A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Friday July 24, 2020
3 John 9-10
I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 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.
The second time I traveled to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip we decided to save some money by driving to Atlanta to take the direct flight to Santo Domingo instead of paying an extra $400/person to wake up at 3:30am for the 30 minute flight from Huntsville. We drove over the night before, checked into a hotel with a courtesy shuttle, and actually got a decent night’s rest before we headed to airport. When we attempted to check in, our perfect plan began to unravel. Because one of our team members had a passport that was expiring at the end of the month, the red-vested counter agent repeatedly said that she would not be allowed to travel out of the country, even though she could see that our return flight was scheduled for a full-three weeks before the expiration date. As we tried to get clarification and ask if there was anyone else we could talk to, she commanded all of us to exit the ticket line and stand over on the side until someone came to speak to us. Frustrated and alarmed that we might have to leave someone behind in Atlanta, we compliantly huddled in the middle of the departure hall, and were repeatedly scolded by the woman in the red-vest for straying too far from our designated, yet undefined, spot on the floor.
After waiting for what felt like hours, but was probably closer to 20 minutes, without so much as a warning, the ticket counter closed and the woman in the red-vest disappeared. Noticing our looks of exasperation, another airline employee mercifully approached and asked why we were just standing there. We explained what happened and told her the woman in the red-vest ordered us to stand there until someone else came to talk to us. She quickly assessed our situation, looking at our flight confirmations and passports before saying, “Red-vest huh? I’m not surprised, I know her. No one else is coming. You have a valid passport; she shouldn’t have told you to get out of line. Don’t you see what time it is? Even if you check in now you will be lucky to make your flight. Let’s make sure that happens.”
In 1887, Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Creighton, wrote “power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It doesn’t take always take absolute power to corrupt; sometimes all it takes is wearing a red vest. Acton was of course not referring to hostile airline employees. As an historian, he was specifically struggling with how to explain or excuse the dubious conduct of kings and popes during the Inquisition. Certainly, religious leaders are not exempt from corruption and pride. In fact, history and experience has repeatedly demonstrated that pastors and church leaders are perhaps more prone to abusing their authority for personal gain.
As John writes concerning the conduct of one such church leader, Diotrephes, the phrase “It takes one to know one” comes to mind. John knows the arrogance of Diotrephes well because, in a very real sense, he used to be Diotrephes. As we read about John and the disciples in the gospel accounts, we see that the ones who should have known better kept making the same mistakes. It was John who kept trying to put himself first, arguing over the honored seat at the table next to Jesus. It was John who refused to recognize and acknowledge the authority and true identity of Jesus. It was John who attempted to keep other people, including desperate women and joyful children, away from Jesus. It was John who begged Jesus to call down fire from heaven to annihilate an inhospitable village. It was John who received stern words of correction from his Master. At one point John was Diotrephes, but that John was now no more. He had long ago submitted himself fully to the Lord Jesus and was a new creation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, John was transformed from a hot-tempered “Son of Thunder” into a tender-hearted servant-leader, putting the needs of others before his own.
While John understands his opponent quite well, he does not excuse this subversive behavior. John is not concerned with defending his own reputation or responding to unfair criticism, but protecting the dignity and purity of the bride of Christ. As John has written over and over, the highest duty of the church is the Christians’ love for one another. While John is not who he once was, he is not afraid of confrontation. Following the example of Jesus, John demands more from those who claim the name of Jesus. Where love is absent, discipline is needed. The goal of Christian discipline is never to excessively punish or gratuitously shame an offender for failing to achieve perfection; it is always to correct a wayward brother or sister and preserve the unity of the church.
On this side of eternity none of us will be perfect, but that is no excuse to ignore the commands of Jesus to love one another. Christians should always measure their conduct against the bar set by Jesus Himself, while fully trusting and relying upon His grace and mercy to cover the gap as we confess our sins to Him and each other. May the Lord be glorified and the gospel advanced through the words, thoughts, and actions of His bride.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You know our hearts, that we are quick to elevate ourselves above others in even the most trivial of ways. We thank You that You do not leave us on our own, but in Your mercy You discipline those You love. We ask that You would give us hearts that are receptive to correction from our brothers and sisters who love and care for us. Give us the wisdom and courage to know when and how to receive and to speak the truth in love. Help us to place our confidence not in ourselves, but fully in You. We pray in the name of the spotless Lamb of God, Amen.