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Bible Commentaries
3 John 1

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-14

Chapter 1

THE TEACHER'S JOY ( 3 John 1:1-4 )

1:1-4 The Elder to Gaius, the beloved, whom I love in truth.

Beloved, I pray that everything is going well with you, and that you are in good health of body, as it goes well with your soul. It gave me great joy when certain brothers came and testified of the truth of your life, as indeed you do walk in the truth. No news brings me greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

No New Testament letter better shows that the Christian letters were exactly on the model which all letter-writers used in the time of the early church. There is a papyrus letter from Irenaeus, a ship's captain, to his brother Apolinarius:

Irenaeus to Apolinarius his brother, my greetings. Continually I

pray that you may be in health, even as I myself am in health. I

wish you to know that I arrived at land on the 6th of the month

Epeiph, and I finished unloading my ship on the 18th of the same

month, and went up to Rome on the 25th of the same month, and the

place welcomed us, as God willed. Daily we are waiting for our

discharge, so that up till today no one of us in the corn service

has been allowed to go. I greet your wife much, and Serenus, and

all who love you, by name. Good bye.

The form of Irenaeus' letter is exactly that of John's. There is first the greeting, next the prayer for good health, after that the main body of the letter with its news, and then the final greetings. The early Christian letters were not something remote and ecclesiastical; they were the kind of letters which people wrote to each other every day.

John writes to a friend called Gaius. In the world of the New Testament Gaius was the commonest of all names. In the New Testament there are three men with that name. There is Gaius, the Macedonian who, along with Aristarchus, was with Paul at the riot in Ephesus ( Acts 19:29). There is Gaius of Derbe, who was the delegate of his church to convey the collection for the poor to Jerusalem ( Acts 20:4). There is the Gaius of Corinth who had been Paul's host, and who was such a hospitable soul that he could be called the host of the whole church ( Romans 16:23), and who was one of the very few people whom Paul had personally baptized ( 1 Corinthians 1:14), and who, according to tradition, became the first Bishop of Thessalonica. Gaius was the commonest of all names; and there is no reason to identify our Gaius with any of these three. According to tradition he was made the Bishop of Pergamum by John himself. Here he stands before us as a man with an open house and an open heart.

Twice in the first two verses of this little letter John uses the word beloved. (The well-beloved and beloved of the King James Version's first two verses translate the same Greek word, agapetos, G27.) In this group of letters John uses agapetos ( G27) no fewer than ten times. This is a very notable fact. These letters are letters of warning and rebuke; and yet their accent is the accent of love. It was the advice of a great scholar and preacher: "Never scold your congregation." Even if he has to rebuke, John never speaks with irritation. The whole atmosphere of his writing is that of love.

3 John 1:2 shows us the comprehensive care of the good and devoted pastor. John is interested both in the physical and the spiritual health of Gaius. John was like Jesus; he never forgot that men have bodies as well as souls and that they matter, too.

In 3 John 1:4 John tells us of the teacher's greatest joy. It is to see his pupils walking in the truth. The truth is not simply something to be intellectually assimilated; it is the knowledge which fills a man's mind and the charity which clothes his life. The truth is what makes a man think and act like God.


1:5-8 Beloved, whatever service you render to the brothers, strangers as they are, is an act of true faith and they testify to your love before the church. It will be a further kindness, if you send them on their way worthily of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the Name and they take no assistance from pagans. It is a duty to support such men, that we may show ourselves fellow-workers with the truth.

Here we come to John's main object in writing. A group of travelling missionaries is on its way to the church of which Gaius is a member, and John urges him to receive them, to give them every support and to send them on their way in a truly Christian manner.

In the ancient world hospitality was a sacred duty. Strangers were under the protection of Zeus Xenios, Zeus the god of strangers (Xenos, G3581, is the Greek for a stranger). In the ancient world inns were notoriously unsatisfactory. The Greek had an instinctive dislike of taking money for the giving of hospitality; and, therefore, the profession of innkeeper ranked very low. Inns were notoriously dirty and flea-infested. Innkeepers were notoriously rapacious so that Plato compared them to pirates who hold their guests to ransom before they allow them to escape. The ancient world had a system of guest-friendships whereby families in different parts of the country undertook to give each other's members hospitality when the occasion arose. This connection between families lasted throughout the generations and when it was claimed, the claimant brought with him a sumbolon, or token, which identified him to his hosts. Some cities kept an official called the Proxenos in the larger cities to whom their citizens, when travelling, might appeal for shelter and for help.

If the heathen world accepted the obligation of hospitality, it was only to be expected that the Christians would take it even more seriously. It is Peter's injunction: "Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another" ( 1 Peter 4:9). "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers" says the writer to the Hebrews, and adds: "for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" ( Hebrews 13:2). In the Pastoral Epistles a widow is to be honoured if she has "shown hospitality" ( 1 Timothy 5:9). Paul bids the Romans to "practice hospitality" ( Romans 12:13).

Hospitality was to be specially the characteristic of the leaders of the church. A bishop must be a man given to hospitality ( 1 Timothy 3:2). Titus is told to be "hospitable" ( Titus 1:8). When we come down to the time of Justin Martyr, (A.D. 170) we find that on the Lord's Day the well-to-do contributed as they would and it was the duty of the president of the congregation "to succour the orphans and the widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning amongst us" (Justin Martyr: First Apology 1: 67).

In the early church the Christian home was the place of the open door and the loving welcome. There can be few nobler works than to give a stranger the right of entry to a Christian home. The Christian family circle should always be wide enough to have a place for the stranger, no matter where he comes from or what his colour.

THE CHRISTIAN ADVENTURERS ( 3 John 1:5-8 continued)

Further, this passage tells us about the wandering missionaries who gave up home and comfort to carry afield the word of God. In 3 John 1:7 Paul says that they have gone forth for the sake of the Name and take no assistance from pagans. (It is just possible that 3 John 1:7 might refer to those who had come out from the Gentiles taking nothing with them, those who for the sake of Christianity had left their work and their home and their friends and had no means of support.) In the ancient world the "begging friar," with his wallet, was well known. There is, for instance, a record of a man calling himself "the slave of the Syrian goddess," who went out begging and claimed that he never came back with fewer than seventy bags of money for his goddess. But these Christian wandering preachers would take nothing from the Gentiles, even if they would have given it.

John commends these adventurers of the faith to the hospitality and the generosity of Gaius. He says that it is a duty to help them so that we may show ourselves fellow-workers in the truth ( 3 John 1:8). Moffatt translates this very vividly: "We are bound to support such men to prove ourselves allies of the truth."

There is a great Christian thought here. A man's circumstances may be such that he cannot become a missionary or a preacher. Life may have put him in a position where he must get on with a secular job, staying in the one place and carrying out the routine duties of life and living. But where he cannot go, his money and his prayers and his practical support can go. Not everyone can be, so to speak, in the front line; but by supporting those who are there, he can make himself an ally of the truth. When we remember that, all giving to the wider work of Christ and his church must become not an obligation but a privilege, not a duty but a delight. The church needs those who will go out with the truth, but it also needs those who will be allies of the truth at home.

LOVE'S APPEAL ( 3 John 1:9-14 )

1:9-15 I have already written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who is ambitious for the leadership, does not accept our authority. So, then, when I come, I will bring up the matter of his actions, for he talks nonsensically about us with wicked words; he refuses to receive the brothers and attempts to stop those who wish to do so and tries to eject them from the church.

Beloved do not imitate the evil but the good. He who does good has the source of his life in God; he who does evil has not seen God.

Everybody testifies to the worth of Demetrius, and so does the truth itself; and so do we testify, and you know that our testimony is true.

I have many things to write to you; but I do not wish to write to you with ink and pen. I hope to see you soon, and we shall talk face to face.

Peace be to you. The friends send their greetings. Greet the friends by name.

Here we come to the reason why this letter was written and are introduced to two of the main characters in the story.

There is Diotrephes. In the introduction we have already seen the situation in which John and Diotrephes and Demetrius are all involved. In the early church there was a double ministry. There were the apostles and the prophets whose sphere was not confined to any one congregation and whose authority extended all over the church. There were also the elders; they were the permanent settled ministry of the local congregations and their very backbone.

In the early days this presented no problem, for the local congregations were still very much infants who had not yet learned to walk by themselves and to handle their own affairs. But as time went on there came a tension between the two kinds of ministry. As the local churches became stronger and more conscious of their identity, they inevitably became less and less willing to submit to remote control or to the invasion of itinerant strangers.

The problem is still to some extent with us. There is the itinerant evangelist who may well have a theology and work with methods and in an atmosphere very different from that of the settled local congregation. In the younger churches there is the question of how long the missionaries should remain in control and of when the time has come for them to withdraw and allow the indigenous churches to rule their own affairs.

In this letter Diotrephes is the representative of the local congregation. He will not accept the authority of John, the apostolic man and he will not receive the itinerant missionaries. He is so determined to see that the local congregation manages its own affairs that he will even eject those who are still prepared to accept the authority of John and to receive the wandering preachers. What exactly Diotrephes is we cannot tell. He certainly is not a bishop in anything like the modern sense of the word. He may be a very strong-minded elder. Or he may even be an aggressive member of the congregation who by the force of his personality is sweeping all before him. Certainly he emerges as a strong and dominant character.

Demetrius is most likely the leader of the wandering preachers and probably the actual bearer of this letter. John goes out of his way to give him a testimonial as to character and ability, and it may well be that there are certain circumstances attaching to him which give Diotrephes a handle for his opposition.

Demetrius is by no means an uncommon name. Attempts have been made to identify him with two New Testament characters. He has been identified with Demetrius, the silversmith of Ephesus and the leader of the opposition to Paul ( Acts 19:21 ff.). It may be that he afterwards became a Christian and that his early opposition was still a black mark against him. He has been identified with Demas (a shortened form of Demetrius), who had once been one of Paul's fellow-labourers but who had forsaken him because he loved this present world ( Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:10). It may be that Demas came back to the faith and that his desertion of Paul was always held against him.

Into this situation comes John, whose authority is being flouted; and Gaius, a kindly soul but probably not so strong a character as the aggressive Diotrephes, whom John is seeking to align with himself, for Gaius, left on his own, might well succumb to Diotrephes.

There is our situation. We may have a good deal of sympathy with Diotrephes; we may well think that he was taking a stand which sooner or later had to be taken. But for all his strength of character he had one fault--he was lacking in charity. As C. H. Dodd has put it: "There is no real religious experience which does not express itself in charity." That is why, for all his powers of leadership and for all his dominance of character, Diotrephes was not a real Christian, as John saw it. The true Christian leader must always remember that strength and gentleness must go together and that leading and loving must go hand in hand. Diotrephes was like so many leaders in the church. He may well have been right, but he took the wrong way to achieve his end, for no amount of strength of mind can take the place of love of heart.

What the issue of all this was we do not know. But John comes to the end in love. Soon he will come and talk, when his presence will do what no letter can ever do; and for the present he sends his greetings and his blessing. And we may well believe that the "Peace be to you" of the aged Elder indeed brought calm to the troubled church to which he wrote.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)



J. N. S. Alexander, The Epistles of John (Tch; E)

A. E. Brooke, The Johannine Epistles (ICC; G)

C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles (MC; E)


ICC: International Critical Commentary

MC: Moffatt Commentary

Tch: Torch Commentary

E: English Text

G: Greek Text

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 3 John 1". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/3-john-1.html. 1956-1959.
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