Commentary: 3 John

Background

Similar to 2 John in many ways

  • Attributed to near the same time
  • Same style
  • Form of a personal letter
  • Complementary subject matter

3 John 1:1 The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:

The Elder…

1 Peter 5:1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:

Gaius… most common name at that time. Three others in the New Testament (Acts 19:29 Paul’s travelling companion, Acts 20:4 Gaius of Derbe; 1 Corinthians 1:14 Gaius of Corinth baptized by Paul; Romans 16:23 Gaius Paul’s host). The timeline puts them about 30-40 years apart from this Gaius.

beloved Gaius… high praise indeed coming from the one “whom Jesus loved” which is how John described himself in his gospel account

John 13:23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.

love in truth…

2 John 1:1 The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth,

Shows that 2 John was not a love letter to a lady since John uses the same terminology

Mark 10:21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

3 John 1:2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.

I pray… within the purview of God to grant

prosper in all things… Physical blessings, success, prosperity

There needs to be a perspective that accompanies prosperity:

1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.
1 Timothy 6:18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,
1 Timothy 6:19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

Even though this life is temporary and less important than the spiritual which is eternal, God is not against prosperity, He just wants you to be able to handle it

Psalms 35:27 Let them shout for joy and be glad, Who favor my righteous cause; And let them say continually, “Let the LORD be magnified, Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.”

Isaiah 48:17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, The Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.

One of the ways that He teaches (cause and effect)

Deuteronomy 29:9 Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.

1 Kings 2:3 And keep the charge of the LORD your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn;

David

King David’s wealth would make him one of the richest men of all time. He put aside 220bn dollars in today’s prices of gold and silver for the temple. That doesn’t include bronze, marble, expensive woods, onyx and other precious stones, brass, and so on “beyond number” and later gave more gold and silver (1 Chronicles 22:14 et al)

Abraham

Genesis 26:4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;
Genesis 26:5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

Job

Job 1:3 Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East.

Took it all away because the spiritual lesson was more important; got his attention, but then gave twice as much back

Job 42:10 And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

Blessed in health too

Job 42:16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations.

soul… Psuche: Translated about half the time as “soul(s)” and next most often as “life(s)”

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, “THE FIRST MAN ADAM BECAME A LIVING BEING [psuche].” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

KJV Genesis 1:21 And God created great whales, and every living creature [nephesh] that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature [nephesh] according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so.

3 John 1:3 For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.

brethren came and testified of the truth … It was common for the brethren, the brothers in Christ, to carry news from church to church.

The word that they brought back to John was very encouraging and it made him very joyful. He was 90 years old give or take 10 years. He was there spiritual father figure and had a vested interest in their well-being like a father would. He had taught them and it was a labor of love.

rejoiced greatly… as a teacher one the greatest rewards is when a student (or disciple) learns and comprehends what you are saying and they show this primarily by doing correctly what you say.

John is saying just that of Gaius. I have heard that you know the truth and are living according to it. Gaius believed what he had been taught and is holding fast to it and using it in his daily life. John is in effect saying what good guy Gaius is…but then he says that this is the way he feels about any one that does this (:4).

3 John 1:4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

John saw them as spiritual children.

Paul did too:

Galatians 4:19 [Paul] My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,

the reason being:

1 Corinthians 4:15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

So it wasn’t completely uncommon to use this perspective and fits with jobs that they were doing.

Here is what John is subtlety doing and saying:

1. Bringing the rest of the congregation into the letter

2. Also, if you act like Gaius and walk in the truth as he does, I will be pleased as your spiritual father in the flesh.

So John continues the setup of the main reason that he is writing the letter. He is not simply saying the things in the first four verses to conform to some type of protocol for salutations, but rather he leading up to the crux of the matter.

Now John changes gears in the next section (:5-8) and says he has faith that Gaius will do right in the upcoming situation. Now keep in mind that this letter is going to be passed around. The rest of the congregation has a good reason to read the letter especially since they are mentioned in it, but more-so because of the important nature of the letter.

3 John 1:5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers,

Speaking directly to Gaius again (who he called Beloved in :2)

you do faithfully… he has exemplified Christianity through his interactions with church people, both in and out of the church area

whatever you do for the brethren…

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

strangers… this is worded a little awkwardly; John is saying that Gaius treated the church members that were strangers/guests in his area well. This fits with the context before and after this verse,

3 John 1:3 For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.

And then :8 John calls the ones that Gaius sent forth, when they were done, “fellow workers.” These “strangers” who were more than likely traveling ministers were indeed church members

3 John 1:6 [the brethren and strangers] who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well,

borne witness of your love before the church… in :3 John said of Gaius, “brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you,” these brethren and strangers told the congregation where John was of the love you have for the people of God.

you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God… might seem a little strange for John to say this out of the blue, but he is instructing and leading up to the main point. Implied here is that you are receiving these traveling ordained men properly, being hospitable and then sending them off to the next congregation in the best way possible. This word in the Greek can even have the connotation of accompanying them there as a way of helping in the preaching of the Gospel.

you will do well… here John is encouraging Gaius stay the path … saying if you do all of this in the way that you should and in the way that I have heard you have been acting, then you are doing a good work and what you are supposed to:

3 John 1:7 because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles.

they went forth… This is where we get a strong indication that they were traveling elders, ministers, prophets, not just visitors, going from place to place preaching the truth…the gospel of Christ.

for His name’s sake… an indirect reference to Christ. Why? Persecution maybe? This is in a letter format like 2 John, so that it can perhaps fly under the radar? Speculation. Nonetheless, we see why they should be supported.

Luke 10:1 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.
Luke 10:2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.
Luke 10:3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.
Luke 10:4 Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road.
Luke 10:5 But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’
Luke 10:6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you.
Luke 10:7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house.
Luke 10:8 Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.
Luke 10:9 And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Luke 10:10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say,
Luke 10:11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’
Luke 10:12 But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.

These men had the commission to go forth, in the name of Christ and preach the truth (:8), this is why you should “receive them” and support them and be loving and hospitable towards them.

In addition to that:

taking nothing from the Gentiles… more than likely they were not converted church members like Gaius and the others were. These Gentiles did not know and were not yet obligated in the same way to help out these men that were itinerant preachers. Not only that, but these ministering men often wanted to make sure that the unconverted did not think that they were doing it for the money.

2 Corinthians 11:7 Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?
2 Corinthians 11:8 I robbed other churches [a metaphor for taking more from the other churches instead of getting it from them], taking wages from them to minister to you.[Which was completely within his rights; laborer is worthy of his wages Luke 10:7 – Christ’s instruction to the 70 that he sent out].
2 Corinthians 11:9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.

3 John 1:8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.

This is in antithesis to:

2 John 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;

So we continue to see that John is for all intents and purposes addressing the same subject, just the flip side of the coin.

We therefore ought to receive such… It is a Christian’s responsibility to be hospitable

1 Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.

Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

Even if the strangers of :5 had not been church members, it would have still been something that the Christian was committed to do – to show love towards the alien and foreigners.

It is part of the qualifications to become an elder:

1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;

Titus 1:8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,

Caveat – do not receive them if they have a false doctrine, so in this sense this letter goes hand in hand with 2 John which deals largely with wrong people in the congregation. Now we addressing how to treat the true brethren that come visit our church.

fellow workers … in being hospitable and helping them out, the local members become co-workers in preaching the Gospel. Many have asked what they can do – well here is one very tangible way to aid those that have the job of going out and ministering. God uses both parties to accomplish the tasks at hand.

Matthew 10:40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
Matthew 10:41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.

Because they are both instrumental in accomplishing the work.

3 John 1:9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.

Now we get to the core issue and reason that John had to write the letter! He took the occasion of Diotrephes’ actions to re-inforce how a Christian should act towards visiting ministers and members, but the impetus for epistle was to attend to Diotrephes and his out of control behavior.

I wrote to the church… it seems previously John tried to schedule a trip and Diotrephes either was in charge and made unilateral decisions or assumed command.

loves to have the preeminence… it is unclear whether he loved his position of authority or because of this:

Preeminence… philoprōteuō fil-op-rot-yoo’-o to be fond of being first, that is, ambitious of distinction

It appears that he just took over and started making decisions. The prevailing understanding is that he was actually an elder in the area and just did not agree with John – the Apostle of Christ. He did not understand and/or live by the words of Christ:

Matthew 23:11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

So he:

does not receive us… Presumptuous in saying that John should not be there. Now we can better understand, why John needed to write the letter and why he did it in the way that he did.

Diotrephes was displaying an attitude unbecoming of a minister. We previously cited the qualifications for an elder and the one that we emphasized was being hospitable. Here he is doing just the opposite.

He was rebellious and did not want to allow these preachers into “his” congregation. To me this sounds like Diotrephes had some doctrinal differences with those that sought to speak the truth – of course that never sits well with false ministers.

2 Corinthians 11:15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

So now John has to deal with this arrogant, unchristian, heretical man that is literally causing division in the church. We also see why he started off the epistle with words of walking and talking in truth and acting in love. This was solution to what Diotrephes was doing.

3 John 1:10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.

Therefore… because of what was said before he is now going to say the following.

if I come… in :14 he indicates that he hopes he can come soon.

I will call to mind… his actions will be remembered and there will be an accounting of them to him at that time.

1 Corinthians 3:13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
1 Corinthians 3:14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
1 Corinthians 3:15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

prating against us… This is the use of silly, idle, trifling, and empty talk

with malicious words… evil words; he is trying to hurt John with these words.

And not content with that… the mean gossip

he himself does not receive the brethren… he is not being hospitable; setting himself up as the authority figure; he decides that he does not need or want any other outside church members coming in preaching what he no doubt sees as a challenge to his false doctrine

forbids those who wish to… [receive the brethren],

putting them out of the church…. going so far as to divide up the church without cause; this is also one way to make sure that the number of members that stand for the truth and go against him, will not grow to an unwieldy amount for Diotrephes to continue to control.

This guy is a piece of work and John will deal with him in the future perhaps.

It is interesting how relevant the bible still is today. These same exact issues have happened in the last few months when one person said a couple could come to church and then another elder kicked them out of services because they normally attend with a different organization.

Now here is the conclusion to the matter:

3 John 1:11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.

John, who comes across as a very gentle and loving man/apostle does not pull any punches here. You could almost be forgiven for just viewing this verse as a standalone type of proverb, but it really is a condemnation of what Diotrephes is doing!

do not imitate what is evil… this word means just that “mimic” or “mime” but in the KJV it always translated followers, and even 2 out of 7 times in the NKJV it is translated that way. John is saying do not follow this man and especially do not do what he is doing.

1 Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

he who does evil has not seen God…

1 John 3:10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

Gaius is doing what is right, do not do what Diotrephes is doing and now John introduces another person who has a good reputation that they should follow!

3 John 1:12 Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.

Demetrius… nothing is really known about him outside of this verse. There is another that is mentioned in Acts 19:24 but he a pagan silversmith that caused trouble for Paul.

has a good testimony from all… it has been witnessed that this is the case, in other words this is a man that you can follow. Note that ALL have seen this. John then makes the point that he ALSO bears witness of this fact. So apparently not only is Demetrius known in John’s area, but more importantly everyone in Gaius’ congregation already knew this man. John is telling them to follow Demetrius and NOT Diotrephes. To me this is why John did not have to disfellowship or do anything like that to Diotrephes, but simply said in so many words that he will remind of how he acted next time that he is there.

you know that our testimony is true… John was known for the truth and being truthful.

John 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

What a great testimony of John, can you imagine being known for always saying what is true! Most do not even know what that is.

The wrap up and final greetings

3 John 1:13 I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink;

This is similar to the ending of 2 John. Sounds like there are too many things to write. Like texting.

Also perhaps it was too sensitive for the times and could have caused trouble for the local congregation

3 John 1:14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

I hope to see you shortly … His desire was to get there quickly not only because of the problems, but because of his love for them and his willingness to be with his “children” and serve them.

Conclusion

John setup a comparison and contrast between Gaius/Demetrius and Diotrephes!

We have love, truth, serving and good reputation on one hand and see that Diotrephes is focused on himself and not others; does not accept John in his position as Apostle and the one who physically established the congregation; he does not speak the truth, but lies; he does not live by the word of God; he is not loving and unifying, but rather divisive.

We can take heart that what we are going through in the church today is not new and has always been. God has given us a template in 2nd and 3rd John for moving forward that gives us direction on how to handle these types of issues that are going on right now and the inspiration and confidence to know that with God’s help we can do what we are supposed to do.