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Bible Commentaries
3 John 1

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Verses 1-4



3 John 1:1. The elder.—It cannot be decided whether this was a recognised official title, or an allusion by St. John to his great age. The fact that St. Peter calls himself “a fellow-presbyter” (1 Peter 5:1) favours the idea that the title is official; and the Jewish Christian communities were likely to call their officials “elders,” after the pattern of the synagogue elders. Gaius.—Or Caius. This man cannot be confidently indentified with any person previously mentioned (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14); but the Gaius mentioned in Romans 16:23 is commended for the hospitality which St. John also praises in his Gaius. In the truth.—Not merely, “whom I truly love,” but, “whom I love with Christian love.” There is love we have for persons for their own sakes, and love we have for them as brethren in Christ Jesus.

3 John 1:2. Above all things.—Concerning all things περὶ πάντων. περί gives the notion, “before, on all sides, at every point.” In all respects. Prosper.—In circumstances. In health.—Of body. St. John desires the “all round “blessing of this good man—God’s hand upon him for good, in his soul, his body, and his relations. A model of Christian wishes for friends. Soul prospereth.—Notice that of his spiritual health St. John was well assured, but concerning his health and business successes he seems to have had no definite information.

3 John 1:3. Truth that is in thee.—It was not merely that the conduct and relations of Gaius were rightly toned; it was that they were manifestly inspired by Christian principles and Christian feeling. The truth was in him, and therefore there could be all these kindly and gracious expressions. There was consistency because there was reality.

3 John 1:4. No greater joy.—μειζοτέραν. A double comparative. Compare the English word lesser. It may be used to gain intensity, or it may be a mere irregularity. Children.—St. John’s affectionate term for the members of the Churches, many of whom regarded him as their spiritual father.


A Pastor’s Joy in His People.—This finds expression in two very suggestive and striking figures of speech: “Even as thy soul prospereth”; “Walkest in the truth.”

I. Soul-prosperity.—What he means may be illustrated by enlarging his sentence: “I wish for you that your soul may prosper and be in health, even as I wish that your body may prosper and be in health.” We cannot think of God without the mental help derived from the forms of humanity; and we cannot think of the soul save as shaped as a sort of counterpart of the body. And its full health and ideal perfection are conceived by us with the help of bodily conditions.

1. What then are the marks of a prosperous soul? That soul is prosperous in which—
(1) The truth dwells richly.
(2) The doctrinal and practical parts of religion are well proportioned and united.
(3) There is a happy mixture of the retired and the active.
(4) There is a good degree of public spirit and largeness of heart.
(5) There is no wrong ambition.
2. Why does prosperity of soul render temporal prosperity desirable?
(1) Because it makes temporal prosperity safe.
(2) Because it secures the welfare of others, and promotes the general good. (Part from A. Fuller.)

II. Walking in the truth.—This properly includes two things:

1. The knowledge of the outward substantial body of truth—the gospel of the grace of God, and of Jesus as our Saviour.
2. A heartfelt possession and enjoyment of the truth, not merely in the intellect, but also in the heart.


3 John 1:2. Soul-prosperity.—John makes soul-prosperity the standard and rule of prayer for other things. This would be a dreadful rule with regard to many. Such praying, if answered, would ruin them. Yes, if they were to prosper in temporal things as they prosper in spiritual, they would become the poorest, meanest wretches on earth, for they are strangers to everything like the “true riches”; and if their bodies were to be as healthful as their souls, their dwelling would become an hospital, their bed of ease a bed of languishing: they would be blind, for they have no spiritual understanding; deaf, for they never bear the voice of God; dead, for the Spirit of the living God is not in them. Yet this seems to be the only safe rule; for unless religion keeps pace with our outward prosperity, our safety and welfare will be endangered by it. We are not afraid when we see Christians succeed in life, if at the same time they “grow in grace”; but the peril is, when there is so much sail and so little ballast.—W. Jay.

3 John 1:3. Gaius.—The sincere and generous host of Demetrius, the quiet but sturdy opponent of the intolerance and tyranny of Diotrephes. Gaius was one who “walked in truth,” and so walked in it that men “bore witness to his truth.” The Greek word means “reality.” Gaius was a true man, a genuine man, a real man, whose life was all of one piece, whose daily conduct was the practical outcome and inference from the truths he believed. Evidently he cared more for deeds than for words. He would not bring the spirit and methods of the world into the Church. Nor would he, as a true man, yield to that still more subtle and fatal temptation by which those are overcome in whom religion degenerates into mere ecclesiasticism or sectarianism. From all these faults and errors Gaius was free. Of an incorrigible and losing honesty, it was his distinction that he was in the truth, and that he was walking, i.e. growing and advancing, in the truth of Christ; that the truth was making him true—true in thought, in motive, in word, in deed, insomuch that, when the eye saw him, it bore witness to him. The charity of Gaius was as conspicuous as his unworldliness. He not only received the strangers, but continued to receive and serve them, even when Diotrephes forbad him, and had persuaded the Church to excommunicate those who ventured to receive them. He could do no other; for he walked in truth. He believed that all who were in Christ were his brethren, even though they were strangers to him; and he was bound to treat them as his brethren, even though for being true to his convictions he was cut off from the body of Christ. A certain genuineness and wholeness, then, a certain staunchness and loyalty, combined with great breadth and tolerance, seems to have been characteristic of the hospitable and kindly Gaius. He was in the truth. He walked in truth. He could be true to truth, come whence it would. He could be true to men, even when they were reviled and thrust out of the Church. In fine, he was a man who stood on his own feet, used his own eyes, and was faithful to the inspirations of the Divine Comforter and Guide who had taken up His abode with him. This large, steadfast, yet gentle loyalty to truth is as essential to a genuine, a real and strong, Christian character now as it was then. The discipline of life, and the advantages and privileges of the Christian life, have been wasted on us, if, whatever our gifts or our lack of them, whatever our opportunities or our lack of them, we have not built up for ourselves, or are not building up, such a character as this; if, whether we do, or do not, strive and cry, and cause our name to be heard in the streets, there is no quiet sanctuary within our souls, from which a light is sometimes seen, and prayers and songs are sometimes heard, and a hallowed influence constantly proceeds, to prove, to all who are capable of receiving proof, that Christ has an altar and a throne within us, and is the true Lord and Ruler of our life. If we are really walking in the truth, we must in various methods, some of them very quiet and simple, but not therefore the less effective, bear witness to the truth which guides and shapes our ways.—S. Cox, D.D.

3 John 1:4. Saving a Prodigal Child: a Tradition concerning St. John.—Tradition has been more than ordinarily busy in preserving anecdotes of St. John. Eusebius relates a beautiful, and not improbable, story to this effect: John, on a visit to a city in the neighbourhood of Ephesus, commended to the care of the bishop a young man of fine stature, graceful countenance, and ardent mind, as suited to the work of the ministry. The bishop neglected his charge. The young man became idle and dissolute, and was at length prevailed on to join a band of robbers, such as commonly had their holds in the neighbourhood of ancient Greek cities. He soon became their captain, and attained to eminence in crime. Long after, John entered the city again, and inquired for the young man. “He is dead,” said the bishop—“dead to God.” Having ascertained the particulars, the apostle exclaimed, “I left a fine keeper of a brother’s soul”; then, mounting a horse, he rode into the country, and was taken prisoner. He attempted not to flee, but said, “For this purpose I am come; conduct me to your captain.” He entered the presence of the armed bandit, who, recognising the apostle, attempted to escape. “Why dost thou fly, my son,” said he, “from thy father—thy defenceless, aged father. Fear not; thou still hast hopes of life. I will pray to Christ for thee. I will suffer death for thee. I will give my life for thine. Believe that Christ hath sent me.” The man was subdued, fell into the apostle’s arms, prayed with many tears, became perfectly reformed, and was restored to the communion of the Church.

Verses 5-14


3 John 1:5. Faithfully.—Not impulsively, not selfishly, but with a due sense of duty and obligation, and with an earnest care to do well. Perhaps the precise meaning is “Christianly,” in a manner true to thy Christian profession and character. R.V. “Thou doest a faithful work in whatsoever thou doest.” Westcott: “Thou makest sure whatsoever thou workest,” i.e. “Such an act will not be lost, will not fail of its due issue and reward.” To strangers.—Precisely, “to the brethren, and that strangers.” The point is, that Gaius had been specially trustful and kind in dealing with Christian brethren who, in their journeyings, had visited the Church with which he was connected. These brethren were often “strangers,” personally unknown; and it was only too easy to be suspicious of their integrity, and so to neglect them. “The duty of entertaining Christians on their travels was of peculiar importance in early times:

(1) from the length of time which travelling required;
(2) from the poverty of the Christians;

(3) from the kind of society they would meet in public inns. The duty is enforced in Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9” (Sinclair).

3 John 1:6. Charity.—Distinguished from love as a feeling or sentiment. Charity is Christian love (love for Christ’s sake), finding expression in deeds of kindly service. In this sense of the term it is well to retain the word “charity” used in the A.V. of the New Testament. No intelligent reader confuses “charity” with “almsgiving.” Before the Church.—That Church with which the apostle John was, at the time, closely associated. It is suggested that certain persons had been sent from St. John’s Church on some Christian mission to other Churches. On their journey they had visited the Church of which Gaius was a member. They were strangers, and some regarded them with suspicion, but Gaius had not only trusted them, and given them hospitality, but had interested himself in their mission, and furthered them in their plans. Bring forward.—This implies that there was yet some service to the missionaries which Gaius could render.

3 John 1:7. His name’s sake.—The more precise rendering is, “for the sake of the name.’ Compare Acts 5:41. Taking nothing of the Gentiles.—Not seeking help from them, but fully trusting the Christian love of the Christian brethren.

3 John 1:9. Wrote unto the Church.—Evidently to introduce the coming missionaries, and to prepare the way for them. Read, “I wrote somewhat,” i.e. a short letter. It was evidently a brief request that kindness might be shown to the visitors. Diotrephes.—The name can be of no Christian significance, for it only means, “love-nourished.” He was a prominent member of the Church, and probably a man of wealth and influence. We need not think he was an insincere or bad man. He was undisciplined in character, and his natural dispositions were unlovely. The root of evil was probably jealousy of the confidential relations of Gaius and St. John. That spirit would lead him to oppose whatever Gaius wished. Pre-eminence.—Note how opposed to the spirit of Christ, who was among us as “He that serveth,” and to the teachings of Christ, “If any among you wishes to be chief, let him be your minister.” The desire for pre-eminence in a Christian community is the fruitful occasion of trouble. He who wants pre-eminence is likely to be unscrupulous in his methods of striving for it. Receiveth us not.—Will not recognise our authority, or give our wishes due consideration.

3 John 1:10. Prating against us.—Painful reports of what had been said and done in the Christian assemblies had reached St. John, and the supreme mischief was that a party bad been formed which gathered round the masterful Diotrephes. He had evidently acted in a very unreasonable and violent way. He actually went so far as not only to refuse hospitality to the missionaries, but also to eject from the local congregation those who were willing to entertain them.

3 John 1:11. That which is evil.—Notice the Christian carefulness which avoids saying, “him who is evil.” Possibly there was some danger of Gaius yielding for the sake of peace. St. John reminds him that if a thing is manifestly wrong from the Christian standpoint, he must stand against it, whatever may be the cost. He must not give way from any good-natured pliability. Good is of God.—A familiar Johannine teaching. See 1 John 2:16; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:8-9; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 4:6-7. Not seen God.—1 John 3:6.

3 John 1:12. Demetrius.—Either the principal man of the missionaries, whose genuineness Diotrephes refused to recognise, or the person sent to Gaius with this letter. The former is the better suggestion. It is then a strong assurance of the trustworthiness of Demetrius, so that Gaius might confidently persist in his kindly treatment of him and his fellow-messengers. There is no good reason for identifying the person with the Demetrius of Acts 19:24. Of the truth itself.—Or, “of the spirit of truth.” It may, however, mean, “judged by the Christian standard.” For a similar double witness, see John 15:26-27. Record.—Or, “testimony.”

3 John 1:14. Our friends.—Precisely, “the friends.”


Sanctified and Unsanctified Natural Dispositions.—There are three men introduced by name to us in this epistle. They are in many things very unlike each other. They are alike in this—that in each case the new Christian life has come into a natural disposition, proposing to alter, or strengthen, or tone that natural disposition as need may be. To use an illustration: Three very different branches, each with its own capabilities, strength, or weakness, or bias, have been grafted into the same living tree. The life of the tree flows freely into each branch, but it has to deal with, it has to be affected by, the condition and bias of each grafted branch, and the fruitage of each branch is found to differ. The same life in each, differing results according to the peculiarities of each. Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius have the life in Christ, but one of them has a natural disposition which even that new life cannot easily tone aright, or cannot tone save with the help of long years of severest discipline.

I. Gaius had a naturally hospitable disposition.—The grace of God could fit well to that—could raise the tone of it, dignify it as the expression of high and holy principles, and sanctify the man through the new forms in which he found exercise for it.

II. Diotrephes had a naturally masterful disposition.—He would be nowhere if he could not be first. He allowed no resistance of his will. His spirit has been at once described and satirised, when it is said of such men, “They would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven.” Men with such dispositions can be Christians; but in them the Christian spirit and life have a long and fearful struggle ere the self-will is brought into subjection. And they make heaps of misery before the good work is accomplished in them.

III. Demetrius had a naturally amiable disposition.—There was no one unusual virtue, as in the case of Gaius, but a generally amiable tone and character. He was a gentleman. And it is in such natures that the new life has the freest, fullest sphere for its highest and noblest work.


3 John 1:7. For the Name’s Sake.—In all the older manuscripts the phrase is, “For the Name’s sake.” There is no need to put the personal pronoun, or the proper name. There is but one Name known among men, for the sake of which, and to tell the virtue and power of which, men will leave their homes, and wander up and down among the countries and through the cities, taking cheerfully whatever fortunes may come. The men spoken of were evidently Jewish believers, who went out among the Gentiles to tell the glad news. These men were very thankful for any hospitality they might receive from Christian motives, and the well-beloved Gaius was famous for his kindness to the saints. St. John bids him, and those with him, still welcome the stranger in the Name of the Master whom he serves, and for whose Name’s sake alone he came to them.

I. For the Name’s sake is the availing plea in acceptable prayer.—Prayer is not the rising up of the intellectual soul of man to Divinity. That is merely speculative thought, tinged, it may be, with devoutness, but lacking the simplicity, the earnestness, the energy, of real prayer. Real prayer is prayer in the name of Christ. That means that God has revealed Himself in Christ. The name is the character: the name of God is the character of God as manifested among men, as displayed in human history. To pray in the name of Christ is to recognise God in Him, in His whole personality, in His whole history, in what He has done and suffered on our behalf.

II. For the Name’s sake is also, in a pre-eminent degree, the spring and motive-power of holy obedience.—This is the meaning of the text in its own connection. These men went forth, these first missionaries, in a spirit of self-consecration that asked no questions, that fixed no limits, that reserved no retreat; they went forth to tell the world the news. And they lived upon the news they told. The gospel was meat and drink to them, and clothing, and house, and home. “Taking nothing of the Gentiles.” The gospel would be benefited by their self-denial—that settled the question in a moment. “Nothing, nothing from you. If you believe the message, if you feel its constraining force, and yield yourselves to Christ, and live through Him to God, then open your door, and spread your table, and light your lamp of welcome, and we will come in. But so long as you are only listeners—undeclared and undecided—nothing.” And this was no transient impulse. The whole secret of the loyalty, endurance, unselfishness, of the Christian witnesses and martyrs, lay in this—“For the Name’s sake.” What essentially is this Christian service? It means the consecration of the redeemed self in wholeness to the glory of Christ, and to the service of our fellow-men under Him. We say from the heart, “For the Name’s sake,” and then all is easy. The love of Christ has this perfectly unique peculiarity—that it is the love of God and the love of man in one; and when, “for the Name’s sake,” we give ourselves to God, and live to God, then we are swayed by the all-comprehending love. Of what importance, then, must it be to a Christian to be full of love—full of the love of Christ to him, shed abroad by the Holy Ghost—full of quick-answering love to Christ—full of the power of “the Name”!—A. Raleigh, D.D.

For the Sake of the Name.—The R.V. gives the true force of these words by omitting the “His,” and reading merely, “for the sake of the Name.” There is no need to say whose name. There is only one which could evoke the heroism and self-sacrifice of which the apostle is speaking. The expression, however, is a remarkable one. The Name seems almost, as it were, to be personified.

I. The pre-eminence implied in the Name.—The name means substantially the same thing as the Person of Jesus. The distinction between “the Name” and “the Person” is simply that the former puts more stress on the qualities and characteristics as known to us. Thus “the Name” means the whole Christ as we know Him, or as we may know Him, from the book, in the dignity of His Messiahship, in the mystery of His Divinity, in the sweetness of His life, in the depth of His words, in the gentleness of His heart, in the patience and propitiation of His sacrifice, in the might of His resurrection, in the glory of His ascension, in the energy of His present life and reigning work for us at the right hand of God. All these, the central facts of the gospel, are gathered together into that expression, the Name, which is the summing up in one mighty word, so to speak, which it is not possible for a man to utter except in fragments, of all that Jesus Christ is in Himself, and of all that He is and does for us. It is but a picturesque and condensed way of saying that Jesus Christ, in the depth of His nature and the width of His work, stands alone, and is the single, because the all-sufficient, Object of love, and trust, and obedience. There is no need for a forest of little pillars—as, in some great chapter-house,—one central shaft, graceful as strong, bears the groined roof, and makes all other supports unnecessary and impertinent. There is one Name, and one alone, because in the depths of that wondrous nature, in the circumference of that mighty work, there is all that a human heart, or that all human hearts, can need for peace, for nobleness, for holiness, for the satisfaction of all desires, for the direction of efforts, for the stability of its being. The Name stands alone, and it will be the only Name that, at last, shall blaze upon the page of the world’s history when the ages are ended, and the chronicles of earth, with the brief “immortality” which they gave to other names of illustrious men, are mouldered into dust. “The Name is above every name,” and will outlast them all, for it is the all-sufficient and encyclopædical embodiment of everything that a single heart or the whole race can require, desire, conceive, or attain. So then, brethren, the uniqueness and solitariness of the Name demand an equal and corresponding exclusiveness of devotion and trust in us. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord thy God is one Lord. Therefore thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And, in like manner, we may argue—There is one Christ, and there is none other but He. Therefore all the current of my being is to set to Him, and on Him alone am I to repose my undivided weight, casting all my cares and putting all my trust only on Him. Lean on none other. You cannot lean too heavily on that strong arm. Love none other except in Him; for His heart is wide enough, and deep enough, for all mankind. Obey none other, for only His voice has the right to command. And lifting up our eyes, let us see “no man any more save Jesus only”—the Name that stands alone! Involved in this, but worthy of briefly putting separately, is this other thought—that pre-eminent and exclusive mention of the Name carries with it, in fair inference, the declaration of His Divine nature. It seems to me that we have here a clear case in which the Old Testament usage is transferred to Jesus Christ, only, instead of the Name being Jehovah, it is Jesus. It seems to me impossible that a man saturated as this apostle was with Old Testament teaching, and familiar as he was with the usage which runs through it as to the sanctity of “the Name of the Lord,” should have used such language as this of my text unless he had felt, as he has told us himself, that “the Word was God.” And the very incidental character of the allusion gives it the more force as a witness to the commonplaceness which the thought of the Divinity of Jesus Christ had assumed to the consciousness of the Christian Church.

II. The power of the Name to sway the life.—The preposition seems to me to cover both the ground of, “on account of,” or “by reason of,” and “on behalf of.” Taking the word in the former of these two senses, note how this phrase, “for the sake of the Name,” carries with it this principle—that in that Name lie all the forces that are needed for the guidance and the impulses of life. In Him, in the whole fulness of His being, in the wonders of the story of His character and historical manifestation, there lies all guidance for men. He is the pattern of their conduct. He is the companion for us in our sorrow. He is the quickener for us in all our tasks. And to set Him before us as our pattern, and to walk in the paths that He dictates, is to attain to perfection. Whosoever makes “for the sake of the Name” the motto of his life shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. And not only is there guidance, but there is impulse, and that is better than guidance. For what men most of all want is a power that shall help or make them do the things that they see plainly enough to be right. Where is there such a force to quicken, to ennoble, to lead men to higher selves than their dead past selves, as lies in the grand sweep of that historical manifestation which we understand by the Name of Jesus? There is nothing else that will go so deep down into the heart, and unseal the fountains of power and obedience, as that Name. Our whole life ought to be filled with His Name. You can write it anywhere. It does not need a gold plate to carve His Name upon. It does not need to be set in jewels and diamonds. The poorest scrap of brown paper, and the bluntest little bit of pencil, and the shakiest hand, will do to write the name of Christ; and all life, the trivialities as well as the crises, may be flashing and bright with the sacred syllables. Mohammedans decorate their palaces and mosques with no pictures, but with the name of Allah, in gilded arabesques. Everywhere, on walls and roof, and windows and cornices, and pillars and furniture, the name is written. There is no such decoration for a life as that Christ’s Name should be stamped thereon.

III. The service that even we can do to the Name.—That, as I said, is the direct idea of the apostle here. He is speaking about a very small matter. There were some anonymous Christian people who had gone out on a little missionary tour, and in the course of it, penniless and homeless, they had come to a city the name of which we do not know, and had been taken in and kindly entertained by a Christian brother, whose name has been preserved to us in this one letter. And, says John, these humble men went out “on behalf of the Name”—to do something to further it, to advantage it! Jesus Christ, the bearer of the Name, was in some sense helped and benefited, if I may use the word, by the work of these lowly and unknown brethren. Now there are one or two other instances in the New Testament where this same idea of the benefit accruing to the Name of Jesus from His servants on earth is stated, and I just point to them in a sentence, in order that you may have all the evidence before you. There is the passage to which I have already referred, recording the disciples’ joy that they were “accounted worthy to suffer shame on behalf of the Name.” There are the words of Christ Himself in reference to Paul at his conversion, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name’s sake.” There is the Church’s eulogium on Barnabas and Paul, as “men that have hazarded their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus.” There is Paul’s declaration that he is “ready, not only to be bound, but to die, on behalf of the Name of the Lord Jesus.” And in the introduction of the epistle to the Romans he connects his apostleship with the benefit that thereby accrued to the Name of Christ. If we put all these together, they just come to this—that, wonderful as it is, and unworthy as we are to take that great Name upon our lips, yet, in God’s infinite mercy and Christ’s fraternal and imperial love, He has appointed that His Name should be furthered by the sufferings, the service, the life, and the death of His followers. “He was extolled with my tongue,” says the psalmist, in a rapture of wonder that any words of his could exalt God’s Name. So to you Christians is committed the charge of magnifying the Name of Jesus Christ. You can do it by your lives, and you can do it by your words, and you are sent to do both. We can “adorn the doctrine”—paint the lily and gild the refined gold, and make men think more highly of our Lord by our example of faithfulness and obedience. We can do it by our definite proclamation of His Name, which is laid upon us all to do, and for which facilities of varying degrees are granted. The inconsistencies of the professing followers of Christ are the strongest barriers to the world’s belief in the glory of His Name. The Church, as it is, is the hindrance rather than the help to the world’s becoming a Church. If from us sounded out the Name, and over all that we did it was written blazing, conspicuous, the world would look and listen, and men would believe that there was something in the gospel. If you are a Christian professor, either Christ is glorified or put to shame in you, His saint, and either it is true of you that you do all things in the Name of the Lord Jesus and so glorify His Name, or that through you the Name of Christ is “blasphemed among the nations.” Choose which of the two it shall be!—A. Maclaren, D.D.

3 John 1:9-10. Diotrephes.—The vain, irritable, and loquacious Diotrephes, whose religion seems to have been quite compatible with a slippery morality. What exactly it was at which Diotrephes took offence, whether in the letter of St. John or in the conduct of Demetrius, we are not told; but it is not difficult to offend a man who has an undue sense of his own importance, and whose self-love may be set on fire by any match, however innocently it may be struck. The offence was some wound to his love of pre-eminence, his determination to stand first, and to exact a homage he did not deserve. Possibly Gaius had “received” Demetrius without consulting Diotrephes, or even after he had declined to receive him. Whatever the prick which his vanity had received, the character of the man comes out in his wholly disproportionate and extravagant resentment of the offence. In his resentment he sets himself against men far wiser and better than himself; he imperils the peace of the Church; he diminishes its numbers and strength. His wounded vanity landed him, as it often does land men, in the most bitter animosity and intolerance. He must have won over a majority of his fellow-members to his side. And he must have taken a by-path to his end. He may long have cherished a factious spirit in the inferior members of the Church, the less wise and less good, by opposing whatever Gaius and his friends proposed, and finding plausible reasons for opposing them. And, indeed, a man of inferior gifts and of a spirit less informed by the grace of Christ, who will stand first, will put himself forward and attempt to rule a free Christian congregation, must take this course. He must play on the ignorance, and even on the piety, of those who follow him,—must affect a superior wisdom, or a superior orthodoxy, or a superior devotion to the claims of its poorer and less-instructed members; must, in short, wield the common weapons of that loud-mouthed, irrepressible, and unsavoury creature, the religious demagogue. He cannot suffer learning, wisdom, godliness, experience, to exert their natural and beneficent influence, but must at all risks counterwork that influence, and suggest plausible reasons for not yielding to it. How else can he win, and maintain, a pre-eminence he does not deserve, which, in his calmer moments, he may even know that he does not deserve? There is nothing in the epistle to suggest that Diotrephes held unsound doctrinal views, or that he fell into what are called gross and open sins. All that he is blamed for is the conceit and self-assurance which rendered him impatient of rivalry or resistance, and set him on seeking power rather than usefulness. How did Diotrephes induce his fellow-members to follow his lead, since they must, most of them at least, have been good men, who were not likely to excommunicate their fellows either for an excess of charity, or for wounding his self-conceit? St. John says, “He receiveth not us … prating against us with wicked [or malicious] words.” No doubt he questioned the authority of St. John in an indirect way. He may have pitted Paul against John, contrasting their teachings, and unduly exalting Paul. We are told two things about Diotrephes. We are told not only that he loved to have the pre-eminence, but also that he was cursed with a voluble tongue, that he would “still be speaking”: for how often does a fluent tongue lead a man whither, in his reasonable moods, he would not go, and betray him into positions which he would not willingly have assumed? And if the itch of speaking is apt to lead on to the prating of idle, and even of malicious, words, the lust of power commonly leads to an abuse of power. No punishment is more unwelcome to such an one than that with which St. John threatened Diotrephes: “I will put him in mind of his words and his works”—bring him to book for them, in his own presence and in that of the Church. Such men dislike nothing so much as being compelled to face their own whispers, and to see how they sound in honest and impartial ears, or even in their own ears, now that their excitement and irritation have subsided. Diotrephes, then, was a man who was not necessarily or wholly bad—a man who may have had many good qualities, and have done some service to the Church; but his good qualities were blended with, and their good effects vitiated by, an exorbitant self-conceit and loquacity. So vain, so bent on influence and supremacy, as to be capable of the most cruel intolerance in asserting his supremacy; so talkative as to be capable of slipping into malicious and wicked words rather than hold his tongue or let the Church defer to other guidance than his own,—he offers a much-needed warning to many a man of “spotless respectability and worrying temper, of pious principles and worldly aims,” of good intentions but a too voluble tongue, who, because he thinks more highly of himself than be ought to think, flatters himself that he is serving the Church when he is only pandering to his self-importance and self-conceit, and is cruelly injuring the Church he professes to love. Let, then, your religion show itself in deeds rather than in words, in a life conformed by the grace of Christ to the will of God, not in loud professions and loquacious speeches, nor in an intolerant temper, and your readiness to sit in judgment on your brethren, and to pass sharp and pungent verdicts upon them.—S. Cox, D.D.

Prating for Pre-eminence.—The verb φιλοπρωτεύειν occurs in Polybius in the sense of to domineer, and Plutarch is cited for the equivalent phrase πάντα πρωτεύειν βουλόμενος. The race of domineering praters is not likely to die out. In all times it has flourished and in all climes. Many prate themselves into pre-eminence with malicious words or otherwise, by dint of pushing without scruple, of prosing without mercy, of self-assertion and self-glorification, and all for love of having pre-eminence, with the profits, real or reputed, thereunto attached, or thence accruing. Some men, as Emerson says, love only to talk where they are masters; they like to go to school-girls or to boys, or into shops where the sauntering people gladly lend an ear to any one. They go rarely to their equals: “listen badly, or do not listen to the comment or the thought by which the company strive to repay them; rather, as soon as their own speech is done, they take their hats.” Swift’s readers could supply the name of the person indicated in that paragraph of his essay on conversation, where he professes to know a man of wit who is never easy but where he can be allowed to dictate and preside, who expects neither to be informed nor entertained, but to display his own talents, whose business is to be good company and not good conversation, and who therefore chooses to frequent those only who are content to listen, and profess themselves his admirers—witlings and suckling Templars, who every sentence raise, and wonder with a foolish face of praise. Dr. Moore’s analysis of the self-conceit of Zeluco includes this characteristic—that, detesting all whom he suspected of having sufficient penetration to see into his real character, he could support the company of those only upon whose understandings he imagined he imposed by giving them a much better idea of his character than it deserved. “This accounts for his constant preference for ignorant society”—a preference tending to the same result as Gay sets forth in the prelude to one of his fables:—

“How fond are men of rule and place,
Who court it from the mean and base!
These cannot bear an equal nigh,
But from superior merit fly.
They love the cellar’s vulgar joke,
And lose their hours in ale and smoke;
There o’er some petty club preside,
So poor, so paltry, is their pride;
Nay, e’en with fools whole nights will sit,
In hopes to be supreme in wit.”

The man of strong intellect and firm will is apt, as Professor Spalding says, to degenerate into dogmatism, and reasons with his fellow-men in the same spirit in which the Jews built the second Temple, where every man worked with one hand and with the other hand held a weapon. What insolent familiar, asks Lamb in his notes on the old Benchers of the Inner Temple, durst have mated Thomas Coventry?—whose person was a quadrate, his step massy and elephantine, his face square as the lion’s, his gait peremptory and path-keeping, indivertible from his way as a moving column, the scarecrow of his inferiors, the brow-beater of equals and superiors. But who does not love to rule, be it over a genius or a dolt?—Francis Jacox.

3 John 1:12. Demetrius.—This epistle was probably written from Ephesus, toward the close of St. John’s long life and ministry, and addressed to one of the neighbouring Churches of Asia Minor, which St. Paul had founded some thirty or forty years before. Obviously there was a good deal of independence in the Churches when one Church in a province could refuse communion with men who were commended to them by another Church, could excommunicate those who did commune with them, and an unknown Diotrephes could not only set himself, but persuade the majority of his fellowmembers to set themselves, against the request and command of one of the apostles who had seen the Lord, and he the disciple whom Jesus had loved above the rest. But if the Churches had grown in independence, they had not declined in missionary zeal. The Churches under the charge of St. John were sending out evangelists, such as Demetrius, to the Gentiles. The impression which the epistle leaves on our minds is that the members of the primitive and apostolic Church were not, as they have sometimes been drawn, saints who lived together in an unbroken charity and peace, “too good for human nature’s daily use,” but men and women of like passions with ourselves; with much that was good in them, but also with not a little that came of evil; capable of heroic self-sacrifice, but also capable of sinking into selfish ambitions, and envies, and strifes—of falling, in short, into the very errors and faults of which we find some lingering traits even in the Church life of to-day, when we ought to be so much wiser and better than they. Demetrius and his fellows had been called to the evangelic office, and had devoted themselves to preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. St. John knew them, loved them, approved them, gave them letters of commendation to the Churches of Asia Minor, and, among others, to the Church of which both Gaius and Diotrephes were members. Diotrephes, evidently a man of some mark and gifts, declined to have anything to do with them: perhaps because Demetrius did not come first to him, or did not make much of and defer to him; perhaps because he preferred St. Paul’s doctrinal and argumentative method of teaching, and his demand for faith, to St. John’s Divine and deep simplicity, and his eternal insistence on charity, or love. In any case he did not like Demetrius, did not take to him; and doubtless he soon found or imagined abundant reasons for his dislike. Having formed and uttered his hasty opinion, Diotrephes was not the man to draw back from it. Nor was he content to keep it to himself, to hold it alone. He must impose it on the Church. When others would have “received” the evangelists, he forbad them. If they paid no heed to his prohibition, he got them “cast out” of the Church—the motto of this lover of pre-eminence being, apparently, “Better to reign in a small Church than to serve in a large one.” Undeterred by his influence and threats, the hospitable Gaius had welcomed the repulsed and disheartened evangelists to his home, and furthered them in their good work. Whether he also was excommunicated by Diotrephes, or whether he was too wealthy and powerful a man to be attacked, we are not told. But, at all risks, he discharged his duty, having, I suppose, an affectionate reverence for St. John which made the displeasure of a Diotrephes sit lightly upon him. Demetrius was very grateful to him; and when he returned to Ephesus, reported the fidelity of Gaius both to the apostle, and to the Church of which John was pastor or bishop. And now the apostle sends back Demetrius, and writes to Gaius, commending and encouraging him, and promising him a speedy visit, in the course of which he will depose Diotrephes from his pride of place, make him eat his “wicked words,” and restore those whom he had cast out. Demetrius was an evangelist, a travelling evangelist, or missionary. He had devoted himself to the service of the Gentiles (3 John 1:7), and he was probably also a prophet. But whatever his gifts, and whether few or many, there can be no doubt of the self-sacrificing and disinterested spirit in which be used them. Simply to travel was dangerous in those days, since every stranger was then held to be an enemy. But to go into the schools, market-places, and sanctuaries of strange cities, in order to teach a strange religion, was very like courting death. But Demetrius did not shrink. He would “take nothing of the Gentiles.” Like St. Paul, he knew well enough that, if he seemed to make anything by his message, the sharp, suspicious traders of the Asian harbours and markets would close their minds and hearts, as well as their purses, against him. Hence he would take nothing from them; no, not even if it was offered him, lest he should be placing a stone of stumbling in the way of any whose consciences had been touched. If we ask for the motive which inspired this noble and self-sacrificing devotion to the spiritual welfare of men, we are told that it was simply “for the sake of the Name” that Demetrius devoted himself to the service of the Gentiles. The “way” stood for the “way of Christ,” or the Christian way of thought and life. And, in like manner, “the Name” was the Name of the great Saviour of men, and stood for all that was known of Him, all that was summed up in Him. What moved Demetrius and his companions to their great and perilous work was the love they bore to the Name of Jesus Christ their Lord, and the Lord and Saviour of all men. What the “Name” really covers is that Jesus Christ was the Saviour whom God had promised and anointed, and that God was in Him, reconciling the world unto Himself. Demetrius won for himself a threefold testimony:

1. He won the witness of all—the witness of all good men, of all who were capable of appreciating goodness.

2. He won the testimony of the truth itself. He embodied the truth in deeds of love and self-sacrifice of which he would have been incapable but for the truth which animated and sustained him. The truth itself speaks through such a man, and bears witness to him.

3. St. John adds his own testimony: “we also bear witness.” How it nerves a man’s courage, and sustains his devotion, if some great master, or apostle, openly supports him, saying, “I love him; I trust him: receive him as you would receive me”!—S. Cox, D.D.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 3 John 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/3-john-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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