Life-Study of 1, 2, & 3 John, Judeby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In the foregoing message we pointed out that the subject of this Epistle is encouragement to fellow workers in the truth. Verses 1 through 4 are the introduction and speak of loving in truth (v. 1), prospering in all things and in health (v. 2), and walking in truth (vv. 3-4). Then verses 5 through 8 go on to speak of hospitality to traveling workers. In this message we shall consider verses 9 through 14.
In 3 John 9-12 John gives two examples: the negative example of Diotrephes (v. 9) and the positive example of Demetrius (v. 12). In verse 9 John says, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not receive us.” The church here is the church of which Gaius was a member.
The name Diotrephes is made up of Dios (from the name of Zeus, who was the chief of the gods in the Greek pantheon) and trepho, to nourish; hence, Zeus-nourished. This indicates that Diotrephes as a professing Christian never dropped his pagan name. This was contrary to the practice of the early believers, who took a Christian name at their baptism. According to history, Diotrephes advocated the Gnostic heresy, which blasphemes the Person of Christ.
John says that Diotrephes loved to be first among those in the church and did not receive the apostle. This means that Diotrephes did not receive him hospitably.
Diotrephes’ loving to be first was against the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 20:25-27 and 23:8-11, which places all His believers on the same level, that of brothers. In 2 John 9 the Cerinthian Gnostics took the lead to advance in doctrine beyond the teaching concerning Christ. Here in 3 John 9 is one who was under the influence of Gnostic heretical doctrine, loving to be the first in the church. The problem of Gnostic doctrine was one of intellectual arrogance; the problem of loving to be first was one of self-exaltation in action. These two evils are sharp weapons used by God’s enemy, Satan, to execute his evil plot against God’s economy. One damages the believers’ faith in the divine reality: the other frustrates their work in God’s move.
The principle was the same both with the Cerinthian Gnostics in their desire to be advanced in doctrine and with Diotrephes’ love to be first; they wanted to be above others. The Cerinthians wanted to be above others in advanced thought, and Diotrephes wanted to be first. Today’s modernists can be compared to the Cerinthians in their desire to have a higher, more advanced, philosophy. The modernists may think that the general belief among Christians is too low. Therefore, they desire to be above others in thought or philosophy. The desire to be above others and the desire to be first are both instances of pride and arrogance, and both were issues of heresy.
Among Christians today these two problems still exist. The first problem, the desire to be above others in thought, is related to doctrine. The second problem, the love of being first, is related to practice. In doctrine many desire to be advanced, to go beyond others. In practice, many love to be first. Such a love leads even to the desire to be a “pope.” Sometimes this evil principle creeps into the church life. For example, in standing up to give a testimony we may want to say something advanced, something that goes beyond what others can say. Furthermore, in the church life we may also desire to be first. Even in a small service group, we may want to be the first, the head. This is in principle the evil spirit of Diotrephes.
Diotrephes was influenced by the Gnostics, and he advocated, promoted, Gnosticism. In this we see the subtlety of the enemy in trying to annul the enjoyment of the Triune God. Satan in his subtlety seeks either to distract us from the enjoyment of the Triune God, to cut us off from this enjoyment, or even to destroy it altogether. Consider the situation among believers today with respect to the enjoyment of the Triune God. Even the teaching of the Bible is utilized by the enemy to keep believers away from the proper enjoyment of the Triune God. Concerning this matter, a battle is raging, and we are fighting for the truth. We are not fighting for doctrine; we are fighting for the reality, which is the enjoyment of the Triune God.
As we go on to read 3 John 10, we see how domineering the evil Diotrephes was: “Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he does, babbling against us with evil words; and not being satisfied with these, neither does he receive the brothers, and those intending to do so he forbids and casts them out of the church.” The Greek word translated “babbling,” phluareo, comes from phluo, to boil over, to bubble up, to overflow with words, to talk idly; hence, to babble, to talk folly or nonsense.
The babbling of Diotrephes was with “evil words.” The Greek word for “evil” here is poneros, which denotes something pernicious. Poneros differs from kakos which refers to an essentially worthless and wicked character; it differs as well from sapros, which indicates worthlessness and corruption, degeneracy from original virtue. The word poneros denotes something pernicious, harmfully evil, that affects and influences others to be evil and vicious.
In verse 11 John goes on to say, “Beloved, do not imitate the evil, but the good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God.” Here the Greek word rendered “evil” is kakos, worthless, wicked, depraved. “Does good” comes from the Greek agathopoieo (of the root agathos, good), to be a well-doer (as a favor or a duty), practicing good; hence, to do good.
In this verse John says that he who does good is “of God.” Literally, the Greek word for “of” means out of, out from. Because we have been begotten of God, we are out from Him, possessing His life and partaking of His nature. God is the source of good. A well-doer, a doer of good, is one who has his source in God; that is, he is one who is out from God.
In verse 11 John tells us that he who does evil has not seen God. The Greek word rendered “does evil” is kako-poieo (of the root kakos, worthless), to be an evildoer, practicing evil; hence, to do evil. An evildoer not only is not out of God, but has not even seen God. This means that he has not enjoyed God or experienced Him.
In verse 11 to see God actually means to enjoy God and experience Him. We cannot see God without enjoying Him, and we cannot know God without experiencing Him. Seeing and knowing God are a matter of enjoying and experiencing Him.
Recently I have been encouraged by many of the testimonies given by young saints in the meetings. These testimonies indicate that these young saints are enjoying God and experiencing Him. This also indicates that they have seen God and have known Him. Without seeing and knowing God, without enjoying and experiencing Him, they could not give such testimonies. Our testimonies indicate whether or not we are enjoying and experiencing God. As we have pointed out, our enjoyment of God is our seeing of Him, and our experience of God is our knowing of Him.
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