Consider the common dream of many who abuse freedom. What is this common dream dreamed by many? It is the dream of answering to no one! For some, the "true" definition of freedom is (a) having the right to do as you please 100% of the time and (b) having to answer to no one any of the time.
Years ago a child in my extended family started to school for a half day of kindergarten. Upon returning home the first day, the child was asked, "How was it? Did you like it?" The immediate response was this: "It was great but I do not think I will go back tomorrow." You and I laugh in our knowledge that returning was not a real choice. Life is filled with "have tos." Seemingly, the older we get, the more "have tos" become part of our lives.
Typically people handle their dream of being free from "have tos" by (a) seeking to make others "have to" do what "I" say [seeking control] or (b) by committing themselves to being rebellious. Their approach is either "You have to do what I tell you to do!" or "You cannot tell me what to do!" Thus the concept of freedom is being in control or being out of anyone's control. Either attitude is in striking contrast to Paul's admonition to Galatian Christians:
In 3 John there is a fascinating contrast between Gaius and Diotrephes. To receive the full impact of the contrast, we need to first understand a little about the situation. In the last part of the first century in sections of the Roman world it was not popular (a) to be a Christian or (b) to share the Christian message. In such areas, there were few (if any) material advantages to being a Christian who shared his/her Savior with others. Some insights into the difficulties a Christian faith sharer could anticipate can be seen in Paul's list of hardships in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33.
One form of the powerful encouragement a Christian could anticipate at that time was their reception by other Christians. Remember, there was no mechanical printing then as now, and no form of mass communication. The only Christian news and teaching those Christians received often was by word-of-mouth from other Christians traveling through. To have Christian teachers spend the night with you was a wonderful opportunity! Your hospitality encouraged them, and their information encouraged you! The personal contact between people who had committed to the resurrected Jesus Christ was a major blessing to people who had faith in Jesus. They shared friendship because of a shared faith, not because they had a history of knowing each other.
Gaius was a major sharer and encourager (verses 5-8). He felt a major bond with those who "went out for the sake of the Name," and he refused to take anything for the kindness he extended. He was a major encourager of others in what you and I would regard as a bleak world situation.
Diotrephes, on the other hand, was in stark contrast to Gaius. He did not befriend and encourage other Christians as they came through. He seemingly was one of those anxious Christians who "took no chances in preserving the status quo." Not only was he not one who supported and encouraged other Christians who as "strangers" (verse 5) were going out for "the sake of the Name," but he was in position to control other Christians who would offer such encouragement (verse 10). He was even in position to keep a letter from John from the church.
Diotrephes looked upon such encouragement to unknown people as a threat to his control. He had to be the person in control. He had to issue the "have tos." He perceived kindness that he did not personally authorize as a threat. For the "truth" to be preserved, he had to be in control. For the church to be secure, he had to be in control.
When the writer wrote verse 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] he likely spoke of Gaius and Diotrephes. Gaius did good; Diotrephes did not. God could be seen in the works of Gaius; God could not be seen in the works of Diotrephes. So follow the example of Gaius, not Diotrephes.
Please note Diotrephes was characterized as "evil," "unjust," and "wicked." Because he did not believe in Jesus Christ? No! Because he opposed Christian kindness! Promoting the truth does not depend on "putting people out of the church," but it depends on encouraging those who are God's people. The key is not control. The key is kindness.
Because people are important to God, they are to be encouraged in acts of righteous kindness.
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 9
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