We're going to read from verse 1 again, and my message tonight is focusing upon verses 11 to 14, the character of 'Demetrius - The Man Who Was Honoured in God's Work'.
Verse 1: "The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth. I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name".
We have already said that John, in his third epistle, gives us, if you like, a fly on the wall experience of life in the first century early Christian church. In his third epistle in particular, that experience of first century church life comes to us revolving around personalities. After John himself, who is the author and who is intrinsically involved in the situation encapsulated within the book, we have first of all Gaius. He, we entitled, was 'The Man Who Helped God's Work', and he is greatly commended in the first number of verses of this epistle. He is, in fact, the man who characterises one who walks in the truth. In verse 2 we saw that he is described by John as being a man who is spiritually healthy - and, whilst he was physically sick, John's prayer for him in the opening words of the book are that his physical health would mirror his spiritual vitality and zeal.
Then secondly we saw that he was openly hospitable. Gaius not only opened his home to the missionaries and itinerants who were sent from John the apostle to this particular church, but he opened his heart to them, he was genuinely hospitable and he also opened his hand. We saw that he gave to the work of God, he was evangelically generous. In verse 6 it speaks of his charity, and the reasons are given by John for Gaius' charity: he gave to the work of God and furthered these missionaries on in their endeavours because it honours God. He was encouraged by John to continue this work of charity toward them 'after a godly sort', because these missionaries had gone out 'for the name's sake'. Then secondly we see that it was also encouraged because it is a testimony to the lost, 'taking nothing of the Gentiles' - they weren't charging for the word of God or the giving of the Gospel, but as they had freely received they were freely giving. It was also obedience to God's word, it was something that they ought to do, John says - support the work of the Gospel. We found out finally that he was to be evangelically generous because it accelerates world evangelisation. He was a fellow helper in the work of the global mission of Christ.
So that is the first character, the first personality in this church whom we encountered - Gaius, who helped God's work. Then secondly, last week we looked at 'Diotrephes - The Man Who Hindered God's Work'. We concentrated first of all on Diotrephes' attitude. It can be seen that he loved the preeminence, he loved to be number one within this church. If you want to know more about these things, do get the tape. Then secondly, he did not recognise the apostle John. He went as far as not only not recognising him, but slandering the apostle in the church and before the other believers. Then fourthly we found out that he refused to receive the brethren who John sent as emissaries, John's associates, these missionaries, he wouldn't give them admittance into the church. He went further, fifthly, to actually forbid others receiving them. He wouldn't have them, but he wouldn't let anyone else show them hospitality. Indeed we found out, sixthly, that he excommunicated those who did accept them into the church - Diotrephes' attitude.
Then we also saw John's approach to Diotrephes. He intended to meet him face to face and call attention to what he was doing in the church. We saw that he did it in a Christlike manner and in a gracious way, but nevertheless he was not dodging the issue. Then thirdly, and this is the point at which I want to start off where we left off last Monday evening, we find that John, in the background of these two personalities - Gaius and Diotrephes - and in anticipation of the third personality we're going to look at tonight, gives us this maxim in verse 11 - our admonition: 'Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God'. It's as if he's saying: 'If you want a role model to follow, here's my man' - verse 12 - 'Demetrius hath good report of all men'.
I've entitled Demetrius, 'The Man Who Was Honoured in God's Work'. He is given to us tonight as a commendable example of a role model that all of us, irrespective of who we are, could and should follow. Now he's introduced to us in this third epistle without any explanation whatsoever, and that suggests to me at least that he must have been well-known. Now a couple of weeks ago we looked at some other Demetrius' who are found in scripture, and one of them is found in Acts chapter 19 - he was a man who made silver shrines of Artemis, a god in Ephesus, and he was also the man who raised a riot against the apostle Paul because his preaching of the gospel was delivering people from idolatry and was threatening his life trade. We find that it was because of this man, Demetrius, the subsequent riot, that Paul's two year ministry in the city of Ephesus was terminated. This was a great sinner and, if this is the same Demetrius, you can imagine how people all over the church would have been aware of his miraculous conversion and any change of a subsequent holy life that resulted through grace.
But we have not one shred of evidence to tell us that this Demetrius in 3 John is that Demetrius in Acts chapter 19 - it's a nice thought, but the truth is we don't know an awful lot about this man. He may have been the bearer of this third epistle and, like the rest of the emissaries that John sent, he was refused by Diotrephes. We don't know that for sure either, but at any rate, one thing we do know about him, which is the most important thing, is that he had a good testimony from all and from the truth itself - verse 12 tells us. In other words, the truth that we've been hearing so much about in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd epistles of John, the truth was the standard by which Demetrius was tested. Having been so tested by the truth, he stood approved of the church, of those outside the church, of the apostle John himself, and of the truth itself. Because of that, John set him forth as an example to all of us of that which is good, that which we should follow.
Now it's an undeniable fact of human nature that we naturally imitate other people. Now you might not like to think that, but that's a fact. A US author and lawyer called Christian Nestell Bovee said this: 'We unconsciously imitate what pleases us, and approximate to the characters we most admire'. If you admire someone, if someone's character trait pleases you, it's a natural reaction in our human nature to try and imitate them, and follow them, and copy them. George Swinnock, a Christian writer, said: 'Man is a creature led more by patterns than by precepts'. Human beings naturally follow examples, whether they be good examples or bad ones. A Jewish comedian on one occasion recalled that his overprotective mother, when she took him first of all to his first day of primary school, insisted on talking to the teacher before leaving him with her. The comedian said that, among other things, his mother told the teacher that if he misbehaved she should punish the boy next to him. 'Why?', said the teacher. 'Well', the mother said, 'My little boy learns from example'.
We're all a bit like that, aren't we? It's not just children. I think children, to a large extent, don't understand anything but through example - and we must never underestimate the power of example from infancy, to adulthood, right through to old age. Someone has rightly said - grasp, please, the magnitude of this statement - 'Example is more powerful than precept'. Thomas Brooks, the puritan, said: 'Example is the most powerful rhetoric'. Now, we as Christians, Bible believing evangelicals, are big on emphasising the word of God, and rightly so because that is God's revelation, it is our rule of faith, it is the only place that we find salvation, it is the standard and rule and principal of the church. But the fact of the matter is, our biblical emphasis is never ever to be at the expense of practical godliness - example, rather than our knowledge of the Scriptures and our study of it, ought to augment and add to and enhance everything that is in our lives as a witness of Jesus Christ.
You remember we found in John's epistles that the goal of the Gospel was not just to have an objective incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh, but also - now that He has ascended and sent His Spirit at Pentecost - to have a subjective incarnation of the life of Christ in the life of every believer. Therefore, our example is worth a thousand arguments! A good example is a language all of its own, and an argument that everybody understands from the youngest, simplest child, to the oldest and wisest man. Someone put it like this: ''Well done' is always better than 'Well said''. We say a lot of things, don't we? But precept may lead a person, instruct a person, command a person, order a person - but only example draws a person.
Do you see the difference? Well, if you do, or if you don't, let's see how John sets it forth in this third character, Demetrius, tonight - the man who was honoured in God's work as a great example for all of us to follow. I want to ask you the first question of two: what example do you follow? John is setting forth Demetrius as an example for everyone, but I wonder do you have an example that you follow? Now maybe you're still querying whether or not it is right to follow human examples. Now of course, let me say first and foremost that our Saviour is our ultimate example, and scripture makes that quite clear from His own words in John 13 verse 15. Jesus said: 'I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you'. The apostles second that - in 1 Peter 2:21, Peter says: 'For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps'.
So, of course, we ought to sound a note of caution: we must always beware of falling into the partisan practice, that we find even in the early church in the church of Corinth where the Corinthians were wrongly elevating men and putting them on a pinnacle that they did not deserve. First Corinthians 1 verses 11-13 outlines that for us, Paul says: 'For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I am of Cephas', or Peter, 'and I am of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?'. We must beware of following men to an undue extreme.
This often is the case within Christianity: a strong personality can come to the fore, and people are blessed by their ministry, and they become such devoted disciples to them that in reality what happens is that the Lord Jesus Christ can be eclipsed as the pre-eminent one. There is a danger in that that we all must beware of. But when we're looking at John tonight and speaking of following another's example, we're not talking about taking on another person's personality traits or their habits or their mannerisms - and I think that's a distinction that must be made tonight. God is not in the business of making clones and robots out of us, and if you need proof of that all you need to do is look at the 66 books of the Bible, and look at the many diverse authors that God inspired His word through. Let me say this: God did not transgress or violate their personalities when He inspired them to write God's word, that's why we can recognise Paul's writings as distinct from John's and some of the other apostles. Their personalities were left intact, even though God's Holy Spirit was inspiring them.
So when we are saying that there are men who we ought to imitate and follow, we're not talking about trying to ape someone's personality or their mannerisms. You find this especially within evangelicalism. I hear people talk about bygone days, and I've even heard it said that the great preacher Willie Mullan years ago, an evangelist, many people started to emulate him. Some people even in this church have told me that, when he was to the fore as an evangelist and Bible teacher, that what he used to do was, just after he read the Scriptures, he would turn his Bible over like that and then he would start to preach. All of a sudden all the preachers after him were starting to turn their Bible over and bang it, and start to preach. I have a friend who many years ago went to Bible College in Wales, and at that time Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones was preaching in Westminster Chapel in London - and very popular, of course, among the Welsh, as a Welshman himself. But if you ever saw him preach, I didn't have the privilege, he often would stand with one hand in his waistcoat pocket, and perhaps the glasses down at the end of his nose, and the Bible in one hand or the Bible before him. All of a sudden the young Bible students coming out of the Bible College of Wales were all standing with their left hand in their waistcoat pocket (they never used to wear waistcoats!), and the glasses at the end of their nose.
That's not what I'm talking about, and that's so often the emulation and imitation that can come into Christianity that is not biblical at all - farcical. What we're talking about, and what John is talking about, is what is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verse 1, where Paul says to the Corinthians: 'Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ'. The word for 'followers' there is 'imitators' - 'Be ye imitators of me, even as I am an imitator of Christ'. In Ephesians 5:1 he said to them: 'Be ye therefore followers', or imitators, 'of God, as dear children'. So when we speak of imitating another, and following another Christian as a role model and an example, it is only as they imitate Christ that we should imitate them - not in any other way!
There are many other verses that set forth this principle to us in the New Testament. Second Thessalonians 3 verse 7, listen to it: 'For yourselves know', Paul says, 'how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you' - 'Behave as we behave, follow our example'. Hebrews 6 and verse 12, another verse: 'That ye be not sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise'. Imitate the faith of those who have gone before us! Hebrews 13 and verse 17: 'Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you, those that have the rule over you' - considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. It's really what the author to the Hebrews was saying in Hebrews 10:24: 'Consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works' - by your example. John is saying: 'Here is an example of a man who has been honoured in God's work, Demetrius, and I have no hesitation or qualms in setting him up as a role model for you to follow'.
Now let me ask you a very blunt but searching question tonight: if you were to look for an example as a role model to follow or, like John, you were commending an example to another young believer for them to follow, who would it be? Are they living? This is a great challenge to all of us. There are not too many men and women of God about these days. Let me say, by a little bit of a digression on this point, that we need to be careful what company we keep, because human nature is such that we tend to become like the people we are with. First Corinthians 15 verse 33 says: 'Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character'. Sometimes we find ourselves imitating, even unconsciously, those that we spend most of our time with. You know the saying: 'Birds of a feather flock together', and if you want to talk about God's church, or God's people, or God's workers, or other people, whoever they may be, Christian or non-Christian - you'll always find people to talk to about them. No problem! But the fact of the matter is: that is no godly example to anyone. If I can encourage you tonight: always take those as your example who you know are Christlike, if you can find any.
Now Demetrius may not have had prestige, he may not have had the authority that Diotrephes had, but John was saying: 'Whatever you do, don't imitate a Diotrephes, for Diotrephes' are not of God. Imitate that which is good, Demetrius - he may not be a big shot, he may not be an intellectual, he may not hold high position in the church, he may not have tremendous gift, but he's a man of God and he has seen God!'. John said of Diotrephes: 'He has not seen God', but Demetrius obviously had. Now that's not in a literal, mystical sense, it's talking about having a real communion with the Lord through His word and through everyday experience. Do you know something? I want to look to a man as an example who has seen the Lord. I don't care if he's seen the world, I don't care if he's seen deep academic truths, as much as whether or not he has seen the Lord.
Isn't it a wonderful illustration of the truth that we don't hardly know anything about Demetrius, and he certainly doesn't seem to have the standing that Diotrephes had in a sense, but God has made the first the last and the last the first, the humble are exalted, the mighty are made low because God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the mighty that no flesh should glory in His presence! Do you know what I've often found out? The people who are the examples to follow are not necessarily the people who are always up at the front!
Four preachers were discussing the merits of various Bible translations - as you know, that's a great topic these days. One of them admired the King James Version because of the language that it used. The second preacher, well, he liked the Revised Version; he felt it was more accurate. The third liked the New International Version because of its up-to-date vocabulary. The fourth was absolutely silent, and then finally he announced that he liked his mother's best of all. Amazed, one of the men said: 'We didn't know your mother had translated the Bible'. 'Oh yes!', came the reply, 'She translated it into her life, and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw'. Sometimes we spend so much time debating over nonsense that we miss the whole point! Do people see a translation of God's word in our lives? What example do you follow?
Here's the second question, and the bigger one: what example are you? Verse 12 tells us that Demetrius had good report of all. Now let me say that that is not literal, we know it's not literal because he obviously hadn't a good report of Diotrephes! It's a general term speaking that most people in the church looked up to Demetrius and respected him - but you'll never ever get everyone reporting good on you. The Lord Jesus, of course, taught that in Luke 6:26: 'Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets'.
Most of the church accepted Demetrius and honoured him in God's work, except for Diotrephes, he had an exclusive mind. Now let me say tonight that we need to be very careful of falling into the trap of Diotrephes. Harry Ironside describes his spirit well towards this man Demetrius, that the rest of the church accepted, but Diotrephes rejected and refused admittance into the assembly. This is what he says: 'It matters nothing to the rigid advocates of a pseudo-church order that this man, Demetrius, is honoured of God, that he proclaims the truth, that his walk is blameless, that many can testify to his devotedness and his piety, as also to the spirituality and the helpfulness of his ministry. 'If he followeth not with us'', that's the Diotrephes attitude, ''he must be treated as a publican and a sinner, or rejected as though he were a blasphemer'. How shocking it is, and what an insult to the Head of the church, and to the Holy Spirit of God'.
Sometimes we can be like that. Listen, I have my convictions as well as the rest of you, but let me say this: there are some good, godly brethren who don't agree with me on certain less than fundamental things, but they're godlier men and women than I'll ever be. We need to have the bigness, and the broadness, and the maturity to be able to admit that!
Then notice also that 'good report of all', the tense of 'all' points to a past report that still is valid in the present. Something that people said about Demetrius that was in the past, he had good report with everybody in the past, but it's still intact today - it's valid to say that he's still held in high esteem and honour by the church presently. What a challenge! Are you here tonight and you once had a good testimony, you once had a glowing record, you once were honoured in God's work? Well, is it the case today, forget about the past, what about today? How's your testimony now?
Well, it appears that Demetrius' good testimony not only was inside the church but outside. I think we can read that into the expression 'of all', he had good report 'of all', inside and outside. Incidentally, this is one of the qualifications of an overseer, 1 Timothy 3:7: 'Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil'. This is a challenge! It's hard enough having a good report of the folk inside the church, let alone those outside the church! What do they think of us? What do they think of you? Is it a revelation to you tonight that the non-Christian has not lost all capacity to judge what is good and what is true? Christian testimonies are one of the greatest contributory factors, I believe, to the demise of Gospel influence in our day and age - those who do not have a good report of those without! Now just imagine for a moment, that all men and women inside the church had a good report of you, and all men outside the church had a good report of you - do you know what that would be? I've no doubt about it: revival! When are we ever going to realise that the world takes its notion of God from the people who say they belong to God's family?
You know I listen - I nearly said 'religiously' - to Talkback, but you know sometimes, believe it or not, I'm sympathetic with David Dunseith because of the attitude of some so-called 'believers' who come on the telephone. They haven't a notion of how to present their case, and sometimes that's the way we come across to the world. We grate on their ears, because they're not seeing an epitome of Christ, they're seeing someone who knows all the precepts but doesn't know anything about example, doesn't know how to live it!
Friends, we need to realise, as Richard Cecil once said, that people look at us six days a week to see what we mean on the seventh day. I know it's the first day for us, but the principle is the same. Do we mean what we say? Christian, maybe you don't set yourself up as any example or any positive influence, but don't miss it - that is not my point, that isn't - my point is this: whether you like it or not, you are an example, and you are in influence, whether good or bad! The question is: whether it is good or bad? The Italian word for 'influence' is 'influenza', it was introduced into the English language in the mid-1700s speaking of 'influence' by the cold. It's very infectious, as you know - so is a good and a bad example. Is your example having influence, like the flu, on others? Or is your bad example like germs that are spreading throughout the assembly and among God's people?
Some sit in meetings like this and they feel insignificant. You perhaps feel that, you know: 'What could I do for the Lord? I don't have any obvious gifts, and they're certainly not gifts for public speaking, or anything upfront, or anything you might value as being worthwhile' - but friend, listen: no one is insignificant enough not to have influence upon others. No matter how insignificant you might feel you are, you have got influence on those around you. Never underestimate the effect of influence.
In 1645 one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of all of England. In 1649 one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed. In 1845 one vote brought Texas into the United States. In 1868 one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment. In 1875 one vote changed France from a monarchy into a republic. In 1923 one vote gave Adolf Hitler control of the Nazi party. That's what the influence of one person can do! Albert Schweitzer said: 'Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it's the only thing'. We are big on the Word, but minute on example. Our lives should be such as men may safely copy us and imitate us - could they? I remind you of the question: what example are you? Now listen to me tonight: there are young people, and there are young Christians sitting in the wings of our meetings all over the province, and they have the potential of being a Demetrius or being a Diotrephes - what example are they observing in you?
You know some Christians, all they do is gurn. Now you put it in your own terms, but that's the way it comes to me: all they do is moan and gripe, and you go to their houses for supper and you get a tall tale about all the wrong things in the church, and how people are unloving, this, that and the other - and it's going on, and I hear about most of it, most of it comes back, and it stinks to high heaven! I'll tell you: I'm fed up with a lot of it. I don't know what God must feel about it. The big question is: what is your influence? What is your example? Someone has rightly said: 'We can do more good in being good than in any other way'.
I heard a beautiful story about the poet Robert Browning. He once wrote a poem 'Pippa Passes', about an Italian girl who, because of her poverty and her destitute family, was forced to work every day, every single day during the year, in the silk mills. But this year, for some reason, on New Year's Day she was given a day off. In sheer joy she walked home down the streets of her town in north-east Italy singing a song of faith in words, and Browning puts it in poetic form like this:
'The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in His heaven-
All's right with the world!'.
As she walked down the narrow streets, her thankful heart free and overflowing, her song reached people who at that very moment in time, at that crucial moment, needed to hear that song. An unmarried couple were moved by her verse to make some changes to their lives. An artist who was about to lose his temper was calmed. An anarchist, intent on assassinating the Austrian emperor, was halted. A churchman planning to murder a child for money was smitten with remorse. This young girl Pippa returned home from her walk later in the day completely oblivious and unaware to the unseen effect of her attitude and her song. That is the influence that example can have!
Now look at Demetrius, verse 12 says that not only did the believers inside the church have a good report of him, unsaved people outside the church had a good report of him, the apostle John had a good report of him - but 'and of the truth itself', the truth itself witnessed to Demetrius' testimony! In other words, the genuineness of Demetrius was self-evident, and if the truth could talk it would say the same thing as the people in the church and outside and the apostle were saying - that Demetrius' life lived up to the teaching and the practices of God's word. Even God's word bore witness to Demetrius.
Now listen to me tonight: sometimes we evangelicals are all talk, all talk, a lot of hot air; and there's only a hair's breadth between us and the charity in the world. Friends, when are we going to learn to live the Christ-life? Francis of Assisi said to one of his young monks: 'Let's go down to the town and preach'. The novice was delighted at being singled out by Francis, and he was gladly going to be his companion. So he went down with him to the town, and they passed through the principal streets, they turned down many of the byways and the alleys, they made their way into the suburbs. At great length they returned to the monastery by a circuit, and they found themselves eventually at the gate. As they approached the door the young man said to Francis: 'You've forgotten that we went down to the town to preach. Wasn't that your original intention?'. 'My son', replied Francis, 'we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We have been seen by many. Our behaviour has been closely watched. It is thus that we preached our morning sermon'. Now let me say, whilst we believe both the preaching of the word and example are necessary, what Francis was about to say to this young man was profound and I want you to listen to it very carefully. Listen: 'It is of no use, my son, to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere we walk'. It is no use to walk anywhere to preach, unless we preach everywhere we walk. Philip Brooks, the puritan, said: 'A person who lives right and is right has more power in his silence than another has by words'.
'I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely show the way:
The eye's a better pupil and much sharper than the ear,
Fine counsel can confuse me, but example's always clear.
The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do!'.
What do you do? John ends this third epistle the way he did the second, with a personal touch of affection, saying that he longed to see them face-to-face. Then he speaks this word in verse 14 of peace: 'Peace be to thee'. Isn't that very appropriate in an assembly that is wracked by problems and strife? Here is Diotrephes stirring up problems, and the apostle is pronouncing peace upon them! Now listen to me tonight: a church may look outwardly successful, but the peace of God - listen to me on what the peace of God is: we understand 'peace' as being the absence of war or conflict, but in the Bible it is a positive term that invokes the blessing of Almighty God even in the presence of storms, troubles, trials, perplexities. Ultimately what it is is the very presence of Christ!
I can show you that from John chapter 20. The disciples are all afraid, and we read: 'Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you'. Verse 26 of John 20: 'And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you'. Now listen to me tonight: here is a church wracked by problems that we can only imagine, and these problems in the first century Christian church did not stay in the church, because this is the life in any church today - perhaps, could I go as far as to say, in every church today - because there's no perfect church! But what this tells me in a tremendously positive light is that you don't need the church to be perfect to know the peace and the presence of Christ. There never was a perfect church, but the real challenge and question is: is anyone really prepared to let the Lord Jesus change us, and change our church? Will it be 'my will' or 'His will'?
That will determine, no matter how many problems you have in your church, that will determine whether you as an individual will be a Diotrephes to hinder God's work, or a Gaius to help God's work, or a Demetrius to be honoured in God's work. But here's my question, listen: some of you don't have too long on this scene, what will your epitaph be? You've heard of the Nobel Peace Prize, haven't you? Do you know how it came about? One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel, who was the inventor of dynamite and a man who had spent his life amassing a fortune from the manufacture and sale of weapons, awoke to read in his morning newspaper his own obituary. The obituary was printed as a result of a simple journalistic error: Alfred's brother had died, and a French reporter carelessly had reported the death of the wrong brother. I'll bet that put him off his cornflakes! Any man, you could imagine, would have been disturbed under those circumstances - but Alfred was very very shocked and overwhelmed, because he saw himself for the first time the way the rest of the world saw him. They called him 'The Dynamite King', the great industrialist who had made immense fortune from explosives.
As far as the general public was concerned, the entire purpose of his life, so said the obituary, was to be a merchant of death. That morning, as he read down his own obituary with shocking horror, he resolved from that day on to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. He decided to do it by disposing of his fortune when he died, and his last will and testament would be the expression of his life's ideals. The result was the most valued of prizes, given to this day to those who have done most for the cause of world peace - the Nobel Peace Prize. But here's my challenge to you my friend tonight: imagine tomorrow morning, your obituary suddenly appears in the paper. Would it say anything in any way related to God's work? Or would it be all about your own work, your own career, your family, your academic achievements? Just entertain the frightful thought for a moment: what would it say? When all is said and done - is this not what really matters - what will your life be known for? What will you be remembered for? A Gaius who helped God's work, a Demetrius who was honoured in God's work to this very day, or a Diotrephes, a hinderer of God's work?
Can I leave you with the challenge of Socrates, who said: 'Let him who would move the world first move himself'. First, second and third John have been before us all - it is our responsibility to do whatever moving is necessary. May God bless His word to all our hearts.
Lord, we thank You for everything that we have gleaned - but, oh God, we cannot pray a prayer any better than what we have just sung. We need to get like Jesus, we know one day we will be like Him. But Lord, forgive us when through our actions - and all of us are guilty, I am guilty - through word and thought and deed of hindering your work, and we're all guilty; but help us all to repent, help us all to put away sin, whatever that sin may be. We pray: 'Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness, stamp Thine own image deep on our hearts', that You may receive all the glory, for Christ's sake, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty third recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Demetrius - The Man Who Was Honoured In God's Work" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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