By Sam E. Stone
The three short letters sent from the apostle John to first-century Christians were likely all written about the same time. Reading 3 John, the shortest book in the Bible, we see that it is similar to 2 John, but it is more specific in naming the individuals involved.
3 John 1
The addressee, Gaius, is a friend of John’s and a leader in the church. Several other people by that name are also mentioned in the New Testament, but we don’t know which, if any, is this Gaius. He is called dear friend and in some versions beloved, a title John had used earlier in 1 John.
3 John 2-12
Truth mattered to John. It did to Gaius also. This was evident because he continued to walk in the truth. John prayed that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. J. W. Roberts wrote, “John asserts his confidence that Gaius is doing fine in a spiritual way and expresses the hope that in the other respects named he may do equally as well. . . . How one’s soul is doing ought to be the rule by which he judges prosperity in wealth and health, not the other way around.”
No parents could wish for a greater blessing than to hear that their children are walking in the truth. This is also true of those we help bring to the Lord. Like Paul, John felt a special closeness to the people he had led to Christ (1 Corinthians 4:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 2:11).
John told Gaius, You are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters. The Revised Standard Version reads “loyal.” It refers to one doing something in a trustworthy manner. The particular quality commended here is hospitality. In the first century, this was especially important. Inns were not always safe, and the ungodly gathered there. Christians needed to welcome brothers and sisters into their homes, even though they were strangers (Hebrews 13:2; Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).
Giving material support to traveling missionaries was one way to share in their ministry. One church might ordain men to a mission and send them out (Acts 13:1-3), but then churches along the way were expected to provide food, lodging, and financial help for them as they traveled (Philippians 4:14-16). Gaius did well to send them on their way in a manner that honors God.
These evangelists were going out for the sake of the Name (Acts 4:12; 5:40). It is not the responsibility of pagans (unbelievers) to underwrite the expenses of the church. Christians should support the church’s mission. When we give hospitality and financial support to evangelists and missionaries, we literally share in their work. Paul talked of this often (Romans 16:3, 9, 21; Philippians 2:25; 4:3; Philemon 24). We are working together for the gospel.
In contrast to the beloved Gaius, another local church leader was out of step with the truth. Diotrophes, who loves to be first, not only failed to assist deserving workers himself but also stopped others from doing so. John R. W. Stott pointed out, “There is no evidence that their disagreement was theological. . . . Not doctrinal heresy but personal ambition was the cause of the trouble.” How similar to the world today!
Scripture teaches that God is to have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18), not any human. Those seeking prestige and power are failing to heed the warnings of Jesus against ambition and the desire to rule (Mark 10:42-45; 1 Peter 5:3). John affirmed that he would confront Diotrephes directly if he had the opportunity. This arrogant brother had not helped the apostle and his coworkers, and he had also stopped those who wanted to help them and put them out of the church. Pride and arrogance—as well as false teaching—can cause people to oppose those who are following God’s Word. We should imitate good, not evil. Choose your role models carefully.
In contrast, John next mentioned a good example—Demetrius—well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. His life was a positive testimony.
3 John 13, 14
John concluded this short letter with the blessing, Peace to you. It is much like the Jewish greeting Shalom. A. T. Robertson concluded, “John knew the friends in the church . . . as the good shepherd calls his sheep by name (John 10:3).”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.