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.
3 John v.11
This tiny letter is addressed to the beloved Gaius. The only other Gaius I find mentioned in The Bible is a Macedonian who was traveling with Paul (Acts 19-20). That Gaius is mentioned by Paul both in his letter to the Romans and the first letter to the Corinthians. Whether or not this is the same Gaius, I cannot say. While the letter was written to a specific person, the principles can be applied more universally.
John gives instruction in both a negative and a positive, then gives context to the instruction. He writes that we should not imitate what is evil, but what is good. Since I was curious, I looked up the words used and found out a few things.
First, the verb used is the root of the English prefix mimeo-, which was once used in reference to copying things. There were mimeographs and machines that made them. The machine used a stencil to make the copies, so there was a firm pattern that was followed in recreating the image. This I find extremely illuminating with regard to the verb in front of me. Imitation is not all that precise. Duplication is very precise. The implication is that I should not invest a great deal of energy and effort into aping evil behavior. Rather, I should spend my energies elsewhere, specifically, I should invest my energies replicating the exact behavior of what is good.
Second, this is in the imperative. It is not suggested that I refrain from duplicating evil behaviors. It is commanded that I do so. I am not encouraged to replicate good behavior in myself, but commanded to do so.
Third, the word used for what is evil is the root for the English prefix caco-, used in the word cacophony and others. I note cacophony, because it is the most common of the words that employ caco- as a prefix. In that case, the sound (-phony) is harsh, discordant, and meaningless. In verifying that the word and the prefix were related, I also stumbled on the word cacogenics, which is the study of genetic degeneration. The whole idea of the prefix (caco-) in English usage is that something is wrong, chaotic, not as it ought to be, or is decaying in some fashion. The behaviors I am warned against copying are those which are wrong, not as they ought to be; things pertaining to degeneration and decay. Contrarily, the behaviors I am commanded to emulate are precisely the opposite.
John then moves on to describe those who live lifestyles marked by each of the behaviors. The verse talks about the one who does each thing. The words used are constructions of forms of the words for evil and good and another word — ποιέω (poieō) — that is absolutely bursting with meaning. The word poieō, or some form of it, is where we get the English word “poem”. The possible meanings of the word — according to the concordance — include being the author or cause of a thing, to make something, to do something. The word has a lot of potential meanings. Essentially, these individuals are the good-causers and the evil-causers; the good-makers and the evil-makers; the good-doers and the evil-doers.
Those who cause and do and make good things have, John writes, are of God. Those who cause and do and make evil things have not even seen God. The idea of not just of seeing with the eyes, but of perceiving with the mind, as well. Those who continually do things which ought not be done have not perceived God; have not begun to understand Who He is. On the other hand, those who continually do good things have not only begun to understand God, but they are of God.
This morning, I need to examine myself. Am I an author of good things or evil things? Not the once-in-a-while type of authorship — we all make mistakes — but the day-to-day marking of my life and behavior and thought patterns.
God, please examine me and give me eyes to see what You see, that I might take action. Where my life is marked by copying the behaviors of those who do what is evil in Your sight, please show me and convict me and give me the strength to turn those areas over to You for change, because I cannot change myself. Where my life is marked by copying the behaviors of those who do waht is good in Your sight, please encourage me in those and strengthen what feeble resolve I might already have to stay those courses.