Four and a half year ago, in March 2007, I published a post called “Imitate Good.” I had been working through John’s third letter, and this post was part of that “series,” which wasn’t really a series. The command in 3 John 1:11 – “Do not imitate evil but imitate good” – caught my attention, primarily because John was talking about the people that we allow to influence and lead us. And, in this letter, how does John distinguish between “evil” and “good”? Well, it’s not the way we usually see them defined…
I’ve posted a few things recently from 3 John. I’ve enjoyed studying this short letter. Here is another passage that helps us understand what it means to make disciples and what it means to be a disciple. Consider what John says in verse 11:
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. (3 John 1:11 ESV)
Just before this, John had warned his readers that Diotrephes did not accept what John wrote, did not help the brothers and sisters who travelled through his area (see “Sending with hospitality…“), and “likes to put himself first”. John indicates that he plans to confront Diotrephes face to face about this (see “We will talk face-to-face…“).
In 3 John 1:12 and following, John encourages his readers to follow Demetrius instead. How do the readers know that they should follow Demetrius? Because Demetrius “has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself”. John adds his own recommendation as well.
Notice what John is saying here. There is one man who loves to be first – he loves being a leader. But, John says that his conduct is contrary to the ways of God. So, John does not want his readers to follow him. Instead, he points them to a man who is obediently following God. Everyone who knows him recognizes this. This is the “good” that John expects his readers to follow.
Do you want to know who to follow as a disciple? Then ask yourself these questions: Who has a good testimony? Who’s conduct matches their theology? Who lives what they teach and speak? Follow those people.
But, think about these questions: Who loves to be first, noticed, recognized, important? Who is more concerned with their position than with their conduct? Who is more concerned with whether or not other people are obeying him than whether or not he is obeying God? Do not follow those people.
John began this short letter by telling his readers, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4 ESV) Could it be that part of “walking in the truth” is knowing how to imitate good and those who are following God, and how to avoid imitating evil and those who are not following God?