So, as a christian, would you like to be known as the guy who likes to put himself first?
As I read 3 John, I could sense the frown on the brow of the wise apostle John, around 80 years old by this time, he must have mentored numerous church leaders.
He bluntly points out the way in which Diotrephes hampers the work of the kingdom: he talks wicked nonsense against those in authority in the church, he refuses to show hospitality to travelling evangelists, and acts harshly against those who want to welcome these brothers into the church and possibly their homes.
The bottomline is this – he likes to put himself first.
It is really easy to fall into the trap of putting ourselves first. When we get angry, when we insist we are right and someone else is wrong, when we feel our rights have been violated, when we feel entitled, when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly, when we don’t get our way. When we prefer to speak rather than listen. When we treat others unkindly. When we feel, talk or act in rebellion. When we push to get our point accross at all cost. Even when we feel sorry for ourselves – it is really pride in a different garment.
God names rebellion in the same breath as withcraft and idolatry – it means the same thing: we sit squarely on the throne of our lives in obstinate contrast to allowing God to be King. We like putting ourselves first.
John continues to explain that acting like Diotrephes is an evil not to be imitated, and that those who do evil have not seen God. So they are deceiving themselves and others.
Sometimes I listen to how people talk and find it hard to try and reconcile it with how they live and act. Because actions do speak louder than words. Diotrephes seems to have a leadership position in the church, and yet, his actions do not speak of someone who knows, loves and follows God.
In contrast to this, John confirms the good reputation that Demetrius has built up. And interestingly he connects what people know about Demetrius with the truth. His words and actions are clearly reinforcing his good character as a true follower of Christ.
The same is said of Gaius in the beginning of this letter – his fellow christians gave a good testimony of him and John commends him on “walking in the truth”. In other words, there is a clear correlation between what he confesses and how he acts and lives.
Gaius shows their visitors hospitality and love.
He also obviously has a teachable spirit as John uses the opportunity of this letter to give him further pointers to show practical love and support to these workers in God’s field: “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God…”
So, the question to ponder when reading 3 John is: who are you really? Are you living a lie – pretending to love God and others, but really putting yourself first, or are you walking the self-sacrificing path of the truth in Christ?
Anyone can learn church language. The true test is not whether we say the right things, but whether we do the right things – walking the truth in love.
The true test is whether you like to put others first.
May my words be few and my actions speak of the love of God.
by Lise Oosthuizen
There I was sitting on a wooden jetty overlooking an estuary reading a book trying to re-charge after the first 8yrs of ministry in my role as an elder leading the team in the local church I serve. I was tired. No more specifically I was frustrated! I remember thinking/praying/moaning to God that I felt a little like He had not kept his side of the deal…
Embarrassingly, I remember reciting some little “righteousness-list” in my head at the time stating how I had served God as a leader in some form or capacity in local churches for just short of 20yrs already by that stage, I had pursued purity as a young man and was married as a virgin, had never been drunk, followed God’s call and sold-up my stake in a business in Cape Town and moved the family to Amanzimtoti when God called us to…
…and where had it gotten me? The church was struggling again, not many people were being saved or healed, leaders were few, money was tight and at times I felt alone as a leader. I remember this distinct sense that God had somehow dropped the ball, a sinful sense that I deserved better because of my performance!
In God’s grace He rebuked me in the most remarkable way and took me on what became a month-long journey of God revealing the rot in my heart and re-wiring/reforming me to the point where I eventually repented to the Church publicly one Sunday morning of the way I had been poisoning the church with my wrongful heart attitude.
It’s not just what we do that matters but why we do what we do and what we believe doing those things does for us.
In Psalm 73 the writer is perplexed & envious of what he has observed – the prosperity, the good health of the wicked/arrogant/proud who are always at ease and always increasing in riches (vs2-12). His experience doesn’t match his stated belief which is that “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” (vs1) And so eventually he exclaims;
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:13)
The writer bemoans his ‘good works’ because they haven’t produced the results he was looking for. However what this outburst reveals is that his heart’s true motivation was “I DO THIS TO GET THAT’ – it was transactional. He was like me, sitting on that jetty grumpily reflecting…
I have lived like _______ and you, God haven’t done _________!
Like me (in 2011), the psalmist’s WHAT was fine but his WHY was wrong and his belief regarding WHAT DOING THOSE THINGS DID FOR HIM was wrong.
Our lives of holiness, or service to God don’t earn us anything. Timothy Keller says; that it’s religion that says that; “we obey to be accepted”, the Gospel however, says; “we’re accepted and so we obey”. We live lives as worship to God flowing out of a heart response to the most incredible love and grace and mercy that God has shown to us.
So, WHAT we do, how we live really does matter but what it vital is WHY we do what we do and what we are doing it for, what we think THAT ACHIEVES FOR US is vitally important.
This Psalm is so rich because it doesn’t end with the frustrated questioning that it’s first 15 verses are characterised by. The whole Psalm hinges on vs17 when the psalmist enters God’s presence and suddenly gains a new perspective in God’s presence. In the presence of God, eternity comes into view and this perspective changes everything. His timescale has been too short, he has prematurely and incorrectly judged God.
He begins to see his own folly and the sinfulness of his heart (vs21-22) and then unleashes some of the most amazing worship in all of Scripture;
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Life doesn’t often go according to our plan or timing or even our sense of fairness, but knowing that God is with us personally, knowing that our faith and future are secure in Him is enough for me.
He made me do it! I don’t know about you but I know that I said those words many times growing up as one of four siblings. Excusing one’s own behaviour by pointing to the behaviour of others justifying your own behaviour on the basis of that of others.
In Genesis 37 the story of Jospeh begins and it’s family dysfunction right from the start with Scripture recording no less than three times in the first 8 verses that Jospeh was “hated” by his brothers.
Why? Well this family is a recipe for conflict, it is like the proverbial haystack soaked in petrol just waiting for a spark! Think about this family for a moment with me; Jacob’s family has two wives who are sisters! Two wives must be complicated but two wives who are sisters – phew. There is deep pain and jealousy here as Scripture records that he openly loved one more than the other (Genesis 29:30). To make matters even more complicated these two sisters were competing seemingly in some form of “baby race” trying to produce offspring, jealous of one another so much so that both of Jacob’s wives at some point have their husband there two female servants as additional wives for Jacob.
Now, Joseph and his brothers had not been responsible for this family context, but it was the one in which they were growing up in and were having to deal with.
Based on all that’s gone before, we ought not to be surprised to read in Genesis 37:3 that Scripture records that Jacob loved his son Jospeh more than any of his other sons. He had done this before, with his wives, openly displayed preference.
And so, his brothers were provoked to jealousy and hatred for Jacob. It recorded four times in the first 10 verses of the Genesis account of Joseph’s life story that his brothers were hated him vehemently and were also jealous of his favoured status within the family. Their hatred that only grew as their dad gave him a special robe and also when he unwisely spoke of dreams he had received of the future to come that painted him in a favourable light compared to them.
Can you empathise with these brothers? They must have felt some sense of justification in their heart attitude towards their brother because of all the family history of dysfunction and now also due to the favouritism shown to him by their father.
Is their hatred not justified, caused by the family circumstance and the actions of their father and their brother too?
Paul David Tripp says;
“People and situations do not determine our behaviour;
they provide the occasion where our behaviour reveals our hearts.”
We are not in control of many things, but we are responsible for our response. Joseph and his brothers did not pick their family, they didn’t choose their father or have control over his decisions and actions, but they were responsible for their behaviour, their response.
They hated Joseph, they allowed that hatred to simmer, they shared it, they spoke to each other of it and ultimately they acted on it when they plotted to kill him and ended up selling him as a slave and then they sinned again by deceiving their father and causing him heart ache for years to come.
We need to own our sin, the circumstances, other people didn’t “make us do it” and don’t justify our sinful actions, attitudes or words. This quote by PD Tripp has been so helpful to me forcing me to continually see with clarity that people and situations just provide me with the mirror I need at times to see what is truly in my own heart.