When Good and Evil Go to Church

Bible Book: 3 John  1 : 11
Subject: Church, World, Evil in the; Suffering and Faith

“The fact of evil in the world is perhaps the primary reason that people start down the road of concluding that there is no God. But God is implied in the very act of making the distinction between good and evil.” So writes Ravi Zacharias, who further explains, “When you say there’s too much evil in this world you assume there’s good. When you assume there’s good, you assume there’s such a thing as a ‘moral law’ on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral Law Giver, but that’s Who you’re trying to disprove and not prove. Because if there’s no moral Law Giver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil. What is your question?”1

The fact of evil in the church is equally undeniable. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 reads, “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.” After I read those verses in a pastor’s conference, the presenter exclaimed, “That is radical evil!” He was correct in his assessment. Jesus taught His followers to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13). Years before Jesus came to earth God spoke the following through Isaiah, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), an Italian historian and statesman, friend and critic of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), warns, “He who imitates what is evil, always goes beyond the example that is set, on the contrary, he who imitates what is good, always falls short.”2 John exhorts in 3 John 1:11 reads, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” In the context of this verse we see when good and evil go to church. Dr. Stephen F. Olford (1918-2004) explains the background of our text as follows: “The apostle John was writing to Gaius, an upright, spiritual, and loving man. He first rejoices in the character and conduct of Gaius, and then writes rebukingly of Diotrephes, ‘who loves to have the preeminence’ among men (v. 9). Of this man, the apostle says some very scathing things.

John knew very well that in all things there was only One who was entitled to preeminence, and that was the Lord Jesus. Thus, contrasting Diotrephes with the Lord, he calls one evil and the other good. There is one that is good, and that is God. He therefore sums up his letter by exhorting Gaius to ‘imitate… what is good.’”3 3 John1:1-14 reads, “The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true. I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.”

Note several things from this passage.

I. First, notice the concept of fellowship.

In Upgrade; from Adequacy to Abundance, Dr. Michael Catt, shares, “As Vance Havner [1901-1986] explained: ‘Most church members live so far below the standard, you’d have to backslide to be in fellowship.’”4 To be in fellowship with some is to be out of fellowship with the Lord and those who are right with Him. We must make choices based upon God’s Word!

Dr. Bruce H. Wilkinson explains, “In First John the apostle discusses fellowship with God; in Second John he forbids fellowship with false teachers; and in Third John he encourages fellowship with Christian brothers.”5 Fellowship as we find it in 3 John is an extension of a relationship with God. The following seven designations in 3 John referring to the Christian:

1. “beloved” (vv. 1, 5, 11)

2. “brethren” (vv. 3, 5, 10)

3. “children” (v. 4)

4. “strangers” (v. 5)

5. “the church” (vv. 6, 9, 10)

6. “fellow workers” (v. 8)

7. “the friends” (v. 14)

Someone classifies these designations as follows:

In relationship to God it is personal. “beloved”

In relationship to the church it is relational. “brethren”, “children”, “strangers”, “friends”

In relationship to the world it is functional. “the church”, “fellow-workers”

Beware of a “fellowship” without relationship.

II. Second, notice the contrast in stewardship.

Like Goofus and Gallant in the Highlights magazine for children, we note the contrast of two characters. One named Gaius, known for his hospitality to those who practice and proclaim the truth, and another named Diotrephes, known for his hostility toward those who practice and proclaim the truth. While Gaius was selfless, Diotrephes was selfish! In fact, Diotrephes wanted the preeminence. I understand the word translated “preeminence” is used only one other place in the Bible, in Colossians 1:18 we read, “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” Diotrephes wanted something reserved only for Jesus Christ Himself! He wanted to be Lord of the church. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 reads, “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.”

According to the IVP New Testament Commentary, “Diotrephes has failed to provide hospitality and, even more, financial assistance and other kinds of support for itinerating Christian preachers in his area. The charge that he will have nothing to do with the Elder suggests that the Christians whom he will not support are emissaries from the Elder, who have come to help the church in various ways.”6 Notice the contrast in stewardship between Gaius and Diotrephes.

Stewardship involves not only treasure, time, and talent, but truth, as well. Five times we find the word “truth” the third epistle of John and 11 times in the second and third epistles together. Someone recently shared the following from George R. R. Martin: “People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it’s served up.”7 Diotrephes rebelled against the truth, while Demetrius reveled in the truth! Rev. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) explains, “The temper and spirit of Diotrephes was full of pride and ambition. It is bad not to do good ourselves; but it is worse to hinder those who would do good. Those cautions and counsels are most likely to be accepted, which are seasoned with love. Follow that which is good, for he that doeth good, as delighting therein, is born of God. Evil-workers vainly pretend or boast acquaintance with God. Let us not follow that which is proud, selfish, and of bad design, though the example may be given by persons of rank and power; but let us be followers of God, and walk in love, after the example of our Lord.”8

Likely, Demetrius delivered the letter to the church under the domination of Diotrephes. 3 John 1:12-14 reads, “Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true. I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.”

Regrettably, every church member does not have a personal relationship with God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Holy Spirit. 3 John 1:11 reads, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” Based on the last part of verse 11, it is doubtful that Diotrephes had a personal relationship with God. “. . . he who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11b). What a great tragedy that someone could be lost in the midst of church life and work, and to be accountable for the truth they resisted and rejected!

Beware of a “stewardship” without relationship.

III. Third, notice the conflict over discipleship.

In a speech delivered at a dinner in Plymouth on the occasion of “Forefather’s Day” (December 1855), Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) stated the following: “To be as good as our fathers, we must be better. Imitation is not discipleship. When someone sent a cracked plate to China to have a set made, every piece in the new set had a crack in it.”9 Phillips illustrates one of the dangers of discipleship, but to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is different. He is sinless and perfect with no defect in His character. The purpose of Christian discipleship is Christlikeness. The key to Christlikeness is self-surrender. Dr. Handley Carr Glyn Moule (1841-1920) explains, “Self-surrender taken alone is a plunge into a cold void. When it is a surrender to the 'Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me' (Gal. 2:20), it is the bright home-coming of the soul to the seat and sphere of life and power.”10

Note the phrase “for His name’s sake” (3 John 1:7). The conflict over discipleship revolves around living “for His name’s sake” or not. On Romans 1:5, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960) explains the following: “And finally, all this grace, this apostleship, this obedience, this faith, is for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What we do is done for Him. We read at times of some missionaries having a burden for lost souls. This is good, and is an indication of the fruit of the spirit which is love, goodness and faithfulness. But beyond this, the reason for all we do, for our submission, for our obedience, for our willingness to be bondslaves, is all for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sins were never forgiven because of ourselves. They are forgiven because of the Saviour.”11 1 John 2:12 reads, “I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” We are saved “for His name’s sake” and “for His name’s sake” we are to live. Acts 5:40-41 reads, “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Acts 9:16 reads, “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Matthew 10:22 reads, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 19:29 reads, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” Matthew 24:9 reads, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” Dr. Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) writes, “If you are a Christian professor, either Christ is glorified or put to shame in you, His saint; and either it is true of you that you do all things in the Name of the Lord Jesus and so glorify His Name, or that through you the Name of Christ is ‘blasphemed among the nations.’ Choose which of the two it shall be!”12

Dr. Richard Francis Weymouth (1882-1902) renders 3 John 1:11 as follows: “Do not follow wrong examples but right ones: he that does what is right is a child of God; he who does what is wrong has not seen God.” Are you living “for His name’s sake”? Obviously, Diotrephes was not.

Remember Judas Iscariot had a level of participation in the School of Christ, without matriculation in the School of Christ. For him there was no graduation to glory!  Are you properly enrolled in the School of Christ as a disciple? Repentance of sin and faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and everlasting life is a prerequisite.

Beware of a “discipleship” without relationship.


Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe writes, “One of the key words in this letter is witness (3 John 3, ‘testified’; 3 John 6, 12, ‘report, bear record, record’). It means not only the words that we say but the lives that we live. Each Christian is a witness, either a good one or a bad one. We are either helping the truth (3 John 8) or hindering it.

This letter was addressed to Gaius, one of the leaders of the assembly. But John also discussed two other men in these verses—Diotrephes and Demetrius. Wherever there are people, there are problems—and the potential for solving problems. Each of us must honestly face the question, ‘Am I a part of the problem or a part of the answer?’”13

Dr. Richard W. DeHaan (1923-2002) asks, “For what will you be remembered? How tragic to be a Diotrephes, of whom John wrote, ‘I will remember his deeds which he doeth against us, prating against us with malicious words’ (v. 10). How much better to be a Demetrius, who ‘hath a good report of all men’ (v. 12). One was notorious—the other was noteworthy!”14

John Newton (1725-1807), a former slave-ship captain converted to Christ and author of the favorite hymn titled, “Amazing Grace”, writes, “Many have puzzled themselves about the origin of evil. I am content to observe that there is evil, and that there is a way to escape from it, and with this, I begin and end.”15 May the Lord grant us wisdom and courage as we live in a fallen world, where we must choose between good and evil!

1Ravi Zacharias, A Darkling Plain, “Moral Law Giver” January 23, 2016 Accessed: 07/05/16 http://adarklingplain.com/tag/ravi-zacharias/ .

2Gems of Thought: Being a Collection of More Than 1000 Choice Selections or Aphorisms, comp. Charles Northend (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1880), 131.

3Dr. Stephen F. Olford, According to Your Word: Morning and Evening Through the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2008), 215. Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.

4Michael Catt, Upgrade: from Adequacy to Abundance (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2012), 46.

5The Open Bible Expanded Edition, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), 1291.

6The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, ed. Grant R. Osborne, 1-3 John, M.M. Thompson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 161.  Database © 2006 WORDsearch Corp.

7George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings (1999), Accessed: 07/05/16  https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/A_Song_of_Ice_and_Fire .

8Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. Database © 2011 WORDsearch Corp.

9The Fortnightly, ed. John Morley (London: Chapman and Hall, 1870), 14:70. Gems of Thought: Being a Collection of More Than 1000 Choice Selections or Aphorisms, comp. Charles Northend (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1880), 131.

10Handley Carr Glyn Moule, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (New York, NY: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1906), 11.

11Donald Grey Barnhouse, Barnhouse Romans - Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans As a Point of Departure – Volume 1: Man's Ruin, (1952), 80. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

12Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture – 1 John 5, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation, 69. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.

13Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2, (2001), 539. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

14Richard W. DeHaan, Our Daily Bread, “The Fragrance of Remembrance”, 3 John 1:12 (Grand Rapids, MI: RBC Ministries, n.d.) Guido Gardens Library, (3 John 1:12) #631.pdf.

15Gems of Thought: Being a Collection of More Than 1000 Choice Selections or Aphorisms, comp. Charles Northend (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1880), 82.

Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Don’t Miss the Revival! Messages for Revival and Spiritual Awakening from Isaiah and

Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice [Both available on Amazon.com in hardcover, paperback and eBook]

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Miss-Revival-Spiritual-Awakening/dp/1462735428 &  http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Biblical-Preaching-Giving-Bible/dp/1594577684 / fkirksey@bellsouth.net   / (251) 626-6210

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