Do not imitate what is evil but what is good. (3 John 1:11)
We always invite “seekers” who visit our church to stop and say hello before leaving the campus. Some of them actually do, and it doesn’t take long to discern that most of them believe that Christianity is little more than a list of rules to follow. They have the notion that being a Christian means rejecting one way of living and adopting another way that is “better.” So the first thing we do in explaining Christianity is to make it clear that being a Christian it is all about a right relationship with Jesus, rather than following the rules and observing the regulations. It is only when we are right with God first that can we do what is right before God. Doing what is right is the fruit that flows from already being, by grace through faith, in that right relationship with Christ.
So once we have entered into that relationship, how then are we to live? Let’s take a brief look at the bookends of the believer’s behavior.
Abstain – When we read, “Do not imitate what is evil” in our verse for today, we must see it in context. John was writing about Diotrephes, who was doing all sorts of evil. Diotrephes loved to be first, and he drew attention to himself by speaking maliciously about other church leaders. He not only refused to welcome others in the faith, he kicked those who did out of the church. John was telling the church not to imitate such wicked practices. In addition to pointing out the evil of Diotrephes, John was telling the church to abstain from even giving the appearance of all kinds of evil, for the good of the church and the glory of God.
But John wasn’t done there; the Holy Spirit had given him more to teach us.
Advance – It is never enough to simply abstain from doing what is contrary to the Word of God. We must also advance toward becoming “people of the Book” — people who do what is good and pleasing in the sight of God and do it for His glory. If we are true disciples of Jesus, we will follow in the footsteps of the One who “went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). Everywhere Jesus went, He left that place better than how He found it. He ministered to the marginal; He served the social outcasts; He brought hope to the hopeless; He loved the unloved and the unloving. Through acts of compassion and kindness, He served others, and taught us all that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
How are you doing at abstaining and advancing? In which area are you strongest? Remember, if Christianity is all about a right relationship with Jesus — and it is — we must not simply abstain from evil. We must advance in the direction of doing all the good we can. These two actions are the believer’s bookends that will cause the world to see what a right relationship with Jesus actually looks like. When they do see that, they will echo the Roman centurion at Calvary and say: “Surely He was the son of God!”
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!