"Church building" is not about nails and cement. It is about faithful men winning lost sinners to Christ and gathering them in fellowship and Bible teaching. Pastor White teaches well in the following.....
John 1:1 The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers;
6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:
7 Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.
8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.
9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
12 Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.
13 I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:
14 But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.
In the ongoing spiritual conflict that is the focus of the life a church, the importance of people and their witness and testimony cannot be over-stated. Paul asserted, "For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's." (Ro. 14:7-8), He was stating an obvious truth about life in general and church life in particular. He strongly urged members of a local church to consider the sensitivities of a weak brother. He reminded them that their own influence, testimony and witness not only affected the immediate fellowship of a church, but was a critical factor in the wider witness of that church to the world around it. In this letter a key word and key concept is witness, report and bear record.
Nothing has changed in this vital equation today. Someone has said, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." As we read this little letter and then glance up and look around at the ordinary assembly of the saints in which we serve, it is not too difficult to identify different variations of the same sort of peculiar and particular people and associated people problems constantly vying for attention and solution. As someone once said, "Wherever people are , there are problems and the potential for solutions."
In my working life I well remember a slogan posted behind the desk of one my supervisors. As you walked into his office you were faced with this statement, "Are you here with the solution, or are you part of the problem." If you haven't noticed such problems, most pastors in particular could, if they wished, clue you in on a few; even though that would not normally be the wisest thing to do.
None of us can deny the importance of our Christian service and influence upon the world around us. Someone has said, "The best defense of Christianity is a dedicated Christian. A Christian is either a blight or blessing, but never a blank." Influence is like our shadow on a sunny day. It's always with us. We can't escape it. It follows us wherever we go. Much like the old song, "Me and My Shadow," implies, our influence is always there, affecting those around us for better or worse.
By God's Spirit and power we can control the positive or negative impact of our ever present influence and cast a shadow of good influence on those around us. The shadow of our influence is long enough to one day reach all the way to the Judgment Seat of Christ. What will His verdict be about the sum total of its positive or negative value? "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things [done] in [his] body, according to that he hath done, whether [it be] good or bad." (II Cor. 5:10)
This little letter by John has the shortest text of any book in the New Testament. But its brevity does not diminish its value or depreciate the importance of lessons to be learned from it. It would be helpful to look at the spiritual qualities and strengths of the three men mentioned in it, as well as their faults, frailties and foibles, if we are to maximize the benefit of its message for us today.
In Gaius we can learn the LESSON OF LOVING LIVING. Love is an obvious quality that exudes from the relation John had with his dear friend and protege, Gaius. The terms of endearment used to address him are unmistakable and reflect the depth of the relationship and the spiritual attachment that existed between the two men of God. It seems obvious that John had likely been involved in Gaius' coming to Christ. It follows that the beloved apostle seems to have been involved in the teaching and sharing process that had reached its fruition in the life of a beloved believer who cast such a strong shadow of positive influence upon those around him.
This basis of special this attachment is not too difficult to understand by those who have been involved in the most basic and important of all personal ministries; leading people to Christ, guiding them to the baptismal waters and sharing with them the all things of Christ. In John's other writings he had emphasized this great blessing, "I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father." (II John 4)
If we consider the tenderness John used in speaking to all the little children of God he addresses in his letters, we must conclude John's love for all believers was very special and precious. But Paul also recognized the special bond that exists between the personal convert and converter in his letters to his special spiritual sons, Timothy and Titus, as well as in his writings to churches, "For what [is] our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? [Are] not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy." (I Thess. 2:19-20) But even in the light of this general truth, it seems is there is something even more special to John about his Beloved Brother, Gaius.
John's concern for his friend's health is not only touching, but appropriate. Physical health is important. We have no excuse for misuse or abuse of the body God has entrusted to us. Even though some Christians seem to treat the matter laughingly and lightly, bad and destructive health habits, including even over-indulgence, obesity and lack of exercise, could not be pleasing or honoring to God: to say nothing of substance abuse of any kind. "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." (I Cor. 6:12-20)
John's concern indicates that it is possible to be physically ill and spiritually healthy; in spite of what those who preach a faith, health, wealth and prosperity gospel might say. But as important as physical health is to those who would serve and glorify God, spiritual health is even more important. In the case of Gaius, it seems what might be called loving living is closely related to his spiritual health and maturity.
Those who have physical illness often display symptoms that are obvious for all to see. When someone asks us, "Aren't you feeling well today," we may wonder why they ask. Such inquiries often indicate the existence of an outward and observable physical problem. Spiritual illness is also sometimes indicated by obvious outward and observable symptoms as well.
But it is equally true that physical good health is often indicated by positive outward manifestations as well. Such signs as rosy cheeks, a springy step and a twinkle in the eye are well known. The same can be said of spiritual health. It seems the state of Gaius spiritual health was obviously outwardly manifest for all to see. This loving Christian obviously reflected outwardly a healthy daily spiritual growth. " . . though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day." (II Cor. 4:16b)
It is well know that physical health can be established and maintained by faithful and regular adherence to some simple and basic rules. Wholesome nutrition is absolutely essential. Regular exercise is vital. Sufficient rest is required. Healthy hygiene is helpful. A blending of all these elements into a disciplined and balanced life is the primary key to good health.
The spiritual parallel is all too obvious. Regular ingestion of the wholesome milk and meat of the Word provides indispensable spiritual nourishment. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:" (I Pet. 2:2) Involvement in such Godly activities as prayer, giving, witnessing and serving others, provides the exercise component for good spiritual health. "But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself [rather] unto godliness.: (I Tim. 4:7) Ignoring good spiritual hygiene can lead to spiritual disaster. " Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (II Cor. 7:1) The renewal of spiritual rest contributes to the spiritual balance needed by every Christian. "Come unto me, all [ye] that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mat. 11:28) "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint." (Isa. 40:31)
It is obvious as well that many Christians are not as Gaius. I wrote and published the following once; speaking to that matter: "Do You Have Spiritual Rickets?" "It is sometimes said that hospitals minister to sick people, schools to ignorant people and the Church to sinful people; therefore we shouldn't set too high a standard for church members. But sick people are expected to ultimately get well, ignorant people are supposed to continuously learn and Christians should be expected to grow and become better and stronger spiritually. There is no excuse for us to remain perpetually babes nursing on milk when we should mature to be grown up sons of God feasting on the meat of the Word.
One of the most distressing sights one can see is a child suffering from extreme and extended malnutrition. I am sure we have all felt compelled to turn our eyes away from the graphic illustrations of such suffering brought into our homes by the electronic media of our day. It is sometimes just too much to comprehend or understand. And our hearts are broken by it all, especially when we contemplate the many economic, social and political factors that seem to mitigate against any real lasting help or solution being found. We realize that in spite of the untold billions of dollars spent in short term band aid solutions, the problem seems to expand rather than contract. The specter of such pitiful little ones is sometimes difficult to banish from ones mind.
Would it not be good if we could view the plight of those who suffer from spiritual malnutrition with at least an equal amount of horror? Is the deformity and suffering any less destructive and distressing in the eyes of God? Is spiritual malnutrition not even more eternally significant than temporal deprivation? And yet we seem to take it in our stride as being an inevitable part and parcel of the human condition.
I am sure it would be fair to say that this condition is all too prevalent among God's people today. We seem to be surrounded by a veritable army of those who are merely spiritual survivors. Who seem to ingest just enough to enable them to weakly struggle on from day to day, always defeated and never really knowing the robust victory the Lord intended in the lives of His people. Is it unfair to comment on the overwhelming number who seem to suffer from spiritual rickets? Those who seem to stagger through life on spindly and wobbly spiritual limbs with the ribs of their skeletal spiritual frame protruding for all the world to see?
It might be even more important to ask ourselves if this is the normal expectation among Christians today? If, as someone has said, a Christian lived the normal Christian life described in the New Testament, would he be viewed as abnormal by other Christians and the world around him? Perhaps we should raise our expectations because people seldom rise above them. Perhaps we should return to New Testament standards rather than the brave new world standards that seem to prevail all too often among Christians. Perhaps we should reaffirm the expectation that Christians should continuously grow and mature spiritually. That anything short of such growth constitutes spiritual malnutrition and is at least as pathetic and pitiful."
But Gaius seemed to live a robust Christian life worth emulating. His life was characterized by certain clear and observable traits. He walked in the truth. What a tremendous testimony, especially when one considers the impact and result of an opposite walk. His life and testimony seemed to reflect the principles that necessarily under-gird the life of a blessed and happy man, "Blessed [is] the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." (Psalm 1:1-3)
Notice the importance of the Word of God in the life of such a one. Not only in loving it enough to faithfully study it, but to constantly meditate upon its implications and applications. John would later make a keen observation about this principle, "Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand." (Rev. 1:3)
Evidently Gaius' acquaintance with the Word was not just theological and theoretical, but practical and pragmatic. He lived the truth out before the world. He had a bright and sparkling testimony for all the world to see. But this is not always the case. Most pastors are a bit tentative when someone says to them, "Is so and so a member of your church?" They don't know what to expect next. It is sometimes so good as to be inspiring when such a simple statement is followed by a positive report of a good testimony lived out before men. We have all met those who were influenced to come to Christ by what some term life-style evangelism. I've often shared how a bus driver and his family were ultimately saved and baptized because of the consistent and good behavior of the students of our Christian School who regularly rode his bus.
Such incidents confirm again and again the importance of loving living and a winning walk before the world. The importance of the influence of this Godly man and of those who would emulate him, could be summed up in the familiar old verse:
"I'd rather see a sermon, Than hear one any day; I'd rather one should walk with me, Than merely show the way. The eye's a better pupil, And more willing than the ear; Fine counsel is confusing, But example's always clear. And the best of all the preachers, Are the men who live their creeds; For to see good put into action, Is what everybody needs." -Edgar A. Guest
Gaius' personal ministry of hospitality and encouragement seemed to be just as practical as well. He seemed willing to be used of God in what some might consider a mundane matter. His heart and home were opened to those who ministered the Word of God. Traveling and itinerant ministers and Christians were more than welcome at his hearthstone. It seems the financial or other costs or inconveniences mattered not to the man. As a pastor who has travelled on deputation among the Lord's churches, I can personally attest to the great blessings to be found in the home of such a hospitable man of God. His ministry of encouragement to men of God became by its very nature a ministry and service to the Lord Jesus Christ. "He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." (Matt. 10:40-41) We can be sure that such blessed ministry will be credited to the account of those who minister. "Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account" (Phil. 4:17)
It is a pity that opportunities of providing such a ministry of encouragement and hospitality have so diminished in our modern culture. Some of us can remember in bygone days what an honor and blessing it seemed when our parents entertained pastors and evangelists and at least had them for a meal and a day of fellowship. It was not unusual for immediate spiritual benefit to accrue to the family as well; with young people being led to the Lord and receiving personal nurture through such visits.
Why is such ministry still needed today? God' still commands it. It is a matter of being obedient to the commands of God. Generosity is still God-like. Demonstrating such loving living is still Christ-like. It is still a good witness before the world as well. God's people are supposed to care for one another. Especially for those of the household of the faith and in particular for those who minister in the Word. He desires His people to be fellowhelpers to the truth. We do not have the details of all Gaius did to defend and further the truth, but we do know he was faithful in helping those who ministered it. A number of passages make it amply clear that those who receive spiritual blessings through the ministry of the Word should share material blessings with those who minister it. (See I Cor. 9, II Cor. 8, Gal. 6:6-10)
But not everyone in this church was a Gaius. In Diotrophes we have a LESSON IN LIMITED AND LIBELOUS LIVING. Throughout church history his name has become a synonym for dictator. He has come to epitomize an egotistical tyrant. He seems to personify all that a true servant of God shouldn't be. He represents traits and characteristics that are antithetical to true Christian character.
He was obviously motivated by selfishness and pride and moved by the age-old adage, "What's in it for me?" I'm afraid he would be right at home in the selfish and materialistic culture of our day. In our day of mega-churches and mega-ministries, it seems Diotrophes' constant attitude of self-promotion would not be too out of place. All too often the world's priorities and measurements of success seems to set the standard for the aspiring Diotrophes of our time.
In this lesson on limited and libelous living, we see a prime illustration of what it means to be religious but apparently lost. Here is a man who obviously had a form of godliness, but denied the truth and the spiritual power that flows from inculcating it into ones life. A servant's spirit apparently eluded him. It seems true humility was an attribute that was foreign to him. This is understandable, since pride and humility are mutually exclusive and cannot coexist in the same breast. He had a particular problem with the prideful propensity to promote himself rather than Christ. Preferring personal preeminence made it impossible for him to place Christ in a prominent position in his prideful plans and priorities.
In this lesson on limited and libelous living we have a clear example of the over-riding importance of Godly motivation in our Christian walk and work. It's not so much what we do or how much we do, as why we do what we do, that counts with God. John's description of the attributes and actions of this man makes one wonder if he had not come from a similar background to Paul's' but without a life changing Damascus road experience and encounter with Jesus Christ. Paul's statement defining the religious motivation of the Pharisees would fit this man like a glove, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." (Ro. 10:1-3)
In this lesson on libelous living it is important to note that Diotrephes was simply a liar and deceiver. That in order to elevate himself he felt it necessary to erase the influence John and other Godly men had in this assembly of saints. In order to build himself up, he did not hesitate to tear others down. He seemed to have no conscience in the matter. He sought to rise as a phoenix from the ashes of the destruction of the reputations of others.
Good reputations are fragile and frail, easily soiled, tarnished or destroyed. It is a well known principle that it is much easier to destroy a reputation than to rebuild it. That which a Godly man or woman has spent a lifetime carefully crafting and constructing, can be caused to come crashing down with one cruel, crafty and careless word. The truth of this is borne out in this old bit of verse:
The Builder Versus The Wrecker
I watched them tearing a building down -
A gang of men in a busy town;
With a "Ho heave ho" and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and the side wall fell;
I asked the foreman, "Are these men skilled?,
And the kind you'd hire, if you were to build?
He laughed and said, "Why no indeed,
just common laborers is all I need;
They can easily wreck in a day or two,
That which has taken builders years to do."
So I said to myself, as I went on my way,
What part in the game of life do I play?
Am I shaping my deeds to a well-made plan,
Carefully measuring with a rule square,
Patiently doing the very best I can?
Or am I a wrecker, who walks the town,
Content with the labor of tearing down? - Selected
The amazing thing about the case of Diotrophes is that people who should have known better apparently believed the malicious rumors and lies spread by this malignant maligner. In all likelihood even some of those for whom John had poured out his life in selfless service would have been among the deceived. Why was this true in John's day? Why does it remain true today? The sin nature, of course. Because men seem to love darkness rather than light. So many seem to rejoice in bad news rather than good news. If such cannot be a problem among God's people today why did Paul feel it needful to place the positive principle in print in his love chapter when he said, " . . love . . . thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;"
A few years back I read of an article that Dr. A. T. Robertson wrote about Diotrophes in a Baptist paper in Texas. Evidently in his biographical sketch he touched some sensitive spots among the paper's readership. It is said the paper received twenty-five letters from Baptist deacons canceling their subscriptions to the paper and accusing Dr. Robertson of personally attacking them!
Sadly, every pastor of experience knows that even those who are called children of God sometimes want to believe the worst of their spiritual leaders. He lives with a constant awareness that he is poorly placed to defend himself against a silver-tongued, charismatic member; who wishes to spread rumors, half-truths, innuendo and outright lies about him. That when it comes to the crunch, some of those he has invested his life in would prefer to believe such misrepresentation; even to the point of having sympathy for the character assassin rather than the one he as decimated and assassinated! As John, the real man of God must ultimately rely upon the Lord God to ultimately defend and vindicate him. There are times he must simply say as the prophet of old, "For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed." (Isa. 50:7)
It is encouraging to note that John's confidence and faith in the Lord led him to assert that Diotrophes would ultimate face his fate. He would have to give account. The wise man was inspired to say that pride ultimate leads to a fall. His day would come. God's wheels of justice sometimes grind slowly, but they always grind to powder. The old fable of the boastful frog, being borne along on a stick held at each end by two geese, escaping a dried up billabong, quaintly illustrates this. As he glibly glided along, a farmer look up and cried, "What a great idea! Who thought of that?" The frog pridefully proclaimed, "I did!"
In Demetrius we have a LESSON OF LUMINOUS AND LASTING LIVING. It seems those who knew him had nothing but good to say about him. He was given a credible report card by his close-by contemporaries as well as by those who were farther afield. The excellence of his example and exemplary character exceeded the extraordinary. It is obvious he was a Christian worth knowing. It would seem that to know him was to love and appreciate him. His brand of Christianity appears genuine and his example well worth emulation. As we would be prone to say in our land down under, "He was a fair dinkum Christian - dinkidi in all his relationships."
But is it scriptural to follow the example of other Christians? Yes, but only as they follow Christ. Jesus spoke of this principle when He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16) It is obvious our Savior is saying that each of us should have a Christ-like life worth imitating. That as the moon reflects the life-giving rays of the sun, the orbit of our life should be so focused upon, controlled by and exposed to the Son, that the life-giving reflection of His Light should bathe those around us.
That our light should not only be sufficient to light the little corner where we are and expose sin in every nook and cranny of our nearby contemporary world, but, as Demitrius should be reflected out to fields afar as well. Paul urged others to follow him as he followed Christ. He first defined the focus of his own life, "For me to live is Christ..." (Phil. 1:21) Then he said, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also [am] of Christ." (I Cor. 11:1
The following excerpt from one of my devotionals expresses my a thought on the matter of our responsibility to walk in a way, as Demitrius, worthy of imitation:
"One Sunday morning I noticed a little fellow coming down the church aisle before the service with a considerable limp. I approached him and sympathetically inquired about his injury. His mom told me he was perfectly well, but his father had injured his leg during the week and was limping severely. The small lad was simply walking like the dad he so greatly admired!
I am sure you may have heard the old story about the ungodly father who was walking through the snow, as was his custom, on his way to the local pub. Upon hear the noise of crunching snow behind him, he turned and saw his small son jumping along, matching his strides and placing his small feet in the father's footsteps. From that moment on he allowed Christ into his life and his walk took a different direction.
That great Christian classic, "In His Steps," presents this concept with unusual insight. The basic story line entailed the idea of what our world would be like if every Christian determined to walk even as he walked every moment of every day. What a changed world we would live in!
It might be good to ask ourselves where we are placing our feet each day. Are we treading the high or low road? Do our steps lead others in the way of God or along way of the world? Are we walking the broad or narrow way? Are we going the way leading to destruction or to life everlasting? Are we walking the way that seems right unto man? Or the way that is well pleasing unto God? Do our footsteps shuffle down the sorry side roads of sin or do our foot prints point people to the place God has prepared for His peculiar people?
Are we treading the path our Saviour trod? Trudging down the byways, highways and hedges of life, compelling others to come to Him? Do our tracks lead to the wells of this world, or are we trekking to springs of living water; showing others the way to the water of life? Are our feet shod with the gospel of peace? Are we wearing out our gospel shoes telling others of His good news?"
We have examined the life and ministry of three men in one local church who left their imprint on history. Two for the better, one for the worse. The lessons of their living are clearly a challenge to us today; calling us to a continuing commitment to the positive proposition of placing Jesus Christ in a priority position in our life by giving Him preeminence in all things. Which shall it be?