Henry Palmieri, New York, USA
In the third Epistle of John we are introduced to one who attacked the fellowship of Christian believers from within. It is presumed that he was a believer. In any case he had so much power in this early church that he even repudiated apostolic authority. What a picture! Carnality seeking to rule out spirituality, the human replacing the divine. This division in the church was evidently caused by Diotrephes usurping the first place, the place of pre-eminence, which is the rightful place of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ alone. If He has not His rightful place in our midst, nothing else can be right.
The word "church" (assembly, j.n.d.) is mentioned three times here. It is the assembly in its local aspect that is in view. Such a company is referred to in Matthew 18. 20 "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them". Called out of the world but also called together. Gathered out of the world but also gathered together to His name in sweet fellowship. The contexts of the three references to "church" in this Epistle refer to
Communications to the assembly, v. 9. Charity (love) before the assembly, v. 6. Casting out of the assembly, v. 10.
Here we are given pen portraits of three kinds of men found in assembly life today.
Gaius, the Pious, who would receive the brethren, w. 1-8. Is not this normal? He who prospers in soul, who has the truth in him and who walks in that truth will never be guilty of seeking to rule out the godly and spiritual. We thank God for men in assemblies who understand that "truth is the only path for our feet and love is the only bond of our fellowship among saints", for "every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him", 1 John 5. 1. Beloved Gaius, would that more of us were like thee!
Demetrius, the Pure, who would revive the brethren, w. 12-14. He was of "good report of all men", a necessary qualification for the servant of the Lord, 1 Tim. 3. 7. He was not "a saint in church and a devil at home". He not only had a testimony before the church but before men in general. He led a pure life, proclaiming the truth, a man honoured of God. Not only did Demetrius hold the truth, he was held by it. It is a shock to meet up with rigid advocates of the truth, who tenaciously affirm who may or may not be recognised and who have the last word as to the true church of God and whose lives are anything but an adornment to the Gospel of the glory of our happy God. How reviving and refreshing to have such as Demetrius come into our midst.
Diotrephes, the Proud, who would reject the brethren, w. 9-11. Sad to say this unseemly character has his descendants among us also. Diotrephes was jealous of Gaius and Demetrius. He not only rejected the brethren himself, but would also hinder those who would receive them. With this man it was the love of first place, pride. He even went so far as casting out of the church those who would receive. His fleshly desire rose so high that he spoke against John. He would not receive godly men who ought to be received, v. 8. John does not inculcate a peace-at-any-price fellowship but dwells upon the character, walk and service of such as we "ought to receive". He then proceeds to unearth the carnal
spirit that would not receive them. In rejecting Demetrius, Diotrephes not only rejected the apostle John who endorsed him, but the Lord who had received him. Are not his descendants many? Unhappily we say yes.
We often talk about our impotence. Could this not be a major reason, "who loveth to have the preeminence among them", v. 9. "Men who are self-seeking, self-important, self-elected 'bishops' and 'overseers', lording it over their brethren and arrogating to themselves the right to say who may or may not be recognised. And woe to any who oppose their pretentious ipse dixit", H. A. Ironside. The creed of such in these circles with clearly defined limits is "he followeth not with us" and so we must treat him as a publican and sinner. Is not this shocking? Yet this is practised among us who profess to know the truth of God while insulting Him who is the truth.
May the Lord help us to pattern our lives after Him, the supreme Example, and such men as Gaius who would receive the brethren and Demetrius who would revive the brethren. May He deliver us from the spirit of Diotrephes, the "bigoted, self-centred, domineering, carnal, vicious" one, who hinders all that is of God because of his pride and fleshly desire to be the number-one-man. Where the Lord Jesus Christ has the pre-eminent place in our individual or collective life there will be in us no desire after the pre-eminence.