3 John

Overview of the Epistle. Like the second epistle, the third epistle of John is a brief pastoral letter. The subject of both letters follows that of the first epistle very naturally, and therefore are considered appendices to the first epistle. In 1 John we find that we have a nature that loves. In 2 John and 3 John we find the divine nature loves “in the truth”. Both epistles have to do with “receiving” or fellowship. In 2 John the emphasis is on “receive not” in connection with false teachers. In 3 John the emphasis is on “receive”, which gives more the positive aspect of fellowship.1 It is remarkable that a sister, who might be naturally prone to nurture, is warned to “receive not”, whereas a brother, naturally prone to be harsh, is exhorted to “receive”. Gaius was a brother very dear to the Apostle John. He walked in the truth, and was in a good state of soul. He is commended for receiving brethren that were strangers, and showing them hospitality. However, Gaius had a few challenges. He evidently had poor physical health, as John prayed for it. Gaius also was in an assembly where a man named Diotrephes was playing the part of a dictator, seeking to have the preeminence instead of Christ, rejecting the apostles, and casting out brethren. John had written to the assembly, but Diotrephes intercepted and stopped it. In response, the apostle writes to an individual who was faithful to encourage him, and through him, others. John laid down the footsteps for faith in those challenging circumstances, and encouraged fellowship between Gaius and another brother called Dimetrius, who had a good report. At the close, John spoke of his desire to see Gaius face to face!
Second and Third Epistles. In the first epistles, the majority are progressing well, yet there is some difficulty that needs to be addressed. In second epistles the majority are in failure, but there are some individuals going on faithfully. The path is still clearly to be found, yet it consists of submitting to the leaders who are going on well. However, in 3 John (a unique “third epistle”), the day is even darker. The path for the faithful is hardly visible. To go on faithfully would mean doing so without the fellowship of those in leadership. When under-shepherds fail us, we must go back to the true Shepherd to have direction. When the path gets hard horizontally, the path turns vertical. In this pastoral epistle, John points out the footsteps for faith in the darkest of days.

Greeting (v.1)

1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. v.1 Greeting. Although the writer does not give his name, the style and content of the epistle indicate that he is John the apostle. Yet he writes, not as an apostle, but as an elder. John was a seasoned saint as well as an apostle, and as an elder he carried out a pastoral ministry. John speaks of his love for Gaius. This is the Divine love that exists among the children of God’s family. However, this love is “in truth”. This is what John spoke of the in the first epistle as love proven to be genuine by obedience to the Word of God (see 1 John 5:1-3). True love for our brethren is love that is based on our love for God, who has begotten them. Walking in truth, which proves our love for God, must accompany our love for the children of God. If we express love to a fellow child of God while walking in disobedience to the truth, it is not really divine love.

Commendation of Gaius and Encouragement (vv.2-8)

2 Beloved, I desire that in all things thou shouldest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospers. v.2 Prospering in Health and Soul. As we are introduced to Gaius, we find that he was in a healthy condition spiritually, although he evidently had medical health issues. We cannot blame our state of our soul on our environment. Not only did Gaius suffer physically, he also definitely had a tough assembly situation. It is beautiful that John could be assured that the soul of Gaius did prosper. Here was a man who maintained his soul in communion with God, practiced self-judgment, and had the Word of God abiding in him. John’s desire was that his body would prosper in proportion to his soul! It is something for us to reflect on. If John was praying for us, that our physical health would match spiritual health, would that be something we would want? This was a great commendation for Gaius. Notice that John puts an emphasis on spiritual health. This is important to remember in our prayers, not only to limit our prayers to physical needs, but to consider spiritual needs.
3 For I rejoiced exceedingly when the brethren came and bore testimony to thy holding fast the truth, even as “thou” walkest in truth. v.3 Holding and Walking in Truth. The second think that marked Gaius, for which John commended him, was that he held fast and walked in the truth. There are two parts to that. First, he “held” the truth fast, meaning that it was precious to him and something he took seriously. Second, he “walked” in the truth he believed. There is a practical manifestation in his life of the doctrine. Gaius was not a hypocritical Christian. He did not merely possess the truth in intellectual way; he practiced the truth. This example of faithfulness was seen by others. The brethren around Gaius bore testimony to it. It would seem that these brethren were from whatever city Gaius was in (perhaps Ephesus) or at least were visitors in that area, being there for sufficient time to observe the testimony of Gaius. This report was a source of great joy for the apostle when he heard it from the brethren. 
4 I have no greater joy than these things that I hear of my children walking in the truth. v.4 No Greater Joy. John turns aside from the commendation of Gaius to make a profound statement concerning himself. His greatest joy was to “hear of my children walking in the truth”. This is a testament to the divine love of the elder for his spiritual children. Often, we hear parents say, “there is nothing better than hearing my son or daughter say, ‘I love you’”. But that is really a self-interested joy, and a terrible thing when there it is coupled with a walk opposed to the truth. We all desire to be loved. But it is a higher thing to desire God’s rights be granted by those we love. Then, when the truth is recognized and practiced, the love that follows is a wonderful thing (“Beloved”, v.5). John delighted to hear of his children walking “in the truth”. Christ Himself is the truth (John 14:6), because He perfectly revealed the truth about God, and through Him all things are brought into the light. The believer who walks in the truth has his thoughts, words, and actions judged by the measure of God Himself revealed by Christ. Gaius didn’t just understand the truth intellectually, he also walked in it. Every believer is positionally “in him that is true” (1 John 5:20), but walking in the truth is a practical thing that requires effort, day by day.
5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully in whatever thou mayest have wrought towards the brethren and that strangers, 6 (who have witnessed of thy love before the assembly,) in setting forward whom on their journey worthily of God, thou wilt do well; 7 for for the name have they gone forth, taking nothing of those of the nations. vv.5-7 Love through Hospitality. John also commended Gaius for his hospitality toward visiting brethren from afar. “The brethren” and “the strangers” are the same people. They were brethren previously unknown to him. If it is the same one mentioned in Romans 16:23, then it was Gaius who opened his home to the one who wrote Romans while Paul dictated. Hospitality is a central element of Christian conduct, and one of the primary ways love is shown. You might entertain angels (Heb. 13:2) and once two disciples even entertained the Lord Jesus unawares (Luke 24:29). The household that opens itself up is the one that gets blessed (e.g. two on the road to Emmaus, the house of Obededom, etc.). These unknown brethren had witnessed the love of God in Gaius. The report of Gaius was not that he “knew a lot” but that they had witnessed “his love before all the Church”. In v.7 additional details are given about the visiting brethren. These were laboring brethren from a great distance away. Travelling, as Proverbs tells us, is very expensive (Prov. 6:10-11; 24:33-34). They went forth “for the name”; i.e. they were serving the Lord and went forth as called by Him alone. They took nothing from the Gentiles in the way of financial support. They were careful that the truth always be seen as a gift; not something that must be earned or paid for, and not to be ministered as a means for their own profit. This is different from the model of modern evangelicals who have a steady salary, and some who accept collections from unbelievers. However, it is a blessed thing for those who have steady jobs to support those who labor. Gaius had done well to welcome these brethren, and set them forward on their journey, thereby having fellowship in their labors (v.8). The expression “worthily of God” conveys that he acted in a way that had the approval of God.
8 “We” therefore ought to receive such, that we may be fellow-workers with the truth. v.8 Receiving Fellow-Workers. John then gives the general exhortation for all believers, that it is good and right to receive our brethren when it is evident that they are genuine. In doing this we have fellowship in their labor, and become “fellow-workers with the truth”

Diotrephes, the Terrible Condition, His Judgment (vv.9-10)

9 I wrote something to the assembly; but Diotrephes, who loves to have the first place among them, receives us not. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he does, babbling against us with wicked words; and not content with these, neither does he himself receive the brethren; and those who would he prevents, and casts them out of the assembly. vv.9-10 Diotrephes. John had written an epistle to the local assembly where Gaius was, but a man named Diotrephes, Diotrephes refused it. Diotrephes loved the preeminence, he didn’t love the brethren like Gaius and John did. There is only One who ought to have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). Diotrephes rejected anyone who had God-given authority like the apostles, and not content there, restricted or excommunicated those who would receive them (v.10). In many ways, Diotrephes is a total contrast to Gaius. The former refused brethren universally known to be apostles, while the latter received brethren that were formerly unknown to him. The truth itself became the test for both Gaius and Diotrephes. One walked in it, and received those who ministered it, the other was not merely a rejecter of the apostles, but a positive antagonist of the truth; “babbling against us with wicked words”. Diotrephes did not receive the apostles’ witness to the Word of Life (1 Jn. 4:6). He did not manifest eternal life. He did not love the brethren. We cannot assume he was a believer. How could this condition exist? The Lord warned of the enemy sowing tares among the wheat. Paul warned of wolves entering, not sparing the flock. How would this situation be resolved? Naturally, we might think Diotrephes would be governmentally struck down for his deed (1 Cor. 11:30), but at this time he was allowed to go on. John did not ask Gaius to start a movement to get rid of Diotrephes. If John came, he would deal with the tyrant with apostolic authority (1 Cor. 4:21), remembering his works and words. Notice that John doesn’t even say “when I come” but “if I come”. This brings out a wonderful point: the believer must be prepared to continue in the pathway even while things are not as they should be in the local assembly. There is always the believer’s duty to separate himself from sin (2 Tim. 2:19), and the assembly is responsible to judge evil (1 Cor. 5:12), but 3 John shows us there are situations where a believer can continue – himself personally walking in righteousness before God and man – yet committing the judgment of certain assembly issues to Christ as Son over His own house (Heb. 3:6). Individually, there are instructions for Gaius as to what he could do in spite of the situation (vv.11-12).

Instructions to Gaius: Footsteps for Faith in a Dark Day (vv.11-12)

11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He that does good is of God. He that does evil has not seen God. v.11 Do Good and Not Evil. When we are in a situation like Gaius, where something is not as it should be in our assembly or environment, there is always the danger of that evil affecting us. Perhaps Gaius had the potential to be “weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9; 2 Thess. 3:13). This could happen in two ways. First, continual awareness of what is evil begins to normalize that behavior, and opportunities to join with evil arise, and the flesh is tempted to imitate it. Second, we may become frustrated with the bad behavior, and respond with evil for evil. If we act in either of these ways, we allow ourselves to be “overcome by evil” (Rom. 12:21). Instead, we are are to imitate what is good, and thereby we overcome evil with good. John then reminds us of the abstract truth that doing good is what characterizes the family of God, while doing evil characterizes the unbeliever.
12 Demetrius has witness borne to him by all, and by the truth itself; and “we” also bear witness, and thou knowest that our witness is true. v.12 Fellowship. Even in dark days we must be willing to continue living for the Lord in individual faithfulness. However, the Lord will graciously bring companions along to encourage us. He gives us the power to walk alone, but He doesn’t ask us to do so devoid of fellowship.  In v.12, John encourages fellowship between Gaius and and another brother called Demetrius. Demetrius had four witnesses to his conduct. First, there was the witness of “all”. Our public testimony important. The “all” here would include Diotrephes! How could this be? Daniel lived in such a way that his enemies could find no fault in him, except concerning his God. The believer is called to be a peacemaker, and yet not to seek peace through fleshly means without compromise. It is a very hard thing to do (Romans 12:20). Second, he had the witness of “the truth itself”. Demetrius’ conduct was in line with the teaching of God’s Word, and therefore the truth itself commended him. Third, the apostles also bore witness to Demetrius, and this letter serves as an example of that witness. Finally, there was the witness of Gaius’ observations – he knew that the apostles’ witness was true because of what he saw in Demetrius. How tender of John to point Gaius toward another brother whose fellowship he could enjoy, and who might encourage him!

Conclusion (vv.13-14)

13 I had many things to write to thee, but I will not with ink and pen write to thee; 14 but I hope soon to see thee, and we will speak mouth to mouth. Peace be to thee. The friends greet thee. Greet the friends by name. vv.13-14 Conclusion. The third epistle was a needed encouragement to Gaius, but there were many other things that John wanted to say, and he hoped to do so in person. How much better face-to-face (or rather “mouth to mouth”) communication is than “ink and pen”! When saints are together in person, a bond of fellowship is strengthened. John desired peace for Gaius, which was much needed given his challenging circumstances. Finally, John passed on greetings from certain saints that were with him, and likewise asked Gaius to greet certain brethren for him. The mentions their names; “greet the friends by name”. It is a mark of genuineness when we greet others using their names.
  1. W. Kelly remarked that “the keyword of the Third Epistle is “receive,” as the keyword of the Second is “receive not.” This may seem to the natural man arbitrary and inconsistent. But what of him? Natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him (1 Cor. 11:14).” – Kelly, W. The Epistles of John.