The fascinating letter of 3 John contains brief portraits of three characters. I have previously posted about Gaius (vv5-8), an impressive man who walked in the truth and generously offered hospitality to others, and Diotrephes (vv9,10), a divisive, power-hungry and self-promoting man who posed real danger to the church. The third character, Demetrius, provides a real contrast with Diotrephes.
Immediately after describing the divisive behaviour of Diotrephes, John urges Gaius ‘do not imitate what is evil, but what is good’ (v11). There is a danger that the approaches of Diotrephes will be successful and he will prevail in his bid to control the church. He could end up being a powerful and influential person within the church. He could end up being first, which was his aim. He could engineer things so that he gets the plaudits, the kudos and the recognition of those outside the church. However, success and position are no guarantee of God’s approval of your actions. God is always looking at your motives and your heart. Eventually these are what we will have to answer for. We may be able to pull the wool over other people’s eyes but we will never be able to fool God.
John’s reminder here in verse 11 is that our true allegiances are shown by our actions: ‘The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.’
However tempting it may be to use sinful methods to achieve what we desire, the imperative is that we ‘imitate good’. The lure of sin is that it promises instant success, gratification, pleasure or results. Sin often appears to pay an immediate reward. It can seem that people actually benefit from doing evil. But scratch under the surface and you will uncover that this is the biggest lie of all. Ultimately sin will leave you bereft of everything. Your pursuit of sin indicates that you have not seen God.
In contrast, refusing to pursue sin and instead imitate good means that we will end up imitating God and indicates we belong to God.
John then points out Demetrius. He is given one sentence in the Bible but it is s sentence I would love to be true of me: ‘Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself’ (v12). Here is a man who does good and is clearly ‘of God’. Demetrius is an example of the sort of person the church needs to be full of. He imitated good. He did the right thing. His life was centred on knowing and pleasing God and doing what was right.
It is interesting to note that he received a good testimony from everyone:
– When those inside the church looked around for an example Demetrius provided a godly and righteous contrast to Diotrephes.
– When those who were outside the church looked inside the church they commented on the goodness of Demetrius’ character.
– When measured against the standard of truth Demetrius did not come up short because the truth itself gave a good testimony of him.
Whereas Diotrephes was trying to take authority and be first in the church through control and manipulation, Demetrius illustrated one of the key character traits of elders, ‘he must have a good reputation with those outside the church’ (1 Timothy 3:7). This doesn’t mean that you should simply act in order to impress others or keep the peace or look the part. Far from it! It works the other way around. Imitating good in every area of life will lead to an authentic lifestyle that will impress others by its consistency and godliness.
In a culture where being driven, focussed, ambitious, hungry for power and self-promoting are all seen as virtues that are quickly recognised and rewarded by others, it is easy to forget that what God calls us to is simply to imitate good. Demetrius provides us with a superb example.
3 John paints a picture of three contrasting men and teaches us that we should walk in the truth, aim for Jesus to be first and imitate good.
Think of how a church filled with people like Gaius and Demetrius could influence, shape and impact the world.