Studies in John’s Epistles – 3rd John

Some Things Never Change

3rd John is another personal-letter, which is also his last letter. So short, so telling. John is writing to his friend and brother Gaius. He seems to have been a leader in the church, and even though there are other mentions of men with this name in Scripture, it was a very common name; we can’t be sure if he has other mentions or not. Gaius was obviously serving others, and sharing God’s love with them. He was hosting a group of missionaries, and these workers were people he didn’t know.

You Walk in the Truth
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

As we saw also in 2nd John, his personal greetings are warm and tender. Wishing “prosperity” and “good health” was a common Greek greeting, so we should not be surprised that John greets Gaius this way, but what wasn’t “common” was tying physical prosperity and health together with spiritual-health, so in that regard, this is no “ordinary” letter. Messengers have brought news to John that Gaius is acting in an exemplary-manner, which brings great joy to the Apostle.

5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 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. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

Gaius is the kind of Christian who is worthy of imitation. He is serving in love, he is putting others first, he is doing the kinds of things we should be doing. John encourages Gaius to keep up the good work. But there is another guy who comes up in the letter…

9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 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.

Uh-oh! Looks like John had a wannabe “big-shot” on his hands, a “big-shot” who thought that he knew more than John, who was an Apostle.

This dude Diotrephes is all too common in our day, and obviously they had this sort of nonsense going on even in John’s day. Did you catch what John said about him at the beginning? He said that Diotrephes “loves to be first.” Well that about sums it up! Do you know others who love to be first? They are the important ones, they are the ones who can’t be inconvenienced, they are the ones who always have the last word, who always get their way, and who must always be in charge. They want to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral. No doubt we are reminded of the words of Jesus when He said “the first will be last and the last will be first!

Diotrephes won’t welcome the Apostle to the church, and kicks others out for welcoming the strangers that Gaius has taken in. Diotrephes seems to have much to say about others. A bunch of nonsense (or gossip) is being spread about people like John himself, who should be given the respect they are due. I wonder if Diotrephes is doing this because he must be in the spotlight, and just can’t handle it when someone else gets attention.

I cringe when I see a ministry named after its founding-father and guiding-light, even though I know that there are many GOOD ministries so-named. All I can ask is “Why?

Maybe we’ll never know the exact motivation, but I think we recognize the person, and John is telling us not to emulate them or their behavior. Who can argue with that advice?

People follow all kinds of “role models” these days, but unfortunately, many people are following the wrong kinds of “role models“. We see big-name sports-stars get rewarded with even juicier contracts after an episode of wrong-behavior. What is wrong with that picture? Who do you know who would be a GOODrole model” for people to follow?

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. 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.

Finally, another good guy is mentioned: Demetrius. So there you have it, two brothers who are serving faithfully, and one bad apple. It seems that the bad apple makes the most noise, but the faithful servants are making a difference for the Gospel. I’d say there might be a lesson in this for us!

13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

As we saw in 2nd John, the Apostle had many more things to say, but he wanted to say them in person. We read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, and read the Apostle’s writings, and yet, if Jesus or one of the Apostles walked through the door of this room, we would turn our attention to them and would be all-ears for what they had to say. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

Jesus and the Apostles said many things which were never recorded, but as John wrote in John 20:30, we have a very-adequate record for our needs and purposes, and while the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles only reached a few people during their lifetimes; countless millions of people have been reached by the written word they left behind.

15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

As John is closing this personal letter, he sends greetings from those who are with him, and Gaius would know who else to greet by name.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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From Fisherman To Fisher Of Men

Peter was a fisherman, and not just a casual, sport-fisherman mind you, he was a commercial-fisherman. Fishing was his livelihood, his life, his identity. He and his partners spent many hours every day either fishing or getting their equipment ready to fish. It was dirty, nasty, tough and tiring work, but somebody had to do it. As we will see, Jesus had another job and a new identity for Peter.

Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:1-11)

This passage presents an interesting scene. Peter and his partners had beached their boats so that they could wash their nets and get them ready for the next outing. Was this a sheltered cove which gave them some protection from the rougher water and weather out farther in the lake? If it was a cove, was it surrounded on three sides by a gently-sloping hillside which made a natural amphitheater? One thing is for sure, and that is that a crowd had found Jesus and wanted to hear Him speak and teach. They had come to hear the word of God, and they may have even thought that He would perform a few miracles.

Jesus didn’t have the crowd build a platform or erect a massive pulpit to preach from. No, He got in a boat and sat down. Jesus didn’t need the trappings of authority to validate either Himself or His message. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. Only a few yards of water separated Him from the crowd, but it was enough so that He wasn’t being forced to wade into the lake Himself.

We are not told hom long Jesus taught or the content of His message, but it did make Peter uncomfortable. It also gave Peter a glimpse into His authority, and even though Peter and his partners had not caught anything all night, they were willing to go back out and follow Jesus’ instructions.

How many fish did they catch? Two overflowing boat-loads for sure, a LOT of fish. Under ordinary circumstances, Peter would have been overjoyed, but not this time.

But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying,Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Wasn’t Peter a “good” Jew? Didn’t he act like a Pharisee in the book of Acts? Well, yes he was, sort of, but in that moment, Peter came to a deep understanding that his “best” wasn’t good-enough for God. He still fell far short of the mark, and like Peter, we do too. Peter couldn’t make himself right before God and neither can we. Peter had come face-to-face with God.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” Jesus did not tell Peter that He would be back when he cleaned up his act. Jesus didn’t even tell him to go home, take a bath and put on some clean clothes so that he would be more “presentable“. No, Jesus took Peter sin, dirt and all. He took him as he was.

As Jesus told Simon, He also tells us, “Do not fear”. Jesus takes us as we are and where we are, and unlike Peter, we may even look and smell good, however Jesus looks through our “disguises” and sees us as we are, sinners desperately needing a Savior. Jesus doesn’t tell us, as He didn’t tell Peter, that He will be back when we clean ourselves up. He stands ready to do all the dirty-work of cleaning us up in a way we could never clean ourselves up.

Peter also wasn’t a “prime-candidate” for ministry either, and Jesus knew it. Jesus already knew that Peter would deny Him three years later, even after pledging his “to-the-death” loyalty to Jesus and trying to “prove” his loyalty by his ill-considered swipe with his sword at one of Jesus’s captors, but Jesus took him anyway. Are YOU a “prime-candidate” for ministry? I sure wasn’t.

Notice that Jesus didn’t offer Peter a full-ride scholarship to Jerusalem Theological Seminary, rather, He offered him something far-better, an apprenticeship in ministry – Kingdom-style. Peter was going to get hands-on experience besides the teaching which Jesus was going to do.

Peter served a three-year apprenticeship before he was ready to become an Apostle. He also fell hard, VERY-HARD, and he even went back to fishing. After the resurrection, Jesus found him where He had found him the first time, fishing, and He gave Peter a new commission: Feed my sheep!

After Pentecost, Peter became the fearless-Apostle which Jesus had called him to be.

We can’t clean ourselves up enough to restore our relationship with God, but we don’t have to. Jesus is willing and able to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. We also don’t have to be “qualified” to do the ministry God calls us to either, because God is more than capable of “qualifying” us. That, my friends, is the Good News of the Gospel.

In Christ,
Steve

Jars Of Clay

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the
surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Christian ministry is humbling, because God has entrusted His message to us, unworthy as we are. As I work on each week’s Bible study, I am reminded of the awesome responsibility I have to open the Word and rightly and accurately proclaim it because God will hold me accountable for any mishandling of His Word. This isn’t just any book, it is God’s Word.

God has given us two particularly-encouraging promises which we know that we can take to the bank. Jesus Christ is building His church, not us, and He is the power behind His Word, not us.

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18b)

I am nothing special. In fact, I am just another fallen man who has been saved by His grace alone, and commissioned to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know why He chose me, but He did. That Jesus came to save sinners IS GOOD NEWS!!!

Paul was probably the most educated of the Apostles, having been educated as a Pharisee under Gamaliel, but he still recognized his own inadequacies when it came to proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, which led him to pen the words of our opening verse. Why should I think any more of myself?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the
surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

In Christ,
Steve

What Next?

Have you even had something completely planned-out, only to have your plans changed and your course redirected? I certainly have, many times, and if that is your experience also, you are in good company. There are two meanings to “What next?“, and we will explore both meanings.

Saul had it made. He had graduated with honors from the most prestigious law-school in Jerusalem, he was well-respected by all in the religious community, and he had a mission. He was even a Roman citizen. He had it made, but God had other plans for him.

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9)

We see the first “What next?” in this section: So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?

When Saul had an encounter with the risen Lord, he asked “What next?“, because Jesus confronted him with the error of his ways. If this wasn’t a dramatic turn of events, I don’t know what else is.

Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”

And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”

So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. (Acts 9:10-19)

Ananias was justifiably-concerned when God told him to go to where Saul was staying and lay his hands on him to restore his sight, but God had plans for Saul, which bring us to our next “What next?“.

“Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 

Not only had God chosen Saul to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, he would endure a lot of suffering along the way. Saul was going from being an emissary of the Chief Priest to being an Apostle for Christ Jesus, from persecutor of the church to being a church-planter.

The first “What next?” resulted in a drastic change of plans, but the second “What next?” is one of those “When is the next shoe going to drop?” kind of events. His life was going to rapidly go from “good” to “bad“, and “bad” to “worse“, WAY-WORSE, as he underwent increasing persecution as his ministry grew. The only thing that saved him at one point was his Roman citizenship.

Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, wrote a significant part of the New Testament, and several of his letters were written from prison. Paul’s “What next?” has become our encouragement, encouragement to keep the faith and persist through and in spite of our own “What next?” situations.

What next?
God doesn’t need our permission to change our plans, sometimes leading us to say “What next?. He also very rarely shows us the big-picture or the whole map, preferring instead to give us turn-by-turn directions. That makes us uncomfortable because we are planners by nature. We don’t plan a trip without knowing our destination, but following God’s directions requires trust. Do we trust that God knows what He is doing and will lead us in the right direction?

I have written several times about how God has changed my plans, sometimes on a moment’s notice with a phone call or text-message. I have gradually become more comfortable with this state of affairs, and it has forced me to become less of a “planner“. Even though I still say “What next?“, it has becoming more of an expectation that God has another “assignment” for me, not that He is going to shake my tree again. He knows what He is doing, even if it isn’t obvious to me.

Are you ready to have your plans changed? God doesn’t need your permission…

In Christ,
Steve

A Charge To Keep…

Timothy was a young pastor who had been mentored by Paul the Apostle, and as Paul saw his life drawing to a close, he wrote a personal letter to Timothy both to encourage him and to give him a charge, a charge to keep. When we see our world crumbling around us, it is hard for us to keep our focus on what is really important, living our lives for Christ and doing what we can to spread His kingdom. At some point in our life, and maybe at many points in our life, our world WILL crumble around us, so we need to heed Paul’s charge to Timothy to stay the course and keep up the good work.

4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

Paul was in prison in Rome, and as he penned this last letter, he knew that his time was short. From the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had been faithful to the Gospel, and even though he had suffered many trials, he had also established several churches throughout the known world. He had left Timothy in Ephesus to pastor that church, and he longed to see Timothy again.

False doctrine had crept into the church at Ephesus, and it would have been easy for Timothy to abandon the cause and to throw up his hands in surrender, but Paul counselled him to stay the course. People would walk away from the church because the teachings weren’t to their liking. We see splits like that all the time in churches large and small. The “prosperity-gospel” and “name it and claim it” religion are drawing huge crowds of people wanting God to be their “sugar-daddy“.

As a writer and blogger, I get discouraged because some of my posts seem to fall as flat as the Pharisee’s prayer. It is one thing to have many “followers” but something quite different to actually have active, engaged and engaging readers. No, I am not out to win some kind of “popularitycontest“, because this blog is to God’s glory, not mine. I track my stats to see what you are reading, not to “steer” the direction of my writing. I write what I believe that I should and need to write about as the “inspiration” hits me, sometimes at midnight.

As Paul counselled Timothy, his counsel applies to me as well. I must stay the course, living my life for Christ and doing what I can to help the spread of God’s kingdom. I have a charge to keep, so I don’t plan to go away anytime soon.

In Christ,
Steve

No “Rear-View-Mirror”…

Have you ever wished you could rip the “rear-view-mirror” off of your memories? Do you have things in your past that you would rather forget, but can’t? If you do, welcome to the club, because we all have nagging memories of our past that we wish that we could forget, but have trouble forgetting. Those memories are like boat-anchors, except that some of them could anchor an aircraft carrier. They are HUGE boat-anchors, boat-anchors that we need to leave behind. We need to cut the chain and remove that “rear-view-mirror“.

Apostle Paul…
The Apostle Paul had a past, and not a past to be proud of. Yes, he was a Pharisee, but he was also a murderer. Before Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, Paul had persecuted Christians ruthlessly. Yes, Paul DID have a past, but he also had a future.

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 3:12-14)

We can almost see Paul cutting that anchor-chain and putting his throttle on “full-speed-ahead“. He wasn’t denying that he had a past, a very ugly past, but he was cutting his ties to his past so that he could move forward with the mission God had given him to do.

Paul also ripped off the “rear-view-mirror” so that his past wasn’t constantly nagging him. It would have been hard for him to focus on his mission if he had always kept one eye on that “mirror“. That “mirror” demands attention, which means that a person can’t concentrate on what they are doing.

I have a past…
I have a past, and part of it is quite ugly. I wish that I could just purge those memories from my data-banks, but I can’t. What I can do is unchain myself from my past, and no longer allow my past to control my present and my future. While I can’t rip off that “rear-view-mirror“, I can cloud the part of it that is looking at those ugly parts of my life. I still have some wonderful memories from my past, and they are part of me even today. Those are memories that I will always cherish. I am still a work in progress, and that work won’t be complete until I take my last breathe, but I want to press ever forward. God has a mission for me, and I want my throttle to be on “full-speed-ahead“.

Do you have a past?
Are there things in your life that you would like to forget? Are there anchor-chains that you need to cut? Do you need to rip your “rear-view-mirror” off? If so, I invite you to follow Paul’s example, and “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Will you join me in this quest?

In Christ,
Steve