3 John Introduction
As in 2 John, the writer calls himself simply the elder. The addressee is my dear friend Gaius (more literally, ‘Gaius the beloved’; Brown, Epistles of John p. 702, argues that ‘dear’ is too colourless for agapeµto). The name was a common one and it occurs a number of times in the NT (e.g. Acts 19:29; Rom. 16:23). Nothing more is known of this Gaius, but it appears from the letter that he had a position of leadership in the local church. Four times in this letter John refers to him as ‘beloved’, and here he also says of him, whom I love in the truth. Clearly the elder had a deep affection for this man. An important note in this little letter is truth, which occurs six times. As in the other letters it is probably connected with the truth of the gospel, the truth that we see in Christ (cf. v 8).
2–4 Following the truth
2 It was customary in first-century letters to begin with a little prayer. Now John prays that Gaius’s health and his affairs may prosper in the same way as his soul does. 3 The source of his knowledge of his friend’s circumstances was a visit by some brothers who had told him about your faithfulness to the truth. More literally this means ‘testified to the truth of you’ which may signify that Gaius both knew and held fast to the truth. That Gaius was walking in the truth (cf. 2 Jn. 4) means that he was making progress in the truth and this gave the elder great joy. 4 Indeed he has no greater joy than to hear that his children are walking in the truth. My children means ‘my children in the faith’, ‘those converted through my ministry’. It can mean the congregation over which the user of the expression is pastor, but as he is writing to Gaius who was evidently at a distance that does not appear to be the meaning here. It is the greatest of joys to the elder to know that his converts are making progress in the faith.
5 The subject-matter of the letter (as opposed to the preliminaries) begins here. It affords a little glimpse into a custom of the early church whereby a Christian travelling in the interests of the gospel would look for hospitality from the local Christians in the community he was visiting. Few preachers would have been wealthy enough to stay at inns, and in any case inns often had a bad reputation. It must have meant a great deal for the spread of the faith that preachers could obtain ready lodgings as they travelled for the gospel. John commends Gaius for his hospitality. You are faithful may mean ‘you show a fine loyalty’ (reb), i.e. you are loyal to your fellow-believers; or the emphasis may be on faith, ‘your action accords well with the Christian faith’. What you are doing for the brothers is not specific, but the following verse shows that it is hospitality that is in mind. Even though they are strangers to you makes it clear that Gaius had provided for the needs of visiting believers who were neither friends nor relatives. It is a little glimpse of the early church at work.
6 Those who had received the hospitality have told the church about your love, so that Gaius’s good deeds were widely known. John commends his practice and encourages him to continue: You will do well to send them on their way, which seems to indicate that hospitality included making some provision for the forward journey. The Didache, an early church manual, provides that such a preacher should be given food to enable him to reach his next night’s lodging (it adds that if he asks for money ‘he is a false prophet’; Didache, 11:3). It is some such practice that is in view here. In a manner worthy of God sets the highest of standards before Gaius; it is God who is the standard, not his servants (cf. Jn. 13:20). 7 It was for the sake of the Name that the wandering preachers went out. There is no need to say whose name is meant; clearly it is the name that is above all other names (Phil. 2:9). They went out receiving no help from the pagans. To do this might well have compromised their message and they would not do it. That made them all the more dependent on people like Gaius. This does not mean that a Christian may never accept help from a well-disposed unbeliever; Jesus himself on occasion dined with Pharisees who did not believe in him (e.g. Lk. 7:36). It means that we should not rely on it. Christian work must be financed by Christian people. 8 There is consequently an obligation (we ought is ‘we owe it’) resting on believers to show hospitality to such men. So that denotes purpose. The duty in question is not merely an exercise in hospitality, but is done in order to set forward the divine purpose that believers work together for the truth.
9–12 Diotrephes and Demetrius
9 Diotrephes was clearly a man with authority, and apparently ambitious for more, though exactly what his position was is not clear. He took the line opposite to that of Gauis and hindered both the elder and the preachers. John had written to the church (he says he had written ‘something’ but the niv omits the word), but unfortunately we do not know what it was. Diotrephes had evidently prevented the church from getting the letter. Moreover he clearly had enmity towards the elder for he will have nothing to do with us (Gk. ‘does not receive us’). 10 Diotrephes had slandered the elder, gossiping maliciously about us. He added deeds to his words, for he refuses to welcome (the tense denotes the continuing practice) the brothers. But he went further by refusing to allow others to welcome them. There are two counts: the first is that he stops those who want to do so and the second that he puts them out of the church. Clearly he held an important position to be able to do this, and equally clearly his opposition to the preachers was implacable. It is possible that, as a local leader of the church, he resented travelling preachers who owed no loyalty to the local church in which he held office.
11 John uses this bad example to impress a lesson on Gaius, whom he calls ‘beloved’ (niv, Dear friend) for the fourth time in this short letter. He exhorts his friend not to imitate what is evil but what is good. Imitation is a natural part of life and we all do it, but it is important that we choose the right models. John insists that his friend should imitate what is good. Anyone who does good is from God, from whom, of course, all good originates. When anyone does evil (Diotrephes?) he has not seen God. 12 Demetrius is introduced without explanation, which suggests that he was well known. It has been conjectured that he was one of the travelling missionaries and that he was the bearer of this letter. Both are possible, but of course we do not know. Demetrius was also well spoken of by everyone so that he had a good reputation throughout the church. There is more of a problem with the addition by the truth itself. This unusual and difficult expression apparently means that this man’s conduct squares with the gospel, so that the truth of the gospel is declared in his life. We also speak well of him may be the elder’s way of saying that he himself declares his approval of the man. But it is also possible that he associates others with himself, though if so we have no way of knowing who they were. But there is no doubting that he expresses his warm approval of Demetrius and makes it clear that he has his strong support.
13 John closes this third letter as he did the second by saying he has much to write but prefers to wait until he sees his friend. He uses the past tense. ‘I had much to write’ (the niv changes it to the present, I have much), and replaces the ‘paper and ink’ of the second letter with pen and ink. There seems no difference of meaning. 14 Similarly, his wish to see his friend and to talk face to face is the same as in the previous letter. 15 Peace was a common word of greeting both on meeting and leaving friends. It is particularly appropriate in a situation where Diotrephes was stirring up strife. It is a little prayer that God’s peace will surround them. Peace is not, as with us, a negative term meaning the absence of war and conflict, but rather a positive term invoking the blessing of God. John passes on greetings from the friends who were with him and asks Gaius to greet the friends, which was evidently precise enough for Gaius to know who were meant (the niv tries to help us by inserting there). By name makes it personal. Though the elder does not list the names of all his friends who were with Gaius he wants each of them to know that the greeting is personal. Each is to be singled out by name.
NT New Testament
reb Revised English Bible
niv New International Version
Leon L. Morris, B.Sc., M.Th., Ph.D., M.Sc., formerly Principal, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia.
1 JOHN, 2 JOHN, 3 JOHN
Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (3 Jn 1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.