The little book of 3 John was originally a personal letter that John sent to a friend named Gaius (pronounced “Gey-us”). Now Gaius may be the same person who is also mentioned twice in Acts (19:29, 20:4), once in Romans (16:23), and once more in 1 Corinthians (1:14). However, these other books were written much earlier than 3 John so it’s more likely that John was writing to someone else with the same name.
Whatever the case may be, the things that John writes in this letter are much more important than the person that he writes them to- check it out…
“The elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 1:1-2 NIV).
If we were to rephrase John’s opening words in today’s language, we might do so by saying, I hope this letter finds you healthy and doing well. In those days, it was common to start a letter with a prayer for the person that the letter was addressed to and John’s prayer for his friend was that everything in his life would be as good as his relationship with Jesus.
“It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:3-4 NIV).
So John heard from others that Gaius was “walking in the truth” which is another way of saying that Gaius was centering his life on the teachings of the Scriptures. In other words, people noticed that Gaius knew what the Scriptures said and acted accordingly. This same thing also holds true for people today- if you represent yourself well as a Christian then the good word is going to get around.
Now before we continue, did you notice that John mentions the word “truth” four times in the first four verses? Well in case you didn’t, this little five-letter word is so important that The Doctor gave it a study of it’s own and you can check it out right here.
“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 1:5-8 NIV).
There weren’t many good places to stay when traveling overnight in those days because the “inns” mentioned in the Bible were not like the hotels or motels that you may see today. You see, the inns of John’s day often featured bad food and dirty sleeping areas as well as gamblers, prostitutes and thieves. Because of this, traveling preachers or Christians who were driven from their homes by persecution really needed the hospitality of other Christians like Gaius.
But besides simply being nice to these guests, it’s likely that Gaius was also helping out in other ways too. For example, John implies that Gaius was assisting with things like traveling arrangements, food, and maybe a little bit of money in sending these people along in a way that honored God. These travelers couldn’t expect help from those who didn’t believe in Christianity so any assistance from a fellow Christian like Gaius really meant a lot.
Gaius’ example -and the good reputation that he developed from it- also provides us with a good role model to follow today. You know, it’s been said that money can buy a lot of things but the one thing that money can’t buy is a good reputation. And a “good reputation” doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is saying nice things about you- it means that you are living out the words of 1 Peter 2:12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (NIV).
Now to this point, John’s letter has been very nice and pleasant but things are about to take a very serious turn…
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:9-11 NIV).
This is only place in the Bible where Diotrephes (pronounced “die-ott-tro-phees”) is mentioned and because of this, we really don’t know much about him. However, we can make some pretty good guesses about what kind of person he was based on the things that John tells us in the verses seen above.
For example, it’s likely that Diotrephes had some authority in the church because he apparently had the ability to kick out anyone who didn’t agree with him. Judging from John’s description, it also appears that he was a very ambitious or controlling person. Finally, it’s clear that Diotrephes wanted to be known as an important person in the church because John specifically says that he loves to be first.
But worse than that, Diotrephes was spreading malicious gossip about others. The word “malicious” refers to a desire to harm others or to see others suffer. It also refers to the intention of doing something wrong so that other people will be harmed. So this person wasn’t just involved in some idle chatter- he was going out of his way to hurt people by talking about them.
If those things weren’t bad enough, Diotrephes also tried to push his views on others and punish them if they didn’t go along. In fact, John says, “…Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” Since John wasn’t there to personally deal with these abuses, he decided to write a letter to help straighten things out according to verse 9, but Diotrephes apparently either ignored John’s letter or stopped others in the church from seeing it.
So here we have a guy who wanted to be in control and didn’t want to listen to warnings from people in authority like John. He gossiped about others with the intention of harming them. He also refused to listen to anyone who disagreed with him and responded by kicking them out of the church.
Now the Bible does teach that there are certain times when church leaders can ask people to leave the church but it is also very clear on how and why it should be done. Jesus Himself gave us those instructions in Matthew 18:15-17…
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or corrupt tax collector” (NLT).
So we can see that Diotrephes was acting in a way that was the total opposite of what Jesus taught. While we don’t know how this situation was resolved, it’s possible that God later used John straighten things out because John tells us, “… if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing…”
Fortunately, not everyone acted like Diotrephes…
“Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone– and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name” (3 John 1:12-14 NIV).
So here was a man named Demetrius (pronounced “dee-mee-tree-us”) who had a good reputation just like Gaius. In fact, his life was so consistent with the Word of God that John could say that Demetrius was well spoken of even by the truth itself. This is a great example to follow and we would do well to ask God to help us to imitate that same kind of life.