Notes on 3 John
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
3 John 1:1-15 KJV 1 The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
This third letter is the only one where the person to receive it is named. The first letter had no real addressees so it may have been a “circular” letter for more than one person or group. The second was addressed to “the elect lady” but her identity is unknown.
The New Testament lists at least two men named “Gaius” in that era, In Acts 19:29, Luke mentions a “Gaius. . . of Macedonia”, who is probably the same man as Paul’s host in Romans 16:23 and one of the believers in Corinth whom Paul baptized (1 Cor. 1:14). The “Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4)” was most likely a different person, but a believer in Jesus nonetheless.
John also says that he loves Gaius “in the truth”. The word “truth” is one of John’s most repeated words, not only in the Gospel but also in the two other epistles. It seems Gaius believed the truth, and was living in the truth, so that’s why John may have loved him in the truth.
2 Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
John expresses a wish for Gaius to prosper and be in health. We know nothing about his overall wealth or status in life but God blesses the rich and the poor alike. Compare this with the church in Smyrna, which was poor, but rich; and the church in Laodicea: rich, but poor. There is nothing wrong with expressing a wish or prayer for a friend to prosper and enjoy good health.
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.
We don’t know when this Gaius became a believer in Jesus but he proved it by walking in the truth. “Brethren” is in the plural so more than one brother gave John a good report about Gaius.
4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
We know that the Holy Spirit would teach believers the truths of God (John 16:13). For us to know that other believers also walk in the truth is great joy indeed!
5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers;
Here, “brethren” is self-explanatory. These are other believers in Jesus, just like John and Gaius himself. We do not know for certain who the “strangers” were: they may have been other believers whom Gaius didn’t know personally but ministered to them anyway. If Gaius lived in Corinth, he may indeed have come across other Christians from other parts of the known world. These folks would have needed any number of things as they went their way to preach the Gospel. Gaius was doing what he could, faithfully, and John commended him for doing so. Note that there is no word of caution about false teachers here.
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:
These bearing witness of Gaius’ hospitality are the brothers and strangers mentioned in verse 5. Charity is the same word for “love” as used in 1 Corinthians 13.
The meaning of the last part of this verse (“bring forward on their journey . . .”) is not certain.
7 Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.
The phrase “for his name’s sake” most likely refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. The ones who went forth are most likely the brothers and strangers mentioned earlier. “Taking nothing of the Gentiles” may mean these missionaries, evangelists, and so forth didn’t take anything from non-believers. This may not necessarily mean those who were not Jewish.
8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.
John knew that he alone couldn’t do everything—no single believer can do this. Jesus Himself gave the pattern: He chose 12 followers, then 120 (Acts 1) and finally thousands and thousands of
believers, as recorded in the first few chapters of Acts. As people preached the Gospel, many believed, and carried the messages of God’s Love and God’s Truth to as many as they could.
Gaius was apparently not able to go on missionary journeys himself but he supported those who did. Both types of believers are needed: some to go, and some to stay behind. Even the New Testament itself speaks of this: when new churches or groups of believers came into existence, there was no demand for other churches or believers to abandon or leave where they had been. Example: when Paul (Saul, at the time) and Barnabas were serving the Lord in Antioch, and were sent out, the other leaders stayed behind to minister to the believers (Acts 13).9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
Now John describes a significant problem in the church. Pastors, teachers, elders, and other leaders have always been part of the local churches; in fact, some of the spiritual gifts were apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11-15) but these leaders were never to “be lords over (1 Peter 5:3)” or “exercise authority” over other believers (Luke 22:25).
Diotrephes was one leader who was guilty of several things: first, he loved to have the preeminence among them (the other believers), compared to Christ having the preeminence (Colossians 1:18); and second, he didn’t receive the Apostle John! Whether this means he did not have any face-to-face contact, or avoided this; or whether he refused to accept John’s instructions as having apostolic authority is not clear. Perhaps both of these are true. Diotrephes, at any rate, stands in stark contrast to Gaius.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.
We do not know what may have kept John from encountering Diotrephes, John does seem to have hope that he would be able to visit Gaius (see verse 14). Then John lists more of the problems he has had to deal with because of Diotrephes.
John says Diotrephes is “prating against us”. The current dictionary definition (to talk excessively and pointlessly; babble: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/prating# ) may not carry the meaning of the word used in John’s day. No matter the definition, Diotrephes seems to be attacking John verbally.
Then John also says, as if Diotrephes wasn’t content enough with that, he does not “receive the brethren”, even as he did not receive John. Even worse, Diotrephes refused (forbiddeth) anyone else (in his span of control?) to receive the brethren, too. Apparently Diotrephes cast those out of the church who didn’t go along with his own commands. Sadly, Diotrephes was one of the first and one of the worst when it came to misusing his position in the church.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.
Paul had already given one example of this in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.” 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.
John contrasts Demetrius who had a good report with Diotrephes. From the last part of this verse, John may have known Demetrius well enough to give a positive testimony about him.13 I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: 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.
As in the second letter, John expresses a wish to visit Gaius in person. Note also the greetings from John and those with him to Gaius and those near him as well.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).