Short Book, Big Message: 3 John

 

Short Book, Big Message: 3 John

A Message on 3 John 9-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 3, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

3 John 9-12 (NRSV)

 

I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.

 

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Everyone has testified favorably about Demetrius, and so has the truth itself. We also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true.

 

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I chose this sermon series many weeks ago. I had no intention of this being the scripture to preach on the Sunday after the called General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis. I really didn’t.

 

But as the saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways.” (Or, as my roommate at seminary, Tommy Earl Burton, sometimes says “God works in mischievous ways,” which I think is sometimes true as well.)

 

This scripture, which is from the shortest book in the Bible, 3 John, is timely in that it reminds us that even in the very early church there was disagreement between the followers of Christ. And it also gives instruction on how to disagree within the church.

 

First let’s talk about the book of 3 John. As we talked about last week with 2 John there is a pretty good consensus that the author is John the Evangelist, the same person that wrote the Gospel of John. That person is not to be confused with the person named John who wrote Revelation, known as John of Patmos.

 

It really is amazing, if you think about it, that it is included in the canon of the Bible, which was adopted in the 5th century. Part of this surprise is due to its short length (only 219 words in the original Greek) but also because it has another distinction: It is the only book in the New Testament that does not mention Jesus Christ by name. Now in the NRSV translation the word Christ is used: “…for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers.” But in the original Greek the word used is Onomatos, which means “the Name.”

 

3 John is an epistle, or letter. But instead of being written to a specific group of believers or church it is a personal letter, written to a person named Gaius. We don’t know much about Gaius but we do know that the name is Roman. It was a somewhat common Roman name with a few people named Gaius becoming very powerful. The best example of this is was someone named “Gaius Julius Caesar” who is better known just as Julius Caesar. (And for you young folks, no, he is not the person who Caesar salads are named after. “Etu, crouton?”)

 

We need to understand the importance of “Gaius” being a Roman name. In the early church there was quite the debate if Gentiles, which means non-Jewish people, could become Christians. After all, Jesus was a Jew and the 12 disciples were all Jewish. And so the debate came up as to whether Gentiles could become Christians, and also if they had to become Jewish first in order to become Christian. (That’s why there are so many scriptures in the New Testament about circumcision.)

 

When Paul, who was Jewish, became converted and became a Christian instead of persecuting the Christians, he referred himself as the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Paul also had the unusual distinction of being not only Jewish but also a Roman citizen.

 

In the scripture we read from 3 John today we find John the Evangelist writing to Gaius the Roman a personal letter. First he thanks Gaius for the followers of Christ in his area for “walking in the truth.” (We talked about this last week with 2 John.)

 

But then John the Evangelist makes a turn and starts talking about a controversy in the church. That controversy is named Diotrephes, and apparently he is not “walking in the truth” and is “spreading false charges” against John and the believers.

 

Here is The Message paraphrase of verses 9-10:  “Earlier I wrote something along this line to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves being in charge, denigrates my counsel. If I come, you can be sure I’ll hold him to account for spreading vicious rumors about us.”

 

As if that weren’t bad enough, he not only refuses hospitality to traveling Christians but tries to stop others from welcoming them. Worse yet, instead of inviting them in he throws them out.

 

So we can see that even in the very, very early church there was controversy, there was disagreement. Serious disagreements.

 

There was certainly disagreement in St. Louis this past week at the called General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The conference was scheduled back in 2016 at the General Conference and was supposed to decide one way or the other the issue of same-sex marriage in the UMC as well as sexuality issues relating to ordination.

 

The conference was live streamed on the Internet. I tried watching it several times but honestly I was disgusted with what I saw and I had to turn it off. It actually made me nauseous.

 

The results of that three-day, $3+ million conference is that we’re pretty much right where the church was before the conference began, except we took a public relations beating and now have a poorer image among the unchurched as news stories covered the airing of our denominational dirty laundry.

 

What did happen was that the Traditional Plan was approved by a close margin but was not amended as supporters of it had hoped it would be in order to make it constitutional. The preliminary plan had parts of it already labeled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council so it is expected to have those same parts labeled unconstitutional again by the Judicial Council.

 

Sigh.

 

One pastor, speaking in support of one of the plans, got up and said that those who supported a different plan were like viruses that were infecting the church that would spread worldwide and eventually kill the church. Honest. Tell me how that is Christ-like? Tell me how that is speaking the truth in love?

 

After the traditional plan passed the police were called in to keep demonstrators from storming the floor of the convention center to protest the vote. Yes, you heard that correctly. Police. At a United Methodist Convention!

 

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

 

Friends, I am grieved beyond words. And if I am honest, it made me question if I can serve in ministry alongside people who say such mean, hate-filled, and unloving things. Yes, it was done on both sides, but the majority of the things I saw that appalled me were from one specific side. It’s one thing to disagree, but it’s another thing to be hateful and mean and… well… un-Christlike.

 

This past week I have been tempted many times to write mean, snarky, responses to some of the things posted on social media. But I didn’t. I wanted to. Trust me, I really, really wanted to. The temptation was very real. But I didn’t.

 

John’s words kept coming back to me: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”

 

Don’t sink to their level. Don’t imitate what is evil. Imitate what is good. Seek to be righteous before the Lord and others.

 

Years ago George Bernard Shaw wrote, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

 

As Christians, I believe we are called to stay out of the mud unless we are helping others get out of it.

 

It’s hard to do, especially with social media today. Someone will post something that really gets to us. We get emotional and we want to strike back. We want revenge. We want to show them. And so we post things in the passion of the moment that are not loving, that are mean, that are not Christ-like.

 

It often sounds like a couple of first-graders on the playground. “Oh yeah, well you are….”

 

And back and forth it goes, wallowing in the mud.

 

Sigh.

 

Now someone might point out that Jesus got angry with the money changers and vendors in the temple and drove them out with a whip. That is true. Jesus did that. But that is righteous indignation. That is being angry but without sinning. It is okay for us to have righteous indignation as well, but it needs to be tempered with love. Everything we do needs to be tempered with love. Don’t let anger lead to sin.

 

Paul, writing in Ephesians 4, quotes from Psalm 4:4 when he says, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. — Ephesians 4:25-27.

 

It’s easy to say but hard to do. So hard to do. It is a human reaction to hit back–harder!. If we let emotions drive our theology (which is not a good thing, by the way) then we will hit back. But if we focus on God and the cross of Jesus Christ we can overcome those emotions.

 

Back in my junior high days in Cooper, TX I played football in 8th grade. One of the things told to us (I don’t remember if it was our coaches or just an “urban legend” among us players) was that if you hit your opponent harder than they hit you then you won’t feel it and it won’t hurt.

 

I was about 80 pounds soaking wet back then, and that is being gracious on the heavy side. One night we were playing Wolfe City for the district championship. I was short and small so I normally played wide receiver. (We never passed, so it was a relatively safe position for me to play.)

 

Wolfe City had a big ol’ boy named Willy Woodberry who, in 8th grade, stood about 6’1” and weighed close to 275. He was making a mess of our offence and we were taking a beating. Our coaches called a timeout and told me to come in and play tight end instead of wide receiver and to block whoever was across from me.

 

We broke the huddle and I did as I was told. I lined up as tight end on the right side and when I looked across to see who I was going to be blocking, guess who it was? That’s right, Willy Woodberry. It was going to be a battle of the Ws, Wintermute at 80 pounds vs. Woodberry at 275 pounds.

 

I remembered the saying about hitting the other player harder than they hit you. That’s what I was going to do. I was going to hit Willy so hard that he would fall backward on the ground. I was going to hit him so hard he would think a train had hit him.

 

We snapped the ball and I launched myself at Willy. I aimed for his thighs, thinking my impact would drive his legs out from under him and he would fall helplessly on the ground. Yeah. Tha’s the ticket.

 

That didn’t happen. I bounced right off of him. I don’t even think I slowed him down as he plowed right over me. Not only that, but those seemingly size 18 cleats (I have no idea what shoe size he wore, but they seemed that big.) stepped on my hand as he drove into the backfield and tackled our quarterback for a loss.

 

It was then that discovered that the saying about hitting others harder than they hit you was not true. It was a lie. A big lie. The laws of physics about displacement of kinetic energy being relative to mass times acceleration were the real truth, and he had a lot more mass than me. And it hurt. Really hurt. Bad.

 

I lasted that one play before the coaches put in a bigger player with more mass to try and block Willy. He didn’t do much better. We still lost. I was just happy to survive. Seriously.

 

Sometimes in our world we act like that “hitting the other person harder” is true. When something offends us (and God help us for being so offended by every little thing today) we think that if we can hit the other person back harder than they hit us then we will feel better about ourselves.

 

But it isn’t true. Revenge is not sweet, but bitter. There is a saying that “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

 

Jesus himself said,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” — Matthew 5:38-42

 

And he doesn’t stop there. He goes even further: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:43-48

 

Which brings us back to 3 John: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”

 

So, my challenge to you this week is to be very conscious not to do evil. Love everyone, even those you disagree with, even your enemies. Consciously imitate what is good, not what is evil.

Remember that Jesus loved even those who crucified him. Remember that Jesus loved us, every person, so much that he was willing to die for us.

 

I do not know what will happen as a result of our General Conference last week. I am afraid we will witness the same thing this next year during our regular General Conference, but I just don’t know. And I’m okay with that.

 

What I do know is that instead of worrying about that I should focus on living my life like Jesus Christ. I should focus on living out the great commandment of loving God and loving others with all that I have and all that I am. I should make sure that if I get angry it is in righteous indignation and not in a false “eye for an eye” motive. Daily I should focus on John’s words to “not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good.”

 

And don’t try to hit others harder than they hit you. It didn’t work for me against Willie Woodberry, and it won’t work for you.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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