3 John — Partnering with Ministers of the Gospel; Avoiding Troublemakers
Only a single chapter long, 3 John is another memo written by an important leader in the early church to address a matter of concern with a follower of Christ. The author of this epistle identified himself simply as, “the Elder.” Although there is no other concrete evidence to suggest that it was written by John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, the similarity in style, vocabulary and other details closely resemble those of John’s Gospel, 1 John and Revelation, wherein John identified himself as the author. [Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts © 1996, by Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 473].
Bible scholars estimate that the letter was written about the same time as 2 John—around A.D. 90—most likely from his headquarters in Ephesus. It is addressed anonymously “To the beloved Gaius…” Although brief—a mere fourteen verses long—the letter is still relevant today in its encouragement to minister to fellow believers and avoid those who oppose church leaders.
3 John Chapter 1
As mentioned above, John opened his letter simply by calling himself, “the elder.” Having been arrested and exiled and even having had an attempt made to execute him for his faith, perhaps John was being cautious about identifying himself—either for his safety or that of his correspondents. Perhaps, as the oldest surviving member of the original twelve apostles, he needed only identify himself this way, and people would know who he was.
John referred to his recipient as “Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth” (3 John 1:1). The love of God for us and love for one another were John’s favorite subjects in all his writings. It is fitting that the first thought he expressed toward the recipient of this letter was the fact of his genuine agape love for this brother in Christ.
I love what John prays for his friend: “that you may prosper in all things and be healthy, even as your soul prospers” (v. 2). So much modern research confirms that anyone who is sound of mind is also sound of body. Our hearts, minds and bodies are so connected.
John mentioned next that he had heard from other believers that Gaius was walking in the truth, and said hearing that his spiritual children were doing so was one of the greatest sources of joy in his life (3-4). Not only that, but John encouraged Gaius that “you do a faithful work in whatever you accomplish for those who are brothers and strangers” (5). Gaius was well known for his love among those in the local church (6a). John exhorted him to extend that same love to itinerant evangelists, by supporting them in their work, since they were doing so with no support from the non-Jewish people among whom they were ministering (6b-7). “We therefore ought to receive such, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (8). Or as Jesus had previously said, according to Matthew 10:41, those who extended a kindness to someone who represented Him would be rewarded.
In contrast to Gaius’ hospitality, another man, “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them,” resisted what John had written to the church he oversaw (3 John 1:9). Rather than commending this man who lived for the applause of others, John intended to confront Diotrephes for his opposition to John and his slander of him and other believers (v. 10). Not only was this man resisting the authority of church leaders, but he refused to help other ministers and threatened excommunication to anyone in ‘his church’ who did!
In light of the unfortunate reality of Diotrephes and other arrogant men in leadership in some churches, John urged Gaius, “don’t imitate that which is evil, but that which is good. He who does good is of God. He who does evil hasn’t seen God” (11). John was advocating what some Bible teachers refer to as ‘fruit inspection.’ If a person lives in a way that is consistent with the character and teaching of Christ, then he/she is worthy of emulation. If a person does not live in a way that represents our Lord well, then more likely than not, that person doesn’t really know God and should not be followed at all.
In contrast to Diotrephes, John appeared to hold up another man, named Demetrius, of whom he had apparently heard a much better report. It appears that John recommended him as a better role model for Gaius to follow (12).
As he had done in the “dear lady” addressed in 2 John, the Apostle concluded by saying he had more things to communicate, but intended to do so face-to-face—something he anticipated doing soon (13-14). He closed with the benediction, “Peace be to you,” and extended the greetings of anonymous “friends,” encouraging Gaius to greet them by name.
No matter where you go, you will find men and women who model the humility and love of Christ and those who want all the focus on themselves, instead. Even today, it is easy to be unduly impressed by those in positions of authority—even when their influence over others is wrongly applied.
Although we are not allowed to judge and condemn anyone, believers are encouraged to examine the speech and conduct of others to see whether it lines up with the words and example of Christ. We should follow the example of those who are loving, kind and generous; not that of people who are arrogant, forceful, stingy or self-serving.
Quotations from Scripture are from the World English Bible (WEB), Public Domain