Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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.
The good and the evil!
That which is good is that which is in harmony with the law of God. Goodness has an absolute standard. Ultimately, God is good. He is the source of all good and standard of all good. And He has revealed His goodness to us in His law. That which is good, therefore, is that behavior or lifestyle that conforms to the holy law of God. But that which is good is also that which is helpful and beneficial. It is the nature of God’s goodness revealed in the law that promotes the welfare of the church, the gospel, marriage, the family, and society.
That which is evil is just the opposite. It is that which is contrary to the law and will of God. For that reason it is also destructive. Those practices that conflict with God’s good laws always tear down instead of build up. They bring ruin, and with ruin they bring trouble and sorrow.
You will find both the good and the evil in the church!
The contrast here is not the good that is found in the church and the evil that is out in the world. That contrast exists, but it is not the focus here. The good and the evil are both found within the church as well.
You will find good in the church, due to the presence of such men as Gaius and Demetrius. Of Gaius we read that the truth was in him and that he walked in the truth (v. 3). Special mention is made of Gaius’ hospitality to missionaries sent out by John to preach to the pagan Gentiles. The missionaries found shelter at the home of Gaius on the way. Then there was Demetrius. He had a good report of all men (v. 12). There will always be members in the church that are like these two brothers. They do good and even abound in that which is good.
But you will also find evil in the church, due to men such as Diotrophes. Of Diotrophes we are told that he loved to have the preeminence. In this evil pursuit to be chief he would receive neither John nor those whom John sent to labor in the gospel. Furthermore, Diotrophes was guilty of speaking malicious words against the apostle and of casting out of the church those who supported John and his work. Yes, there will always be church members like Diotrophes, whose lives are filled with evil and who fill the church with their evil. That is true especially in churches where Christian discipline is not exercised.
Do not imitate that which is evil, but that which is good.
Much of what we do is imitation of others. It is the very nature of a child to imitate what he sees in his parents and older siblings. This is how he learns. But even the behavior of adults is imitation. This is in keeping with the truth of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Much of what we do is what we have seen others do. This includes our behavior in marriage, the raising of our children, the way we entertain ourselves, our conduct in church.
We are instructed to imitate that which is good and not that which is evil. This means that we must evaluate all that we see around us. This evaluation must be done in light of Scripture. After proper evaluation we must imitate and put into practice only that which is good.
Interestingly, this warning came to a mature believer. We might expect it to come to a child or young person. Certainly this is appropriate also for a weaker member of the church who is struggling with sin. It certainly should come to a Diotrophes, who was living in sin. But instead it comes to Gaius — a mature, faithful member of the church. Because of our sinful nature, we are all vulnerable to the influence of bad examples and evil behavior. We must all be on our guard constantly. Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (I Cor 10:12).
How important this is!
For he that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
For one to be of (out of) God, his spiritual source or origin must be in God. One’s spiritual source is either God or the devil. If one’s source is in God, he bears His image. He reflects in his very being the goodness and perfections of God. If, however, his spiritual source is the devil, he bears the devil’s image and reflects in his being the devil’s evil. In short, he is totally depraved.
By nature we are all of the devil. This is the result of the fall. To be of God requires the new birth of which John speaks so much in his epistles.
Your spiritual source determines whether you do good or evil. Those who are born of God and thus have their source in Him do the good. Bearing the image of God, they are not only able to do the good, they are also inclined to the good. Their lives are filled with that which is good. And it is all the fruit of their being of God. Those, in turn, who are of the devil do that which is evil. They are just as depraved as the devil himself, incapable of any good and inclined to all evil.
But there is more. He that doeth evil hath not seen God.
We cannot see the essence or being of God. But we can see God with the eye of faith. I John 3:16 connects this spiritual sight to abiding with God and knowing Him. “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” Notice three elements here. There is the element of abiding with God. This is to live in constant and close fellowship with Him. Then there is knowing God. We live with those whom we know. And the more we live with them, the more intimate our knowledge of them becomes. The same is true with God. Only when we come to know God in faith can we abide with Him in fellowship. The more we fellowship with God, the more intimate our knowledge of Him is. That brings us to the final element, our seeing God. We see those with whom we abide and live. We see them often. So also do those who know and abide with God see God. They see Him in faith as they abide in His presence daily.
This is the fruit of being of God. Those that are of God have received the gift of faith to know Him, abide with Him, and see Him daily. This is how they are enabled to do that which is good.
But those that are of the devil have not seen God. They have not known God, nor do they abide with Him. Neither therefore have they seen God. And that explains why they do that which is evil.
This is all set before us to impress upon us the importance of imitating that which is good and not that which is evil.
By imitating the practices and behavior of others, we are ultimately imitating either God or the devil. When we imitate that which is good, we imitate those who are of God and have seen God. And so we ultimately are imitating God. When, however, we imitate that which is evil, we imitate those who are of the devil and who have never seen God. And ultimately we are imitating the devil. Our calling is clearly to imitate God by imitating the good of those who are of God. “Be ye followers (imitators) of God as dear children” (Eph. 5:1).
We are to bear this in mind especially with respect to our life in the church.
There were those in the church in John’s day who claimed to be of God and to have seen God in fellowship. Yet they did that which was evil. Diotrophes was a case in point. The point that John was making to Gaius was that such claims of evildoers were false. Do not be lured into following their example, lest you become imitators of the devil.
And the same applies to the church also today.
There are many in the church who claim to be of God and to have seen God. Yet they live in sin. They live in adultery by divorcing and remarrying. They profane the Sabbath by their work and entertainment. They dishonor those in authority both in the home and in the workshop. Women usurp authority by intruding on the offices of the church. Many alter the worship that God has ordained for the church, introducing elements that are contrary to the will of God. In many cases false doctrines have led them in this direction. What we believe determines how we live. The church world is awash with false doctrine of every kind. Those who hold these heresies and follow the evil practices inherent in them also claim to be of God and to be those who have seen Him. But we must not be deceived. Those who do evil are not of God, neither have they seen God. Do not listen to their claim and do not follow their example.
And how is it possible for us to imitate that which is good?
Only if we ourselves are of God and have seen God.
Have you seen God? You see Him in the preaching. You see Him in the sacraments. You see Him in prayer. You see Him in the fellowship of the saints.
In the power of that sight imitate that which is good and not that which is evil.