The structure of 3 John is similar to the structure of 2 John. The author is the same: the elder, whom we believe to be the same writer of the Gospel of John and 1 John. 3 John is written to the beloved Gaius. Unfortunately the name Gaius was a very common name in the first century. We see a number of different people named Gaius in the New Testament.
We read about one Gaius in the riot that took place in Ephesus. "So the city was filled with confusion; and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions" (Acts 19:29). Acts 20:4 tells us that one of Paul’s companions was Gaius of Derbe, which may or may not be the same Gaius that was attacked in the riot of Ephesus. We also read about Gaius who was a Christian in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1:14. Romans 16:23 also speaks about Gaius who is a host to Paul. He may or may not be the same Gaius as any of the previous names we have looked at. The point being that we cannot know if the Gaius referred to in 3 John is the same as any of these other men listed in the New Testament or not.
The salutation is missing from this letter, which is interesting. There is no known reason why the salutation is missing, but it is a curiosity. Rather, John goes right into his thanksgiving in verses 2-4. Verse 2 is a very challenging prayer. John prays that Gaius may prosper in all things, including his physical health, just as his soul prospers. I do not know that many people would want this prayer made on their behalf. Would you like your life to prosper just as your spiritual life prospers? Would you like your physical health to be as good as your spiritual health? I think that most people would say no. Most people probably have better physical health than spiritual health. More people are prospering in the physical but are not prospering in the spiritual. This is a powerful prayer which makes a grand statement about the spiritual health and faithfulness of Gaius. The prayer seems to indicate that Gaius’ health was not great and it was John’s prayer that his health and prosperity would match his spiritual health. Verses 3-4 describe the joy John has knowing that Gaius is doing so well walking in the truth.
The Work of Gaius (5-8)
John begins his letter to Gaius by praising Gaius for his faithfulness toward the brethren. Apparently Gaius was helping disciples by supporting them in a variety of ways and sending them out to preach and teach the gospel. What John is impressed with is the fact that Gaius is helping out these disciples who are strangers to him. He does not know these men who are teaching the gospel. He has no personal friendship with them. However, he opened the doors to his home and help the saints in the effort to teach the gospel. This helps us see what John was talking about in 2 John. John warned the chosen lady and her children not to show such hospitality toward those who did not believe and teach that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. The work of Gaius reveals what faithful first century Christians were doing for the brethren who were teaching the gospel. Christians, though strangers, were welcoming each other into their homes, providing for them and supporting them as they worked to teach the gospel in that given city. This is a beautiful commendation of Gaius, which helps remind us that every person has an important role in teaching the gospel. While Gaius may not have been a teacher, he was a supporter of the gospel through his faithfulness and through his provisions of those who were teaching the gospel. The person who sends cards and letters is just as important as the person who teaches the gospel. The person who is a babysitter for the children so a person can hear the gospel is just as important as the person teaching the gospel. So John gives high praise to Gaius for his faithfulness toward the brethren.
The Work of Diotrophes (9-10)
But there is a crisis in the local church where Gaius is at. Verse 9 says that John wrote to the church where Gaius was, but Diotrephes loves to be first and does not accept the apostles. This seems to indicate that when the messenger came with the letter from John, Diotrephes rejected the message and did not bring the letter to the congregation. Therefore, John writes to Gaius about this situation. We do not know who Diotrephes was. Was he an elder in this church? Did the church not have elders but he took the preeminence? Did the church have elders but he was a powerful figure who took power to himself? We do not know the answer to these questions and how Diotrephes found this kind of position in the local church. But John says that if he is able to come, he will call to the minds of the Christians there all the deeds of Diotrephes. Diotrephes has been speaking against the apostles, speaking nonsense about them and slandering their names. Further, Diotrephes has been able to reject Christians who have tried to join to this local church. Even more, Diotrephes has been throwing out of the church Christians who have wanted to accept these brethren as members. Diotrophes has somehow taken power unto himself and is running roughshod over the congregation.
The Work of Demetrius (11-12)
John gives a warning to Gaius, and also to the local church, to not imitate the evil ways of Diotrophes. Imitate what is good and do not go along with the evil that Diotrophes is doing there. By implication, John is saying that Diotrophes is not of God and has not seen God.
It seems that one of the victims of Diotrophes power hungry madness was a man named Demetrius. Demetrius had a good testimony from all and even from the truth itself. If one were to the take the scriptures and look at Demetrius’ life, one would see that Demetrius is mirror the walk of truth that John has been teaching and emphasizing. Further, Demetrius has the seal of approval from the apostles, testifying to the character of Demetrius and how the congregation should accept him as a brother.
I think there are important lessons that we need to learn from the chaos that Diotrophes brought to the church where Gaius was a servant.
- The attitude of preeminence is sinful. It is shameful to see the number of churches where there is someone who thinks that they need to be in first place in the congregation. The person may think that they need to be consulted before decisions are made. The person may think that he needs to be part of the leadership. The person tries to gain influence in a subversive way against the leadership that is already in place. The person may need to have his ego stroked or else he will cause problems. I must state openly that I am so thankful for this congregation that we do not have people who feel like they have to run the show or be on top. I believe this is one powerful reason why this congregation is a place of peace, love, and harmony as God would have us. I have seen congregations and been a member of congregations where there were people who stood against the elders and stood against the evangelists because they needed people to listen to them and follow them. The sin of preeminence brings divisiveness and is a reason for a person to be withdrawn from immediately.
- Do not put into leadership those who have this attitude. Sometimes congregations apply the policy of appeasement toward those who desire to be first. Believing that problems and strife will end by make the one who needs to be first part of the leadership, the congregation will place him in the position of elder or deacon. And in every case, disaster happens. The qualifications for the elders, deacons, and evangelists state that a person must be self-controlled, placing the interests of the Christians and the congregation above their own. We must be very careful not to give a position to a person who acts like they need to be heard and need to be first.
- The end result never justifies the means. Diotrophes probably thought that he was doing good for God. He probably thought he was taking a stand for truth and was keeping the local church pure. He probably thought he was doing the right thing by acting this way. But the end result never justifies the means. We cannot act ungodly in an effort to bring about a godly result. I cannot act sinfully in an effort to bring about an end result that we think would be righteous.
In verse 13 John brings about the closing of the letter. Just as he intended to visit the chosen lady and his children in 2 John, so John also indicates that he will not write anymore, hoping to talk face to face with Gaius and take care of the situation in the local church. John concludes by giving his greetings to the friends of Gaius.
- Do more good for the brethren, even brethren we do not know.
- Reject a selfish attitude and those who demand to be considered first.