In this very short letter, we are given an up close and personal, intimate look inside the life of a little church in the first century. We are given a brief glimpse through the lives of three men in the church, three different personalities, three kinds of Christians that are in every church. We can learn and benefit from each of them.
We have before us one of the most famous conversions in the history of Christianity. It is so important it is told three times in the book of Acts. One scholar said after the death and resurrection of Jesus there is no other greater event in human history than the conversion to Christianity of Saul of Tarsus. Another called him the second founder of Christianity. Paul turned Christianity from a little Jewish sect into a world religion. Without Paul’s conversion we would have no NT like we have. We would be devoid of the depths of theology and doctrine revealed in Romans. Our understanding of justification by faith and salvation by grace would be anemic. Without Paul there would not be the conversions of Augustine, Luther or Wesley. In fact, our conversion is tied to Paul’s conversion.
III John is more like a postcard than a letter. A postcard epistle. It is the shortest book in the Bible with 219 words. The Spirit is not always long winded. Like I and II Timothy, Titus and Philemon, it is written to an individual, a man named Gaius.
An angel of the Lord had sent the deacon Philip out into the desert on the road from Jerusalem down to Gaza. He wasn’t told why. Now the Spirit of the Lord tells him to go up to a chariot on the road. Again he is not told why or who is in it. Luke tells us it as a very important and highly placed official from the court of the Ethiopian Queen Candace. He was her CFO, in charge of her vast treasury. His wealth is evident by the fact that he is riding in a chariot driven by servants and by the fact that he has in his possession a hand copied scroll of the book of Isaiah. Few people had such things, mainly only rabbis.
I wonder if Philip was surprised by all the things God did through him. Back in chapter six of Acts he was just helping hand out alms to widows, waiting on tables as the apostles called it. He had just be elected a deacon in his church. It was a nice job, pretty easy, not a big deal, not to demanding. You know how some people think about deacons. They are sort of junior elders, they are the lower tier of spiritual leaders. Deacons is for the younger men, those starting out, like apprentices. But clearly God doesn’t look at it that way. Deacons are spiritual leaders gifted and equipped for important spiritual work. There is nothing second class about it. There are different roles and responsibilities, just as there are differences between men and women, husbands and wives, pastors and lay people. We should celebrate and honor the differences without ever slipping into suggesting one is better. In chapter 8 of Acts Philip has been used of God with great power and influence. Philip is the one who spreads the Gospel to Samaria and to Africa. He wasn’t an apostle, he wasn’t a professional evangelist, but God doesn’t just use pros. By His Spirit’s power and gifts, God can and will and wants to use every one of us for His glory and the blessing of others. Be open, be willing, be ready. Don’t despise the gifts he has given you. God loves to glorify Himself through what seems weak and foolish. Pray and ask Him to use you.
Last week we considered the persecution that followed in the wake of Stephen’s death, the first martyr of the early church. This morning we come to consider the first missionary of the early church. The ancient church father, Tertullian, once wrote, the more you kill us the more we will multiply, every drop of our blood will spring up, some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold (Apology, ch. 50).
John begins verse 7 with what sounds like discouraging news. There are many deceivers who have gone out into the world. He doesn’t want believers to be naïve about how many, they are not rare, but commonplace. Don’t be discouraged about all the false teaching in the church in the world. Jesus said again and again there would be false angels, false spirits, false apostles, false teachers, false evangelists, false missionaries, false shepherds, false messiahs, anti-christs, wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is nothing new here, no surprises. This is the work of Satan, it has never ceased and won’t until Christ returns and puts an end to it. The enemy never rests and the enemy is very subtle. Our world is filled with thousands of cults with millions of followers, false religions, liberal theologies, and worldly ideologies. There are over five thousand cults with millions of followers. Many of them once attended a church. But we need not fear, “And though this world with devils filled.” Jesus is on His throne and He will not be overthrown and the gates of hell will not prevail against His blood-bought Church.