3 John 1-8 – Truth is a Practical Thing
- 3 John 9-15 – Godliness in the Midst of Abuse
- 3 John 1-8 – Truth is a Practical Thing
Purpose and Content of the Book
3 John focuses on an assembly’s reception of traveling brethren, particularly those who bore testimony to the Name of Jesus Christ. John had written to the assembly as a whole previously, but Diotrephes evidently suppressed the letter and the brethren who carried it. Thus, he had to strategize his approach and write to Gaius instead by sending (probably) Demetrius instead.
To understand this book is to learn the value of expressed fellowship in the form of hospitality, financial support, and personal visits. It also solemnizes our hearts as we realize that behavior like Diotrophes’ casts serious doubt on a person’s salvation. Nevertheless, we are encouraged that in times of abuse, God always gives us proper examples, and faithfulness is still our duty even in those periods.
An Outline of the Book
- Gaius: A Commendation (v. 1-8)
- Diotrephes and Demetrius: A Contrast (v. 9-12)
- John: A Communication (v. 13-15)
Gaius’ Personal Well-Being (v. 1-4)
Love in the Truth Has a Burden for a Believer’s Physical Health (v. 1-2).
The elder [connoting both age and fatherly burden] to the beloved Gaius [a gained relationship], whom I love in truth [an objective relationship]. Beloved, I pray that in all respects [The goodness of God is holistic: see James 1:17.] you may prosper and be in good health [Christian love is a burden for the whole person.], just as your soul prospers [This shows that spiritual prosperity does not equal physical prosperity, but that physical prosperity is preferable in addition].
As with 2 John, the apostle greets his reader as “the elder.” Doubtless, this emphasizes his age and fatherly burden, as well as the trust due to him for both factors. Even in an age of departure and authority abuse, Gaius could open a letter from the greatest leader at that time and rest, knowing he could trust it entirely. Learn to look for friends with proven faithfulness and affection.
When John greets Gaius, he does so on two levels, one subjective and one objective. He speaks of an acquired relationship when he calls him “the beloved Gaius.” He speaks of an appointed relationship when he says, “whom I love in truth.” John had not only developed an affection for this dear believer by experience, but he had a divine basis for his love, which is the truth of God. Believers are neither too formal nor too free in their affections; they strive to maintain a deep affection that is grounded in truth.
Brethren from John’s assembly evidently visited Gaius and brought back a report of his overall condition. Either he had been sick when they visited, or else John was concerned about his health considering his current trials. Whatever the case, John knew of Gaius’ spiritual well-being and wished physical well-being to accompany it. Though Christianity does not promise to prosper us physically, it is still a holistic thing in which God’s blessings can be wished upon every aspect of one’s life.
Love in the Truth Has a Burden for Believers’ Spiritual Health (v. 3-4).
For I was very glad when brethren came [According to verses 5-8, these must have been commended brethren in the ministry. Compare Philippians 2:19-30.] and testified to your truth [Believers should enjoy speaking well of each other.], that is, how you are walking in truth [Possessing the truth and walking in it are considered one and the same.]. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth [The primacy of knowledge unified with practice. This is Christian living at its peak.].
From this point, the brethren become the defining factor of this letter. These brethren seem to have been traveling teachers, supported entirely by the believers. We should be sensitive to the development of this theme in the letter. We learn from this that truth must be tested by real interaction with God’s people; there it will be exposed for its true substance. A test of good theology is its applicability to life.
In John’s mind, a person’s truth is their walking in truth. He was not concerned with a nominal possession of a body of doctrine; he was concerned with a real embrace of the truth. This is an embrace of knowledge. This is an embrace of conviction. This is an embrace of practice. These three components are one. Practice without knowledge is vain zeal. Conviction without practice is rebellion. Knowledge without practice is hypocrisy. A Biblical assembly is not only marked by the doctrine it holds but the doctrine it embraces.
It is no wonder John’s greatest joy was the faithfulness of his spiritual children. Only experience can show the true impact of this statement. But our experience will never come if we are not growing in a burden to shepherd. Shepherding God’s people is both the most burdensome and most rewarding of occupations.
The Well-Being of Ministering Brethren (v. 5-8)
Faithfulness Cares for the Practical Needs of Visiting Brethren (v. 5-6a).
Beloved, you are acting faithfully [on his own, as opposed to Diotrephes in verse 10] in whatever you accomplish for the brethren [Gaius’ motivation was, first, who they were as brethren, second, what they needed as strangers.], and especially when they are strangers [More than being unknown, they had no resources or possessions either.]; and they have testified to your love before the church [Believers should compliment often, even apart from the object’s knowledge. Assemblies should be conscious of other assemblies’ conditions for reasons of fellowship.].
Gaius’ heart was one of faithful service to the brethren. What his service included we do not know, but John generalizes it by saying “in whatever you accomplish,” implying that every sphere of Gaius’ life was one of service. This was significant in that these brethren were primarily strangers to him. But the common love of the Lord Jesus bound their hearts together, as should be the case with every believer.
The brethren were faithful to tell of Gaius’ heart. They doubtless had a specific mission to tell John of the church’s condition, and they had a good report of Gaius. On a practical note, one will rarely wait long before others hear of his goodness to God’s people. Reputation need not be sought by publicity but by good works. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” For our part, we should compliment God’s people as a habit, not simply to their faces but to others.
Godly Ministry is Dependent Upon the Generosity of God Through His People (v. 6b-8).
You will do well to send them on their way [not simply a farewell, but a provision for the needs of their journey] in a manner worthy of God [a manner that is appropriate considering Who God is and what He is like]. For they went out for the sake of the Name [of the Lord Jesus Christ, emphasizing the testimony they bore in their travels], accepting nothing from the Gentiles [God’s pattern is to provide through His people, not through pagan expressions of religion or good-will. See Genesis 14:23 and Proverbs 21:27.]. Therefore we ought to support such men [financially and practically, specifically in light of their ministry, cf. 1 Corinthians 9], so that we may be fellow workers with the truth [Truth is a collective thing. Taking in all spiritual gifts, God has ordained a part in the truth for every believer, vocal or not.].
John was confident that Gaius would support the brethren on their returning journey. They had visited once and had reported to John. They were returning to Gaius now with John’s letter. Thus, there was another opportunity to show hospitality and support them financially. This is something that aligns with God’s character, and it is close to His heart. “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1-2).
Support was necessary because of a deliberate decision on the part of the brethren to refuse support from Gentiles. If they were to preach the Name which man must believe unreservedly, how could they do so without dependence for things smaller than salvation? 2 John 10 says Christian hospitality to false teachers is equal to fellowship with them. The converse is also true. Accepting financial support from unbelievers means accepting their pagan fellowship in God’s works. The world loves to be religious and contribute to religious causes; we cannot let them do this for us. Otherwise, like Abraham’s fear in Genesis 14, we might say, “The world has made me rich.” The ministry is an entirely divine work.
Support of God’s servants is fellowship in the truth. To support God’s workers is to support God’s truth. We may not all teach, but we can all give. In that the assembly is the pillar and ground of the truth, every member has a part in upholding it. Every believer’s role contributes to the truth in some way.