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Bible Commentaries
3 John 1

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Verses 1-4


The third letter of John shows the tenderness of love that comes to expression in the support towards those who have gone forth for the sake of the truth. It is the other side of what you have seen in the second letter. That letter deals more with the steadfastness of love in refusing to give hospitality to false teachers. You may summarize the message of the second letter in the words: ‘Do not receive!’ (2 John 1:10) and of the third letter in the word: ‘Receive!’ (3 John 1:8).

If we would only have had the second letter, we would run the risk to become strict, insensitive and suspicious. Therefore the third letter is a necessary and at the same time wonderful supplement to the second letter. It causes the balance that is necessary in the judgment of what presents itself as being Christian.

Besides the order to receive the true servant of God, this letter also gives a vivid picture of the church life in the second part of the first century, with timeless instructions for the people of God.

It is also remarkable that in this letter the name of the Lord Jesus is not mentioned. You indeed find a general reference to ‘the Name’ (3 John 1:7).

With some characteristics John portrays some people: the hospitable and spiritual Gaius, the commendable Demetrius and the self-interested uncompassionate Diotrephes. That also gives a good division of this letter:
1. Greeting (3 John 1:1-4).
2. The God fearing Gaius (3 John 1:5-8).
3. The dictator Diotrephes (3 John 1:9-11).
4. The pious Demetrius (3 John 1:12).
5. The plans of the apostle and blessing (3 John 1:13-14).

Sender, Recipients, Walk

3 John 1:1. “The elder” is John in his status as an old man. He writes to the “beloved Gaius”. Beloved is a word which he uses three more times, but it is missing in the second letter, which he wrote to a lady.

There are three persons in the New Testament to be found who are named ‘Gaius’ (1 Corinthians 1:14; Romans 16:23; Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4). None of these three person seems to be the man to whom John is writing. It is also not that important in order to understand the message of this letter. Of this particular Gaius, John writes five positive characteristics:
1. his soul prospers;
2. he has a good testimony;
3. it can be testified that ‘the truth’ is in him;
4. he walks in the truth;
5. he acts in faithfulness.

These are the characteristics that you may strive for that they may be found with you too.

John loves Gaius “in truth”. He certainly appreciates the hospitality of Gaius very much, but still, that is not the reason for him to love him. John does not love Gaius for natural reasons, but on the basis of the truth of God. It is a love between two persons who have the same Divine nature. That goes much further than only appreciating somebody for his hospitality. It means that the heart has been captured by the truth. It is about truth in the inner man, about truthfulness which is shown in a sincere act and walk.

3 John 1:2. John starts with a personal wish to Gaius. That wish is not a small wish. He wishes Gaius that “in all respects” he “may prosper”, that means on every area of his life. Thereby the health of his soul is at the front. The health of his body, his appearance, is not unimportant, but that of his inner man is still more important.

It is not be taken for granted that if your soul prospers your body automatically prospers. You could taste from what John is saying here, that there is no automatic connection between the condition of the soul and that of the body. The argument, that when your faith is alright it is automatically also alright with your body and you therefore do not need to become sick, is not correct.

You also need to be very careful with the reverse case, that when you are sick there must be something wrong with your faith. You are not to derive from the physical condition of a man how his spiritual condition is. The friends of Job have experienced that to their shame when God blamed them for the hard, judging words they spoke to Job.

3 John 1:3. John can say that the soul of Gaius prospers because other people have told him about what they saw with Gaius. Some “brethren” came to John who have been with Gaius. These brethren have seen the way Gaius lives and that has impressed them. They told the old apostle about that. In their message they testified of “your truth”, that is the truth of God, which was accepted by Gaius and which he familiarized himself with (cf. ‘his treasure’, Matthew 13:52, where the Lord Jesus speaks about a person whom has familiarized himself with God’s Word).

Therefore it is also applied to you that it is not the question about you having the truth, but it is about you to become identified with God’s truth. God gives His truth to His own. That is being seen in the life of Gaius, in his words and deeds. That is something that others can testify of. You may read books about something and tell something about it, but that is not your truth. Your truth is what you have lived through of God’s truth.

This has got nothing to do with what you indeed hear today, that everyone has ‘his own truth’. That refers to people who do not submit themselves to God’s Word, but believe their own opinion about all kinds of things to be ‘truth’. John speaks about the truth of God, but which becomes ‘your truth’ when you have familiarized yourself with it through faith and practice. You see that with Gaius. He ‘walks in the truth’. The brethren testified of him that he walks in it, and therefore his whole life is in accordance with the revealed truth of God.

When John heard that from those brethren about Gaius, he “was very glad”. Just like in 3 John 1:4 of the second letter, here also ‘rejoiced greatly’ indicates the intense joy and the depth of compassion with the spiritual health of the other person. This great joy relates to what John heard about a fellow believer. That is not an opposite of the joy in the Lord, but it is on the contrary inseparably connected with it.

Hopefully you rejoice not only in the Father and the Son, but also in everything you see of the Lord Jesus in another person. You also rejoice when believers visit you and tell you good stories about other children of God. Unfortunately the stories are often more focused on what the brother lacks or what his failures are. Try to focus on the positive things that are present with your brother and sister.

John speaks about ‘brethren’ who came to him and not about some ‘gentlemen’. ‘Brethren’ is an honorary title and is a lot more affectionate than the distant ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ that at times is also used among believers. In the name ‘brethren’ you hear the sound of the family relationship of the believers that comes forth from the fact that they are children of God. It is also nice to consider that Gaius does not testify of himself. He does not need to.

We also should not speak about ourselves, about things we have done. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2). You must always be cautious for the danger that you would boast on what you have done for the Lord (Mark 6:30). Of course you may tell about what God has done through you (Acts 14:27; Acts 15:4Acts 15:12). Look also at what the Lord testifies of the work of Mary, a testimony that was going to be borne further by others (Matthew 26:13).

3 John 1:4. For the old apostle there was no greater joy than to hear that his children “walking in the truth”. It is about walking in the truth of faith, the whole truth as we find that in the Scripture. It is not about accepting an orthodox truth of faith, but about what has become visible in your walk. That’s what it is with Gaius who in spiritual sense is one of the children of John (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:14-Ezra :).

Generally speaking, it is a fact that when John hears that his children walk in the truth, it gives him an unsurpassable joy. He rejoices in the Lord Jesus and therefore he rejoices in all who also rejoice in that Person. For that reason he speaks about “no greater joy”. This unsurpassable joy is therefore not only to be found in the fellowship with the Lord, but also in fellowship with one another.

This joy is nothing else than the joy of heaven. In heaven all God’s children will behave themselves perfectly in accordance with God. Only the new life, which is the Lord Jesus, will be visible there. To each spiritual minded elder believer it is a joy which is non-replaceable or unsurpassable when he sees the features of the Lord Jesus in the lives of younger believers. To walk in the truth is to walk just as He has walked. He did everything just like God wanted Him to. Because He is the life of each child of God, it can also become visible in each child of God. If you listen to the voice of the good Shepherd and follow Him, it will surely become visible.

Now read 3 John 1:1-4 again.

Reflection: Is it to be testified of you that you walk in the truth? Why is it / is it not?

Verses 5-7

Go Forth for the Sake of the Name

3 John 1:5. After addressing Gaius as “beloved” in 3 John 1:2, John does that again here. In 3 John 1:11 he will do that once more. By that he convinces Gaius of his love for him. There is indeed a reason for that. Gaius has much that is commendable and therefore worthy as an example for you to follow. But what John mentions firstly, is his “acting faithfully”. Of all services the main characteristic is faithfulness, which is also appreciated and rewarded the most by God (1 Corinthians 4:2). Not your gift or the results of a certain work that you do for the Lord, but the faithfulness with which you do everything, is important to Him.

Gaius has acted faithfully towards believers, brethren, whom were totally unknown to him. They unexpectedly stood on his doorstep. He did not get rid of them, but he did faithfully to them “whatever” he accomplished. In reality, the hospitality that Gaius showed to the brethren he showed to the Lord (Matthew 25:40). Hospitality is a responsibility and privilege for us all (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2), but especially for overseers (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8) and widows who are supported by the church (1 Timothy 5:10). Hospitality is not to be supplied reluctantly, grumbling, but wholeheartedly (1 Peter 4:9).

These “brethren” were welcomed because they brought the truth. Probably they were poor brethren who came from a modest background and were uneducated, who were travelling in complete independence on the Lord. They looked upon Him for Whose Name’s sake they went forth. They were not appointed preachers. They travelled without formal sending out and without visible source of income.

John does not address his letter to them, but to Gaius and over his head to all believers who want to be used by the Lord in order to support such travelling believers. They enjoy their ministry and they owe them to support them in their needs (Galatians 6:6). Gaius acted according to the principle that “you shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (1 Corinthians 9:9). Although the church that Gaius joined seemed not to act accordingly and failed to do so, Gaius was still able to act like that in personal faithfulness.

The Scripture shows here that God attaches importance to proofs of love towards strangers. Many believers show love to workers for the Lord whom they know and admire, while they have a reserved attitude towards brothers of whom they have never heard, whom they do not know. When we discover that attitude with ourselves we are to confess and judge it.

3 John 1:6. Beside the testimony that was given of the truth of Gaius (3 John 1:3), also a testimony of his love can be given. “Your truth” (3 John 1:3) and “your love” indicate that Gaius is balanced in living out his faith. It is a good thing to have the truth in us, but it is a better thing when the truth manifests itself in our life. We must not only keep the truth, but the truth must also keep us. We often fail in one of both sides. We either stand resolutely behind the truth, but are tough, without love, or we only talk about love, while we fail in maintaining the truth.

Gaius has welcomed the strangers in love and truth and has helped them further (cf. Titus 3:13). These strangers in their turn have testified of it. There is reciprocity in it. Hospitality causes a testimony. The brethren who were helped by Gaius testified before the church where they belonged of his effort for their sake. In their report of their journey they also told about how they were received by Gaius and how he assisted them in going forward (cf. Acts 14:27). They have testified in the meeting of God’s work which they have observed at other places and the service that was done to them by other believers. It must have been a joy for those brethren to tell about the love of Gaius, who loved in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).

With the words “you will do well” John exhorts him to continue with this good work of assisting travelling brothers forward. In that way Paul exhorts the Philippians to add to the good that they already did (Philippians 2:1-Exodus :; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-2 Samuel :). Gaius must have needed this exhortation too, because he was facing resistance from Diotrephes. Let this also be an exhortation for you when you are facing people who are trying to stop you from helping those who testify of the Lord.

“Send them on their way” means that he had to provide them with everything they needed to continue their service. When they departed from his place, after they enjoyed his hospitality, he must give them some money and goods for the journey. Gaius had to do that “in a manner worthy of God”. That excludes on the one hand dishonest motives and wrong intentions and on the other hand the Name of God becomes visible and is being glorified in his act, for he acts in the Name of God (Philippians 4:19).

The Lord does not assist His servants with wages or a salary or a guaranteed income. They can trust in Him, Who is faithful. Whoever trusts in Him will be able to testify that he had never lacked of anything (Luke 22:35). The servant of Christ must be supported by the saints (1 Corinthians 9:1-Job :; Galatians 6:6), but not with a secure income (Philippians 4:11-2 Kings :). They are in the service of the Lord and He determines where His servants go and how long they are to stay somewhere. People are not allowed to determine that, although believers of course are allowed to give some advice (cf. Acts 16:9-2 Samuel :), when they for instance hear about a certain spiritual need. When the servant goes, he will do that after he had received clarity from the Lord that it is alright.

There is another thing that is attached to this ‘worthy of God’. Wherever this expression appears in the New Testament it has got to do with the character of the letter (1 Thessalonians 2:12; Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Romans 16:2). That also is the case here. The main point in the letters of John is the eternal life, which is the Lord Jesus, Who also is the true God (1 John 5:20). Therefore when John exhorts Gaius to continue to assist others forward in a manner that is ‘worthy of God’, it means a way that is in accordance with God Who is light and love.

That excludes that we would praise servants by only looking at them for what we love about them and therefore look at them only from the perspective of love. It also excludes that we reject servants by only looking at them for what we do not like about them and therefore only from the perspective of the light. Worthy of God means that we approach servants and judge their service in accordance with light and love. Of course we are allowed to encourage or admonish servants, but the balance is important. Briefly said ‘worthy of God’ means that the life of God in you and me towards the servant reveals itself in an honorable manner.

3 John 1:7. The reason for appreciating the act of Gaius and the exhortation for him to continue that is that these strangers have gone forth “for the sake of the Name”. I think that you may say that in ‘the Name’ everything is expressed about what the Son of God is. John does not need to declare to Gaius what he means. It is totally clear. It is all about that Name.

In this letter the name of the Lord Jesus or of the Father does not appear at all. There is no need to mention Their names, for it is totally clear to both John and Gaius that it is only about the Father and the Son. When you talk with somebody about a person who is precious to both you and the other one, you do not mention his name all the time, for by everything that you say you both know of whom you are talking about.

The most important thing for you and me should be His Name as the only Name. It must not be the name of a church or one or another person (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-1 Chronicles :). His Name is the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Because of Him these travelling brothers have forsaken their profession to heed His call, just like John himself also did formerly (Mark 1:19-Proverbs :). They were not sent by or in the name of men. The church has no authority to choose, consecrate or send out servants of the Lord. Only the Lord Jesus has that right. The church will surely acknowledge those with joy who are called and being sent out like that (Acts 14:27).

Those who are gone forth for His Name’s sake are not dependent on those to whom they are sent out. The Lord finances His own work. Fundraising is not in accordance with what we find here. We must never give the impression that money plays a role in the preaching or that it is about financial profit. That will cloud the preaching or even destroy it. On the other hand it is indeed important to realize that you have an obligation towards preachers who go forth with the confidence in the living God and who tell their needs to no one else than Him alone.

The preachers about whom John writes here do not accept anything from those who belong to the Gentiles. They leave it to God to care that they will be received by those who attaches great importance to the truth. The truth is and still is the only letter of faith among the Christians and also the only means through which the apostle can protect the believers.

Now read 3 John 1:5-7 again.

Reflection: What do you pay attention to with those who say to preach the truth and how do you help them forward who preach God’s truth?

Verses 8-15

Diotrephes, Demetrius and the Friends

3 John 1:8. When John has told Gaius what he would do well, he involves himself in the exhortation by speaking of “we”. He, John, ought to receive them like every other believer who has gone forth for the Name. In this way he shows that he not only tells the other person to do something, but he himself does it too in practice. He gives the good example. That is the best way to encourage one another in practical love. This exhortation forms an enormous contrast with the previous letter, wherein you were told that the least involvement in the advancement of a false doctrine causes you to have fellowship with evil works.

By supporting believers who preach God’s Word, in a practical way you become ‘a fellow worker with the truth’. In that way each person, including you, has an own place and function in the advancement of the truth. This is how the Philippians became fellow workers of the gospel through the gift that they sent to the apostle (Philippians 1:5; Philippians 4:15). They probably were no evangelists, but they cooperated with that work, for without their support the work could not be continued. He who works and he who supports receive the same reward from the Lord (Matthew 10:41).

3 John 1:9. Gaius needs this encouragement because there is some Diotrephes in the church. Because the church is responsible for what happens in its midst, John “wrote something to the church”. That letter in which he writes about receiving those who preach the truth is anyway not written to Diotrephes, although he wanted to be the head of the church. The letter that John Gaius refers to has not been preserved for us.

Diotrephes is someone who ‘loves to have the preeminence among them’ (Matthew 20:26), but does not do that the way the Lord instructs us to. Loving to have the preeminence or loving to be the first is an evil that hides in us all. The Lord indicates with the example of the foot washing how He is and how He wants us, who call Him Master and Lord, to be (John 13:1-Proverbs :).

Diotrephes loves to be the first. He acts out of love for taking sides and his own honor which is therefore fully in contrast with the mind of the Lord Jesus (Philippians 2:3-Numbers :). He even goes that far that he does not receive the apostles. According to the first letter it is a sign that he is not of God, for he who is of God, hears the apostles (1 John 4:6). This person Diotrephes loves to have the preeminence in influence and authority and therefore he puts himself above the believers. There is no reason to assume that he in a way adheres to anti-Christian doctrines. The important thing for him is himself.

It is interesting to see that there are person in the Bible with names that indicate a rank order. In that way there is mention of a ‘brother named Quartus’ (means ‘fourth’, Romans 16:23), one called ‘Tertius’ (means ‘third’, Romans 16:22) and one called ‘Secundus’ (means ‘second’, Acts 20:4). However, a person by the name of ‘Primus’ (‘first’) is not to be found. That name is only to be ascribed to the Lord Jesus, for He is the One Who in all things has the first place (Colossians 1:18). Diotrephes arrogates this place to himself. He “loves to be the first”.

The contrast between Gaius and Diotrephes is great. Gaius walks in truth and love, loves the brethren and he even serves strangers. Diotrephes walks in pride, loves himself and hates servants who bring God’s truth. Both of them are in the same church. How often this situation has already repeated itself in the history of Christianity!

3 John 1:10. John informs Gaius about some things concerning Diotrephes. He says that Diotrephes will experience the power of the apostle. This is not a way for John to make an impact. He will act with apostolic authority. He does not arrogate himself to put things in order by a command. Everything that John does is drawing the attention to the truth, even when a woman is concerned, like in his second letter.

He will confront Diotrephes with “his deeds” that are in contrast with the truth. The whole issue about whether or not receiving preachers is actually only determined by the doctrine that they bring. Do they not bring the truth? Then do not greet them. Do they bring the truth? Then receive them, in spite of all the Diotrephesses in the world.

Besides the fact that Diotrephes does evil works, he also talks nonsense. His “wicked words” are senseless, they have no ground at all. They are expressed in a wicked mind and are evil of contents.

He does not use only words. Out of his practices it seems that he is an evil man. He does not want to have anything to do with true servants, for he sees them as a threat for his own position. Therefore he refuses to accept their message and in that way also their Sender. He rejects them. He regards himself highly and despises others. He is like the one who starts to beat his fellow slaves (Matthew 24:49). The man may probably have had a good start, but later he became an enemy of God’s work and therefore of Christ. He cannot stand to see another person get more honor than he himself. This is what happened to king Saul too (1 Samuel 18:6-:).

As a real sect leader he and he alone determines that no one is allowed to receive the true servant of God. Diotrephes seems to have taken in such a dominant position, that he independently throws everyone out of the church who does not agree to his policy and is disobedient to his commandment not to receive the brethren. To be thrown out of the church means to be refused access to the local church, for no one can remove another from the body of Christ.

Diotrephes has declared himself a dictator who sustains his power by intimidating the members of the church. What do they have to do with strange and probably less intelligent brethren? He is there anyway?

However, when a person brings the truth, we are to receive him. It is even very important that we listen to different brothers and to hear the Word from them. Each brother is limited and one-sided. The church is not served when it always has to listen or wants to listen to one and the same person only. There are to be possibilities for exercising different gifts.

3 John 1:11. After portraying the situation with regard to Diotrephes and towards the total lack of love with Diotrephes, it must have been alleviating for the suffering that Gaius had to endure, John again addresses him with ‘beloved’. John appeals to him not to imitate “what is evil”, but in contrast with that to follow “what is good” (1 Peter 2:21). We are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). What is evil is presented in Diotrephes in the previous verses, what is good is presented in Demetrius in the following verse.

In the second part of 3 John 1:11 you hear again the absolute language of John. Although we have to do with a poor travelling brother, the point is when he “does good”, if that is his characteristic, then it means that he has new life and he is of God. The same goes for doing evil. “The one who does evil” and walks in an evil way has no fellowship with God, although he has the preeminent place in the church or when he claims that to himself, like Diotrephes.

3 John 1:12. John draws Gaius’ attention to Demetrius. Demetrius seems to be one of the travelling brethren. He may probably be the person who came to deliver the testimony to John, regarding Gaius and the church. He also proclaims the truth. He has a good testimony, not only from the believers, but also from those who are outside (1 Timothy 3:7). The word “all” actually may refer to both believers and unbelievers (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:8). He has two kinds of witnesses: all people who know him, and the truth. The truth is as it were a person.

The fruit of his service testifies that he has brought the truth. His life is a continual expression of the truth. When someone looked at Demetrius and then at the truth, he saw that what Demetrius did met with what the truth prescribes. Also John testifies of him, as an emphasis of the previous testimonies. He presumes that Gaius will accept his testimony as truthful and not as untruthful or that he would reject it as insignificant.

3 John 1:13-2 Chronicles :. Just like he did in the second letter John concludes this writing with a personal note. He does not want to write him only, but he hopes to meet Gaius soon and then talk with him further. Talking with one another is the best way to have fellowship. Whatever means we may use to have contact (paper, telephone, e-mail etc.), it is not the real substitution for the face to face contact. It is sad when in a local church the disagreements are being dealt with through letters by email and not by a face to face conversation.

3 John 1:15. His wish to Gaius “peace [be] to you” is extra necessary in this church where Diotrephes is active and where there must have been great discontent. Nevertheless it is still possible to have personal peace in the heart in such a situation (John 14:27; John 20:19John 20:26). This does not mean that there is some indifference with regard to a person like Diotrephes, but a confidence in God that He at His time (here by the coming of John) will make an end to that situation.

John calls the brethren here “friends”. This is how the Lord has called His disciples (John 15:13-Ezra :; cf. John 11:11; Acts 27:3). It expresses an intimate relation and affection. In German the word for hospitality is ‘Gastfreundschaft’, which literally means ‘guest friendship’ which contains the word ‘friendship’. Hospitality makes friends out of brothers. Friendship relationships come into being.

There are friends with John and there are friends with Gaius. Those friends do not form an impersonal group, but there is a special bond with each of them. You know friends “by name”. That expression only appears once more in John 10, where you read that the Lord Jesus knows His sheep “by name” (John 10:3). In this you see John obviously is a good imitator of the good Shepherd.

While John has ended his second letter with a family greeting, he ends this third letter with a greeting of friends.

Now read 3 John 1:8-15 again.

Reflection: Which characteristics does Diotrephes have and which does Demetrius have?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 3 John 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/3-john-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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