I recently composed a short letter to a friend, a dear acquaintance who is, unfortunately, traveling down the difficult road of trial and tribulation. Since I was writing on the inside of a card and I have a rather large handwriting style, I found myself limited by space, so I sought to be as precise and to-the-point as I could be (which is a difficult task for this wordy girl). I reminded this dear friend of my deep affection for her, and of my appreciation for her loyal companionship and constant encouragement in my life.
The third letter penned by the Apostle John is also brief, the shortest of all his recorded letters. John had been given two great responsibilities…instructions left to his charge by his beloved Teacher, Jesus. John was commissioned to establish and to pass on the life-giving truth that he received directly from the lips of Christ, then to encourage those who were walking rightly in their new-found faith. So John, in this brief letter, would not only commend a man named Gaius for his faithfulness to that truth and his hospitable attitude toward teachers of that truth, but would also sound the alert concerning another man, Diotrephes, who would pose a significant danger to this early church.
Hospitality, the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors. or strangers, speaks volumes of a person’s Christianity. Hospitality is other-oriented; it seeks to benefit those who are in most need of our welcoming attitude. Gaius was one such man, a believer willing to work quietly behind the scenes, unconcerned about who gets the credit as long as God gets the glory, a man who sought to throw out the welcome mat to preachers of the Word. John uses the tender term of “wellbeloved” when referring to Gaius, rejoicing in the fact that this man’s outward testimony was evidence that he indeed walked “in the truth,” commending him for faithfully extending hospitality to “the brethren, and to strangers.” This Gaius, who furthered the spread of the Gospel by his willingness to open his home to those sharing God’s Word, was a source of joy to the elderly apostle, and John took an opportunity to thank this selfless man. But the tone of John’s letter was about to make an abrupt turn, for another, more disruptive man, was about to receive a scathing rebuke.
The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, A man who will not do well in his present place because he longs to be higher is already too high and should be put lower. One such man was Diotrephes, a man “who (loved) to have the preeminence among them.” This man mentioned in John’s letter was in sharp contrast to Gaius, for Diotrephes was not inclined toward hospitality, but haughtiness and pride, evidenced by his selfishness and divisiveness. Instead of encouraging those who spread the Gospel message, Diotrephes found himself “prating against” those preachers of truth “with malicious words.” The word prating suggests disparaging, somewhat senseless accusations brought against John and other traveling preachers who brought sound teaching to God’s people. He not only refused to welcome them (“…neither doth he himself receive the brethren,”) but also discouraged others from doing so (“and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”) As Diotrephes sought to control and to sway the conduct of others for the satisfaction of his own ego, his unfounded words created dissension and confusion among the believers. John had a history of never yielding to those who would malign or suffocate the truth found in Christ, and he wasn’t about to start that trend in his old age, so he warns that soon he would confront this problem “face to face.”
The church needs to take careful heed that we do not become a cult of personality. Those with Diotrephes Disease want to be first; they seek prominence and control with unbridled pride and ego. Only one Person is granted the preeminence in the church of Christ, and that Person IS Christ. Our focus should not be on our position in the church, but rather our participation in this work, as we devote ourselves to advancing the work of Christ and directing any glory received back to God. The church could use more men like Gaius, Christians who practice hospitality, those who display “charity before the church,” opening their homes and hearts so as to “bring forward on their journey” those who are committed to spreading the Gospel.
May God help me to put the old man aside and to display the charity and hospitality befitting a child of the King, a child redeemed by the blood of the One Who is “the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
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