Summary: 3 John is a reality check for the church. It is about church politics, problem people, and the problems they cause.
Through the New Testament 06
Church Politics 101
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
3 John is a reality check for the church. It is about church politics, problem people, and the problems they cause.
A lot of us would like to think that church politics is an oxymoron—a contradiction in terms. We prefer to believe that church life is above the stuff that politics is famous for. But anyone who has been around church for long know better. Church politics exist. It always has. It always will—as long as there are people around.
Our word “politics” comes from the Greek word for city. Our concept for politics comes from the rivalry that developed between different cities. People from one city would work for the interests of their city. Folk from different cities became competitors rather than fellow citizens who shared concerns bigger than individual locales. At its worst, politicians/city representatives would undermine the interests of other cities. The misplaced idea—if I can make them look bad, I will look better. It is only a short leap from that ancient concept of ancient city interests to the partisan political shenanigans of our day.
Politics goes to church when individuals or groups show more concern for individual interests and opinions than kingdom matters. Politics takes over when church people or leaders see themselves as competitors and rivals instead of family.
Does it happen? Of course, it does. People are people. As much as we would like to think that church folk left the ways of the world at the steps to the baptistery, that doesn’t always happen. Not all church folk, even church leaders, are necessarily born again and transformed. And even some who are don’t automatically unlearn all of their old ways immediately. Sometimes that happens gradually. Sometimes it takes a lifetime.
The evidence of church politics is everywhere in the New Testament. Most of 1 Corinthians is addressed to a church divided by rivalries and worldly behavior. The very beginning days of the church were marrid by ethnic rivalries (Acts 6). Paul warned the Ephesians elders of wolves in sheep’s clothing that would arise from within their own ranks (Acts 20:29-30). Paul reminds the Philippians of those who preach the gospel out of envy and rivalry (Phil 1:15). He commends Timothy as one of the few who is concerned about something other than his own interests (Phil 2:20-21). On and on, the list could go of the human side of church life.
3 John is the tale of three men. More than that, it’s a look inside at the heart of three different kind of people found in almost every church—then and now. John, the aged apostle and elder statesman of the church, writes with advice for a church leader and his church caught in the throes of a political skirmish with another less than honorable leader. In his advice, John commends Gaius with the faithful heart. He condemns Diotrophes and his selfish, stubborn heart. And he pays passing tribute to Demetrius and his quiet respected heart. As we review, John’s analysis of the “political” problems of this First Century church, we would do well to look at ourselves rather than looking around. The big question is not “who is the Diotrophes” in our midst; but “do I have any Dioptrophes in me?”
John speaks first of Gaius the friend to whom he addresses the note. We know little about Gaius. The name was common in Bible times. It is mentioned five times in the New Testament (Acts 19:29; 20:4; Ro 16:23; 1 Co 1:14; 3 Jn 1). The name belonged to at least three different men, maybe more. Some think the Gaius of 3 John could be the same referred to in Romans 16:23. This Christian leaders had displayed gracious hospitality to Paul and many others, the same key attribute of the recipient of this letter. John highlights three characteristics of Gaius:
1. He abounded in spiritual health
Perhaps poor physical health
Both matter; our turned around priorities
What would good soul health look like:
Appetite for the right things—desire for the things of God;
Ability to fight of infections; evil—resistance to temptation and sin
Strength—Ability to do for self and others (consumers and producers)
2. He practiced what he preached
Walked in truth (contra Gnostic ideas of mental faith/ideas)
Mt 5:13-17-salt and light
Titus 2:10—adorn the doctrine of God our savior/non-malign the faith
James 2-faith without works
"I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one would 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 ones who live their creeds, For to see good put in action is what everybody needs. I soon can learn to do it if you let me see it done. I can watch your hands in action but your tongue too fast may run. And the sermon you deliver may be very wise and true, But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do, For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give, But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live."