What does 3 John tell us about this sinister and ugly enemy?
Why don’t people heartily engage in mission? This is not a new question, and I won’t propose any new answers. However, the question is perennially important to consider and answer. When I say “mission,” I mean the mission of the church; specifically, the making and training of disciples (Mt. 28.19–21).
Why is there disengagement with and ambivalence towards mission?
- Let me give you a word: selfishness.
- Let me give you a verse: 3 John 9–10.
John writes 3 John to commend the church toward a gospel-driven hospitality. A “gospel-tality” if you will. He does this by highlighting the faithfulness of Gaius and Demetrius in contrast to the mission-sabotaging rebellion of Diotrephes.
The “Me First” Guy
What is the root issue?
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 bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church (3 Jn. 1.9–10).
This is actually pretty straightforward. He loves to put himself first. In the infamous words of Terrell Owens, “I love me some me.”
Why might this be a missional problem? It is a problem because at its heart the gospel tells us to fall out of love with ourselves and to fall in love with Christ. When the gospel is received, it unfastens our death grip upon the world and the mirror and fastens it upon Christ and his fame. If we love to put ourselves first, then we cannot be loving to put Jesus first. We cannot have two Lords, we’ll love the one and hate the other.
Diotrephes was a big-time selfish guy. He probably took a lot of #selfies on Instagram and didn’t even realize it was ugly. It got worse. This preoccupation with self morphed into a lack of submission to biblical authority (v.9), active verbal attacks, opposition to hospitality and a fracture in the unity of the church (v.10). Selfishness never stays in kindergarden, it always progresses to the University of Me.
You might say, “I don’t do all of that.” Well, that is good to hear. But before pronouncing that this does not apply to you and me, let’s remember that he was not heartily engaged in mission. This is the problematic posture for far too many Christians.