The Expository Files

Imitation In The Right Direction

3 John 11

"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.

There is a definite prohibition here: "do not imitate what is evil." God's Word conveys to us: promises of great blessing, warnings of great danger, admonitions, accusations, examples, commands and principles. Also, look for prohibitions; statements where God tells us not to do something. A divine prohibition is not designed to punish; rather, to keep us from destructive behavior. Prohibitions from God are for our good. Some are very specific: Do not lie, do not commit adultery, do not steal. Other prohibitions are general in nature, like this one: "do not imitate what is evil."

Think about what this implies. If I take this prohibition personally, I will need to learn the difference between good and evil, so I can choose the former and reject the latter. This learning requires Bible reading and study. And, it demands that I keep my head clear and my eyes open to temptations. Taking this prohibition seriously means that I will, in the hurried, frenzied routine of life, maintain enough spiritual presence of mind to resist the devil consistently. John tells us plainly, "do not imitate what is evil."

Next, concentrate on the word "imitate." Imitation is defined as acting under the influence of a model! Children imitate their parents (walking, talking, thinking like them). Teenagers find great power in imitation, sometimes called "peer pressure." In an interview I watched a few days ago, the host asked a teenage girl: "What do you do to be cool?" She said, "Imitate, Imitate, Imitate!" Whatever our age, we imitate; we act under the influence of a model.

The teaching of 3 John 11 is, as Christians, we are under obligation to be careful what model we imitate! The duty I have taken on is "do not imitate what is evil." It may help to think of this in terms of Biblical models: I should not imitate the hatred of Cain, the disobedience of Saul, the betrayal of Judas, or the arrogance of Diotrephes. But I should imitate the faith of Abraham, the faithfulness of Joseph, the purity of Daniel and the wise affection of the apostle John. As a Christian, I have accepted the duty to act under the influence of good role models, not evil.

There is another part of this verse that needs our attention: "He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God." Notice this key phrase, "of God," that John uses in other places (see 1 John 4:1,3; 5:18,19). In each case, where John uses this phrase "of God," it has to do with one's connection with God, one's alliance with Him. In 1 John 4:1, those who teach God's truth are "of God," that is, connected with Him in what they teach. In 1 John 4:3, those who will not confess the truth about Jesus show they are not connected with God; not "of God." 1 John 5:18,19 tells us that those truly converted (born of God) are connected with God and disconnected from sin; those not born of God lie under the sway of the devil.

Now in 3 John 11 - when I respond to God, by imitating what He defines as good and shunning all evil, I show my connection with God; I give behavioral evidence that I am connected with Him, in fellowship with Him. If you want to be connected with God ("of God"), get busy listening to Him and letting Him teach you what is good and evil. Then imitate the good and shun the evil. In this conduct you will show you are "of God."

The last part of this is simply the opposite of the first part. When you read this about not seeing God, this is simply the opposite of being "of God." John describes the absence of connection with God by saying "has not seen God." (See similar idea in 2 John 9.)

We are creatures of choice and subject to imitation. Right now, your choices and your imitation lies in either good or evil. By choosing God (as defined and required by God), by imitating good and rejecting evil, we show our attachment to God, our kinship with His Son and our hope of inheriting all the promises involved (see Heb. 6:11-12).

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.9; September 2001