The Book of 3rd John is one of 5 letters believed to have been authored by the apostle John. The other letters credited to John are the Gospel of John, 1st John, 2nd John and the Book of Revelation. In terms of the New Testament, John is second only to the apostle Paul in the number of his letters canonized into what we now have as our bible. 3rd John is one of three pastoral letters John wrote to the churches.
John outlived all of the other apostles and is thought to have lived out his last days in the city of Ephesus where it’s legend that he served as an elder and penned many of the letters that are part of the Bible. John is well known as the “disciple that Jesus loved” meaning that the friendship Christ had with John was special. We know this by looking at the verses in scripture that refer to this relationship which are found in John 13:23, John 20:2, John 21:7, and John 21:20. Ironically, all of these verses are penned by John himself. We also know that John was part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples along with Peter and James that were allowed to see the transfiguration of Jesus during His meeting with Moses and Elijah before going to His crucifixion.
Structure of 3rd John
3rd John is a very short letter and the structure is easy to follow.
First there is a blessing and a commendation from John to the recipient of the letter, a man named Gaius. Second, there is a warning regarding a man named Diotrephes. Third, there is a commendation from John regarding Demetrius, and then lastly, the letter closes out with a farewell.
First, there is a commendation to a man named Gaius, who clearly, John loves. It’s possible that this Gaius is the same person mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:14 and Romans 16:23. The Gaius mentioned in these verses was the head of a church that met in his home. There is no proof that this is the same Gaius, but it could be likely. One legend also has Gaius becoming John’s scribe but it can’t be substantiated.
In the first section of the letter, John expresses his love for Gaius.
3 John 1:1. The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
What does John mean when he says he loves Gaius in truth? The word for “love” being used in the verse is “agapaeo” or what we typically know as agape love cited often in the church. Agape love is Christian love and is defined as loving someone by giving them what they “need” and not necessarily what they “want”. It’s doing what’s good for someone to yield the best outcome for their moral or spiritual welfare.
We also find this same phrase, “love in truth” in 1st John and the apostle Paul uses a similar phrase in Ephesians called “truth in love”.
1Jn 3:16-24. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Eph 4:11-16. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
In verse 3-4, John expresses his joy, and in fact says there is no greater joy than when he hears of his children (Christians he has personally discipled) walking in the truth. I believe “walking in the truth” means the same thing in this text as “love in the truth” because we see in verse 6 John saying that the brethren bear witness of the “love” Gaius hows everyone – even strangers.
So this love and “walking in the truth” has 2 components to it that we need to understand. First, there is a “knowing” of the truth or a knowledge of the truth we must possess in order to walk in it. The apostles who were inspired to write the scriptures wrote often of this knowledge of the truth.
Php 1:9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Col 1:9-10 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
1Ti 2:1-7 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Second, as a disciple of Christ otherwise known as a Christian, we MUST act on that truth. Otherwise this knowledge is useless. Our knowledge of the truth and how we act on it is really what the Bible calls faith. In the Book of James it says,
Jas 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
In 3rd John v. 5 it says that Gaius had been acting faithfully in his walk in the truth.
3Jn 1:5-6 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.
Gaius had been faithful in providing for brothers that were traveling to spread the gospel. In those times, there were itinerant preachers that traveled and their only means of support were the local churches who had a duty to look after these brothers. Gaius fulfilled that duty faithfully is such a way that these preachers made his love well known to the apostle.
Unfortunately, not everyone loves in truth and acts faithfully in the cause of Christ. We see, in the 2nd section of the letter, a warning from John about a man named Diotrephes who was not being faithful. Diotrephes was ignoring John’s instructions to care for these laborers of the gospel. From the description in verses 9-10, it appears that Diotrephes saw himself as some type of authority figure within the church. And although scripture doesn’t give us the full details, we can put 2+2 together and figure out that Diotrephes was not only turning away the traveling preachers, but also kicking people out of his church for supporting them. Apparently one incident involved a man named Demetrius who John identifies as being a person with a good testimony from others within the church body and also walking in the truth. John himself had borne witness to the faithfulness of Demetrius, but apparently Diotrephes did not believe him, and worse yet, said wicked things about John and his helpers. This was a pretty serious act of disobedience and John intended on his next visit to call Diotrephes’ deeds to the attention of the church as being evil.
3Jn 1:9-12 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. 11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
Then in closing out his letter, John wishes peace to Gaius and says he hopes to see him soon.
There is a contrast between Gaius and Diotrephes in how they understand both truth and love. Gaius was showing love and faithfulness to the whole church, the universal body of Christ. All Christians should do this. Somehow, Diotrephes found it fit to deny Demetrius even though he had an excellent witness from John and other members from the church. He had no authority to really do this but had probably created an unbiblical authority for himself that he used to override the real church. Sadly, we see this in our own midst today in the form of denominationalism. Today, there would be no such thing as a follower of Christ, gifted with preaching and evangelism, being able to depend on local churches to provide them food and shelter as they travel to preach the word. Like Diotrephes, instead of using Godly discernment and the word of God to faithfully serve the church and support all the parts of the body that make the church whole, a traveling preacher today would most likely be turned away.
In reality, we have stifled the functioning of the church through denominations. Because of this, the gospel of the truth is hampered and the culture is impacted. We are not building the Kingdom of God by having all of these church buildings and expecting people to come to us. That is not the New Testament pattern for church and it shouldn’t be today. We can have gatherings for believers, but we need to send men out to travel and preach the truth to our culture now more than ever. We need to return to the original intent of the gifts of the church.
God has not given man authority to decide with what to build God’s Kingdom, but just instructions on how to build it. We should follow His instructions. His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Let me hear your thoughts. Do you think the church needs to change? If so, leave me your comments.
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