Apostle John, who referred to himself simply as the elder, had grown gravely concerned over Diotrephes’ behavior. This wayward overseer
- Loved to be first in rank.
- Would not receive Apostle John hospitably.
- Even badmouthed the apostle, using evil words.
- Spread his discord with the apostle to all those who came from John.
- Refused to hospitably receive the brothers and sisters from the Christian communities that were in accord with the apostle.
- Forbade all those in his local assembly (for whom he had presumably been given oversight) also from receiving these brothers and sisters.
- Forcibly removed brothers and sisters sympathetic to John who joined in the assembly for worship and fellowship.
Matters were in a most egregious state. What could Gaius do?
There are three chief ways the creep of GrecoRoman rule affect Christendom today.
- Translation of scripture. Greek words meant to convey willing cooperation between peers, words that held within them the sense of trust and oneness in purpose, faith, and love, have been translated without those nuances, and instead carry the sense of obedience done in subjection to superiors.
- Top-Down Leadership in Churches. The Apostles stood together in this. In the kingdom of God, all are equal, there is no rank, no status, no hierarchy.
But over the centuries, beginning with Ignatius’ letters early in the second century, this crucial aspect of the church gave way to the surrounding culture, so that one of Christianity’s distinctives became eroded from daily practice to mere words, tucked away here and there among the gospels and epistles.
- Suppression of Most Congregants. The Apostle Paul had warned believers not to grieve or quench the Holy Spirit. Every believer was given a portion to share with the whole church so that all would be built up in Christ. When the assembly gathered together for worship, prayer, and fellowship, every person present was actively engaged.
When you come together, each one has
—a tongue, or an interpretation.
Let all things be done for building up.
If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent.
For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.Apostle Paul on worship, 1 Corinthians 14:26-31 (NRSV)
Beginning in the early second century, a slow but inexorable process of suppression began, so that by the fifth century or so, the only one speaking was the presiding bishop or presbyters, and the only ones singing were professionals.
The scriptures were no longer read aloud among the assembly to be discussed. Brothers and sisters no longer came together to
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.Apostle Paul on worship, Colossians 3:16 (NRSV)
The Spirit did indeed become quenched in much of the Body.
- Most were no longer given permission to prophesy, minister, teach, shepherd, and lead in worship. These offices were reserved for professional clergy.
- Women were no longer represented among the leadership of the church.
- Those with wealth and privilege had their privilege translated to the church as well, so that ordinary folk had fewer and fewer opportunities for ministry.
Recent archaeological discoveries have revealed the slow but steady decline of diversity and female leadership in the western church, disjunctions between the east, west, and south predicated upon not just doctrinal divisions but upon claims of dominion, temporal authority and jurisdiction, power plays, power ploys, and power grabs. Blood was shed, Christian brother upon Christian brother.
Jesus had proclaimed
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.Jesus, John 10:10 (NRSV)
But, beginning in the fourth century, an ever increasing number of those who claimed Christ’s banner stole and killed and destroyed, because they had given ascendancy to their GrecoRoman culture, which promoted hierarchy and patriarchy, and scorned the humility and equality of the gospel.
(It makes so much sense, does it not, that many Christians went to the desert to live monastic lives in those early centuries, when all this began to really evolve. And why many others went on pilgrimages, to have some sort of experience of God and faith.)
We may not do as much of that today, but Christendom is still enculturated with the GrecoRoman governing system. The Reformation and Restoration movements have done important work in dismantling this ancient cultural capitulation.
But there is much work still to be done.
Imitate the Good
It is likely Gaius had himself been ejected from the assembly by Diotrephes, whose rivalry with the Apostle John had evidently spread its strife throughout the local Christian communities. To the elder, Gaius was literally a godsend, providing warm hospitality and a place for the brothers and sisters to gather in the way Jesus and the apostles had taught.
Now John pastored Gaius. He had already encouraged and affirmed Gaius in the Lord for his generosity, by writing,
We ourselves are therefore obligated to support such as these, so that we may become co-laborers [with them in] the truth.The elder to Gaius, 3 John 1:8 (my translation)
The burden of carrying all the hospitality had surely taxed Gaius’ resources, but his reward was certain in the Lord, for he had become a colaborer in the truth with each brother and sister he hosted.
Now, the elder continued,
Beloved one [agapete], do not imitate the bad but rather the good. The one doing good is from God, the one doing bad is not perceiving God.The elder to Gaius, 3 John 1:11 (my translation)
The word the elder used was ὁράω | horao, a durative verb that has the sense of continued action. It is about beholding, discerning, seeing with the mind; secondarily, to experience, take heed of, to attend to. So often the elder wrote in binary terms—in Christ or antichrist. But in this case, Apostle John left room for acknowledging Diotrephes’ faith in Jesus. It was not that Diotrephes was antichrist, but rather he was not discerning Christ, not experiencing the Spirit of Christ within him, not attending to Jesus-Truth, nor Jesus’ teaching, the truth.
John pastored Gaius with sensitive wisdom. Under such circumstances, Gaius might have wanted to, in turn, bar Diotrephes from fellowship with the brethren and sistren who met in Gaius’ house. Gaius might have decided to tell the assembly he had oversight of to do with Diotrephes’ assembly as Diotrephes did with theirs. It would have been understandable.
But, the elder said, Beloved one [agapete], do not imitate the bad. Any exclusion of members of the Body from fellowshipping with the whole Body of Christ (in the way Diotrophes was doing) is bad. It is not perceiving God.
Demetrius has been testified of by everyone, and by the truth itself, and by us also—we testify, and you have perceived that our testimony is true.3 John 1:12 (my translation)
Demetrius surely was the one carrying both John’s personal note to Gaius and John’s treatise on faith, what we call 1 John. Perhaps Demetrius was connected in some way with Diotrephes. Perhaps John was saying, “We are obligated to support such as these. Imitate the good. Welcome Demetrius, he is vouched for by everyone, including myself. Do not let his past associations, or his current connections dissuade you from greeting him hospitably and colaboring with him in the truth.”
I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write to you through ink and pen, but I hope to see you soon, and speak “mouth to mouth.”The elder to Gaius, 3 John 1:13-14 (my translation)
As old as he was, John apparently was still hale enough to travel between the cities of the Diaspora, and it would require his physical presence to sort out what was happening with Diotrephes. (Just as the Apostle Paul also traveled to the cities where assemblies were having trouble.)
Peace to you. The friends embrace you. Embrace the friends [by] name.3 John 1:15 (NRSV)
Remembering Jesus’ words to his own, the night before he died,
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.Jesus to his disciples, John 15:15 (NRSV)
[Painting of a feast / Early Christian catacombs / Paleochristian art. | Dated to the second to fourth centuries By https://web.archive.org/web/20031223072905/http://www.cts.edu/ImageLibrary/Catacomb_frescoes.cfm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=566565%5D