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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
 sites.google.com/site/rcoamaru/
 
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:The 'First' Friend
Text:3 John 9-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Persecution
 
Preached:2000-07-02
Added:2007-12-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“The ‘First’ Friend”

Sermon by

Rev. S. Bajema

on 3 John 9-10

Scripture Reading: 2 John; 3 John 1-10

 

 

Congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ...

 

John’s letter suddenly becomes quite different. From what was a very positive reflection and encouragement for a friend in the Lord, with his words to Gaius, the apostle then couldn’t have become more negative about Diotrephes. And yet it’s these two verses of our text now which is the heart of why John is writing his letter.

Let’s face it. If you were writing a letter which concerned dealing with a difficult matter, you don’t rush right into it. Imagine if the verses 9 and 10 were the second and third verses of this letter. I mean, in a way they should really be, if John’s going to get to the point straight-away. But have a look at what that would do to Gaius and anyone else reading this letter. For while we may well be so astounded that any man could dare act this way in the church towards the last surviving apostle, let’s also realise that this most ungodly man is the key leader in his local congregation. The local congregation of which it’s most likely that Gaius is also a member.

That’s why it is Gaius who receives this letter, since he is one openly believing mature man who could be written to and from whom the apostle could expect a response. Something which hasn’t happened from Diotrephes. For the letter John wrote to him, commending to him one of his preaching and teaching teams, has had no reply. That letter went the way of so much mail today - the round filing bin! The fact that it’s not in our Bibles tells us that that is the most likely thing which Diotrephes did with it.

This is why John could only come to his real concern after having spoken to Gaius of what they shared together in the gospel. Then Gaius can definitely see what is the complete opposite. In the words of a first aspect to this text, now Gaius would see that...ONLY AN ENEMY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TRUTH.

 

Congregation, if we were to take those verses written to Gaius personally, and then compare them side by side with these verses written about Diotrephes, there’s a similar pattern. Consider the verses 5 ‘til 8: There we see one man who is thinking about others first of all - even though he doesn’t personally know them. How’s that compared with the verses 9 ‘til 10: There is a man of whom it is said, he “loves to be first”?

Next, look at the open acknowledgement of the love of Gaius in verse 6. He takes those visiting preachers into his own home. He gives the cup of water in the name of Christ. Verse 9, however, tells us about someone who refuses to have anything to do with others - even though those others are from no less than the apostle himself!

How much different can you get from sending someone on their way in a manner worthy of God and someone gossiping maliciously about their brothers in the Lord? Which wider gap could there be from one who shows a hospitality which works together for the truth and one who does whatever he can to stop those who show this vital hospitality? And it’s all in one local church!

That’s why John uses the phrase “the church”. It indicates one fellowship they both knew very well. If they both didn’t belong to it, which is the most probable option, then it would have to be a very close and well-known church for Gaius.

Yet it seems that Gaius is far enough removed from the central influence of the church to be approached in this way by the apostle. Perhaps he was living just a bit out of town. That could be why he ended up extending so much hospitality!

 

Nevertheless, Gaius was someone of prominence himself in that church. Perhaps not so powerful. But like Athanasias against the Arians several centuries later, the Lord was working through him - even if so much appeared to be stacked up against him.

You see, this is the only time we ever hear of this Diotrephes. Otherwise, he just disappears off the roll of church history altogether!

But that situation then is very real. The sin present through Diotrephes is severe and dangerous. And it’s a sin very much with us today. It is this sin the Lord Jesus warns against in Matthew 23, when he describes the important places the Pharisees and the teachers of the law love to have.

His ideal for a true leader is totally different. As He says, “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt.23:8ff)

 

An interesting connection to this is raised here by one commentator. He points out that the name Diotrephes is as rare as the name Gaius is common. The name Diotrephes further has its roots in what are generally regarded as noble and ancient families. The name itself means ‘Zeus-reared,’ or ‘Baby child of Zeus.’ Zeus is the King of all the Olympian gods - the one above them all!

The name is further tied in by this commentator to the Greek aristocracy of the old royal city - which is, in this case, Pergamum.  That would mean that it was social prestige which was behind that disgraceful behaviour. He was naturally ‘first.’ It was in his blood!

Others suggest it was a third generation church tension between one of the new guard, who was more independent, and the old guard, who were still more centrally controlling. ‘A power play,’ they would say. Which means that the Church must have been growing at a fair rate. That’s why it could have started to attract people like Diotrephes.

So, as the Lord warned some sixty years before, the harvest field of the gospel was beginning to have a few weeds. The apostle is clear about that in this case. You see...ONLY AN ENEMY HAS NOTHING TO WITH THE TRUTH. And to confirm what Diotrephes is really like, John goes on to show in verse 10 that, secondly...ONLY AN ENEMY STOPS THOSE BRINGING THE TRUTH.

 

It’s verse 10 where there is a trilogy of accusations brought against Diotrephes. A trilogy which is so comprehensive and so clear against the Lord that it’s no wonder this letter had to be written to someone else.

Congregation, these are a series of charges which are prefaced by the apostle’s own words that if he does come, which he wants to do, he will take these up with Diotrephes personally in a public way. If this is indeed one of the last writings of John, that could well mean he would be visiting on a first century wheelchair!

 

Let’s take each of these charges against Diotrephes in turn. First of all, it is said that he is “gossiping maliciously about us” A more literal translation would be - “he is prating against us.”

The root of this word is “to talk nonsense.” So it’s not only that the words are wicked, they are also senseless. There’s an interesting cult-like character to this.

The book and the film about the cult leader David Koresh’s action in Waco, with his Branch Davidians, has distinct echoes of this. It’s not just that someone like this is speaking in an obviously evil way - then he could be more clearly recognised - but he does it in a type of a subterfuge. You don’t really know what he’s saying.

If you like, it’s a kind of appeal to a higher knowledge, whereas it’s actually a flood of words focused exclusively on setting up this Diotrephes as the ‘one’ leader in that church, and of placing so much power in himself that anyone there just wouldn’t dare to think otherwise. That’s why the idea that Gaius is a little out of town would make sense. You see, he’s not always in that group, constantly being brainwashed by Diotrephes and those around him. He’s not having all this rubbish about John being thrown at him. John, who’s being clearly identified as ‘the enemy’ by Diotrephes. John, whose influence must be wiped if he’s to keep and increase his control of the church.

 

And let’s realise that Diotrephes had a strong position. That much is seen in the second charge John brings - “he refuses to welcome the brothers.” “The brothers” are a reference to those who come from John preaching and teaching the gospel.

Throughout the fifty to sixty years of their New Testament church, they were travelling throughout the empire and beyond bringing the good news about the salvation found only in Jesus Christ, through the support of the local church. True, there had been frauds amongst those travelling teachers, but the churches by now had clear guidelines on how to check their credentials.

The character of the evangelists wasn’t the problem. The difficulty now was the emergence of churches which felt they could have their ‘own’ identities; groups who could do their ‘own’ thing, to quote a new yet old phrase; but local communities nevertheless who were being manipulated by power hungry individuals intent on being very selfish. This is how the Episcopalian system took over the church. Because it’s certainly not scriptural.

So we can see the overall flow historically. Then and there in our text, though, it meant that the widely recognised ministry of the missionary teams was not recognised. The teaching to this church was from Diotrephes and his view alone. That makes it pretty sect-like - don’t you agree?

As soon as we would be in a situation when it’s only a certain man’s views which become the controlling norm for our group - whether that man is the leader there in that place, or living in America, or anywhere - the alarm bells must ring very clear. In the words of 2 John 9, if “anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ (which is the Apostolic teaching) does not have God.”

Congregation, doctrinally Diotrephes may have been straight down the line. There have been good reformed sermons preached on many texts - but with texts which had nothing to do with that doctrine. That text only became a springboard for the preacher to keep hammering on about a particular hobbyhorse - to the detriment of a balanced ministry. And in the end that local church became made up only of those sharing their minister’s unbalanced views.

             

So, how can we ourselves know if that’s a situation developing in our own local church? The third charge of the apostle helps us here. For not only does Diotrephes refuse to welcome the brothers from John, and thus cuts their church off from the wider church interaction and accountability, he “also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”

You think about that. Imagine the elders going through your bookshelves at home and ripping out and destroying many of your favourite Christian authors. That’s like a communist state! It’s a community ruled by fear. There’s no freedom in Christ there! Exactly - now you know why John is so very, very serious here!

The situation in this church is such that “the sake of the Name” which Gaius is praised for in verse 7, because he is promoting the cause of Christ, has become wrapped around the glory of Diotrephes’ name. And perhaps he had no better reason for denying those itinerant evangelists temporary accommodation than that John had commanded it. He wouldn’t have them in his own home or help them.  So those who wanted to obey John and welcome them he first tried stopping. And barring that he then excommunicated them!

Yes - he excommunicated those in his own church who helped those they had always helped. How shattering that would have been! Those missionaries who had worked in partnership with them for years. They were friends in the Lord - the deepest friendship there could ever be! They may even have become related over the years - how many of us don’t have family in other churches and family who are in some kind of full or part-time service?

And it was all because this one guy had this huge ego-trip. He ripped a church apart for his own vanity.

That still happens today. The nature of sin hasn’t changed. The devil is just as actively working through the leadership of local churches to distract them from what their mission is really about. And that’s whether through ministers or other so-called power players in the church. You can meet some elders or leading figures in a church, who are running that church. They can even be quite open and show how it is “their” church!

 

It’s so hard to be humble. And yet Diotrephes will be humbled. In the words of a third point about this text...ONLY AN ENEMY IS OPENLY REBUKED BY THE TRUTH.

Here I turn to drawing together the underlying strands of this text. For while the apostle isn’t there in person he is certainly there is spirit. As another apostle Paul wrote, in addressing an equally serious public sin, “Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as I were present.” (1 Cor.5:3.)

Diotrephes had been told the Word of the Lord. He had received a letter from John, a “Please Explain.”  He had chosen to ignore that letter and to go against the Lord’s anointed, against none less than an apostle himself.  He will have to explain alright - before no less than the Lord who sent John. Don’t be distracted now by the men from John - look to the God-man whom John comes from!

It wasn’t easy for the disciple whom Jesus loved. He had worked most of his lifetime at bringing the love He had in Christ into all the churches. Even in the last years of his life there is the legend that each Sunday he would be carried into the church service. There in the middle of the congregation he would say each Lord’s Day just a few words, “Brethren, love each another.” The lesson behind all his three letters and his gospel still needed to be learned.

So when he writes here “if I come” John is perhaps looking at the distinct probability that this is one church crisis he won’t get to resolve in his lifetime. But he certainly knows Who is already there and who will take the responsible one to task.

That’s the encouragement to Gaius. For if he is as described in the verses before our text, he would have been devastated by what was happening in his church. He may well have been already condemned in some way by Diotrephes.

But now he has the strength and the wisdom to go on. The Lord Himself had spoken. And he was listening!

Amen.

 

 

PRAYER:

Let’s pray...

     O LORD, as Gaius was a believer ready to listen and obey You so may we be today. Help us to pray and work for Your will to be done in the church. Lord, we know that won’t always be easy. It may mean enormous tension. But let Your Spirit guide us so that we do for you - not for anything we would like to do.

     Lord, we don’t know what happened to Diotrephes. We would hope that it was a sincere repentance and turning to You. And we pray that this may be the case in such situations where your church is afflicted. Help us not to take our unity for granted but to be ever vigilant, ever prayerful.

     Through Christ our Lord, we pray, Amen.

 

 

 

 

         




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz

(c) Copyright 2000, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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