Daily Devotion 15 May 2021
3 John 9-15 ‘Trouble in the Church’
9 I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church. 11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 12 Everyone has testified favourably about Demetrius, and so has the truth itself. We also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true. 13 I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; 14 instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face. 15 Peace to you. The friends send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by name.
In John Pritchard’s excellent book Ten, he suggests ten clichés that the church should avoid. One of his ten is “If only we could live like they did in the early church”! When we look in detail at many of the letters in the New Testament, it’s not difficult to see why. The writers – Paul, Peter, John, others too – are confronting the early churches’ wrestling with all sorts of problems. Such as: Do you have to become Jewish first before becoming a Christian? Should you observe this or that ritual if you’re a Christian from a Jewish background? If you’re a Gentile (non-Jew) are you exempt from this or that rite or requirement? Yes, over-sentimentalising the early church is never a great idea!
A lot more space would be needed than I have here, to go into the various possibilities of the dispute that concerns John in this letter. Diotrephes is the source of his wrath – not welcoming ‘the friends’ and excommunicating those who do seems to be one of the problems, but the ‘why’ is missing.
Verse 13 and 14 strike me as having enormous value for us today in our relationships – in church, in our family life, in our friendships: “I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.” These words seem to offer the hope of healing – and rightly stress the value of sorting problems out in person, openly, and with good communication. It can sometimes be so easy to sharply respond to someone in a text, put someone in their place using a quick WhatsApp message seen by the whole WhatsApp group, or write a cross, lengthy email. Yet each of these likely to be deeply regretted once the red mist has dispersed and the realisation hits us that, actually, a proper sit down and face-to-face discussion would have resolved things far better.
None of us have ever had to experience difficulties in communication caused by such separation and distance and time, as we have had in 2020 and 2021. John’s problems were very different to ours, but his solution to them may have a great resonance for us in the here and now.
Grant us, Great God, a heart that is slow to anger, and slower still, to communicate this
in hasty ways. Instead, fill us with the patience and generosity of your Spirit – and the good sense to communicate well, share understanding, forgive, and be forgiven. Amen.
Reflection, Prayer and Image © 2021 Paul Tabraham.
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