As the people of God, we will continue to grow and mature as we live: learning more and more what it means to have faith in Christ and follow Him. As we seek Christ more, I don’t want us to be confused about what it means to follow Christ or to mature in our faith.
There seem to be many people who teach that growth in the faith is primarily about what we know. We spend our time trying to figure out the mysteries of the Christian faith: spending our time trying to answer questions that we have: Does God choose who will be saved? Do people really speak in tongues? While these questions may be very important, it seems that we are drawn to action, not only thought. There are those like Rob Bell who teach that maturity in the faith matters little because everyone will one day be saved. As we have read John’s letters, we have seen that God actually gives people a choice to either accept His gift or not. He doesn’t force anyone to accept salvation and it seems He doesn’t keep salvation from anyone who places his or her faith in the person of Christ. There are those like Joel Osteen who teach that maturity in the faith actually brings about wealth and prosperity on this earth. However, we have seen that faith in Christ actually leads us into selflessness and unconditional love toward others. It is a faith that draws us to give of ourselves, not get for ourselves. There are groups like Westborough Church that spend all of their time condemning others in Jesus’ name. We have seen that faith in Christ is a faith of acceptance, of forgiveness and of victory that is offered to everyone who has sinned against God.
I don’t mention these people to hate on them or to condemn them as people. I simply want to have a real conversation about what true Christian faith is and is not. This being said, I have to ask: Do I have faith in the person of Christ, or do I have faith in a bad imitation of Christ?
To my dear friend Gaius:I love you in the truth.
Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually. For I was very glad when some brothers came and testified to your faithfulness to the truth — how you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than this:to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers. They have testified to your love in front of the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, since they set out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from pagans. Therefore, we ought to support such men so that we can be coworkers with the truth.
I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have first place among them, does not receive us. This is why, if I come, I will remind him of the works he is doing, slandering us with malicious words. And he is not satisfied with that! He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so and expels them from the church.
Dear friend, 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. Demetrius has a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. And we also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true.
I have many things to write you, but I don’t want to write to you with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Peace be with you. The friends send you greetings. Greet the friends by name.
A faith of servanthood
There are three people John addresses in this letter. The letter is specifically written to a man named Gaius. Gaius was faithful to the truth and a servant even to strangers. John commends him for his faithfulness and for his servanthood. In John’s previous two letters, we learned that the Christian faith is specifically about faith in the person of Christ: not in our own works or even in our leaders. When we have faith in the person of Christ, we receive Christ’s love. When we receive Christ’s love, we are able to love others with the love of Christ: which is unconditional. Here we learn that genuine faith in Christ is a faith that drives us to serve one another and even strangers. This means that even when we disagree with one another, and even when someone hurts us or calls us an enemy; true Christian faith is a faith that is marked by genuine and sacrificial service that Christians have toward one another. This is possible because we are able to love with the unconditional love that Christ has for us, and we don’t ever have to expect anything in return.
Here are some implications for the western church today:
- Groups who call themselves Christian groups, if they are not service oriented, cannot be true Christian groups.
- When a church cares more about structure than it does about serving the community, it fails to represent Christ.
- This is a danger that faces both large and small churches.
- I will say, though, a church that is larger has to invest more time and energy in church structure and programming. Multi site churches have to spend even more time on structure and programming.
- If we are not careful, then we may miss servanthood altogether and fail to exercise our faith in Christ.
- In the same way, people who call themselves Christians, if they are not service oriented, cannot be true Christians.
- It can be easy for us to place our own spiritual growth, our education, our work, our hobbies and our desires higher on our priority list than serving others.
- In fact, it can be easy for us to simply ignore others who are in need.
- Christ’s unconditional love within us actually drives us to be a servant to others. Anything else is not faith in Christ.
“Christians” who do not have genuine faith in Christ
This brings me to the second person mentioned in John’s letter: Diotrephes. Diotrephes was selfish, he did not like to serve others, he enjoyed his authority, and his opinion was the only opinion that mattered. After mentioning Diotrephes, John encourages Gaius not to imitate what is evil, but what is good. In fact John states that the one who does good (or practices true servanthood) is of God and the one who does evil (presumably Diotrephes) has not seen God.
Here we might just say that there are those who claim to have faith in Christ, and might even believe they are Christians, who have never seen God. There are people who have faith in Christian belief, but do not have faith in Christ. There are people who have faith in Christian rules, but do not have faith in Christ. There are people who have faith in Christian leaders, but do not have faith in Christ. There are people who have faith in the church, but do not have faith in Christ. There are people who have faith in their own ability to do good, but do not have faith in Christ. There are people who have faith in their own authority who do not have faith in Christ.
Here John insists that if we do not have a servant’s heart, we have not seen God. In fact, he states clearly that we actually practice evil. If any of us find that we do not have the heart of a servant, we should be sure that our faith is actually in Christ and not misplaced on something that is a bad imitation.
Furthermore, we should be very careful who we listen to regarding things of the faith. There may be many people who are very loud about things of the faith who actually have never seen God.
A faith of inclusion
The third person John mentions is Demetrious. Others spoke highly of Demetrious as they met with John, and John includes him in this letter to Gaius.
As people of God, we ought to include others in our lives. We ought to include others as we serve. We ought to welcome others and practice genuine hospitality, expecting nothing in return.
Faith in Christ is a faith that drives us to serve others and practice hospitality. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually has faith in Christ. If any of us does not have a servant’s heart, let us examine our lives and be sure that we have placed our faith solely in the person of Christ and nothing else.
 3 John 1-14 (HCSB)