The letter of 3rd John is an interesting and short letter as it depicts John rejoicing over a new convert (Gaius), the testimony of Gaius in the community, the divisive nature and power-hungry actions of Diotrephes, and a quick word of comfort that there is much more to tell Gaius but John would rather do it in person than writing it all down. Unfortunately – that conversation we do not have a record of.
Let’s take note of a few things:
1. John’s Rejoicing
3John 1:1 The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. 1:2 Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. 1:3 For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.
He is speaking of Gaius (from verse 1) and it thrilled John to no end that Gaius was walking in the truth. We know from Christ’s own words that He is the truth (John 14:6). Gaius was walking IN CHRIST. As we’ve noted, Truth is not a concept of the mind or a collection of words – it is the Person of Jesus Christ. In verse 4, John says that he has no greater joy than to hear that his children walk in truth. Paul said something similar to the Corinthians when he said that he would learn nothing of them save Christ and Him crucified. Both men knew what was ultimately important – Christ.
2. Gaius’ Testimony
3John 1:4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. 1:5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; 1:6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: 1:7 Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. 1:8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.
In verses 4 through 8 describe, in brief, the impact that Gaius’ walking in truth was having unto his brethren, despite his brethren being “strangers.” This is likely John’s way of putting – even though your brethren (in Christ) are Gentiles, you are nonetheless treating them under the banner of being in Christ. Gaius is given to hospitality, in other words. News was getting back to John of both parties of the charity that Gaius was exhibiting. It was Gaius’ influence on the brethren that caused the brethren to likewise go out but not expecting to receive anything from their fellow Gentiles, but rather to give the Name of God to them. John says that they should support people like these because they are fellow workers of the truth.
3John 1:9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 1:10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
In verses 9 through 11, John tells Gaius that he has written unto the church but his letter was halted by one, Diotrephes. Diotrephes apparently ran a local assembly (that Gaius doesn’t seem to be a part of). This Diotrephes believes he needs to control the information his church receives, especially from someone he doesn’t consider to have any apostolic authority. This ought to be a lesson for us – regardless of our sincerity, we need to walk and think carefully about what we guard against and what we don’t. I’m sure Diotrephes thought he was doing the right thing, but was actually accomplishing the opposite. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a time when we need to be careful what information is being presented as authoritative, but it is to say that our prevention routines need to be bathed in wisdom. This is indeed a completely separate topic that could be explored – being a good steward of information.
Diotrephes is also chided for his unwillingness to be hospitable to fellow believers who are traveling through the area. This has similar connotations as what the Corinthians were doing with those who were of poorer status in society (1Corinthians 11). Diotrephes had blinded himself to God’s work and to God’s people.
4. Following the Godly Example & Closing
3John 1:11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. 1:12 Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. 1:13 I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: 1:14 But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.
John closes the letter (verses 11 through 14) by reminding them to not follow after them that do evil, but after them that do good. His reasoning is that those who do good do so because they are manifest from God. In other words, the good that John has mind isn’t something that is arbitrarily and subjectively set by a society, but is of a nature that one witnessing it would only conclude it is of God. Follow that person, John says. Then John says that those that do evil have not seen God. This is interesting – the converse that came before it did not say that those who do God have seen God, but rather are OF God. Yet, those who do evil, John says, have not seen God, or, we could say they are blind to him. This is exactly what Diotrephes was – he was blind to God and therefore couldn’t see John’s apostolic authority. Yet, John describes another in verse 12 of Demetrius who maintained a true testimony – a testimony that affirms Demetrius had seen God (had not blinded himself to him) and his testimony was good – of truth. This notion of willful blindness isn’t unique to John. Paul wrote about it in Romans 1. Peter wrote about it in 2Peter 3. And the theme is common – something that should have been obvious and self-evident, especially of God, was being willingly ignored.
John closes by assuring Gaius that there is much more to share with him, but he would wait to do it in person. In the meantime, Gaius can search out this Demetrius, give him hospitality and rejoice together over their shared testimony – that they are in Christ.