The Heart that God Blesses
3 John 9-14
July 9, 2017
All right, the letters of second and 3rd John, really the shortest in the whole Bible, but they carry a lot of weight because of who writes it. Right? This is the great apostle John, who was with the Lord. At this point, he is like the last living apostle. He was with the Lord, he saw the resurrected Christ, he saw the miracles, and he's lived long enough now to see the spread of the gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire. He carries this weight and he writes this letter, is very personal.
This one is written to a man named Gaius, that he has a personal relationship with, and he commends him for his maturity in Christ, and he commends him for his hospitality to the brethren because what was happening in those days is that those who were carrying out the Gospel, missionaries, pastors, speakers, would travel around the kingdom and they would really need the hospitality of these leaders to invite them literally into their home. This is how the Gospel was spread. He commends him for this, but when he writes to Gaius, he's writing because there is trouble in the church. John is addressing it straight out, he's ready to call it out and name names.
Okay, we're going to name names too. It's Diotrephes, this fellow, who-- he's got a problem with his character. He loves to be first, he loves to be preeminent over other people. He even uses mean spirited ways to get his way. He even says some mean things and wrongly accuses the great apostle John. Can you imagine that? This is John. He was with the Lord. His whole theme is the love of God, and who in the world would say something mean about him? There is the problem that he's going to show us and there's a lot to learn from it.
In contrast, there's another fellow named Demetrius. Probably the one carrying this letter. John commends him because he has received a great testimony from everyone and from the truth itself. You look at these two men. What a contrast? It is dramatic. This is important because it makes you then look at your own character. Who are you like in the story? Because really, we have a say in our character. We have a say in who we become. This is important because the content of our character is that which God blesses because it comes back to us. Let's read it.
I. Don’t Love to be First
3rd John verse nine, starting there, "I wrote something to the church but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I'm going to call attention to his deeds which he does and unjustly accusing us with wicked words and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren." In other words, if John sends a leader, a missionary, or a speaker, Diotrephes says, "No way he's staying in my house. Absolutely not." And then he adds to it, he says, "And he forbids those who desired to do so, even putting them out of the church." Can you imagine this Diotrephes?
"You say they're coming from John? Well, they're not staying at my house and if any of you in the church actually has these men to your house, well you're out. You're out of the church." Can you imagine? He says, "Beloved", verse 11, "do not imitate what's evil, but imitate what's good. The one who does good is of God, the one who does evil is not seeing God."
Now Demetrius, he has received the good testimony from everyone and from the truth itself and we also bear witness, and you know our witness is true." Then he adds some personal things, "I had many things to write to you, I'm not willing to write with pen and ink, I want to see you shortly and we will speak face to face. Peace be to you, their friends greet you, greet the friends by name."
Now, look at these two men, because there's a lot to learn from them. Starting with Diotrephes. One of the things you learn from Diotrephes is, don't love very first. That was his issue, that was his problem. He wanted to be in preeminent over other people and to favor himself to do it. Now, favoring oneself at the expense of others, is like the very definition of selfishness. The problem is, that's the nature we were born with. That's the problem with man. In many ways, we were born with this problem.
In other words, you don't have to teach a child how to be selfish. They got that figured out all on their own. You have to teach your child how to be kind, you have to teach your child how to share, how to be humble. The problem is, we still carry this tendency. All you got to do, if you want to see that tendency coming out in living color, all you got to do is go to any softball game in America.
What happens is this. Okay, imagine the batter is up there and gets a pitch, and he hits the ball, the shortstop feels it and he throws at the first, and the ball and the runner arrived at just about the same time. Now, is he out or is he safe? That totally depends on what team you're on. Isn't that the way it works? Right? Because the team of the guy who is batting, all are saying, "He's safe, he's safe." They are yelling it. "Get some glasses ref, he's safe I am telling you." Everybody on the other team is saying, "No, no, no, he's out." And they're all yelling. Why? Because they are favoring themselves.
In fact, he tells us and Philippians Chapter two verses three to five, "Do nothing from selfishness or an empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves." Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others. Have this attitude in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. He's describing a principle that is not natural to man. It is of Christ. There is the transformation that God wants us to understand. It needs to happen in all of us, and he says, "Christ is the very example of this." Which reminds me of a funny story.
These two boys are hungry for breakfast and they are squabbling over who gets the first pancakes that comes off of the griddle. They are squabbling and arguing until mom steps in to settle this thing, and she says, "Now, what would Jesus do if he were waiting for the pancakes?" The brothers look at each other and finally one brother says to the other brother, "Okay, you be Jesus.
It's a nature of man. Right? Here's the thing we got to see. John knows something about this. You know why John knows it? Because he himself did it. Do you remember when, in the Gospels, James and John, they are brothers, they came to Jesus and they asked for permission to have seats of preeminence over the rest of them. "When you come into your kingdom, when you come in your glory, permit us to sit on your right and your left." At one point, they even had their mother come with that. Sons of thunder asking their mother. That's an interesting one.
They are asking their mother because they want preeminence. Now, the others start to grumble, and Jesus uses it as an opportunity. John's familiar with this. Mark 10 tells us the story. Hearing this, the 10 begin to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said, teaches them this principle, and he said, "Now, you know that those who are rulers of the Gentiles, they lord it over them. You know how it is out there." He says, "Their great men exercise authority over them." In other words, you know how it is in the world.
A. Desire to be changed
Those who have positions of authority, they like to be bossy. They want everybody to know how important they are so they make it very clear that they are preeminent and they are first, they are the highest, and they put people down. He says, "But then it is not this way among you." That's the way the world is but it's not the way the kingdom of heaven is. He says, "It's not this way among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you, shall be your servant. I want you to desire to be great but it's the paradox."
He says, "He who desires to be great among you, shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you, shall be the slave of all." Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Now, this is a powerful principle, and you got to look at it and see-- but that's not built into the nature of man. That's right. That comes from the heart of God. Immediately we get to recognize, we need to change something. Something has got to change. What we need is to desire that change. Desire to be changed is a great key to it.
You look at is this Diotrephes. His name, in the original language, has a meaning. It means, interestingly, nurtured by Zeus. Yes, how appropriate. It seems like he was brought up, nurtured by the gods of this world. Here's the problem. The problem, and this is a key. The problem is that his Christian faith has not changed his worldly character because it should. Now this is where we're going to look at the story for us and for our own lives. His Christian faith did not change his worldly character. God sent His Son to seek and to save that which was lost. We love that. God sent His Son to go and pursue sinners to reconcile those sinners to himself. We love that.
When I was growing up, we commonly sang a song in the church that the pastor would have sung while he's giving the invitation, and that song was, Just as I am. Maybe some of you remember this. It's a great song for giving the invitation because there was a message. Just as I am without one plea. The idea is, sinners, come with all your sins and messes. God welcomes sinners as sinners. You're messed up, you come. You're a sinner with a messed up life, you come. Just as you are. Here's the point. We love the fact that He invites sinners to himself just as they are, but God does not want you to stay just as you were.
There is a transformation that God is so committed to. He says it this way in Revelation 21. Would you notice the way he says it. He who sits on the throne says, yet immediately the sense of authority that you have. Right? He who sits on the throne says, "Behold, I am making all things new." He says that with authority. "This is what I am doing. This is my commitment to you. I absolutely want you to hear this word." He says, "In fact, write this down." He says to John, "Write this down, for these words are faithful and true." "Write it down. You can count on it. Behold I make all things new."
2nd Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone's in Christ, is a new creation, new creature, old things passed away, new things have come." It's a process. He's committed to it. It's a process. Here's the thing we have to see. God is in the process of transforming us but we still carry this flesh around and it still gives us fits. You can wake up in the morning, you got your alarm set for the worship station, and you wake up to glorious worship. You're in the shower and you're praying, "Good morning God, it's a beautiful day, it's awesome."
You're singing songs and it's like, "This is a glorious start to the day." You get in your car, and you're driving to work, and you turn the station right to the great worship music that you love, and you're driving through, and you get on the freeway, and someone cuts you off, and it's all over now.
This flesh of ours, we still carry it with us and it still who gives us fits. Here's the thing, transformation comes when your soul longs, desires, something better. It takes life to defeat death. Have you ever felt that you would always be a victim of your circumstances? That the course of your life is fixed? That there's no way to break out of the cycle of failure? That your flesh would always have the last word? I got some really great news for you. The power of God is sent forth by his Spirit to transform us. You can be transformed, you can be made new, you can be victorious because this is what God does when he sends forth the presence of His Spirit that ignites the soul within us. It's revival that brings transformation.
When I was growing up, many of you know my story. My father was alcoholic, difficult, abusive. I called him an old curse because half his words were curse words, angry all the time, and yet our mother made sure that we got to church. What a contrast? I love being a church. The peace, it was quiet, didn't have the anguish of hearing all that fighting and then the bickering and the turbulence at home. I'd go to church, it's like peace. I love the worship, I love the people. What a contrast? What a contrast? God was showing me that there is something better. There is something better in life and I wanted it. Maybe that's why I'm a pastor because I loved it.
There is something better. There is something better. In other words, God was reviving my soul, and that was what was-- God was using to transform me. Isaiah 43, says, "Do not call to mind the former things or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new. Now it will spring forth, will you not be aware of it?" I love that. By the way, in case you don't know the end of my story, my father came to faith in Jesus Christ when he was 75 years old and I baptize him with my own hands. God brought a beautiful end to that story because he used my transformation to transform him. God is a transforming God by His power. Amen?
B. Let God be in control
What he shows us out of this story, back to 3rd John, you look at the story of Diotrephes, and he's giving us a great lesson, which is this. Let God be in control. See Diotrephes, he's got to control everything. Got to be first, got to be preeminent. He's difficult, mean-spirited, bossy, trying to keep himself in that place by knocking other people down, even unjustly accusing the famous apostle John. Many people approach life like this. They sow chaos and they sow chords of discontent when they insist that everything has to be just their way. The problem is this. It comes back to you. Those who sow that, reap it. It comes back to them in the form of broken relationships and hurt people.
Diotrephes is difficult, mean-spirited, unjustly accusing John, and what's going to come back to him? He's got a confrontation waiting because the great elder statesman John is coming after him. When God is in control, when you trust that God knows how to bless your life, you reap the joy of pleasant relationships. You reap the joy of peace in the soul. I love Matthew 16 verse 25. Jesus says, it's a principle of the paradox, "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it." Those who have to grip everything in their hand and have everything just their particular way, He says, "But you will lose." You think you're saving but you're not. You're losing.
He who wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Here's why, because God is just way better at blessing your life than you are. God is just way better blessing your life. Trust that his ways will bless. Trust that if you give grace, as he says, you give grace because you're going to get something back. You get grace back. Hey, when you give kindness, you get kindness back. When you give mercy, you get mercy back.
Matthew 5:7, "Blessed are merciful, for they shall receive mercy." All right. Then you look at Diotrephes, and here's another great lesson for us, and that is to let God's word direct your life. Verse nine says, "John wrote something to the church, that Diotrephes, loves to be first, would not accept what we say." Diotrephes had to be first, therefore, nothing else could be first, and certainly not the Word of God. By insisting on being first and controlling everything, he could receive nothing from the Word of God. He was unteachable. That's what keeps people stuck.
C. Let God’s Word direct your life
Some people are stuck. They can't change. It's the Word of God that changes us. We have to be teachable. We have to have that heart that receives the Word of God in order to be transformed.
You see the contrast between Diotrephes and Demetrius. This next fellow is going to bring up-- he reminds me of the Old Testament example of King Saul and David. Because King Saul was like Diotrephes. He's got this position of leadership and he's going to control everything, but he's not teachable and he's not subject to the Word. He won't receive the instruction of the Lord, and so enough of this went on that the Prophet said to him, "God says that your kingdom has been taken from you, been taken from your hand and it will be given to another who has a heart after me." That's David.
Now, Saul heard that, he knew that the Word of God was sure but he was still going to try to hold on, and in fact to the point that he was going to thwart the will of God by even trying to kill David. One point he's so jealous of David, that he takes a javelin and he tries to whirl it to pin David to the wall, to kill him. David dodges and is able to not be hit by it but doesn't return the anger. Won't do it. Here's the contrast. David has been anointed king. The prophet, Samuel, came and poured the anointing all over him and said, "You are the anointed king of Israel."
David, though anointed, would not take matters into his own hands. "Hey, if God anointed me king, He's going to have to make me king. I won't do it. I won't put myself there. God's going to have to do it. I will not take control. God must do it." Even to the point where this scene plays out. David and his men are hiding, King Saul with the army, is chasing him down. David and his men are in this cave, it's at Ein Gedi. When you go to Israel, I love-- if we have time, I love going to Ein Gedi because you see this played out in living color. I often wonder, how could it be that Saul, who comes into this cave to relieve himself, how is it possible that he doesn't hear these men?
Now you go there and then you're like, "I see it now." Because out there in the ravine, there is this river and it's crashing against the rocks, and there's echoing in the cave. "I get it." What happens is this. David and his men are hiding, Saul comes in by himself, no guard, to do some business. He's going to relieve himself. He takes off his coat and he puts it down. He goes over to relieve himself. The men with David say, "Get up David, he has no guard." It's like, "Kill him. He's trying to kill you unjustly. You're justified, get him, kill him."
David will have nothing to do with it. He rebukes the man. I love this part about David. His principles guide him in the way of the Lord. He rebukes them. No. He does go over to the coat and cuts off a corner. Then Saul, when he finishes, he puts his coat on, he leaves the cave and goes down the ravine. David comes out on the mouth of the cave and holds the corner up. My father, this is actually 1st Daniel 24. "Behold, my father, see the edge of the robe in my hand? In that, I cut off the edge of your robe and did not kill you. Know and perceive there is no evil and there is no rebellion in my hand. I have not sinned against you though you are lying in wait to take my life." But listen to this, "May the Lord Judge."
He's not going to do it. He's not going to take matters into his own hands. "May the Lord judge between you and me, may the Lord avenge me on you, but my hand will not be against you no matter what you do. You can pursue me for years. I will not lift up my hand against you, I won't do it." I just love David. I love the principles that guide his life. You know what actually happens in the story next? Saul sees this, hears is this, and actually starts to cry. He said, "My son, David, now I know. Now I know that you will be the king of Israel."
Jeremiah 10 verse 23. "I know, oh Lord, that a man's way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his own steps." That is a great verse. There is a faith that believes that God is the one who opens the doors. God is the one who gives the promotion. God is the one who pours his favor. There is a trust, there is a trust in God that He is the one who brings this out on your life.
II. Stay True in Difficult Places
Now, you look at Demetrius, and there's a lot to learn from him. Here's Demetrius, good man, good heart, got the testimony, the witness of everyone around him, and John is sending him with this letter to take this letter into the church and he is going to encounter Diotrephes in a church that's in turmoil with this man over it. Oh my goodness. What is he going to encounter? He knows though, that this Demetrius is going to stay true in difficult places. I love this part of the story because it's a great lesson. Here, Demetrius, good man, walking steady in the faith. He's now going to go into a difficult circumstance but he knows, John knows, that he's going to do well.
A. God blesses faithfulness
Here's why. Because God blesses faithfulness. I tell you, I have spoken this, I have seen this, I have advised this, I have counseled this, I know it is so true. You stay steady, you're in a difficult thing. You're going through a difficult trouble. You stay steady and God will bless it. Demetrius has gained his reputation the old-fashioned way. He earned it. Good testimony from everyone. This should be our goal as well. To walk so steadily in your faith, that you receive a testimony from everyone around you. They just see it, they know it.
At work, they see the respect that you have for your supervisor, the respect that you have for the people around you, and the work ethic that you have, the integrity, the honesty, they see this and they recognize, look at his character. They're like a witness. Or those around you at home, wouldn't it be awesome for your family to recognize that, "Hey he's the same, he's the same guy at church as he is at home." Or better to say it the other way. He's actually the same guy at home that he is at church. Or the same woman. The testimony of those around you.
Here's the challenge. The challenge is that a man with a good testimony is now going to encounter a man who likes to be in control and willing to use even mean-spirited methods to get his way. Falsely accused John, bullying people, saying that if anyone receives John's men, he's going to be put out of the church. Who's got the advantage? Does Diotrephes have these ends? Demetrius? Who's got the advantage?
I remember when I was growing up, big deal for us on Saturday nights. We live in the country. On Saturday nights, someone would go into town, get some snacks and some soda pop. And would come back and we would all sit down together and watch on the television, professional wrestling. Okay, now, you have to remember, this is back in the days when professional wrestling was real. Okay?
I was just a kid, and it really bothered me. I'm watching this professional wrestling and it really bothered me because these-- the bad characters got away with cheating. It bothered me. I would stay awake half the night like, "He hit him in the throat and the ref didn't even see it."
I'm like, "I can't believe it." It seems like in this world, for many people, it seems like that the bad people have the advantage. Seemed like many people, they think that. Seemed like the bad people have the advantage because they get to use all kinds of mean-spirited and mean and despicable ways. Good people don't get to do that. Who's got the advantage? I suggest to you, that the one who walks according to the ways of the Lord has the advantage because God is with him Himself. I'd rather have God with me than the ways of the world with me, I'll tell you that.
It gives us a great principle, in 1st Peter chapter three verses nine as well. It says, "Do not return evil for evil and do not return insult for insult. But give a blessing instead."
B. May truth itself be a witness in your behalf
We can look at that, and in the world, we can even justify that. We can say, "You know why you give an insult for insult? Because it's fair." I mean, Hey, if they insult you, isn't it fair that you insult them? It's only fair. Right? Hey, if they speak evil against you, why can't you speak evil against them? It's only fair. Right? Hey, if they gossip and say lie-full things about you, why can't you say things about them? Hey, it's only fair. Right?
Here's the problem. The problem is, we're using the worldly principle there, not a Godly principle. Worldly principles run the world. Godly principles are in the kingdom of heaven. You're in the kingdom of heaven now. A whole different set of principles work in the kingdom of heaven because God blesses His principles. God blesses His ways. He says, "Do not return evil for evil, do not return insult for insult, but give a blessing instead. For you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing." The blessing of God comes with it. He says, "For the one who desires life, to love, and to see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking lies."
He must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it for the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous. And His ears attend to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. This is a key for us to grasp because we are in the kingdom and the blessings of God are on His principles. Then we look at the letter here about Demetrius, and I love this part. In with this. May truth itself, be a witness in your behalf. It tells us about Demetrius. He received a good testimony from everyone and from the truth itself.
In other words, the person who walked in truth, truth itself becomes a witness and the testimony of the truth gives authority to that person's life. This, we should all desire. I remember many years ago, many many years ago, there was a self-proclaimed prophetess that showed up in the church, and I got wind of this, who wanted to have a voice, and I thought, "I better deal with this right away." I sent word saying, "I would expect the same thing to be said about you, that is said of Demetrius in 3rd John. Would your home church, for example, give that same testimony about you?
Interestingly, I never heard from this person again.
You look at these three people, and they are examples of different directions that our life can take. We have a say in our character. Who we become. Gaius, he walks in the truth, he helps people on their journey through life, and his soul is prospering. Diotrephes, loves to be first, has to be in control, mean-spirited, bossy. Demetrius, got a good reputation from everyone, even from the truth itself.
We have to decide. What direction will our life take? What will we pursue? What character will we have? Because there is a heart that God blesses. There is a principle that follows. God wants us. God wants us to decide. To trust Him and to walk His way.