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  • Ross Moughtin

When we would believe the lie


I had been expecting Nicodemus but to my horror Diotrephes turned up instead. I was preaching at a service for the Heswall council of churches, which in those days would have had a big congregation. My sermon, based on the lectionary reading from John’s Gospel, was to be focussed on Jesus’ response to Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who came to him by night. So I stood in the pulpit to hear the passage to be read by a prominent member of another church. However, rather than reading John 3:1-ll incredibly he read 3 John 1-11 – it could happen to anyone. And so I was introduced in testing circumstances to the charismatic figure of Diotrephes, the patron saint of the personality cult. The chances are that you have no idea who Diotrephes was for the simple reason that we don’t often read 3 John, the third-to-last book of the New Testament and the shortest book of the Bible by word count. Anyway Diotrephes turned up again yesterday in my BRF Guidelines Bible reading notes which had been taking me through the three letters of John. (Incidentally, they are not necessarily the same John and not necessarily the writer of the Gospel.) So this John writes: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.” (v9) It seems that this church leader had been seeking to discredit John through spreading ‘vicious rumours’. Clearly members of his church were willing to take his word at face value and readily believe his defamations. No wonder John is miffed. Moreover Diotrephes wanted to insulate his fellowship from Christians from other churches. Clearly he was running a tight ship. So we read “Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” (v10) As I write this President Trump is seeking to hold onto power by undermining the credibility of the US voting process. As the New York Times headlines In Torrent of Falsehoods, Trump Claims Election Is Being Stolen. It seems that last night most US television networks cut away from the statement he gave from the White House briefing room on the grounds that what he was saying was not true. Amazing. The NYT article continues: “A presidency born in a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace appeared on the edge of ending in a lie about his own faltering bid for re-election.” I’ve always thought that the most effective lies are those which subtly twist the truth, mostly accurate but tweaked to imply the opposite message. However, Trump does not go into subtlety, simply offering bold statements of fake facts, “with not a shred of evidence” to quote the NYT. What is alarming is that he is so willingly believed by so many people. Witness the angry demonstrations from his supporters. Clearly these are people who are prepared to accept whatever Trump says as truth, however ludicrous it would appear to anyone else. Sadly there are no shortage of people like Trump in the church, leaders like Diotrephes who seek to promote themselves even through falsehood and innuendo. However, it has to be said that personal ambition has no place as we would serve the Servant King. As my BRF commentator writes: “The desire to be first, and thus recognised and known, is an insidious temptation. . .While it is right that we should honour others appropriately, we should always remember that it is never about ‘me’ or ‘you’. What are our names compared with the Name?” Truth not falsehood is to be the hallmark of Christian ministry. No wonder that John uses the word ‘truth’ no less than six times in the 14 verses of his letter. “I have no greater joy,” he writes,” than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (v4) Moreover, John concludes his short letter with the assurance: “You know that our testimony is true.” (v12) Unlike Diotrephes he is willing to be checked out. And that is the key – accountability with transparency. Again to quote my Guideline notes “Here is clear evidence that churches in the early years had to deal with those who regarded themselves as unaccountable to anyone.” In what may be the earliest letter in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica “Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22) So to check out everything is not a sign of disloyalty or mistrust. Too much is at stake. Unthinking obedience belongs to the dominion of darkness. Jesus calls us to walk in his light. Nicodemus may have come to Jesus in the dark but Jesus makes it very clear to him. “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3: 21) So we pray for the United States that it would be, in the words of one of its founding fathers “as a city set upon a hill for all to observe.” # truth #light #leadership

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