"A Godly Resume"
3 John 12
(Delivered Sunday, February 9, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James version.)
John's third little letter is a letter about fellowship. Specifically, it teaches us that we as a church family should have a welcoming and hospitable attitude toward our brothers and sisters in Christ who are outside our church family. It teaches us that we should never exclude from the 'circle of fellowship' those who truly belong there.
Because it's a letter about fellowship, it naturally centers on people. Three main characters are featured in this very short letter; and we learn three different lessons from them concerning fellowship. By way of review, I'd like to read through this short letter with you and revisit John's word about these three people.
The first person we encounter is a man named Gaius - the leader in a specific local church to whom John wrote. John wrote to encourage him to welcome and support a team of traveling gospel workers that John was sending out to preach. His words to Gaius teach us what it means to be a good, faithful "fellow-worker" and supporter of others who are engaged in spreading the gospel. John wrote,
THE ELDER, to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:
That brings us to the second person we meet in this letter. He was a man whose attitude was quite a bit different from that of Gaius. His name was Diotrephes; and like Gaius, he may have been a leader in the church. But his great sin was that he loved "to have the preeminence" among the people in the church; and so, he stands out in this letter as a church "dictator" who refused to welcome those into the church who should have been welcomed. Far from being a fellow-worker for the gospel, he was an actual hindrance to the work. John wrote concerning him and said,
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God (vv. 9-11).
So far in this letter, then, we've met two radically different people. We've met an example of a good faithful supporter of those who work for the spread of the gospel; and we've met an example of a burdensome hindrance to those who work for the spread of the gospel. That leads us to the third person featured in this letter - an actual example of a faithful worker for the spread of the gospel. His name is Demetreius; and he was the sort of man that Diotrephes was sinfully rejecting, but that Gaius was encouraged to whole-heartedly welcome and support.
Many scholars believe that Demetrius was the one that delivered this letter to Gaius; and that he was the leader of the ministry team that John was sending to him. John felt that it was important - given Diotrephes' sinful behavior, and dictatorial rejection of the workers of the gospel - that Demetrius be given a clear, written endorsement. So, John writes and says of him,
Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true (v. 12).
John's words about Demetrius are easy to pass over as insignificant to us today. But they are actually very, very necessary - perhaps never so necessary as in our own day. John's words teach us how to recognize the kind of good, faithful servant of the gospel that should be warmly welcomed and supported by our church. They also teach us the sort of qualities we should seek to possess, so that we might also be effective servants of the gospel. And supporting it all is the lesson of how absolutely essential "Christian fellowship" is to faithful service in the cause of Christ.
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I had lunch recently with a dear brother in Christ who is also a faithful servant in the work of the gospel. And along the way in our conversation, we talked about the whole mysterious matter of "calling". We both agreed that a clear calling to ministry was essential to anyone who would enter into the work of the gospel. Most people in ministry would say they were called to it. But we also agreed that "a call" can be a rather slippery thing to define.
Many people today, who look to a calling to be a very objective thing, expect that a calling to the ministry should be something rather dramatic and miraculous - as if someone's call to ministry is proven through miracles. It's as if we could only be sure of someone's call to ministry if they had been praying for God's leading as they walk down the street, and then suddenly slip on a banana peel, fall on their back, and have their hand drop on to a map of the world with their finger pointing directly on Madagascar, and right then hear the choir in the church next door singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain". Such "callings" are very interesting, and they make for great stories. But if we only recognized someone as called into ministry if they had a miraculous story like that, we would have to question the calling of most people in the ministry. And besides ... is that really the sort of thing that demonstrates that someone is truly called of God to the work of the gospel?
Many other people consider a calling to be a rather subjective thing - as if the only thing needed to give evidence of a calling is the desire to be in ministry. I've run into a few people who - if I might say it - "elbow" their way into ministry in this way; insisting that their own assertion that they are called into ministry should be automatically respected by everyone else, and that their work be supported on the basis of that assertion. Many such people insist that they are called, and are deeply frustrated and resentful when all the other believers to whom they're supposed to minister don't have sense enough to recognize that calling. In my experience, people who "insist" on being "called", when they're genuinely not, end up doing far more harm than good to the cause of Christ.
My friend and I were talking about how, without question, the best and happiest place to be is in the place that God has truly called us. God has certainly called us all to be a support to the work of the ministry of the gospel in some way; and we really do our best when we play the specific part God has given us to play. But we also recognized that God hasn't called everyone to every kind of ministry. And we considered together not only how unhappy people who are genuinely called into a specific ministry will be until they finally go; but also how unhappy people who are not called into a specific ministry will be until they accept that fact, and enter instead into the ministry to which God truly HAS called them.
It was interesting to me - and perhaps it was even providential - that we were having this very interesting discussion as I was preparing to preach from this portion of John's letter.
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I wonder if I may share with you my sense of calling to the ministry. I'm not doing so to defend my own call. And I'm even hesitant to draw attention to myself in telling this story - even though it is certainly not as dramatic story as some. But I do think it's illustrative of a very important principle God wishes to teach us in this verse about Demetrius.
Shortly after I became a believer - in my late teens - I began to have a pressing desire to become a pastor. But I didn't grow up in a church, and really had no idea what it took to become one. Actually, the place that I was already heading in my education was in the field of graphic design. I graduated from art school, and then began to work as a graphic artist. But I could never get rid of this nagging desire to be a pastor. I remember reading Paul's words to Timothy - that "If a man desires the position of a bishop [that is, an overseer in a church], he desires a good work" (1 Tim. 3:1); and I remember thinking, "Well, I know that I certainly have that desire - even though I have fought against it at times." And so, I considered that at least two important elements of a "calling" to ministry seemed to be present in me - that is, the experience of having been saved by faith in Christ, and the genuine desire to be in the ministry.
But I now believe that if that's all I had, that would not truly be a recognizable calling. It would have been nothing more than a strong desire on my part. A few other things happened, however, to provide the objective confirmation of a call to ministry. The first was that I had been given the opportunity by my old pastor to preach a sermon one Sunday evening. (To this day, I do not know what moved him to do that!) And not only was the message well received; but - and this part of the story is extremely important - the pastor was then told by those in the church who heard my sermon that I ought to seriously consider training for the ministry.
Shortly after that, on another occasion, I had a chance to meet my old youth pastor at a wedding. I hadn't seen him for three or four years. He had by that time begun to pastor a church himself and was seeing God's rich blessings on his ministry. And as we visited and talked about old times together, he suddenly - quite out of the blue, it seemed - said, "Greg; when are you going to go into the ministry? You have a pastor's heart; when are you going to get with the program, brother?" If I had any hesitancy about considering the ministry before then, his words pushed me over the edge.
Now there is a miracle-part to my story. My wife and I laid in bed and talked about these things one night. And even though I had already begun to work as a freelance graphic designer, we both committed ourselves to pursuing ministry training for me - although we had no idea what to do, where to go, or what it would involve. We thought that, perhaps the seminary of the denomination our church belonged to would be the place to start - but we had no idea in the world how that could happen. We simply prayed about it, told God that we would go if He wanted us to, and asked that He would lead us in the next step.
The next day, I was on my way to a client to talk about a graphics project; and it dawned on me who it was I was going to speak to. He was the director of the Washington State region of our denominational association, and it was that association's seminary that my wife and I had prayed about the night before. This man was, in fact, the man responsible for placing pastors in churches in Washington State from that very seminary! When I realized this, I almost had to pull over to the side of the road in amazement. I prayed and told God, "If this whole matter of getting pastoral training is of you, then I trust you to bring the matter up."
As I sat in this denominational leader's office and talked with him about a redesign of the association logo; I asked him if he had any samples of anything he liked. He thought about it for a minute; then opened up his desk drawer, pulled out a copy of the letterhead of the very seminary my wife and I were considering, pointed to the seminary logo, and asked me, "What do you think of this?"
I'm ordinarily pretty dull; but I took that as a definite sign. I told him about what my wife and I had prayed about the night before; and after asking me a few questions, he gave me the very advice and instructions I needed. Shortly thereafter, we packed up and moved, and I began my training for the ministry.
I had the desire, and I also eventually got the training. God even confirmed to my wife and I along the way that we were going in the right direction. But please understand that the decisive element in my story - and really, I believe, the key principle in what constituted my calling - was the endorsement of God's people. My calling was confirmed through the fellowship of my brothers and sisters in Christ who told me I ought to be in the ministry.
And as my friend and I discussed this matter of "calling" at lunch recently, we both agreed that this was crucial in determining a calling - that the calling be confirmed in the context of the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ, and that a calling be plainly recognized by them; because they are the ones for whose benefit and blessing the call is being issued.
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This is clearly what we see in the story of Demetrius. John had a serious need to endorse Demetrius - this travelling missionary and worker for the gospel - to Gaius and his church family. After all, Diotrephus had been rejecting those who were truly called and was throwing them out of the church. John doesn't point, however, to Demetrius' desire to minister to validate the authenticity of his call - although I'm sure a desire was there. Nor does John point to a fantastic story of miraculous circumstances to support Demetrius' call - although I wouldn't be surprised if he had quite a story to tell. Instead, John points to other endorsements - all of which vitally depended on the fellowship of the body of Christ at large to be realized.
Look through this verse. Consider how many times we see the word "witness" or "testimony" - or, as some translations have it, "report" or "record"; or that he is "spoken well of". These are words that imply that Demetrius was being observed, and his qualities were being recognized by others than himself. John writes, "Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true." There are three objective "witnesses" or "testimonies" in this verse with respect to Demetrius' worthiness as a minister of the gospel.
First, John says Demetrius has ...
1. "A GOOD TESTIMONY FROM ALL"
Proverbs 22:1 says that "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches"; and here, we see that Demetrius had the finest of all such riches - a "good name" among the people of God.
Who is the "all" that John speaks of? Some have suggested that it was the specific church in the specific city from which John wrote - which several scholars believe to have been Ephesus. More than likely, however, John was speaking of the body of Christ at large who had been ministered to by Demetrius. He was assuring Gaius that Demetrius - whom Gaius had never met - was a Christian worker who was well-known among believers in many different regions, and had a good reputation among them as a man truly called to the work.
There were several people who received the endorsement of a "good testimony" like this in the Bible. Think, for example of the seven leaders of the early church in Jerusalem. Certain men needed to be appointed for ministry; so the twelve apostles summoned the church together and told them, "... Seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (Acts 6:3). The man from Damascus whom God sent to pray over Saul of Tarsus that he might receive his sight and to be saved - and later to become known to us as the apostle Paul - was a man named Ananias. He was said to be "a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there" (Acts 22:12). And when Paul found a young Christian named Timothy during one of his missionary journeys, and wanted to take him along in the work, he found that Timothy was "well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium" (Acts 16:2). When Paul sent Titus to Corinth, he sent another man with him whose name he didn't give - but only said, "And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches ..." (2 Cor. 8:18). Demetrius was a man who was clearly called to ministry - backed by a good testimony from others.
And John may not have only meant that Demetrius had a good reputation within the church. He may have meant that he had a good reputation outside of it as well. Paul said that one of the qualifications of a good pastor is that, "Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:7).
Personally - although I wouldn't make a hard-and-fast rule out of this - I don't feel it's wise to select a young man for the role of pastor who has only been to Bible college or seminary, but has not had at least some experience in the work world. There are notable exceptions to this rule of course; but I think it's best for a church to select a pastor for ministry only after he has had a few years of experience in the secular work-world. The challenge of working at a secular job for a while gives him a chance to display godly character outside the church, and to build up a good reputation for integrity with those outside the family of faith.
Demetrius apparently had a good reputation with all; and so, John could fully endorse him as called to minister.
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Next, we see that Demetrius has ...
2. "A GOOD TESTIMONY ... FROM THE TRUTH ITSELF"
The "truth" here is a reference to the doctrines of the faith as contained in the word of God. Demetrius not only had a good reputation among people, but was also tested and proven with respect to the doctrines of the faith and conformity to the word of God.
It's important that the validity of someone's calling to ministry be confirmed by the soundness of their theology. There's nothing more dangerous than someone who presumes to minister, and yet spreads false doctrine. This, of course, was the great concern of the apostle in his second letter. There, he gave the church this stern warning:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds (2 John 7-11).
It's absolutely essential that someone who wishes to minister as a worker for the gospel be examined as to their theology. Paul wrote and told Timothy, "Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine [or "teaching]" (1 Tim. 4:13). He said, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (4:16). It's important that someone's call to ministry be validated by the biblical soundness of their theology, because anyone who willfully teaches and spreads false doctrine is most definitely not called by God and can only cause harm to God's people.
But not only should someone be tested with respect to how their doctrine conforms to the word of truth, but also with respect to how their life conforms to the teaching of the Bible. Jesus gave us this warning:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:15-20).
That's not, of course, to insist that no one can be called of God to ministry unless they live a perfectly sinless life. Such a standard could be met by no one but the Lord Himself. But it's important to recognize that no one who lives a habitual, ongoing life-style practice of sin is called of God to ministry. The apostle John makes this distinction for us when he says;
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:5-9).
Demetrius was a man who had a good testimony "from the truth itself". John could say of Demetrius what he also said of Gaius at the beginning of this letter - that the truth was in him, and that he walked in the truth (v. 3). Clearly, he was a man whose life and faith testified that he was called of God
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Finally, we see of Demetrius that John and the apostles could say ...
3. "WE ALSO BEAR WITNESS"
What John says here is very interesting. He supports Demetrius' call to ministry by pointing to the reliability and trustworthiness of someone else. He says, "And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true."
You may recognize those words; because John used them elsewhere. He had testified in his Gospel that, when one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' body with a spear and both blood and water came out - a sight which John himself saw, "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe" (John 19:35). On another occasion, at the very end of his gospel, John writes, "This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24). John was an eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He was a man most honored among the apostles. What he testifies to can be completely trusted. And here, he testifies to Demetrius' calling.
Not only does John testify to Demetrius; but I believe that the other church leaders in authority testified to him as well. John doesn't say "I bear witness", but rather "we bear witness". The "us" that Diotrephes would not receive (v. 9) is the "we" who bore witness to Demetrius.
I remember hearing about a man who went to a church and presented himself to the pastor. He claimed that he was a missionary sent of God to preach; and he was coming to ask for financial support. "Under what mission board do you serve?" the pastor asked. "I am called by no mission board or by any man-made denomination," the man proudly said. "I serve the invisible church." "Ah," said the pastor, who held out his empty hands to the man and said, "Then have some invisible money."
There have been a few notable individuals who were clearly called of God to ministry, whose calling was questioned or not fully recognized at first by the leaders of the church. But such exceptions are very rare. By and large, someone who is truly called by God into ministry will be recognized as called by the leaders of the church, or by a denominational board, or by a valid mission organization.
If anyone did not need an endorsement for his ministry, it would have been the apostle Paul. But even he submitted to the authority of the church leaders. It was through the leaders that Paul - or Saul, as his name was then - received his call. The Bible tells us,
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:1-3).
And later, Paul was able to tell about how he was examined by the leaders of the church; and was able to say,
... When they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcision had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcision was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas [that is, Peter] and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Galatians 2:7-9).
If someone is truly called of God to minister to the people of God, then it should be expected that they'd have the endorsement of recognized leaders of the church of God. John was certainly a recognized leader; and so he was able to endorse Demetrius as called of God to minister.
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So then, God's call to ministry, while very mysterious in many ways, is still something that can be clearly and objectively discerned. We see in this verse three ways to measure that calling; and all three are vitally connected to fellowship in the household of God.
And I would suggest that there are two ways to apply this. First, as a church, we should follow these principles of sound discernment when it comes to welcoming and supporting the ministry of others. Do they have a good testimony from the body of Christ in general? Not simply a good testimony from here or there, but from all the places that they've ministered or worked? Have they been carefully examined as to their doctrine and their personal lives; and is it determined that they faithfully walk in the truth? And do they have the stamp of approval from other trusted leaders and co-laborers in the gospel? If so, then they should be welcomed and supported as having been called of God.
And then, if we should wish to be in God's service, we should be in conformity to these standards. I would suggest that we not worry about whether we're called to this ministry or that; but simply become the kind of person who is "callable" to whatever field God wishes. We should make sure that we live a life of integrity and faithfulness wherever God puts us. We should make sure that we are careful students of the Bible - sound in theology and in practical Christian living - whatever our work. And we should make sure that we are serving and living in submission to those whom God places in spiritual authority over us - in whatever place that might be.
If we would have the sort of recognition of calling to ministry that Demetrius had, then let's make it our ambition to live the life of character that he lived.
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