I don’t intend to. I think this verse provides at least support for the idea that the letter of 1 John was the first one written. I personally think, and I am stating this as my opinion, that this is the “something” John wrote to the church. Did John write anything else to the church specifically? I don’t know that he did not, but this one makes a certain amount of sense. John’s treatise to the church on the state of things would be a “something” worth mentioning. Diotrephes’ subsequent action and refusal to accept the apostolic authority of said letter would be cause to write two more short missives, one to the lady who ran a house of hospitality, maybe even the one in question, and one to another man, Gaius, who may have been the man trying to stand up for the that church institution for lack of a better word, who had perhaps even been put out for his trouble. I don’t know what happened definitively, but this explanation actually fits why we have these letters in the order they were all found on one papyrus from less than 100 years after the events. Again, my opinion, Beloved.
- So who was Diotrephes? Interestingly, his name means “nourished by Jupiter.” GotQuestions.org informs that he was a “self-seeking troublemaker in an unnamed local church in the first century.” Other than that, we know nothing from extrabiblical sources about the man that I could find, although I only looked for a short time. I do know that it isn’t a common name. We know from what John says that Diotrephes was a leader or at least influential member of the church in question, and is why I titled this section the way I did, because it is this kind of individual that presents the largest obstacle to real believers simply trying to serve Christ in the way He has commanded.
- First, John tells us that he loves to be first. I take this, and I am not alone in this, to mean that Diotrephes liked to be “in charge” of things. We all know people like this, and we’ll stay off that topic for sake of time this evening. There is at least one in every congregation I have ever been a part of, and they always seem to be in some kind of leadership position when I have encountered them. This “being in charge” leads to a type of arrogance that John writes about in the latter part of this verse–“…he does not accept what we say.” Did you catch that? Diotrephes would not accept what John the Beloved, the Revelator, the last living Apostle of Jesus Christ said in the “something” he wrote to the church, which I personally suppose to be his first letter! Why would a man turn down the inspired word of God given through a living Apostle of the Christ, the God-Man Himself? For the same reason they still do. They want something else, and it involves sin of some kind.
- Third, Diotrephes spread malicious gossip about other men of God. We will see this as the next bit of text unfold, by the way, but I’ll get all this out now. It is one thing to privately wonder about someone even with friends when a strange situation occurs, but to start maliciously speaking of a church member is a serious offence, no matter what he has done. THAT, should it be necessary, is the job of DESIGNATED leadership. Otherwise, it is simple gossip, and the New Testament lists that as sin in all kinds of places.
- We will see in a moment, but he also withheld hospitality from other real believers. You know, in every place where I have encountered this, I have encountered not only the previously mentioned gossip, but a withholding of sorts. The brethren having the service withheld are sort of denigrated to a less-than-human individual in most cases, and ill-spoken of by the modern-day Diotrephes counterpart. I suppose that so it is easier on the slanderer and the church as a whole to perform the excommunication of the slandered if it goes that far. That’s who Diotrephes was. We’ll go on to the next verse.
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, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.
- As I said previously, the rest of the sordid identity of Diotrephes would unfold in the text, and here it is in all its infamy. I tell you, when I read this, I shudder internally to think about the kind of individual that he would receive with any kind of hospitality. We are not finished with the subject of Diotrephes in this section, either, but I need to make a few more general comments.
I alluded to a larger sense of this earlier, saying that this had become an all-too-common phenomenon in the church today, and we must all deal with it with grace and intelligence. These false “Christians” worm their way into positions of leadership in the church, where they begin (sometimes without warning) to display these kinds of characteristics, meaning you cannot always see this coming. These false leaders then simply shut everyone else they can down at the top level. I actually faced down an attempt of this at our denominational Convention this year in Toronto. The attempts at emotional manipulation were all too clear to me, but then I have written discernment articles for Pulpit and Pen and its successor Protestia, not to mention some on our own BereanNation.com. There are a number of, well, tools, that said individuals can use, from emotional manipulation to out-and-out hostility and slander (sometimes even writing it down, that’s called libel) to silence those who would oppose them, and I would be lying if I said I had never been the target of such efforts, though none recently. When this happens to you, the best thing to do is to go straight to an actual spiritual leader of some kind, and failing that go straight to the congregation to out the individual. That’s what John said he was going to do, call attention to the deeds of Diotrephes. It can be said that the best way to stand against the darkness trying to infiltrate or take over a congregation is to shine bright light on it. Isn’t that what the Lord did with sin? How can we as His servants do any differently? Next paragraph.
11-12: Take care to imitate the good
The reason I said that we were not quite done with Diotrephes yet will become clear momentarily, and I will reserve my comments for then because it comes out of our text. All I will say here is that there is a very official code of behaviour for the saints in the church, and that is based on the Holiness of God. I find it striking that John here picks up the idea of imitating what is Godd, because he sounds like my personal hero, the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children…” Paul goes on in verse 3, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints…” All that is to say that we have a very clear choice to “mortify” our sin as John Owen put it in his work The Mortification of Sin. We kill it on the cross of Christ. We are to have died, although we live, as Christ lives in us. Sin and evil behaviour are to be ceased as much as possible (although Paul also wrote Romans 7 where he details his personal struggle in my opinion). We must imitate the good and not the evil. Into the text.
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.
- The first phrase is John telling us this: “Don’t be like Diotrephes.” Rather be like Gaius, the anti-Diotrephes. Don’t do the wrong stuff! Don’t disparage the people in your fellowship publicly! Don’t take that attitude that criticizes vocally every little thing you can think of! Speak the truth instead, and give credit where it is due. I know, looking for that can be hard sometimes, but attempt it at least. Why would John say this? Simple put, the one who does good is of God and the one who does evil has never seen God. Word of John, inspired by the Holy Spirit and communicated to us by the Scriptures as John recorded them. From Paul, to the writer of Hebrews, to James, to Peter and not to John, the message is the same: Behave like Christ did and walk in a manner worthy of the great salvation that Christ has called us to.
12: Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
- I thought briefly about this verse as I was preparing, and I think it is John doing a man who has gone out for the sake of the Name a solid. He is mentioning Demetrius as a Fellow Worker here so that he WILL be welcomed in case he gets there before John can come and unmask Diotrephes for the false Christian he appears to be (from verse 11).
- Demetrius appears to be one of these circuit pastors that moves from gathering to gathering and preaches to the saints. We still do this today in some ways. We have men in our congregation that have preached in other gatherings locally. He has a good witness, that is a good report from everyone, as well. That’s a good thing for a travelling preacher, by the way. John even adds his own recommendation for Demetrius, and emphasizes that one can know it is true. I think John is gently reminding Gaius and anyone else who hears this letter that he is in fact an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and that his life’s mission has been the communication of the truth of the gospel, and you can take what he says as absolutely true.
It seems ironic that at the close of his personal letter that found its way into the canon of Scripture that the Apostle saw fit to use his own personal recommendation to notify the church that Demetrius was coming by name in what seems to be a move to counter the misconduct of Diotrephes in advance. Yet, John did so, and so should we give good report to those who ask about good preachers whose job it is to feed the sheep in multiple places. Next paragraph.
13-15: Walk in the truth until we meet face to face
One of the things that made me pay attention to the text here is what exactly John was telling Gaius to do. Gaius may have been a man who had suffered indignity of excommunication at the hands of Diotrephes, although that is speculation of sorts. At no time did John tell Gaius to stop what he was doing. I don’t know about you, but I would take that as a kind of direction to keep doing what I was doing, no matter how I felt about it. John has some things to say that help our understanding, so let’s look.
13: I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink;
- John makes it clear here that he’s not done with the message to Gaius, but that he didn’t want to write it down. Maybe this was part of the paper and ink costing more than the scribe to write it. The world in those days was largely a resource-based economy. There were no shortage of people to write things down, but the materials cost more than the writer or writing itself would cost. By comparison, we live in a labour-based economy to some extent, and materials are usually cheaper by far than the guy to do it is. Whatever his reason, John didn’t want to write it down. It also might be that John was trying to keep names and places out of the hands of the Romans, who were still persecuting believers, and these were around the days of the Emperor Domitian, whos the guy that exiled John to the prison colony of Patmos. For whatever reason, John was not willing to commit it to paper.
14: but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.
- With an issue of the magnitude of what Diotrephes created, John felt (and so do I) that this is best handled in person with all parties for a better resolution. This is always the best policy. I cannot tell you how much I hate texting or emailing about critical issues where there is a possibility of miscommunication. That NEVER works out well. For example, a poorly written and even more poorly received email once caused an actual church discipline issue here. I won’t tell the story or give details because of confidentiality, and some things are better left buried. Always choose a face-to-face setting when something complex has to be discussed, or be prepared for ALL of the consequences if you don’t think what I say is important.
- I also think this may have been nearby John, because he said he would see Gaius shortly. John was in Ephesus, so maybe a nearby gathering in a different suburb of the city. We don’t really know, and I won’t speculate.
15: Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
- This would be John’s final greeting, wishing peace or wellbeing for Gaius, a common greeting of the day. However, the next bit was more remarkable. If you compare a letter like Paul’s epistle to the Romans and the actual full chapter of greetings Paul lists off to send and to receive with this, you can easily understand how things had changed in the world where Christianity was concerned. Christianity itself had gone from a new sect of religious practice that emphasized peace and personal holiness of the believer to what the government (Rome at the time) called a subversive cult of terrorists accused of burning down Rome as a protest. Christianity and its practice in these days was illegal and practitioners were exiled to prison colonies at a minimum. Many still died in the arena at the hands of gladiators, or at the mercy of starved wild animals. In the early days, many were crucified like the Apostle Peter. Many were doused with oil and then set on fire as human torches to light Nero’s garden. When we realize this, it is not difficult to understand that John gave no place names, used no full names, and gave only the most general greetings to close the letter.
We may take John’s brevity here as a silent encouragement to Gaius to keep going. John was coming, and a conversation with the living Apostle would solve all the issues caused by a false leader with too large of an ego and too little spiritual acumen. And that’s what I saw in the text.
Next week, we will not be meeting for Bible study. As I have mentioned before, these studies are not canned content, I am doing this work myself, and by the way, enjoying it! But it does mean that I need a little extra time every time we come to a new book. Next study will be in two weeks, where we will look at the letter of Jude to the churches, where I will try to provide a little bit of an overview and we will look at what looks like the first two verses of the letter. Again, that’s in two weeks, and I will have by then had an opportunity to have looked at it in more detail and will have some idea of how we will divide the text up for study.
Also, I’m looking for some folks to volunteer some time on the BereanNation.com website. We are all moved into our new digs with our new internet provider, and I’m needing someone who understands WordPress blog sites and how to edit posts for a backlog of editing that needs to be done. It’s impossible to edit your own stuff, because you always know what you meant, right? Anyway, if you are interested in helping with the website behind the scenes, contact me at PastorGer@bereannation.com. I would be happy to chat about it with you.