Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
Volume 03, Number 03
church of Christ
1860 Mt. Baker HWY
P.O. Box 30821
Bellingham, WA 98228
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Mt. Baker church
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In this issue:
SIN IN THE CHURCH
One of the goals of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians
was to address a serious problem with sin in the church. The situation
described in chapter 5 seems to be private and personal, but it has infected
the whole church nonetheless.
Congregational arrogance (1 Cor. 5:1-2). Paul
begins this section with an indignant tone: “It is actually reported that
there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated
even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). What is
going on in the church in Corinth is shocking by every standard. Corinth was
a wicked city that did not blush at sin, but even here there were limits.
Greek, Roman, and Jewish law all condemned incest and had harsh penalties
for offenders. This relationship between a man and his stepmother was sinful
and was a rare case where even the nonbelievers knew better. Evidently, this
had been going on for some time. It was public knowledge and word had spread
to the church, the community, and even Paul at a distance (cf. HCSB “it is
widely reported” and KJV “it is reported commonly”).
It’s bad enough that this is happening among them, but we can understand the
possibility of a single bad actor. Every group has a minority of people who
don’t follow the rules and cause trouble or otherwise don’t represent the
beliefs and practices of the rest of the group. What makes the situation in
Corinth so much worse is that they were proud of this man and his sin! What
could make a church distort God’s law so dramatically?
We don’t know the thinking of the Corinthians, but the common rationale is
that freedom in Christ liberates us from the consequences of sin without
necessitating a change in behavior. It’s likely that the Corinthians
believed that their so-called “open-mindedness” toward sin was an expression
of the blessings they had in Christ. Of course, nothing could be further
from the truth. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that
grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Keeping the church pure (1 Cor. 5:3-8). Paul
reveals how serious the matter is and pronounces his judgment on the sinner.
Since the law of God was clearly broken, Paul is right to be this
At this point, the Corinthians need to do far more than encourage or warn
their brother. His sin is flagrant, public, and stubborn. He has no place
among them and must be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.
This should be done while they are assembled together in the name of
Jesus—it is a somber and official act of the whole church.
What is the purpose of this drastic action? Paul gives two reasons. First,
the “destruction of the flesh” is designed to help him avoid the wrath of
God in the final judgment. Withdrawal is a difficult and emotional process,
but it could be the shock that he needs to reconsider his choices. Second,
the church’s purity is protected. So long as the church condones and
celebrates the man’s sin, they take on his guilt and the corruption in his
life will spread and change the church like yeast changes a lump of dough.
The church must remain pure—Christ died for it!
A higher standard (1 Cor. 5:9-13). This
standard of behavior that they should apply to the man is stricter than the
standard they apply to people of the world. We cannot be surprised when
those who have never come to Christ sin. It is what they know and who they
are. Disciples are different—we have been forgiven and regenerated. We have
“tasted the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 6:4). We
are expected to know better, and when we stubbornly sin, we show our
rejection of God’s blessings. It is appropriate and necessary for us to hold
each other accountable more than we do the people of the world.
There is a tough application here. Sometimes we Christians spend all our
time taking the easy way out—bemoaning the ever-increasing evil of the world
around us. It is good for us to call out sin and to preach the gospel, for
that is how people will learn that there is a better way. However, if we
only sit in our pews looking down on the world, we fail in our duty to
encourage and admonish one another. The harder conversations are when we
need to address sin in the church, but it must be done.
should hate sin and treat it seriously, particularly when it infects the
church. Never glorify sin or shroud it in a cloak of liberty. God expects
us to remain pure and to help each other get to heaven.
GAIUS AND DIOTREPHES
John is a short letter written by the apostle John to a Christian named
Gaius. It is a personal and heartfelt letter containing praise for Gaius’
faith along with a serious condemnation of another man—Diotrephes—who was
causing problems in the church.
Gaius (3 John 1-8). We
are not sure who Gaius was. There are a few people by that name in the New
Testament: in Ephesus (Acts 19:29), in Derbe (Acts 20:4), and in Corinth (Rom.
16:23). But, Gaius was such a common name in the Roman Empire at that time
that it is impossible to prove or disprove that that this Gaius is one of
those others mentioned. Probably it is someone else entirely. Though we
can’t identify him personally, the way John talks about him reveals much
about his character.
We can empathize with John’s affection for Gaius and relief at hearing that
Gaius was walking in truth (3 John 2-4). We all have brothers and sisters in
Christ who live in far away places and at times we wonder how they are doing
and if they are remaining firm in their faith and service. A good report or
visit in person is encouraging and brings us “no greater joy” as it did
Gaius’ walk in truth was seen in how he faithfully served brethren and
strangers (3 John 5-8). Traveling brethren were in Gaius’ town. These were
people he did not know and were not associated with him in any way other
than being fellow Christians. Despite this, he showed them hospitality and
sent them on their way refreshed and encouraged. Gaius did not demand to be
treated with deference; we actually see no indication that he cared about
his image and status in any self-centered way. As soon as the opportunity
presented itself, he received them as brethren and served them faithfully.
Diotrephes (3 John 9-11). Diotrephes
is another member of the local church with Gaius. It is unclear whether he
was an elder or leader of the church or merely had aspirations of
leadership. He is the opposite of Gaius in spirit and actions, and John
needs to address his evil in this letter.
In contrast with Gaius, Diotrephes “loved to have the preeminence” (3 John
9, NKJV). He was obsessed with power and needed to be in control of the
church. If he was an elder, he was a grossly unfit one who was “domineering
over those in [his] charge” (1 Pet. 5:3). If not, he still was trying to
assert himself in a selfish manner and was not properly submitting to his
One way that Diotrephes sought preeminence was that he rejected the
authority of John, who was an inspired apostle of Jesus. Here we get a
better picture of who the traveling Christians were from earlier in the
letter that Gaius received and served—they had come from John bearing
instructions for this church. This seems to be similar to what Paul did when
he wrote to various churches he was connected with to give inspired
instructions to them addressing whatever problems they had. John and Paul
were apostles, so they had the authority to do this, but Diotrephes views
the emissaries of John as a threat to his power in the church.
Diotrephes’ solution was to speak “wicked nonsense” (3 John 10) against
them. His words were designed to make others in the church ignore the
message from John and even to reject their fellow Christians. Can you
imagine telling your brethren that they should not show hospitality
and kindness toward their fellow brethren? Diotrephes was so ironfisted that
he kicked people out of the church who didn’t listen to him. Whether he was
an elder or not, he had no right to such a thing when the only offense was
faithful service. How shameful for a disciple to be acting more like a
persecutor. If John comes in person, he will deal with Diotrephes harshly,
but really it is the obligation of the rest of the brethren to restrain
Diotrephes’ evil behavior or to mark him as a divisive influence if he will
church needs many disciples like Gaius who are faithful, humble, and look
for opportunities to receive and serve brethren. If there are any like
Diotrephes, they must be rebuked. There is no place in the church for people
who seek their own benefit and want to control others. As John said, “Do not
imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does
evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).
Created by John Bass, last updated.
The Mount Baker Beacon is a
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA.
Send all questions, comments to the editor, John Bass at (360) 325-5149