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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
3 John 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Verse 1

The elder unto Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth.

The elder … For another comment on the apostle’s use of this title, see under 2 John 1:1.

Gaius … It is impossible to make any positive identification of this man with any of the four other persons of the same name mentioned in the New Testament. See in introduction, above. Nothing whatever is known of this man, except that which may be supposed or surmised from what is written in this letter.

The beloved … This expression is personal and intimate, contrasting sharply with the far more general "whom I love in the truth" used in connection with it; and, significantly, it was the general expression only that John used in Second John, indicating that the 2nd epistle was actually addressed to a church, and not to an individual. "Whom I love in the truth" is a broad greeting, much like, "in Christian love," and carries nothing of the personal intensity conveyed by "the beloved."

The truth … Of this expression, Plummer noted:

We have to notice the characteristic repetition of the word "truth," which occurs four times in the first four verses … "To walk in the truth" is nothing less than to follow in the footsteps of the Lord.(F1)

It is this and other typical words which require the conclusion that the apostle John is indeed the author of all these letters ascribed to him.

Verse 2

Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

Beloved … "Three of the first eleven words with which the Epistle opens refer to love."(F2)

That thou mayest prosper … Here the apostle prayed for the prosperity of Gaius, and from this it is clearly not wrong for Christians to pray for prosperity; however, the qualifier should be carefully noted, "as thy soul prospereth!" The prosperity of the soul is paramount. Truly Christian people need prosperity that they may be able, as Gaius was, to dispense hospitality, aid good causes, and prevent themselves from becoming burdens upon the backs of other people. Beza translated the verse here as a prayer "for things temporal as well as for things spiritual."(F3)"Prosper literally means to have a good journey."(F4)

And be in health … Good health is likewise a blessing which Christians are privileged to pray for; because, without good health, Christian service must necessarily be curtailed or abandoned, The apostles were, in no sense, health fadists, Paul even saying that "bodily exercise profiteth little (or for a little while)"; but, having due regard for the transitory nature of all earthly endowments, the child of God should nevertheless strive mightily for the maintenance and preservation of good health, the greatest of all physical blessings.

Verse 3

For I rejoiced greatly, when brethren came and bare witness unto thy truth, even as thou walkest in truth.

When brethren came … "The present tense indicates that not on one occasion, but on several, report(F5) came." Wilder also agreed that, "The Greek participles here indicate that numerous such reports had come in."(F6)

Their witness unto thy truth … This refers to the enthusiastic reports of traveling missionaries in their appearances in various congregations where they were privileged to speak (3 John 1:6). "Witnessing" of this kind was done by the apostles themselves when they reported to "sponsoring" congregations that sent them out.

That thou walkest in truth … Truth in the apostolic age was almost a technical term meaning "the faith," "the doctrine of Christ," or "the true religion." The modern conception of "all of us disciples are merely trying to find out what truth is" was never heard of by the primitive church. They knew the truth; they had obeyed the truth; they were walking in the truth; they loved the truth. With regard to the great basics of Christianity, one must indeed know them before he can even become a Christian.

Verse 4

Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

Greater joy have I none … The word "greater" here, in the Greek is, "a double comparative as betterer would be in English."(F7) Paul frequently used such expressions, as in Ephesians 3:8; and Shakespeare has, "How much more elder art thou than thy looks!"(F8)

My children walking in the truth … Some have surmised from this that John had converted Gaius, but "this is not certain."(F9) After all, John’s writing as "the elder" to congregations and persons over whom he had spiritual oversight was fully justified in this usage, whether or not he had converted all of his charges.

Walking in truth … What does this mean? See under 3 John 1:3. Bruce gave the following definition of it:

"The truth" is Christianity to its fullness; when one who professes allegiance to Christianity lives a life in conformity with his profession, then he does not merely pay lip-service to the truth but "walks in the truth." In effect, walking in the truth is the same things as walking in the light (1 John 1:7).(F10)

Verse 5

Beloved, thou doest a faithful work in whatsoever thou doest toward them that are brethren and strangers withal;

Beloved … Note the transition to the section praising Gaius for his hospitality.

Thou doest … doest … "The second of these verbs is different from the first in the Greek, and implies more of toilful labor."(F11) What is in view here is the marvelous hospitality of Gaius extended to traveling brethren who were spreading the gospel; and the words "strangers withal" show that he did not merely entertain those with whom he was personally acquainted. There were good solid reasons why traveling preachers of that day depended upon faithful brethren such as Gaius for their maintenance. The scarcity of inns, the disreputable character of such inns as were available, and the general poverty of many Christians contributed to this necessity.

Verse 6

who bare witness of thy love before the church: whom thou wilt do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God:

This is a description of the "witnessing" mentioned in 3 John 1:3, which see. One may glimpse the enthusiasm and excitement of 1st century evangelism in the thoughts here.

Set forward on their journey … "The Greek works used here imply not only good wishes, but material support."(F12) The New Testament custom of congregations accompanying such travelers a part of the way upon their departure is glimpsed again, and again, in the account of Paul’s travels in Acts.

Worthily of God … indicates that Gaius was to go the whole way in his hospitality. It meant, "to help on one’s journey with food, money, by arranging for companions, and providing means of travel."(F13) Dodd went so far as to declare that "set forward on their journey" was somewhat of "a technical term of early Christian missions, implying the assumption of financial responsibility for departing missionaries."(F14) This would seem to be true. Certainly, Paul seems to have had in mind the financial support of brethren in Rome for his projected trip to Spain.

Verse 7

because that for the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.

In this and the following verse, there are three clear reasons why such missionaries should be supported: (1) What they are doing is for the glory of the precious Name (the name of Christ, of course). (2) They were not taking up collection among the heathen populations where they preached. (3) When such people are aided, their helpers become fellow-workers with them, thus sharing in the rewards of their labors (3 John 1:8). f

For the sake of the Name … The holy name of Jesus Christ stood for everything that Christians held dear; and the missionaries John was pleading for had forsaken everything for the privilege of preaching it to others. The generosity of the early church toward such preachers was profoundly great, leading to all kinds of abuses. Ignatius in his writing to the Ephesians said, "There are some who make a practice of carrying about the Name with wicked guile, and do certain other things unworthy of God."(F15)

Taking nothing of the Gentiles … Blaney noted that this does not mean that, "The Gentiles offered help which these brethren refused; but that they did not ask them for help."(F16) Furthermore, it is obvious that Christian Gentiles are not meant, but the heathen. There is also another possible meaning here which was cited by Orr:

They went forth from the heathen taking nothing, i.e., in becoming Christians, and more particularly preachers, they surrendered rights of ownership and of inheritance in their heathen families.(F17)

Paul, it will be remembered, counted "all things but dross" when he became a Christian.

Verse 8

We therefore ought to welcome such, that we may be fellow-workers for the truth.

See under 3 John 1:7 for three reasons why missionaries such as these should be supported, the third being, "that we may be fellow-workers in the truth," that is, participants in the rewards of spreading the gospel. John has built up the case here to show how important it was for such men to be aided, thus pointing up the sinful nature of Diotrephes’ actions in shutting his doors against them and blocking the efforts any one else might have been willing to make on their behalf. All of this contrasts with the beautiful and hospitable behaviour of Gaius.

Verse 9

I wrote somewhat unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

I wrote somewhat unto the church … Presumably, John had written to the church to which both Gaius and Diotrephes belonged; but as there were usually household churches in every city, they might have belonged to different groups with the church in the larger sense. The letter mentioned here has not come down to us, perhaps being destroyed by Diotrephes. At any rate, John wrote to Gaius, a person totally independent of the evil influence of Diotrephes, and also promised a visit with the evident purpose of counteracting the work of Diotrephes.

But Diotrephes … Nothing is known of this character except what is stated in these two verses. "The name Diotrephes is very rare, meaning Zeus-reared nurseling of Zeus, and was only to be found in noble and ancient families."(F18) This suggests that he might have been wealthy or of high social standing. With it, however, he was proud, arrogant and insensitive.

Receiveth not us … Some have thought these words mean that he rejected both the missionaries and John who associated himself with the travelling preachers in these words; but it is more likely that John here used "us" in the sense of the apostles; for it was apostolic authority that Diotrephes rejected.

Who loveth to have the preeminence among them … This prideful and arrogant attitude of Diotrephes was the sin which disturbed the church to which the apostle wrote; but commentators, in some instances, cannot allow that this was the trouble. No! They believe that, `Diotrephes’ radical intransigence was due … to theological partisanship."(F19) "Diotrephes could have been an elder who was determined to champion the autonomy of the local church."(F20) All such evaluations of the root of the trouble are based upon blindness to the sin of Diotrephes (the true cause of the trouble) which John specifically mentioned. Could it be that "loving to have the preeminence" is not considered sinful in some circles? "Pride was his sin … and a violent jealousy."(F21) "One masterful, power-loving man in a church may work incalculable mischief and injury."(F22) "He had slandered (one of the apostles) … and broken the fellowship of the church."(F23) May we take a closer look at:


It was through pride that Satan fell. It leads the procession of the things God hates (Proverbs 6:16 f). Fellowship within the sacred fold of the church itself cannot prevail where the poison ivy of pride is enthroned. The spirit of Diotrephes not only rejected the authority of an apostle, arrogantly turned away the Lord’s missionaries from his gates, and slandered the apostle who sat next to Jesus and leaned upon his breast; but it in time placed a Diotrephes in the saddle of authority in every urban community on earth (in the rise of metropolitan bishops), and at last repudiated the word of all the apostles, making a man to be the head on earth of the universal church! Yes indeed, as Paul put it, "the mystery of iniquity" was already at work; and this little gem of a letter gives a close-up of the very tap root of the spirit of Lucifer.

Verse 10

Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth, prating against us with wicked words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and them that would he forbiddeth and casteth them out of the church.

If I come … In 3 John 1:13, the apostle made this much more definite: "I hope shortly to see thee, and we shall speak face to face."

I will bring to remembrance … Wilder supposed that, "at the same time (John) will refute his empty charges";(F24) but it is a mistake to understand it in this way. What John evidently intended to do was to bring the words and conduct of Diotrephes "to remembrance, not of himself, but of the whole church, exposing his wicked conduct that it might receive the censure to which it was entitled. Nothing that Diotrephes had said concerning the blessed apostle required any refutation.

His works which he doeth … wicked words … It is interesting that "words" here are equated with "works." Words are indeed works, wicked words being works of Satan, and righteous words being a "work of faith." Since it is supposed that Gaius was a member of the same church as Diotrephes, or at least a resident of the same area, some have wondered why it was necessary for John to elaborate the works of Diotrephes, thinking that perhaps Gaius would have known about them already. Orr explained as follows:

The objection would be valid only if this were purely a private letter; but there are no purely private letters in the New Testament. This letter is a formal indictment of Diotrephes, as well as a testimonial for Gaius and Demetrius.(F25)

Them that would he forbiddeth and casteth out … These words clearly indicate an action called in later times "excommunication"; but the manner of Diotrephes’ doing this is not suggested. It is not known if he was "an elder" who had induced the group to take such action, or if he here merely "arrogated to himself an authority which later became legal for local bishops."(F26)

Roberts also noted in this context that:

The Greek makes it plain that it was the members of the church who wanted to practice this virtue (of receiving the missionaries into their homes and supporting them) who were put out of the church (by Diotrephes)(F27)

This clearly indicates Diotrephes’ action as being a vicious secondary boycott of every Christian who would not receive and honor his dictum that the missionaries should be turned away. He not only disfellowshiped and rejected the missionaries, he went far beyond this and disfellowshiped (even to the extent of denying them membership in the body of Christ) everyone who would not follow his lead in this matter. As noted above, it is not clear just how Diotrephes was able to do this. Dummelow explained it thus:

He could have been "the head of the church" to which Gaius belonged; but it may be that he had sufficient social influence to exclude the brethren from the Christian society of the place.(F28)

However, Diotrephes might have accomplished his evil design, he had utterly no right to any such authority; and the granting of it at a later period of church history to "bishops" was likewise sinful, anti-Christian, and diabolical. Not even an entire eldership could have been justified in the brutal enforcement of a secondary boycott of their fellow-Christians because their judgment had not been honored in such a case. It is a hopeless blindness indeed that fails to discern the heinous nature of the sin of Diotrephes.

Verse 11

Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: he that doeth evil hath not seen God.

Sinclair observed in this connection that there might have been many human considerations which would have encouraged Gaius to follow the lead of Diotrephes. "Peace, good fellowship, popular example, the dislike of singularity, and the indolent indifference which ordinary men feel for truth and right"<35> W. M. Sinclair, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 501. — all such things would have entered into the minds of people as reasons why they should have followed Diotrephes. Besides that, any action, no matter how wrong, which could be made the excuse for shirking plain Christian duty, like that of helping the missionaries, would be bound to have its appeal. "But the difference between right and wrong is eternal and irreconcilable."(F29) John here made the loving appeal to true Christians that they should imitate good conduct, not bad. He at once cited the example of Demetrius, who like Gaius, had placed his life squarely on the side of righteousness.

Verse 12

Demetrius hath the witness of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, we also bear witness; and thou knowest that our witness is true.

This verse must take its place as a "church letter" similar to the one Paul wrote for Phoebe (Romans 16:1), this being another proof that more is intended by this letter than a mere communication to Gaius. Paul Hoon called attention to the thorough nature of this recommendation:

Three forms of testimony of Demetrius’ character were cited. (1) "the witness of all men," that is, general consensus of opinion. This is good up to a point but can be wrong. (2) Testimony from a trusted friend is more reliable ("I testify … too"); but (3) the integrity of Christian character in which "the gospel exhibits itself … in life" crowns all else.(F30)

Demetrius … Nothing is certainly known of this man except what is written here. Another Demetrius is mentioned as the mob leader in Acts 19:24; but, as a rule, scholars do not identify the two as being the same man. Russell declared flatly, "He was not the Demetrius of Acts 19:24."(F31) However, Dummelow viewed it as an intriguing possibility that perhaps he was.

Both he and the mob leader lived in or near Ephesus, and there is nothing impossible in the suggestion that the agitator had become a disciple, and that both references, therefore, are to the same person. He may have been the bearer of this letter.(F32)

We may not leave this verse without observing the characteristic phraseology of the apostle John who often appealed to his own reliability as in John 21:24.

Verse 13

I had many things to write unto thee, but I am unwilling to write them to thee with ink and pen:

"The conclusion here is the same as that of the Second Epistle; and possibly the journey contemplated in both is the same."(F33) The usually admitted opinion that all of these letters were written "in quick succession" would seem to bear this out.

Wilder also point out that, "Since this is a personal note, the greetings are more intimate than in 2 John 1:13."(F34) See 3 John 1:14.

Unwilling to write with ink and pen … This is a very curious deviation from John’s words in 2 John 1:12, "I would not write them with paper and ink." "Ink and pen … paper and ink …" It is impossible to believe that any forger, or pseudonymous writer, would have dared to make a change like this.

Verse 14

but I hope shortly to see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be unto thee. The friends salute thee. Salute the friends by name.

On the tenderness of the greetings here, see under 3 John 1:13, above.

I hope shortly to see thee … It is usually supposed that the contemplated visit here is the same as that mentioned in 2 John.

Peace be unto thee …

This was the best wish which the apostle could form: it was our Lord’s resurrection greeting, the internal peace of a good conscience, the external peace of universal fellowship, the heavenly peace of future glory, begun even in this life.(F35)

The friends salute thee … salute the friends by name … "By name" as used here is found nowhere else in the New Testament, except in John 10:5; and many have found in this "an echo of the Good Shepherd’s calling his own sheep by name, an example for under-shepherds,"(F36) and a good closing note for this letter. It is the teaching of the text here that, "The salutation was to be given to each individual separately."(F37)

The tremendous importance of this letter is seen in the fact that it deals with the prime sin of the ages, the seeking and the grasping on the part of evil men for the control levers of God’s church on earth. The spirit of Diotrephes still rides high and mighty in the ecclesiastical counsels of the earth, denying and contradicting the holy teachings of Christ and his apostles; but the loving apostle unmasked it for what it is in the glowing lines of this precious fragment of the word of the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 3 John 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/3-john-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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