3 John: Three Church Leaders

3 John: Three Church Leaders

AUTHORSHIP.  The author of the letter does not identify himself by name.  The apostolic church recognized the apostle John as the author.  His authorship has never been seriously questioned.


THE ADDRESSEE.  Only Philemon and 3 John are New Testament letters addressed to individuals.  In this case the letter was addressed "to the beloved Gaius."  The body of the epistle sheds light on who he was.  Obviously he was loved by John.


THE DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING.  We don't know when and where 3 John was written.  Some believe it was written from Jerusalem in the a.d. 60s.  Others speculate that John wrote the letter from Ephesus around a.d. 90.  This second view is probably more accurate.


THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER.  The epistle was written (1) to commend Gaius for his faithfulness, (2) to reprimand Diotrephes, a self-centered church leader, and (3) to introduce Demetrius, who may have been the bearer of the letter.


THE THEME.  In both verses 3 and 4 reference is made to "walking in the truth."  That walk is demonstrated in this letter by the generous support of God's missionaries.


KEY VERSE.  "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth."  3 John 4.



  • Opening Greeting.  1.
  • Gaius, the Beloved.  2-8.
  • Diotrephes, the Domineering.  9-10.
  • Demetrius, the Doer of Good.  11-12.
  • Closing Remarks.  13-14.


Opening Greeting.  1.

John calls himself "the elder."  The original Greek word for elder is "presbyteros."  It usually means pastor, or bishop.  On one occasion it is translated "old men."  See Acts 2:17.

In this first verse is John referring to his official position in the church, or using the term as a self-designation in his final years of ministry?  It isn't clear.  It is true that he was indeed a leader in the church, serving as an apostle.  It seems doubtful that he served as both apostle and pastor.  It is more likely that he was saying that he was along in years.  If that's the case, then the letter was not written from Jerusalem in the 60s.

His letter was written "to the beloved Gaius."  It appears that Gaius was a popular Christian.  He was surely loved by John, who was known as the apostle of love.  In verses 1, 2, 5 and 11 love for Gaius is expressed.

Gaius was a common name.  Three men with that name are mentioned in the Scriptures: (1) Gaius of Derbe in Acts 20:4, (2) Gaius of Macedonia in Acts 19:29, and (3) Gaius of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:14.  According to tradition the Gaius of this letter is Gaius of Derbe, but there is no certain biblical basis for this belief.


Gaius, the Beloved.  2-8.

John prayed for Gaius.  His prayer was two-fold: (1) for prosperity, and (2) for good health.  The apostle wanted Gaius to "prosper in all things."  Today some preachers have a get-rich prosperity message.  The English word "prosper" is derived from Latin, "pro" meaning "for," and "spes" meaning "hope."  In other words John was praying that his friend would get whatever he hoped for, not necessarily great riches.  The Greek word for "prosper" is "euodoo" which literally means "get along well."  Again, the meaning has more than finances in mind.

Gaius was in good spiritual health.  He had a healthy relationship with the Lord.  His soul prospered.  John wanted Gaius' prosperity and health to be commensurate with his spiritual condition.  What if everyone's well being was dependent upon the prosperity of their soul?  If this was the test we would see many poor, sick souls.  In some cases this may very well be the case.

It's always nice to hear a good report about someone.  John "rejoiced greatly when brethren came an testified of the truth" about Gaius.  How often people are bearers of bad news!  But the good news about Gaius was that he walked in the truth.  His life, the way he lived, was a testimony of his faith.

It should be noted that this testimony to Gaius' Christian walk was not confined to one instance.  The verbs "came and testified" are written in the progressive present tense, indicating it was not a one-time event.  For example, in 1 John 1:7 it is written, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."  Here the verb "cleanses" is in the progressive present tense, which means that the blood of Christ continually cleanses the believer.  Here in 3 John the brethren came and testified time after time.  It was a testimony frequently heard by John and the church.

John not only rejoiced greatly, but he had no greater joy than to hear that his children were walking in the truth, living for God.  This is the greatest joy of Christian parents.  On the other hand, nothing is more sad or disheartening than to have children who do not follow the Lord.  No one lives solely to himself.  Whatever is done affects others, especially parents.  See Proverbs 10:1; 15:20; 17:21, 25; 19:13; 29:15.

Apparently Gaius had been led to Christ by the apostle.  "My children" in verse 4 probably included Gaius, who was a son in the faith.  Paul referred to young Timothy as "a true son in the faith."  1 Timothy 1:2.

Beloved Gaius, who walked in the truth, also did faithfully whatever he did.  What a wonderful testimony!  He was completely dependable.  His faithfulness extended to both brethren he knew and even strangers.

Those whom Gaius helped testified of his love "before the church."  Two churches are mentioned in this letter: (1) the church which John served, and (2) the church to which John wrote a letter.  See verse 9.

From the context it appears that these brethren and strangers were Jewish itinerate preachers who ministered to Gentiles.  He helped "to send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God."  In the Greek text "send...forward..." is one word, "propempo."  Some see this as a technical term used to denote missionary support.  This is not true.  It is a common, every day term.  Supporting God's missionaries should be the common experience of all churches and believers.

The word "If" in verse 6 is in italics, which means it was not in the original Greek text.  It's obvious that Gaius did assist these preachers in their travels.

Consider the words "you will do well."  God Himself has an interest in those who go forth, preaching the gospel of Christ.  It's a known fact that churches and believers who support missionaries experience the blessing of God.  They do well.  If you want to check the spiritual pulse of a local church, look at their commitment to missions.  Also, before examining the involvement of others in God's missionary enterprise, it would be good if each Christian examined himself and his own commitment.

The preachers that Gaius helped "went forth for His name's sake."  They served God for neither fame nor fortune.  They ministered in the precious name of Jesus.  Their faith was in Him.  They trusted Him to meet all their needs, "taking nothing from the Gentiles."  If the work is God's, He will provide.  He does that through His people.  The fact that faithful Christian workers sought no help from the unsaved meant that other believers were under special obligation to help them.

"We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth."  Every Christian should be a participant in the ministry of the gospel.  It involves going, giving, and praying.  Not all can go, but whoever helps to support those who do becomes a co-laborer.

In the Greek text "fellow workers" is also one word, "sunergos."  Like "propempo" in verse 6, some portray "sunergos" as a technical term for those who are ordained ministers in contrast to lay people.  A distinction is made between clergy and laity.  This also isn't true.  "Sun" means "with."  "Ergos (or ergon)" means "work."  When you work with someone, it makes you a fellow worker regardless of your status or position in the church.  In Romans 16:3 we read, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers (Greek, sunergos) in Christ Jesus."  Priscilla, a woman, most definitely was not an ordained minister in the apostolic church.  Nevertheless, the apostle Paul considered her a fellow worker.  Those who share in the work, also share in the reward.


Diotrephes, the Domineering.  9-10.

Diotrephes was a church leader, probably the pastor.  John had written a letter to the church.  We don't know the content of the letter, but no doubt the apostle was sorely displeased by the conduct of Diotrephes.

John describes him as someone "who loves to have the preeminence...."  All this is wrapped up in one Greek word, "philoproteuo."  "Philo" means "love."  "Proteuo" is derived from "proton," which means "first."  In 1 Corinthians 11:18 we see "proton" translated "first of all."  In essence John was saying that Diotrephes loved to be first in everything.  What a contrast to our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, who made Himself of no reputation, took the form of a servant, and humbled Himself, being obedient to death, even the death of the cross!  See Philippians 2:5-8.  Some church leaders love to stand up in front before people like one who is wiser than Solomon.  Like religious leaders of Jesus' day, they love the praise of men.  Diotrephes wanted to be the boss, and he enjoyed serving as a sort of dictator.

Even though the apostle John was elderly, he had a good memory.  "Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does...."  John, the apostle of love, was also known earlier as a son of thunder.  Mark 3:17.

What were the evil deeds of which domineering Diotrephes was guilty?  First, John accused him of "prating against us with malicious words."  An alternative translation to "prating" is "talking nonsense."  Malicious words come from a deep-seated animosity that delights in causing others to suffer.  As children we learned, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."  That isn't true.  Words do hurt.  Words spoken with malice can ruin lives.  Second, Diotrephes did not receive the missionary brethren.  We don't know why he didn't welcome them.  Perhaps he didn't want to share the spotlight.  He obviously did not have a missionary vision beyond his own church.  Third, displaying his authority, he excommunicated those in his church who did receive the itinerate preachers.

After looking at Diotrephes and his behavior it is reasonable to conclude that not all church leaders are men of God.  Unlike beloved Gaius they do not behave themselves in a manner worthy of the Lord.  Thank God for those who are faithful in all that they do.


Demetrius, the Doer of Good.  11-12.

"Beloved, so not imitate what is evil, but what is good."  John is saying to Gaius, "Don't follow Diotrephes' evil example."  The world is filled with bad examples portrayed through the modern media.  What a tragedy to find such examples in our churches!  The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, "And do not be conformed to this world...."  Romans 12:2.  "Monkey see, monkey do!" is also true of many people.  We live in a shoot 'em up, slam 'em down society.  Don't mimic, what is evil.

Next the apostle mentions the difference between those who do good, and those who do evil.  He ties their behavior to their relationship with God.  "He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God."  "Not seen" is in the perfect present tense, and the thought is "has never really seen God at all."  See Matthew 7:21-23.  In 1 John 3:10 the apostle wrote similar words.  "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother."  Evil never arises from a real spiritual perception of God, but is always a product of darkness of heart and blindness toward Him.

In verse 12 we are introduced to Demetrius.  He should not be confused with another Demetrius who is mentioned in Acts 19:24.  In this one verse we find a three-fold testimony to the excellent character of the man: (1) "Demetrius has a good testimony from all," (2) "and from the truth itself," and (3) the apostle John and his associates "bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true."

One requirement for church leadership is a good report and reputation.  Paul wrote to Timothy about pastoral qualifications, saying, "Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside...."  1 Timothy 3:7.

Closing Remarks.  13-14.

The apostle John had much to say, but he put off writing more at the time, because he hoped to see Gaius in the near future, when they could speak "face to face."  This expression is a translation of the idiom, "mouth to mouth," which is what the Greek text says.  John did a lot of writing.  He wrote five books in the New Testament: the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and the Revelation.  He also appears to be a people person, one who enjoyed speaking with others.

He offers a closing benediction.  "Peace to you."  John sent Gaius greetings from friends, and added, "Greet the friends by name."  New Testament churches and fellowships were often small with believers meeting in private homes.  There is one distinct advantage in small gatherings.  You're only a stranger once.  Everyone is known by name.


3 John: The Three Church Leaders - REVIEW QUESTIONS



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