3 John 1: 11, 12
Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that does good is of God: but he that does evil has not seen God.
Beloved, follow not that which is evil, etc. This exhortation occurs here very naturally after the mention of Diotrephes. "Beloved, imitate not that which is evil;" do not copy Diotrephes; regard him not as an example, but as a beacon. But imitate the good; take Demetrius as a pattern; copy his conduct.
I. MAN IMITATES. It is implied here that Gaius would imitate either the good or the evil - either Demetrius or Diotrephes. The propensity to imitation is one of the strongest in human nature. It is this which makes example so much mightier than precept. This propensity is one of the earliest to be called into exercise in human life. The tender infant is stirred by it almost before it knows anything. Very frequently we imitate others unconsciously. The extent of our conscious and intentional imitation is very small as compared with our unconscious and unintentional imitation. This tendency plays a most important part in human education. Without intentional imitation instruction would be impossible, as in reading, writing, etc. And unintentional imitation has great influence in the growth of habit and the formation of character. A very important thing is this tendency to imitation.
II. MAN SHOULD IMITATE ONLY THE GOOD. "Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good," etc. Many and forcible reasons may be assigned for this; e.g., that the opposite course must inevitably lead to ruin; that this course ennobles and blesses him who pursues it. But let us confine ourselves to the reasons assigned in the text.
1. Because the good-doer is of God. "He that doeth good is of God;" i.e., he that doeth good truly and naturally, in whom well-doing is not the exception, but the rule of life, is of God. He is "begotten of God" (1 John 3:9). He proves that he is a child of God by his likeness to his Father in character and conduct. He is inspired by God both as to his inner life and as to his outward practice. Notice how practical is the apostle's idea of true personal religion. The godly man is the man who does good; his good works are the evidence of his godliness. We should imitate the good because of their intimate and blessed relation to God.
2. Because the evil-doer has no true knowledge of God. "He that doeth evil hath not seen God," By doing evil we must understand not an occasional and exceptional action, but the general tenor of life and conduct. He that doeth evil is one the general characteristic of whose works is evil. Such a one has not seen God. The beholding of God is spiritual. And the vision of God and the doing of evil are incompatible; because:
(1) Purity of heart is essential to the seeing of God, and, where purity of heart is, sin cannot be the general characteristic of the conduct. "Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
(2) When a man has seen the Lord, he cannot live in the practice of sin. He who has seen and appreciated the highest beauty cannot live in constant and willing fellowship with extreme deformity. And he whose soul has seen anything of the supremely Perfect and the infinitely Beautiful cannot look upon sin with approval; it must appear loathsome unto him. This consideration tends to strengthen faith in the full and final salvation of every regenerate man. He who has tasted the high joys of Divine vision and communion can never be content with the pleasures of sin or satisfied with the things of this world. Do not imitate the evil; for the practice of it darkens and destroys the vision of the soul; it excludes from the highest and divinest knowledge, even the knowledge which is the soul's life. "This is life eternal, that they should know thee, the only true God," etc.
III. GOOD EXAMPLES ARE GENERALLY AVAILABLE. It is very seldom that we are unable to point to some known example well worthy of imitation. To such a one St. John calls attention. "Demetrius hath the witness of all, and of the truth itself; yea, we also bear witness; and thou knowest that our witness is true." Diotrephes was a beacon to be shunned; Demetrius, an example to be imitated. He was probably a member of the same Church as Gains, and well known to him; and therefore the apostle does not state what his chief excellences were, but from his being named here we infer that they were those which Diotrephes had not. Where the latter was wanting, Demetrius excelled. Good character is not always accompanied by good reputation, but in the case of Demetrius it was. He had a good reputation of:
(1) St. John: "We also bear witness."
(2) Gains: "Thou knowest that our witness is true."
(3) All who knew him; or, perhaps, of all the brethren mentioned in verses 3, 5, 10: "Demetrius hath the witness of all."
(4) "And of the truth itself." Alford says, "The objective truth of God, which is the Divine rule of the walk of all believers, gives a good testimony to him who really walks in the truth. This witness lies in the accordance of his walk with the requirement of God's truth." That truth, like a "mirror, seemed to place in a clear light his Christian virtue and uprightness, and thus to bear witness to him." The most precious testimony is that of the truth itself. When that is in our favour, we may thankfully rejoice. So manifold and excellent was the testimony borne of Demetrius. In most places and societies there are some who are worth imitating. Let us imitate them in so far as they embody the truth. There are seasons in our experience when good human examples are specially valuable. Sometimes the Perfect Example seems to tower far above our imitation, and we despair of ever copying that with success. In such moods the excellent human example is peculiarly precious. It is not so very much higher than our own level of attainment; it encourages us; and, when our despondency has passed away, we are able to aspire once more for conformity to the Supreme Exemplar. - W. J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.