Week of Aug. 30

Ways to Prevent the Death of Church Fellowship

Read: Jeremiah 50-51; 3 John

“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”
3 John 11


“We may be true Christians, really born-again Christians, and yet fail in our love toward other Christians” (Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian, Kindle, loc. 111). The heart of the third letter of John is found in an exhortation to love (vv. 5-8) and a stern warning concerning a glaring lack of the same (vv. 9-10)! John sends the missive to Gaius, confronts Diotrephes, and commends Demetrius, who was probably the letter bearer. The letter was probably written toward the end of the first century, but it provides us with excellent instruction in how to handle personality conflicts in the church!

A Biblical Lens

Third John is the shortest book in the entire Bible and contains a mere 219 words in the Greek language (NAC). The letter is paired fraternally with Second John because it shares a number of similar features: for example, author as “elder,” recipients who “walk in the truth,” the receipt of good reports on the church, and the giving of a stern warning. The elder desires to see them “face-to-face” and sends along personal greetings [NAC]. Despite all of the positives, which many churches demonstrate, we have before us a clear, concise example of how unchecked pride may kill unity and fellowship in the body of Christ.

Gaius demonstrated love which John termed a “faithful thing,” which was an act fitting of a faith-filled man (v. 5). He did this continually because John uses a present tense verb. Too many of our churches starve those who serve them, not only in compensation, but in fellowship. The sustained practice of hospitality to itinerant teachers, for example, was a witness that he walked in the truth.

These visitors went back and reported the good work that this leader was doing, and it was the response of John that completed the hospitality that was shown. How so? John encouraged Gaius by commending the love that he had shown. Church “follow-ship” of leaders emerges from within genuine fellowship (v. 6)!

Lastly, financial support for the missional work of these laborers was a critical element in the advance of the gospel (vv. 7-8). John places the “we” in an emphatic position and “ought” speaks of an ongoing obligation. Church fellowship shrivels whenever we starve our Christian leaders in hospitality and financial security. There is one other hindrance to church fellowship.

The physical refusal to house these Christian missionaries was not only culturally shameful, it was spiritually injurious (vv. 9-10). Here are the signs of the malady that Diotrephes harbored in his life. First, the man’s ego—“loves to have the preeminence”—was the disruptive force in that church fellowship. Colossians 1:8 reminds us that Christ is to be preeminent. The man had usurped Christ’s rightful role of authority.

Secondly, by rejecting the missionaries, he had rejected John the one who sent them, and also Christ who had called and commissioned them (v. 9, “authority”)! Finally, the destructive behavior was disruptive to church fellowship: malicious gossip, refusal to act hospitably, hinders others from doing the same, and even attempts to expel members who sought to show proper hospitality (v. 10). Notice the contrast between Gaius and Diotrephes and the implications for church wellness. Be like Gaius!

A Moral Pathway

Bill O’Dell, one of our Center leadership team members, spoke recently of a large tree that had fallen, narrowly missing his family’s home. There are always external forces like wind and lightning that topple trees, but the problem in this case was internal. The tree had been dying from within for nearly two decades. It finally rotted, then fell. Thankfully, the damage was minimal, but it could have been much worse. There is a moral application.

Church health is not always measured in external appearances. You may have greeters at the doors, but the buildings may be filled with grumpy members. Seriously, there may be an inner spiritual virus; namely pride. It has caused death since the age-old fall into sin (see Genesis 3:4, “be like God”; 1 John 1 2:16, “pride of life”). Disregard for Christ’s supreme authority, disregard for the value of other human lives, and using one’s freedom unwisely contribute to the breakdown of church fellowship. John encourages us to love and walk in the truth of Christ.

For Your Journaling

1. A current word for hurtful relationships is “toxic.” Examine a toxic, fractured friendship in your past, or present, through the lens of Gaius’ and Diotrephes’ examples. What may you do better in the coming future to strengthen your church relationships?

2. It is likely that the church to which John referred was a small house church. How would you apply the fellowship principles that John addresses in a larger church that has difficulties exhibiting Christian warmth?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock