LESSON 13 *September 19 - 25

Power Struggle
Lesson graphic

Read for This Week's Study:

Isa. 14:13, 14; Mark 9:35; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; 1 Corinthians 13; Phil. 2:3; ; Rev. 14:6.

Memory Text:

"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 11, NKJV).

      Power struggles come in various forms. Whether over the rulership of empires3 John, over companies, or even over religious position and authority, the fight for control can be ugly, even violent. In a real sense, the great controversy in heaven began with a power struggle—Satan seeking the position and authority that belonged only to Jesus, the Creator, and not to a creature. Unfortunately, even in the church that same spirit can be manifested.

Third John, the final letter in this series, deals with a power struggle in one of the early churches. On one side are the apostle John, Gaius, and Demetrius. On the other side is Diotrephes, who is trying to establish his supremacy. A power struggle in a local church? Certainly as Christians today, we don't face anything similar, do we?

The Week at a Glance:

To whom did John write this letter? What do we know about Gaius and his character that could be of value for ourselves? What kind of power struggle was going on in the church?  

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, September 26.

SUNDAY September 20

The Elder and Gaius  (3 John 1-4, 13-15)

This is one of the few letters in the New Testament (along with Philemon, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) that are addressed to an individual person, not to a congregation.  

Interestingly enough, John refers to himself here as an elder (3 John 1). But John was an apostle, not a local church elder, so why did he do that? There are a number of possible reasons, some of which do not necessarily exclude each other: (1) The title elder may refer to position, age, or both. In the case of John, the latter use seems to be probable. (2) By using the title elder, John indicates that the letter is not just a letter to a friend, but an official communication. (3) The title points to respect and authority, which were due its holder. (4) In 1 Peter 5:1 Peter addresses the elders and calls himself their fellow elder, although he is an apostle. John may be following this usage. (5) The use of elder by John may point to his humility and collegiality, which differs widely from the attitude of Diotrephes.

What do we learn about Gaius in 3 John 1-4?  

John must have had a good relationship with Gaius. He calls him beloved and tells him that he truly loves him. Three times derivatives of the word "to love" are used in verses 1 and 2 to describe John's relation to Gaius.

How do we understand what it means, as Christians, to love each other? How do we show that love? See 1 Corinthians 13.  

John rejoices that Gaius is walking in the truth; he mentions that twice in verses 3 and 4 and says that even brothers who had met Gaius were praising his wonderful Christian attitude and lifestyle. John, on his part, longs to meet Gaius soon and talk to him personally. The greetings to and from Gaius show that there was a larger circle of believers who were acquainted with him and who supported him.
Go over 1 Corinthians 13. How well do you manifest the principles that Paul talks about there? In what areas do you do fairly well; in what areas could and should you improve?  

MONDAY September 21

Gaius and His Mininsty to the Church  (3 John 5-8)

Read 3 John 5-8 and paraphrase what John is saying. What important lesson is there for us here?  

In his second letter John had addressed the issue of hospitality and had warned against being hospitable to traveling missionaries who were teaching heresy. True believers cannot support antichrists. In 3 John the apostle comes back to the issue of hospitality. And here he stresses that some traveling missionaries needed help. They were preaching the gospel for free but needed a place to stay overnight and some food. Unlike the heretical missionaries John already dealt with, these missionaries were people dedicated to God in all respects.

Gaius had supported them and had shown hospitality toward them. The missionaries were quite impressed and had mentioned Gaius favorably in church.

What we see here deals not just with hospitality, not just with giving someone a place to sleep for the night, but with the whole principle of support for the work of ministry and missions. John is thankful that Gaius had treated these people as he has. It shows his openness and willingness to give of himself for the work of spreading the gospel. In this sense, Gaius should be an example to all of us. The Lord has chosen us, as believers, to spread this truth to the whole world.

Read Revelation 14:6. Who is that angel, and how broad and wide is his mission?  

As Christians in general and Adventists in particular, we must be aware of our calling to support the work of spreading the gospel everywhere in the world. Whatever our position, whatever our role, we all can have a part to play.
How involved are you in helping to spread the truths we have been given? What more could you do? How much of your own time, money, and pleasure would you be willing to give up for the sake of helping others hear the good news of Jesus Christ and the promise of His return?  

TUESDAY September 22

Diothrephes  (3 John 9, 10)

"Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, 'If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all' " (Mark 9:35, NIV).

What important Christian principle is found in this verse? More important, how can we learn to follow it ourselves?  

After having pointed to Gaius and his ministry, John is now ready to tackle the problem with Diotrephes, the leader of the church to which Gaius belonged. This man was, obviously, a source of many problems, and John is determined to deal with him at the right time.

Read 3 John 9, 10. What was the problem with this man? From the little information we have, in what ways was he going completely against what it means to be a Christian? See also Isa. 14:13, 14; Matt. 12:37; 18:3-6; Phil. 2:3.  

Whoever this Diotrephes was, he was a problem. Church members were being pushed aside or even disfellowshiped for showing basic Christian courtesy to others. But this was not all. Probably Diotrephes was trying to establish himself as the only leader of the congregation or at least as the one in control. He may have confused lust of power with zeal for the gospel. Arrogantly he rejected the authority of the apostle John and others; Diotrephes even went further and slandered John.

This was a dangerous development, because it sounds as if Diotrephes wanted do be independent from those who were overseeing the church on a larger scale. Such an attitude had the potential to dramatically change the nature of the church and the role church members would play in the church.
Might there not be a bit of Diotrephes in all of us? Look at yourself. Are you greedy for power? Do you speak out against those you don't like? Most important, are you making the sad mistake of automatically assuming that what is best for you personally is best for the church as a whole?  

WEDNESDAY September 23

Bearing Witness About Demetrius

Read 3 John 11. Why would John write this when he did? What important point is he making here, especially given the context, that of warning about a church leader who was acting contrary to the principles of Christ?  

Verse 11 is a transitional statement. It builds a bridge between what John has said about Diotrephes and what he is going to say about Demetrius. Evil has a representative, and this is Diotrephes. The arrogant and ambitious leader is clearly identified as belonging to that which is evil. On the other hand, a good example for Gaius to follow is Demetrius.

What do we know about Demetrius? 3 John 12.  

There is another Demetrius in Acts 19:23-29. He was the silversmith who was responsible for the riot in Ephesus when Paul preached the gospel there. Nothing in the text indicates that this is the same person.

Demetrius was a Gentile Christian. Demetrius supported the apostle John and may have been one of his associates and one of the traveling missionaries. John may have wanted him to be present when he planned to confront Diotrephes.

Perhaps the most important principle we can take away from this one verse about Demetrius has to do with the power of influence. Read the verse again. Who was able to testify about the "faithfulness" of Demetrius? It came from many directions. The point is that if we are living a Christian life, if we are faithful, others will know. Others can bear witness and testimony to it. And most important others can be influenced by it. In the end, one way or another, our life, our existence, sends a message, and that message can be a positive or a negative influence. This doesn't mean we are perfect, this doesn't mean we don't make mistakes, this doesn't mean we don't have room to improve. It means, instead, that others are watching us, others are listening to us, and others are influenced by us. The question is, What kind of witness do we bear?
Imagine someone giving a report about you and your Christian behavior. What would that person write, and why? Dwell on the implications of your answer.  

THURSDAY September 24

Leadership Crisis in the Early  Church

Thus, from what we have seen, there was a leadership crisis in at least one of John's churches. According to this letter, the problem here concerned not so much theology, but rather personal ambition and a change in how churches were governed. However, often when a conflict begins, it involves some issues and later moves on to others. So here, too, the doctrines of the church may have been affected in the long run.

We noticed a certain kind of power struggle and some desire for independence. This is found today in the idea of congregationalism, in which local churches try to be completely independent from any governing church body and rather strike out on their own. This is not the New Testament model.

Instead, all believers are the people and body of Christ. All believers are also part of the royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9). All have received spiritual gifts, which are necessary for the church (1 Cor. 12:7-31). A distinction between laity and clergy is foreign to the New Testament. However, God has called some persons to leadership positions in the church and has gifted them. These persons should be respected. Leaders are not infallible and should not pretend to be. In some cases there even may be justified reasons for complaints (1 Tim. 5:19). If the leader must be confronted, it should be done carefully and lovingly.

Leaders must indeed lead, but they also need to be shepherds, and, most of all, they need to be examples for the rest of the body of Christ. Qualifications for leaders are listed in both the Old and New Testaments. The terms bishops and elders are still used interchangeably in the New Testament (Acts 20:17, 28), although this changed dramatically in church history when a strict hierarchy was created and the church became more or less identical with the so-called clergy.

What can we learn from the following texts about how the church is to be governed? Mark 10:42-44; Acts 6:1-7; 15:6, 22-25; 1 Tim. 4:14; James 5:14.  

The New Testament is opposed to chaos and anarchy in the church. Leadership is mentioned for the local level, as well as the universal church. However, Jesus Himself stressed that leadership in the church/churches must be servant leadership. Local churches were governed by a group of elders rather than by one person only. Decisions were made by involving the entire church or representatives of the church.


FRIDAY September 25

Further Study:  
  Read the following passages on church governance/leadership: John 13:1-12; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 1:3, 4; 4:13; 5:22; Titus 1-3; 1 Peter 5:1-4.

"Those who are inclined to regard their individual judgment as supreme are in grave peril. It is Satan's studied effort to separate such ones from those who are channels of light, through whom God has wrought to build up and extend His work in the earth. To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to bear the responsibilities of leadership in connection with the advancement of the truth is to reject the means that He has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of His people."—Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 444.

"God has not set any kingly power in the Seventh-day Adventist Church to control the whole body or to control any branch of the work. He has not provided that the burden of leadership shall rest upon a few men. Responsibilities are distributed among a large number of competent men."—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 236.  

Discussion Questions:
     Think about power and how power is used. When is power a good thing, when is it a bad thing, and how do we know the difference?   

   What Christians in your local church could be held up as role models? What about them is admirable? At the same time, what dangers arise when looking toward any sinner as a role model?  

   Have you ever been greatly disappointed by someone you regarded as a role model? What lessons did you learn from this that could be of value to others? How can we learn from the good example of others and yet be protected from disappointment if they fail?  

   How should a church react when it has a problem in leadership itself? How can it strike the right balance in dealing with the problem firmly while at the same time showing the grace and mercy of Christ?  

   Outside of Jesus Himself, which Bible character is your favorite role model, and why? In class, share your answers with each other and see what you can learn.  

I N S I D E Story    
The Thief Who elped Build a Church


I live in a small fishing village in Benin, West Africa. We had a small church until we invited a thief to join us. Francis* was the leader of a group of bandits who troubled people in the area.

One Sabbath afternoon as we were going to study the Bible with some people, we met Francis. We shared our faith and offered to visit him and study the Bible with him. Some people standing nearby said, "He's a bandit; he'll never change." But we began visiting Francis, and soon he came to church.

We live on the water and travel by canoe. One Wednesday we invited Francis to ride with us in our canoe to our weekly prayer meeting. Some town leaders saw Francis in our canoe and stopped us. They arrested Francis and took him to jail. We went on to prayer meeting, where we prayed for Francis. Then we visited the mayor and told him that Francis was changing and was no problem to us. "Once he was a bandit," I said. "But if you let him go, you will see that he will change when God touches his heart."

The mayor released Francis to us, but he warned us that if Francis stole again, he would be thrown into prison.

As the people saw that Francis was changing, their attitudes toward him changed. Some business people from whom Francis had stolen even offered him odd jobs and a small stipend to help him survive without stealing. But the members of his bandit gang wanted Francis back. They begged him and even threatened to steal the church's canoe unless Francis came back to the gang. But Francis refused. "Leave these Christians alone," he demanded.

Eventually Francis was baptized and became a leader in the church. People saw that he truly was converted. One day the mayor told Francis that he needed someone to purchase supplies to build a new school and wanted Francis to take the job. So the former thief became a trusted worker in the village. The church grew after Francis became an Adventist, and today we have 25 members in our church.

We don't have a permanent church building—something that is important in a country such as Benin, where voodoo is rampant. We continue to worship in a thatched-roof building. We have built a foundation and started on the walls of our new permanent church, building as we can buy the blocks. Your Sabbath School offerings will help us realize our dream of having a church that will shine as a light to a dark community leading others like Francis to the love of God.

BERTIN ADJIGNON lives in Ganvie, Benin, in western Africa. *Not his real name.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Mission Awareness.
email:   info@adventistmission.org   website:  www.adventistmission.org

Join the SSNET moderated email discussion group.  You are also warmly invited to join a group discussion of this lesson Sabbath morning with your local Seventh-day Adventist congregation.

Editorial Office: 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904.

Principal Contributor:
Ekkehardt Mueller
Clifford R. Goldstein
Associate Editor:
Soraya Homayouni
Publication Specialist:
Lea Alexander Greve

Editorial Assistants:
Tresa Beard
Pacific Press Coordinator:
Paul A. Hey
Art Director and Illustrator:
Lars Justinen
Concept Design:
Dever Design

Copyright © 2009 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist.  All Rights Reserved.

SSNET Web Site Home page
Directory of Sabbath School Bible Study materials
Archive of previous Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guides
Prepared for the Internet by the SSNET Web Team.

Last updated July 17, 2009.