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‘The elder to Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth.’
The writer again calls himself ‘the Elder’. As with 2 John the impression is given that all would know who was meant. He was not just one of many elders but seen as unique. There is no real reason for denying that it is the Apostle John, who as we know from John’s Gospel, preferred not to push his name forward. He was probably delighted with a term that, as used by his fellow-believers, indicated warm affection as well as respect.
Gaius, to whom the letter is addressed, is a man of the truth, and John loves him truly because he is of the truth. He is indeed ‘beloved by’ John. Gaius is ‘loved in truth’. This can mean truly loved, or loved as one who is of the truth. Or perhaps John intended it to have the double meaning. A man of true faith loved in truth. Certainly the implication of both is there.
‘ Beloved, I pray that in all things you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.’
He knows that Gaius’ soul prospers. That is a good testimony to have. He prays that equally his life and health might prosper in every way, that God might ensure that life would treat him well. It may well be that Gaius suffered from physical problems, and that he had these especially in mind. Or John may have had in mind that those who provide for others will find themselves provided for. What a man sows, especially in the name of Christ, he will reap (Galatians 6:7-8)
‘For I rejoiced greatly, when brethren came and bore witness to your truth, even as you walk in truth. Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.’
But his greatest rejoicing is in that Gaius walks in the truth. John is often called the Apostle of ‘love’ but he always lays great stress on ‘truth’. His rejoicing was because Gaius walked in the truth, because he walked in the light with God (1 John 1:5-7). Thus he was true both in belief, in understanding and in behaviour. And when others came to John from where Gaius lived, all bore testimony to his glowing Christian life, and to the fact that he was a man of the truth. And especially that he knew the truth about Jesus as both God and man, and Saviour, and lived accordingly. This was one reason why John loved him.
‘Beloved, you do a faithful work in whatever you do towards those who are brethren and strangers withal, who bore witness to your love before the church, whom you will do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God, because for the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.’
Gaius clearly welcomed travelling preachers who were of the truth, even if they were strangers, and indeed all Christians who came to his church as visitors from a distance. He was a man of great hospitality because of his love for Christ. He welcomed them because they went forth in the Name of Christ Jesus. And he was to be commended for it as a faithful servant of Christ, for He did it in Christ’s name. He gave not only a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42), but also abundantly.
Early Christian preachers normally received material support from other believers (compare Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:7-9), or alternatively like Paul, they supported themselves. They did not solicit funds from unbelievers (compare Matthew 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). They relied on God, and on God’s people. "Gentiles" was a general term for unbelievers, for Christians were no longer Gentiles. They were of the true faith. They were ‘sons of Abraham’ and of the new Israel (Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12-22; Revelation 7:1-8).
‘You do a faithful work in whatever you do.’ What a testimony Gaius had. He was totally reliable, absolutely dependable, thorough, and set to show God how faithful he was because he loved Him. And this was especially revealed in his attitude towards hospitality for those who preached the truth who came from a distance, at a time when most who were in his church group were set against such, and his actions would be disapproved of. He sought the favour of God and not the favour of men.
‘Towards brethren and strangers.’ This may indicate two sets of people, showing that he did not discriminate, but may well signify the same people. They were true men of God, but they came from outside the area and were therefore looked on with suspicion by many. They were ‘foreigners’. Yet they should have been received with the love of Christ, and they were, by Gaius.
‘Who bore witness to your love before the church.’ This probably means before their own church when they arrived back home. All spoke of how Gaius had welcomed them when others had treated them coldly. Although when given the opportunity they no doubt spoke well of Gaius before his own church. He was well spoken of everywhere.
‘Whom you will do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God, because for the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.’ But he was right in what he did. The men were worthy of Gaius’ good treatment. They were true brethren, and should be treated with honour, because in Jesus’ name they went forward, living by faith in the promises of God, and sought no charity. They sought only the honour of Jesus Christ, and were willing to suffer for His name’s sake.
‘We therefore ought to welcome such, that we may be fellow-workers for the truth.’
It was right that these travelling preachers should be welcomed and given hospitality, because of Whose they were, and by doing so Gaius had a part in their ministry. He was a fellow-worker with them in the truth. All may not be able to preach, but all can have a part in the ministry of such people by their continual support. It was the widow who gave her pittance who was especially honoured by God, not the wealthy donors in the Temple, for she gave of her all (Mark 12:41-44). One cup of cold water rightly given can quench the thirst of Heaven.
‘I wrote somewhat to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, receives us not. Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he does, prating against us with wicked words. And not content with that, nor does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who would and casts them out of the church.’
Things were not as well as they could be in Gaius’ church grouping. It is clear that Diotrephes, who was a prominent church leader, loved to be seen as important, and to be honoured and feted, and this probably contributed to his not wanting outsiders coming and taking over the ministry, and stealing some of his glory. He wanted no interference in his church, even from the Apostle John, and found fault with all who came from outside. It is probable that ‘receives us not’ refers to the lack of welcome John’s letter received. And most of the church in which he ministered seem to have sided with him. Such is the danger when one man becomes pre-eminent. To receive honour is always a dangerous thing for a man who would please God, for he soon begins to see himself as important, and then his usefulness is diminished.
There is here no suggestion of false teaching. Diotrephes appears to have taught the truth. It may even partly have been because he was afraid of false teachers that he behaved as he did. But this meant that he had cut his church off from the remainder of the worldwide church. He was clearly a strong character and was able to carry men along with him. That he was not fully successful is evidenced by Gaius. There were some still willing to stand up to him.
The church would be split up into smaller groups as was necessary in those days, for not all could meet centrally, so Diotrephes’ influence may only have affected the section he ministered to and not the whole church, but he was clearly influential.
But John’s charge against him is also that he not only himself refused hospitality to travelling preachers of the truth, including strangers, but forbade his church to offer it either. Any travelling preachers were to be rejected. Indeed had it not been for Gaius true men of God would have had nowhere to go.
It is probable that the exclusion from the church refers to the travelling preachers and not the church members. But it is possible that Diotrephes had made discipline so strict that he actually expelled church members for disobedience.
It should be noted, however, that John is confident that when he visits the church he and his authority will be welcomed. (He probably only mentions this to encourage Gaius and give him hope of the resolution of a miserable situation). The church was not wholly lost to Christ. He felt that the problem was one that could be dealt with by firm discipline.
‘Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God. He who does evil has not seen God.’
Meanwhile Gaius is to continue in goodness. As with all true Christians he must take his example from Christ, imitating what is good and not what is evil. For being a Christian, and doing good, go together. Those who do good are of God. But those who do evil have not seen God. They cannot have, for God is light, and had they seen Him they would have repented. John is quite clear. You will know men by their fruits. He knew nothing of a salvation that did not produce fruit.
‘Demetrius has the witness of all, and of the truth itself. Yes, we also bear witness: and you know that our witness is true.’
Demetrius may have been another church leader, or a more probably a visiting preacher, a representative of John, and he may well also have been the letter bearer. He too is a man who adorns the truth, witnessed to by all. He is to be welcomed. Even John bears witness to his godliness. And Gaius can know that his testimony is reliable. Thus he can know that he can place complete confidence in Demetrius. His coming would give Gaius comfort at a distressful time. John is very practical as well as spiritual.
‘I had many things to write to you, but I am unwilling to write them to you with ink and pen, but I hope shortly to see you, and we shall speak face to face.’
We saw the same idea in 2 John 1:12. John preferred face to face contact. He probably felt that long letters were too impersonal. Possibly both letters were written around the same time and went with Demetrius to the same area.
3 John 1:13, ‘Peace be to you. The friends salute you. Salute the friends by name.’
He finishes with a greeting of peace, a common ancient greeting among the Jews. ‘The friends’ probably signifies ‘the brethren’ at John’s end with a hint that these are friendly towards Gaius even if Diotrephes is not, and the other ‘friends’ at Gaius’ end are presumably those who still retain friendly relations with John. John clearly felt that he could not pass on salutations to those who were opposing him, as it might have caused unnecessary nastiness. There is here an indication of his tact. To have used ‘brethren’ of his own church would have emphasised the difference when he used ‘friends’ of those at Gaius’ end, and he did not want to do that, so he called his brethren ‘friends’ as well. He may have had in mind John 15:13-15, ‘you are my friends if you do what I command you.’ Diotrephes was definitely not ‘friendly’.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 3 John 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/