Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
William Shakespeare has left a rich heritage to those who speak the English language. It has only been in my lifetime that this 17th century playwright has been downgraded to “Dead White European Male.” So rich is this legacy that a playwright of the 20th century could seize upon two of the most obscure characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and make them the title character of his play, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead. Their very obscurity was the chief literary device.
We meet in this small letter two such characters as well: Gaius and Diotrophes. Nothing is known of them outside this letter. But we can see enough of their character in fourteen verses to gain some insight.
3 John 1:1-14 NASB The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. (2) Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. (3) For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. (4) I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. (5) Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; (6) and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. (7) For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. (8) Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. (9) I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. (10) For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. (11) Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. (12) Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true. (13) I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; (14) but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face. (1:15) Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
A Leader’s Prayer
There is a myth in modern Christianity. It goes like this: those who are leaders in the church – the “real” Christians – have some magic formula for their prayers that makes them much more effective. I doubt this. Perhaps the formula is found in their lives, not in their words. Why? Look at John’s prayer for his friend Gaius:
· First, he asks for his physical well-being (“enjoy good health.”) God often uses our physical suffering for our spiritual good – but I will thank all of you to pray (as John does here) for exactly the opposite.
· Next, he asks for his worldly well being (“things may go well.”) Sometimes we think it “unspiritual” to pray for success in business. (Try it; it works).
· Finally, there is the spiritual side. So it is that John prayers for the entire person: body, worldly works and spirit.
No greater joy
John tells Gaius that he has “no greater joy” than seeing his students succeed in the faith. In so saying, he gives us the truth about real teachers.
· First, the teacher is measured by the success of his students. (I don’t want to repeat the point too often – one of mine is Don, at the state mental hospital).
· Next, because this teaching is for spiritual life (as opposed, say, to calculus), the teacher’s joy is increased in that he sees his students imitating him – as he imitates Christ.
· But please note: It’s “walking” in the truth, not just repeating it. No matter how brilliantly phrased the lesson might be, if you’re not walking it, the teacher was wasting his breath.
John commends Gaius for being “faithful” in what he is doing for the brothers. In this we learn two lessons:
· First, we learn that what we do for “the brothers” (probably itinerant preachers) is not credited based on who they are – but on the one for whom you do it. If for Christ, then great is your reward. (Even the least of the brothers).
· Next, we can see that the good works of Gaius are spreading and reproducing in the usual manner of the kingdom – the brothers cannot repay him, so they pass the blessing on to others. Who knows where this can lead?
The sake of the name
Modern Christians – perhaps most Christians – have a little problem with this.
In the city of Los Angeles, the Roman Catholic church has recently erected a new cathedral to be the seat of Cardinal Mahony. It is, by all accounts, a magnificent building, built with the finest materials to a striking design. Such a cathedral is by no means rare; tourists to Europe flock to them (seen Notre Dame?) Also common is the criticism; it is known as “Taj Mahony.” The argument is made that the money could have been better spent on the poor – of whom we have no shortage.
It is an old argument – dating back to the Apostles, in fact. Remember the woman who poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet? The worldly do not understand an act of devotion – it is extravagance to them, with no practical use. In fact, its only use is to bring glory to God. It is solely to honor and glorify the name of Christ. Consider too that what Gaius did had no practical benefit to his local church. It went entirely for the glory of the Name.
Is this wrong? I submit not. Indeed, I would argue that we do this far too little. If we as Christians devoted ourselves to the glory of the name of Christ, how many more would come to know him as Lord and Savior? If your friends know that you hold the name of Christ in the highest esteem, and build your life around it – even to the point of extravagance – what would that tell them? What would that do for Christian evangelism?
Consider a poor man’s parallel. I occasionally bring flowers to my wife. Sometimes for a particular occasion; often for no such thing, other than the fact that I love her. What do you conclude from that behavior? Is it not something like, “John must really love that woman.” (Indeed, it is so – he really does.)
Work together for the truth
It is the name of Christ that unites us. Indeed, we all proclaim ourselves to be “Christians” – including some who really aren’t (e.g., Mormons). I have far more in common (in the eternal point of view) with a devout Catholic than I do with a lukewarm member of my own church.
Often we see others doing evangelistic work, we praise it – and then say that we have no ability to do it. We may not be able to do it – but we can share in it. I share in the evangelism of the Morse family in Southeast Asia – even though I’ve never been there. How? Because they and I are united in the Name, and I contribute to their upkeep. (Put your money where your mouth is).
In the first century, this was expressed in hospitality. What Gaius did here was not uncommon; indeed, it was the common way to travel. No doubt he sent the brothers on their way with such additional items as they might need. In such simple things we can share in the work of the great names of the faith.
It is sad that Diotrophes is mentioned only here. For a man who wanted to be a big shot, he comes pictured to us as an instance of the old saying: “Nothing is ever a total loss. It can always be used as a bad example.”
What’s the problem?
Diotrophes and his like are still with us. See if you can recognize any of the following behaviors in the church:
· Rejecting the truth. Some of us are so enamored with our own abilities that we give God a little help in rewriting the Bible. God certainly didn’t mean what he said, so I’ll interpret it for him. Here Diotrophes thought his version much better than that of the Apostle.
· Gossip. Undoubtedly given in the form of a stern (and very public) warning to the congregation. Evidently Diotrophes was a prominent man in the church, and everyone got the benefit of his opinions. Frequently.
· Rejecting the unity of the church. By refusing hospitality to itinerant brothers – an act which the world of that time would have considered very insulting – Diotrophes makes it clear that he defines who is in, or out, of the church. (May I suggest that you let Christ decide this?)
· Misuse of authority. To be able to do these things, Diotrophes must have had some authority. Perhaps it was his wealth; perhaps he was an elder – we do not know. But the misuse of authority tends to divide the church. It’s one of the signs of misuse.
We sometimes wonder why people would do such a thing. After all, the motto of the church today is “get along, go along.” We avoid church arguments by not insisting too much on sound doctrine. Why would anyone want to abuse his authority in this way?
· Envy. Sometimes we recognize a real Christian, and we know we just can’t measure up. So we try to pull him down.
· The Big Frog. Sometimes we enjoy being the big frog in the small puddle. One way to keep that enjoyment is to see to it that the puddle remains small. This is not what God wants.
· Blossoms, not fruit. The Scripture tells us that “by their fruit you will know them.” Sometimes we see blossoms and mistake them for fruit – a brilliant sermon, a moving concert – but no real spiritual life behind them.
· More complete power. Diotrophes may have been motivated by the love of power. Many of us make the mistake of saying that someone wants more power. Most don’t. Most want more complete power. There is something in the ego that rises when we can completely dominate those around us.
John does not react as we might expect. He is, after all, the last living Apostle. You might think he would come down and “straighten that guy out.” But that’s not what he proposes to do:
· Call attention to. In order that all may learn, he will simply point out the error. The weapons of God are so designed that there is no defense for them in Satan’s arsenal.
· Gentle restoration. Should this be successful, John will gently restore him. How do we know he would be so gentle? See how his Master corrected him (Mark 10:35-40).
· Imitate what is good. “Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.” It is the basic rule of Christian combat.
· By their fruits you will know them. John now counters the argument, “how can we tell which of you is right?” Look at the fruit in their lives; it is a sure sign.
To end this little letter, we need to consider just what this might mean to us. I will submit to you two simple points:
· The root of the problem is found in pride. It is the sin of Satan; it is the most troublesome sin in the church. Against this we must be ever on our guard. But how do we defeat it?
· Pride is putting ourselves first. To defeat this, we must put someone else first. But who is so pure that we could safely do that? Only Jesus Christ.
A sincere personal devotion to Jesus Christ drives out pride and secures you in the Rock of Ages. Lord, secure me even more.