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Who Do You Follow?

by Skip Heitzig |
I believe the church today needs role models--people who will love God, stand up for the truth, and say, like Paul, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV). This doesn't mean we should look to another person as some sort of idol, but we should be willing to follow their example as they follow the Lord. The book of 3 John shows us three different personalities in the early church--Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius--two of whom are great role models and one of whom serves as a warning.

First is the spiritually healthy Gaius. The book begins, "The Elder [the apostle John], to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 1:1-2). Gaius was spiritually strong, despite what many scholars believe is an allusion to his ill health; he was growing consistently and walking in the truth.

And this was because he was a lover of the truth--of the Scriptures. As John said, "For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (vv. 3-4).

Gaius was further commended in verses 5-6: "Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well." In the early church, itinerant preachers and evangelists would stay at people's homes, and Gaius was someone who would always welcome them into his own home. He was a man of hospitality, and thus a man of good testimony--a fellow worker for the truth (see v. 8).

But now we get to Diotrephes: "I wrote to the church," said John, "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" (vv. 9-10).

If you're looking for a biblical name for your son, I wouldn't suggest Diotrephes. Diotrephes was an insecure, stunted leader--if indeed he was a Christian at all. He lorded his power over the flock in direct opposition to Jesus' words that "whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:26). It's bad enough when nonbelievers provide us with bad role models, let alone when Christian leaders are bad role models. Diotrephes wanted control over everyone and kicked people out of the church when they didn't agree with him. He was a poisonous man.

So John warned 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" (v. 11). And as an example of what is good and as a way to bring his letter full circle, John pointed to yet another personality: Demetrius. "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). In other words, John was saying, "If you want a role model, look at Demetrius. He has a good testimony among everybody. He's a praiseworthy Christian."

The third epistle of John shows us two very different types of role models, doesn't it? Some are constantly growing in truth, hospitality, and goodness, like Demetrius and Gaius--and some are closed, haughty, and proud, like Diotrephes. So who are you looking to as your example? I pray that the Lord would stir you up to pursue Him with all your heart, looking to and following the example of praiseworthy--though not perfect--believers, always "[pressing] toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14, KJV).

In His strong love,

Skip Heitzig

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