The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


'Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has testimony from every one, and from the truth itself; I testify to him too, and you know my testimony is true. I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them' (3 John 11-15).

We come to the end of the last of our three letters and from these closing verses of 3 John we can see afresh a number of things about the life that is to be lived by Christian people.

a. A life lived copying all that is good.

Whether we specially plan to do so or not, we all copy others - for good or for bad. Whether we think of it or not, other people copy us - for good or for bad. Often in the New Testament it is said that the Christian life is a life of imitating, of copying. Above all, it should be a life copying our Lord Jesus Christ, the only One who has lived on this earth as perfect Man. When He, in great humility, acted as a slave to His disciples and washed their feet, He said to them, 'You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you' (John 13:13-15). We are to follow His example of love, as it says in Ephesians 5:2, 'walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us'. We are called to be willing to suffer for the right, because, as 1 Peter 2:21 puts it, 'Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps'. Hebrews 13:7 says that we are to imitate the lives of good Christian men and women, those who have been our leaders in the faith. Paul often wrote of the responsibility he felt to live his life in such a way as would be an example to others (see 1 Corinthians 4:16 and 11:1, Philippians 3:17 and 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). We are to imitate all that is good in others, but refuse all that is evil. So we in turn will be able to give a good example for others to copy.

b. A life lived inspired by God.

The call to imitate Christ and to copy all that is good in others is important for us. It does not, however, tell us everything that is to be told about the life of the Christian. To begin with, none of us do these things naturally. If Jesus Christ were only the great Example to imitate, we would give up in despair. Thank God, He is also our Saviour who forgives us when we fail. By His Spirit He also gives us strength to serve Him and the desire to imitate what is good. As has often been said in 1 John, one of the great tests of the Christian life is whether we seek to obey God and do, what is right and true, or not. So the words of verse 11 express that here, 'he who does good is of God'. We can put these words alongside those of 1 John 3:10, 'By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil; whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother'. We cannot be children of God, men and women of God, unless we are trying to do the will of God and to do all that is good and true and loving.

If we are God's people, then His Spirit is in us, to give us the desire and the power to do good. Something more is said here, 'he who does evil has not seen God'. This also is like 1 John (3:6). In one way, with our natural eyes, none of us has seen God. But with spiritual sight we can see God and come to know Him more, if we love to do His will and strive after all that is good. That is what 1 John 4:12 says 'No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us'. Jesus said 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). When we imitate evil and hold on to what we know is wrong, it is as if there is a dark cloud between us and God (see Isaiah 59:2). When our sin is forgiven and taken away from us, and we seek to do good, the dark cloud is removed and we come to know God more and more, we see how wonderful He is in His power and love, His truth and holiness, His wisdom and goodness. In our hearts and minds we see God now and we look forward to that day when we see our Lord face to face (see 1 John 3:2).

c. A life recognized by other people as true.

God certainly knows those who seek Him and who strive to do what is good. He counts them as His people and they are blessed with the blessing of coming to know Him better. But in the world the person who seeks to live in truth is usually recognized for what he or she is. This letter has given us the picture of the life of Gaius, a man who served others well. It has given us the picture of Diotrephes, a man who only wanted to serve his own interests and to put himself first. Finally, it gives us, in verse 12, the picture of Demetrius. 'Every one speaks well of Demetrius' is the Today's English Version translation of that verse. The verse goes on to say 'truth itself speaks well of him'. That means that his life was faithful to the truth of the gospel so that that truth was really seen in his life. Truth shone out from him. How greatly the Christian should want a life like that, a life that in the eyes of the world is single-minded in love for God and for His truth and goodness!

After these things have been said in verses 11 and 12, the letter comes to a close in a way very like 2 John. There, (see Study 24), we saw the blessing of writing with 'paper and ink' (here it is 'pen and ink') and the things that could only be said 'face to face'. We saw also what lay behind the greetings that pass from one Christian to another. All these things we can think of again as we read verses 13-15 here. One key word is used here that is not found in 2 John, the word 'friends'. The 'friends' greet one another and every one individually (literally 'by name'). In Christ we are brothers and sisters, but the word 'friends' can in one way say more than that, since even brothers and sisters are not always friends. Abraham was called 'the friend of God' (James 2:23), and we also can be friends of God, if we have faith and obedience like Abraham. Jesus said to His disciples, 'You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you' (John 15:14, 15). By our accepting the truth He wants to teach us and by wanting to do His will we also can be friends of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, too, members of the Christian family are intended to be friends together, faithful to one another, interested in one another's interests, supporting one another. The Church should be a company of friends, whose friendship is lived out to the glory of God and is a means of drawing others into their fellowship and so to fellowship and friendship with God through Jesus Christ.


O Lord our God, may we truly be Your people hating evil and turning from it, relying on Your grace to forgive us and make us new. So may we live with our fellow-Christians as friends who can be trusted; and in the world may we show forth Your truth, to the glory of You Name. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

1. The Scriptures not only speak of our being called to imitate lives of faith and good works and especially the life of Jesus Himself, they speak of our being 'imitators of God, as beloved children' (Ephesians 5:1). What does this mean, especially when the Bible so often says, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy' (1 Peter 1:16, quoting words that are frequently used in the Old Testament)? Consider also the words of Jesus, 'You, therefore, must be perfect, as Your heavenly Father is perfect' (Matthew 5:48).

2. The ideal that the Christian should have a good reputation in the eyes of others is given to us in such passages as Acts 2:47, 6:3 and 1 Timothy 3:7. In what ways should we seek a reputation like this? When, or in what ways, is it dangerous for us to seek to have a good reputation?


Probably we know nothing more of this Demetrius than what is said in verse 12. There is another Demetrius mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 19:24-38. The name Demas is short for Demetrius, but the Demas of Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24 and 2 Timothy 4:10 is probably not the same as the Demetrius here. It is quite likely that this Demetrius was one of the traveling messengers of the gospel who were being rejected by Diotrephes (verse 10) and here he is being commended to Gaius as one who was worthy to be received by him and by the congregation.