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Bible Commentaries
3 John 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1


John identified himself and greeted the recipient of this shortest New Testament epistle to set the tone for what follows.

As in 2 John, the Apostle identified himself as "the elder." We do not know exactly who Gaius was. Early church tradition did not identify him with Paul’s native Macedonian companion (Acts 19:29), Paul’s companion from Derbe (Acts 20:4), or the Corinthian Paul baptized who hosted the church in Corinth (Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14).

"It is generally agreed that the Gaius to whom the Elder wrote this letter is not to be identified with any of the men by that name who were associated with Paul." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, "Studies in 3 John," Bibliotheca Sacra 144:573 (January-March 1987):58.]

The reason for this is that Gaius was a common name in Greek and Latin then, as the name John is in English now. [Note: J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources, p. 120.] This Gaius probably lived somewhere in the province of Asia. He was obviously someone whom John loved as a brother Christian.

John’s concern for both love and truth is evident again in this epistle (cf. 2 John). "In truth" means truly and in accord with God’s truth. Both John and Gaius held the truth as the apostles taught it.

Verse 2

Gaius was in good spiritual condition; he was walking in the light (cf. 1 John 1:7). John prayed that all would go well with him (NIV) and that he might enjoy as good physical health as he did spiritual health.

"He must surely have learned this from Jesus whose concern for people’s physical troubles is attested in all four Gospels." [Note: Zane C. Hodges, "3 John," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 912.]

The physical and general welfare of others should be of concern to us as well as their spiritual vitality. Usually Christians give more attention to the former than the latter, however, as our prayers often reveal.

Some see in this verse support of the view that God wants all believers to prosper physically and financially as well as spiritually. However, there is nothing else in the Johannine corpus to indicate that this is what John meant, and there is little support elsewhere in Scripture. [Note: See Yarbrough, p. 367.]

Verses 2-4

A. Commendation of Gaius’ Love VV. 2-4

Verses 2-12


The word "Beloved" introduces each of the three sections of the body of this brief epistle.

Verse 3

John had heard from others that Gaius was a man of the truth. That is, his lifestyle was consistent with the truth.

Verse 4

We do not know if Gaius was John’s child physically, spiritually (his convert), or metaphorically. The last usage of this word is the most common one in the New Testament. In this case he could have been a disciple of John or simply a younger believer (cf. 2 John 1:4; 1 Timothy 1:2).

Verse 5

John loved Gaius as Gaius loved the brethren to whom he had extended hospitality.

"The early Christian community’s deep interest in hospitality is inherited from both its Jewish roots and the Greco-Roman culture of its day." [Note: Barbara Leonhard, "Hospitality in Third John," The Bible Today 25:1 (January 1987):11.]

John’s affection for Gaius is obvious in his repeated use of the word "beloved" (cf. 3 John 1:2). Gaius acted faithfully in the sense that his behavior was consistent with God’s truth (cf. 2 John 1:1-2).

It is possible that Gaius had shown love "for the brethren and for strangers" as some Greek texts read. On the other hand, perhaps the NASB translation is correct: he showed love to the brethren and even to those brethren who were strangers to him. Probably Gaius had demonstrated love to all these varieties of people (cf. Hebrews 13:2).

Verses 5-10

B. Encouragement to Support Those Who Proclaim the Truth VV. 5-10

John commended Gaius for his love of the brethren (cf. 1 John 2:3-9; 1 John 3:14-18; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11; 1 John 4:20-21; 2 John 1:5) to encourage him to continue practicing this virtue.

Verse 6

The church in view was John’s church, probably in Ephesus. "You will do well to" is an idiom that we could translate "Please." John urged Gaius to continue his commendable treatment of visitors. He could do so during their stay with him and when they departed by sending them on their way with adequate provisions (cf. Acts 15:3; Acts 20:38; Acts 21:5; Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:6; Titus 3:13).

"The point is still relevant. Christian ministers and missionaries live in the faith that God will encourage his people to provide for their needs; it is better that such provision err on the side of generosity than stinginess." [Note: I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, p. 86.]

"Always and everywhere that man is to be highly esteemed in the Church, who combines firm convictions with a generous heart." [Note: Donald Fraser, Synoptical Lectures on the Books of Holy Scripture, Romans-Revelation, p. 243.]

Verse 7

The brethren in view in this whole situation were traveling preachers. To go out in the name of Christ was a great honor because of that name. This is the only New Testament book that does not mention Jesus Christ by name.

"This ’Name’ is in essence the sum of the Christian Creed (comp. I Cor. xii. 3; Rom. x. 9)." [Note: B. F. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, pp. 238-39.]

Early Christian preachers normally received material support from other believers (cf. Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 9:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9) or they supported themselves (cf. Acts 18:3). They did not solicit or accept funds from unbelievers (cf. Ezra 8:22; Matthew 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). "Gentiles" was a general term for unbelievers. Most of the Gentiles were pagans.

"There were numerous peripatetic streetpreachers [sic] from religious and philosophical cults who avariciously solicited funds from their audiences." [Note: Hiebert, 144:574:200.]

"Even in the present day, there is something unseemly in a preacher of the gospel soliciting funds from people to whom he offers God’s free salvation." [Note: Hodges, p. 913.]

"This does not mean that God’s servants should refuse a voluntary gift from an unconverted person, as long as the person understands that the gift will not purchase salvation. Even then, we must be very cautious. The king of Sodom’s offer was voluntary, but Abraham rejected it! (Genesis 14:17-24)" [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:543.]

Sometimes gifts from unbelievers, and some believers, have strings attached; returned favors are expected.

Verse 8

Giving financial and hospitable aid makes the giver a partner with the receiver in his work (cf. 2 John 1:10-11). Since pagans did not support Christian preachers and teachers, the duty of Christians to support them was even greater.

"As a deacon expressed it to me in the first church I pastored, ’You pay your board where you get your food!’ It is unbiblical for church members to send their tithes and offerings all over the world and neglect to support the ministry of their own local church." [Note: Ibid.]

Note John’s emphasis on the truth again. Preaching the gospel is proclaiming the truth.

Verse 9

Gaius’ good example stands out more clearly beside Diotrephes’ bad example. Diotrephes is a rare name and means "nourished by Zeus." [Note: Hiebert, 144:574:203.] John brought Diotrephes into the picture to clarify the responsibility of Gaius and all other readers of this epistle and to give instructions concerning this erring brother.

The letter to the church of which both Gaius and Diotrephes were a part is not extant, as far as we know, unless it is 1 or 2 John. "Them" refers to the believers in that church. John exposed Diotrephes’ motivation as pride. Diotrephes had put John down to exalt himself. John did not say or imply that Diotrephes held false doctrine. He only blamed his improper ambition (cf. Matthew 20:27). [Note: Westcott, p. 240.] John never raised the subject of heresy in 3 John directly.

". . . a person like Diotrephes is guilty of usurping a position in the church that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ alone! [cf. Colossians 1:18]" [Note: Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles . . ., p. 285.]

"The temptation to use a role in the Christian assembly as a means of self-gratification remains a real one that all servants of God need to resist." [Note: Idem, "3 John," p. 913. Cf. Wiersbe, 2:544.]

"Some forty years ago I wrote an article on Diotrephes for a denominaltional paper. The editor told me that twenty-five deacons stopped the paper to show their resentment against being personally attacked in the paper." [Note: Robertson, 6:263.]

Verse 10

The apostle promised and warned that whenever he might visit that congregation he would point out Diotrephes’ sinful behavior, assuming it continued. Specifically, Diotrephes was charging John falsely to elevate himself. Worse than that he was not giving hospitality to visiting brethren, as Gaius was, perhaps because he saw them as a threat to himself. Third, he intimidated others in the church and forced them to stop welcoming these men.

"Diotrephes was condemned not because he violated sound teaching regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ but because his ’life’ was a contradiction to the truth of the gospel." [Note: Glenn W. Barker, "3 John," in Hebrews-Revelation, vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 375.]

"The verb ekballei, in the present tense again (literally, ’he throws out’), need not imply formal excommunication from the Church, as this became known later. Cf. Matthew 18:17; Luke 6:22; John 9:34-35; 1 Corinthians 5:2. On the other hand, it seems as if Diotrephes had already arrogated to himself the task of ’expulsion,’ and was actually driving people out of the congregation (as he had refused to welcome the brothers) rather than merely desiring to do so . . ." [Note: Smalley, p. 358.]

Obviously Gaius did not bow to his wishes, showing that he had strength of character and probably influence in the church. With this epistle John threw his support behind Gaius and against Diotrephes.

Verse 11

John’s encouragement doubtless strengthened Gaius’ resolve to resist Diotrephes. "Of God" and "seen God" are terms John used in his first epistle (cf. 1 John 3:6; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 4:1-4; 1 John 4:6-7). God’s children do good works because God is their Father and they share His nature (1 John 3:9). The person who does evil may be a Christian, but he is behaving like Satan when he does evil. John was not accusing Diotrephes of being unsaved but of behaving like an unsaved person. One who knows God intimately (abides in Him) does not do evil (1 John 3:6; 1 John 5:18).

"The expression ’he is of God’ in this context does not mean ’he is a Christian.’ Rather, it means, ’he is a godly person, or ’he is a man of God.’ In this context it is a fellowship expression." [Note: Robert N. Wilkin, "He Who Does Good Is of God (3 John 1:11)," Grace Evangelical Society News 5:9 (September 1990):2.]

Verses 11-12

C. Exhortation to Continue This Support in Demetrius’ Case VV. 11-12

Verse 12

John urged Gaius to show hospitable love to Demetrius to give Gaius an opportunity to practice love and thereby reprove Diotrephes’ lack of love. Demetrius may have carried this letter from John to Gaius. [Note: Westcott, p. 241; Hodges, "3 John," p. 911.] Or he may have visited Gaius later. He may have been one of the controversial itinerant preachers. [Note: William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, p. 178.]

John gave three recommendations (witnesses) of this brother’s worth. He had a good reputation among all who knew him, his character and conduct were in harmony with the truth, and John personally knew him and vouched for him.

"Like Gaius, Demetrius is ’walking in the truth.’ His life matches his confession. In Pauline terms, he manifests the fruit of the Spirit. In Johannine terms, he lives the life of love." [Note: Barker, p. 376.]

It will be interesting to get to heaven and see if this Demetrius is the same man who gave Paul so much trouble in Ephesus (Acts 19:24). Several commentators have concluded that he was. [Note: E.g., W. Alexander, "The Third Epistle of John," in The Speaker’s Commentary: New Testament, 4:381; and Lloyd John Ogilvie, When God First Thought of You, pp. 201-6.] The odds are against this possibility since there were undoubtedly many men named Demetrius (lit. belonging to Demeter [the goddess of agriculture]) living in that area then. Furthermore Paul ministered in Ephesus in the early 50s whereas John probably wrote this epistle in the early 90s.

Verses 13-14


John concluded as he did to explain the brevity of this epistle and his hope to visit Gaius soon. This conclusion is very similar to the one in 2 John (2 John 1:12-13; cf. John 20:30).

The use of "friends" to describe believers is unusual. John evidently wished to draw attention to the basic quality of friendship that exists among believers. As friends Christians should show hospitality to and should support one another, the specific expression of love that John urged in this letter.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 3 John 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/3-john-1.html. 2012.
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