“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” ~ 3 John 11
Explanation of the Text: In what way can one expound on this very direct text? Making his words few, John issues a directive and then follows it with a simple, yet powerful justification.
In the shortness of John’s third epistle one will find only two commands. Of those two commands, it is only ‘imitate’ that carries any weight. The other command used by John is when he tells Gaius to greet others on his own behalf. His command is simply a call to imitate good while avoiding imitation of that which is evil.
The idea of imitating good and not evil is in direct contrast to the actions of Diotrephes. In light of all that Diotrophes is and is doing, John is warning him and those who may be reading this letter to not follow the example left by Diotrophes. In light of the earlier mention of Gaius’ own testimony that has reached John we recognize that John is protecting his ‘beloved’ so that he will not be drawn away.
Rather than give a direct warning, John follows up with an intense depiction of two contrasting people. There is the first person who is from God as evidenced by the good that he or she does. The second person on the other hand is one who has done evil. This person is not only not from God, but John says that person has never even seen God. Once again John calls forth a link between being a Christian and the behavior that evidences it.
Examination & Application of the Text: While the heart attitude of one is never fully revealed between individuals, it is the only aspect of life that we have for judgment of one another. We are reminded by one commentator who writes, “It is clear that the lack of Christian character is to be regarded as a mark of the absence of true Christian experience” (1).
Thus, John’s words can be viewed as a call to action. It is a call for believers to live out what they claim to believe. As ones who have come from God, we are called to do good. It is a good that shows forth the goodness of God. The good we do is a revelation of God to others. With this in mind, how damaging it can be then when we act instead with evil intent in our hearts!
We bear a responsibility for the God we love. It is a responsibility of the highest honor. The opportunity to reveal God and direct others to Him. It is a high calling with a high responsibility.
Certainly we fall short. Our showcase of God is marred by sin. It is an imperfect revelation as we sometimes will take part in something contrary to the goodness of God . . . that is we partake in evil. However, we must take to heart that God is able to work through those times of imperfection in order to continue to reveal Himself to others while molding us further.
We are not expecting perfection based on John’s words. We are expecting it to be more often than not though. Take hold of John’s words here and live them out in conjunction with Paul’s own call to not be conformed by this world, but be transformed by the renewing of one’s mind (Romans 12:2)
(1) I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 92.