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Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. 3 John 1:11

The short letter of 3 John to his beloved friend Gaius, in part, describes the different behavior of two leaders, Diotrephes, and Demetrius. Of Demetrius, John simply writes that he “has a good testimony from all, and from the Truth itself.” This is to say that Demetrius was a humble, selfless, servant of Christ and the brothers and sisters of the church—the kind of disciple who demonstrates his relationship with God through his treatment of people. This is a very important thing to notice.

Diotrephes, on the other hand, enjoyed the power of leadership. He loved preeminence. John told Gaius that if he was able to visit he would expose Diotrephes, who, John writes, had been “prating against us with malicious words” and even putting people out of the church that didn’t agree with him. 

It is interesting that John points to this practice of using malicious words against others, demeaning and putting them down, as a primary way people make themselves look better. Instead of building others up, and leaving our personal promotion up to the Lord, we tear others down and step over them to a more prominent position. John says this is the behavior of one who has not seen God.

Now, Diotrephes will always be louder and more noticeable than Demetrius, it is their nature. Imitating what is good, that is, imitating Jesus, by humbly serving others, doesn’t capture many headlines. Whereas demeaning others to tear them down and promote yourself, causing friction or scandal, will likely get your picture on the cover—and oddly, this seems to be what many today are after, to be noticed, to be an influencer, to cause friction and be followed. But it is imitating evil, not good. It is following the world, not the Savior, and it reveals the heart of one who has not seen God—an unredeemed, or, at best, double-minded, unstable person. Someone who thinks you have to tear others down in order to accomplish a greater good.

Admittedly, this way often appears to work. We see it deployed effectively by the most powerful people in the world. But at what cost? Personal integrity? Holiness? Beloved, do not imitate evil, it will ruin your witness, it will damage your soul. You were saved to be like Jesus, to follow His example, like Demetrius, who had a good testimony among all, even from the Truth itself, which is Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life.”

As we begin to prepare our hearts for Lent, leading to Easter, and the passion and victory of Christ, let us be mindful of our words, thoughts, and intentions—and repent. Love God, love one another, bless, and do not curse.