Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

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Last week we answered the question of what’s in a name. For the name Diotrephes, it meant control and power; it meant ungodly, oppressive leadership. It meant ignoring clear, biblical teaching and authority. In short, the name Diotrephes means nothing good. This morning, John gives us a simple instruction.

We’ll look at just one verse today. 3 John 11 says, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.”

We have quite a contrast. John again calls Gaius beloved in v. 11. It is a term of endearment, but it’s also a transition word as he shifts back to speaking to Gaius. John has just spoke of what Diotrephes was all about. He laid out what Diotrephes had done and why that was wrong. One thing is clear. John tells Gaius, “Do not imitate what is evil.” In other words, don’t be like Diotrephes. He acted with evil thoughts, evil motives, evil actions. Do not imitate him. Don’t get the wrong idea here. Gaius has not done evil; in fact he’s done the opposite. Remember what John said in vs. 3 and 5. Gaius was, “walking in truth.” And he was, “acting faithfully.” “Do not imitate what is evil.” Although in context John is definitely talking about the actions of Diotrephes, the application is much broader. For us, I think John is saying avoid bad examples. Imitate comes from the Greek word mimeomai where we get our English word mimic. Don’t mimic what is evil.

We have a propensity in America to want to be like other people. We want to play basketball like Michael or Lebron. To play baseball like Albert Pujols or A. Rod. We tend to imitate who or what is popular. In the 70s it was Farah Fawcett hair and jogging suits. In the 80s it was Princess Di hair and pastel t-shirts, and member’s only jackets. In the 90s it was the Rachel haircut and grunge. In the first decade of the 2000s it was pointy toed shoes and we all voted for Pedro. Advertisers take advantage of our desire to be like whoever is popular and they get celebrities to endorse their products so we’ll buy their stuff. Elevating celebrities is generally not a good thing. Imitation isn’t wrong: imitating what is evil is wrong. The word evil has a very broad application. It is an adjective which means it is used to describe a noun or pronoun. So in context John really is saying do not imitate Diotrephes. Go back and read vs. 9-10 to help you remember what is going on. John tells Gaius, “Do not imitate what is evil.” Ex. 23:2, “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil.” Is 1:16, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil.”

The contrast. “Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” This is a pretty clear command. Don’t be like Diotrephes who loves to be first, who loves to oppress and control. Imitate what is good. It is okay to imitate people. Paul told the people in the church at Corinth to, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) Follow the example of Paul. Why is it okay to be like Paul? “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (Phil. 3:17) Paul didn’t make his own way; he followed the pattern of Christ. We have so many people today that want to do their own thing. They want to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and cover it under that “God is leading me” umbrella. Follow Paul because he follows Christ. He even told us in Gal. 1:8, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed.” Paul was not a do as I say not as I do kind of guy.

Take a look at 1 Cor. 1:2:1-5. Did Paul just use words? No, he demonstrated the power of God in his life and it was life turned upside down for Christ. “Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” It’s not enough just to not imitate what is evil, we must imitate what is good. Here’s another quality that seems to have changed over time so we need to go to the source that is unchanging. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Don’t pattern yourself after what is evil; pattern yourself after what is good. Don’t think your example doesn’t matter. Good or bad, people are watching you and will imitate you if they like you, respect you, or are under your authority. We need to walk the walk. Rom. 8:4 tells us to walk according to the Spirit. Gal. 5:16 says to, “Walk by the Spirit and you won’t carry out the desire of the flesh.” Paul is an example of what we ought to follow. 1 Thes. 1:6, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thes. 2:14, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.” Notice in both verses, the Thessalonians became imitators. Paul was their example, and they were examples to others.

The proof. “The one who does good is of God.” Plain and simple . . . or is it? Good deeds done apart from Christ are just good deeds. We don’t do good deeds to get saved, we do good deeds because we are saved. Tit. 2:7, “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified.” The caveat to that is do good deeds with purity in doctrine and dignified. Right motives, right attitude, right spirit. 1 Jo. 2:29, “You know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”  The only way we can imitate what is good is if we have a relationship with Christ. “The one who does evil has not seen God.”  This is a great phrase. The person that does evil has not seen God in a spiritual sense. This is what they are engaged in. They are powerless to do anything about what they do. John 3:20, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” This is present tense; it is what they are about. This reminds me of 1 Jo. 3:6: “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” You cannot experience a spiritual awakening and continue to practice what is evil.

Notice in this entire letter, John never one time says that Diotrephes is evil. John didn’t attack Diotrephes with wicked words. John stated what he did was evil. What he did is not in keeping with someone who wants to grow in Christ, who wants to hear from God, who submits to the authority in his life. What kind of church would it be if everyone in it imitated Diotrephes? What kind of church would C4 be if everyone imitated me . . . or you? Rom.12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This gives us the idea that evil is lurking around waiting for an opportunity to overcome you. But we, through the power of Christ, can overcome that evil with good. 1 Pet. 5:8 warns us to, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Don’t get caught off guard.

It’s not enough to avoid evil. As authentic children of God, we must imitate what is good, what is right, what is pure. We must imitate Christ.


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