Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 3 John: vv. 9–14
Brotherly Love (Phileo)
Third John is clearly the apostle's most personal letter. He addressed it to a man of the church whom he called “the beloved Gaius.” Following up on last week's passage that encourages and reminds believers to lovingly show hospitality to itinerant Christian workers (missionaries), especially when they were strangers, while also "walking in the truth," we come to our closing session.
The theme of this third letter centers around the contrast between (a) the ministry of Gaius and his generous demonstration of Christian love as one walking in the truth, in contrast to (b) the selfish behavior of Diotrephes who, rather than walking in the truth, rejected John's words and sought personal preeminence instead of offering others his hospitality.
Hospitality is a righteous, powerful, grace-filled gift that God provides to his children. Elder John assures us in this short letter to Gaius that, by supporting these servants, he and all believers and followers of Jesus join these missionaries at professing and promoting the truth about who Jesus is.
Sadly, not everyone is like Gaius. Today, we'll meet power-hungry Diotrephes, a house-church leader who'd been stirring up conflict in Gaius’ house church. We'll see that he'd rejected the message that John had written in his earlier letter; he also made accusations against John; unbelievably, he even acted dictatorially by excommunicating house-church members who'd hospitably welcomed traveling Christian missionaries into their homes.
We'll also briefly meet Demetrius, a man about whom John had received several excellent reports; he was perhaps a church member or a missionary himself. It's even possible that he was the one who delivered this letter to Gaius. John will close by informing Gaius of John’s desire and plan to visit so he might help him deal with the difficulties.
Diotrephes, Condemned (3 John, vv. 9–10)
In last week's discussion, we saw John, in v. 5, giving a positive example of brotherly love Phileo (Greek): Gaius' commendable behavior. Today's text begins with John's second brotherly love example, albeit a negative one: Diotrephes' contemptible behavior.
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church (Third John, vv. 9–10).
The only thing we know from Scriptures about Diotrephes is what we read in these two verses. Although Diotrephes was a Christian, his name is a rare one meaning "nourished by Zeus," or "foster-child of Zeus." "Diotrephes, who loves to be first" pridefully put his personal desires and needs before the needs of others. The Greek philoprōteuō means, to have a special interest in being in the leading position, wish to be first, like to be leader (BDAG, p. 105). The man was likely inhibited when he was with those whom he recognized as being his equal. The problem with his behavior stemmed from his pride and self-esteem. This is not an example of Christian love! It's the opposite of how Jesus Christ behaved, the opposite of how he taught his followers to behave.
This is the first example in the New Testament church of a church boss who tries to run a church. He may have been an elder, a deacon, or a pastor. He was, however, someone who imagined and assumed a leadership role, telling everyone in the church what to do. Ray C Stedman wrote that "the early church apparently had some kind of a membership roll, and if Diotrephes did not like somebody, he would scratch his name off the list, and put him out of the church. And John objects to that."
Diotrephes rejected Apostle John's house-church leadership position and refused to welcome some into the church while prohibiting itinerant Christian workers from ministering in his community; he resorted to "spreading malicious nonsense" (Gr. phlyareo; speaking foolishly or senselessly) about fellow Christians in that church, charging John falsely in order to elevate himself; and he removed from the church those believers who challenged his self-imposed authority. The Greek for "malicious" is ponēros, meaning pertaining to being morally or socially worthless, wicked, evil, bad, base, vicious, degenerate (BDAG, p. 299).
As Glenn W Baker sees it, "Diotrephes was condemned, not because he violated sound teaching regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ but because his 'life' was a contradiction of the truth of the gospel." Pastor and Dr. Ralph F. Wilson sees Diotrephes as "the poster-child for an unloving Christian. He is selfish, manipulative, and domineering. He does not love as does Gaius…In light of Diotrephes' threat to excommunicate people who provided hospitality to the missionaries, John exhorted Gaius directly in v.11." Clearly, Gaius hadn't submitted to the plan and pressure of Diotrephes. Instead, he demonstrated that he had an upright reputation in his house church.
Demetrius, Commended (3 John, vv. 11–12)
Although Apostle John had the authority to do so, he didn't excommunicate Diotrephes from the church. He simply exposed him; he assumed that discerning Christians would have acted appropriately by avoiding Diotrephes. Today's passage provides John's third example of brotherly love, another positive one: Demetrius' creditable behavior.
11 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. 12 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 (Third John, vv. 11–12).
The elder's "Dear friend" greeting and encouraging words were bound to strengthen beloved Gaius' determination to counter Diotrephes. "Anyone who does what is good is of God" illustrates a person who actively follows God and walks in the truth about Jesus. Clearly, Gaius was under pressure from at least two sides: (1) John was pressing him to persist with his hospitality efforts while (2) Diotrephes was putting pressure on him to stop. Gaius was to wisely choose which man and role model he was to emulate.
To sum up what the text of vv. 11–12 meant to Gaius then, and us today, Pastor Wilson adds this: "John is saying, Gaius, you must choose. Either model your actions after one who is evil (Diotrephes), or model your actions after one who is good (probably Demetrius, praised in v. 12, or perhaps John himself). Ultimately, John calls Gaius to choose not on the basis of personalities or power, but on the grounds of righteousness and unrighteousness. John almost says that Diotrephes just hasn't seen God (v. 11b), at least that's what his character and actions seem to indicate."
John's three letters are largely concerned with the issue of fellowship: with God, with enemies of the gospel, and in the case of Third John, with those who proclaim the truth. Just as Gaius had been doing, so Demetrius proclaimed the truth. Accordingly, his life actively matched his testimony of faith by living a life of love. He's commended as having been "well spoken of by everyone," including John, who likely knew him well, and fellow house-church members, all of whom advocated "the truth itself." John then asserts to Gaius that his and the church's testimony of Demetrius was true, and, because Demetrius was to arrive at Gaius' church soon, Demetrius would need to receive requisite hospitality from Gaius' church body.
John urged Gaius to show hospitable love to Demetrius, thereby giving Gaius an opportunity to practice love while reprimanding Diotrephes for his lack of love for the fellowship of believers. John viewed Demetrius as an apostle having the Spirit-endowed gift of discernment. It's as if John was saying this about Demetrius: Hey, everyone. I want to underscore what everybody thinks about Demetrius. Here's a man you can trust. He's a man of the truth. He's received proven testimony from all: He's to be trusted!
John's recognition of brother Demetrius's worth: (1) He was "well spoken of by everyone" among all who knew him; (2) he had a good reputation, since his character and conduct were in harmony with "the truth itself"; and (3) John and other Christians personally knew him and vouched for him, all realizing that "our testimony is true."
In Closing . . . (3 John, vv. 13–14)
Very similar to how he closed Second John (vv. 12–13), here in Third John, the elder emphasizes the brevity of this epistle, despite the fact that he wanted to communicate much to Gaius in a face-to-face manner, instead of with pen and ink. He expressed his desire to visit Gaius soon.
13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14 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 (Third John, vv. 13–14).
Although this is a letter concerning contention and conflict, Elder John appropriately ends it by expressing his request and expectation for peace. Resembling a terse benediction of peace to his friend Gaius, "Peace to you" is followed by a reciprocal sending of greetings from and to one another. His use of "friends" to describe fellow believers in his community is unusual; "friends" (Gk. philoi) is unique in the New Testament; the customary usage would have been "brothers" (Gk. adelphoi).
Elder John apparently wanted to emphasize the value and importance of friendship among believers. We Christians, being "friends of fellow believers," ought to show hospitality to one another while providing each with relevant support, by focusing our attention on the specific expressions of love that John underscores in this brief yet personally encouraging letter. As Christians, we can and should have a sense of peace, even in the midst of difficult times.
As we come to the close of Third John and our "John's Three Epistles" Bible study, it'll be good for us to remember and meditate on three key points that the elder makes in today's passage: (1) We're to be commended for the hospitality we give to visiting Christian missionaries (vv. 5–8); (2) Diotrephes was obviously wicked and sinful by his attempts to prevent Christian missionaries from working in his area (vv. 9–10); and (3) we're therefore obligated to welcome and support visiting Christian missionaries who visit our church and community of believers (vv. 11–12).
What an intimate little letter John had written to a beloved friend. It seems as though it came not only from Elder John but from the Lord himself. Once again, John emphasizes to all of his readers the importance of walking in the truth of Jesus' gospel. Here, in his third and final letter, he accentuates the principal instructions and commandments that Jesus had taught the people of his day and each of us today: primarily hospitality, support, and encouragement for fellow Christians. We must remember that Gaius was an outstanding example of this ministry to servants. We should also make dedicated efforts to show hospitality to those who minister God's Word by welcoming them into our churches and homes. Such servants of the gospel deserve our respect, endorsement, and support.
Dear Lord Jesus: What a personal letter you've written and addressed to us. We thank you that your Name has lost none of its power to attract and bring us to you. Help us to act as Gaius had acted, being a most generous, hospitable, friendly Christian who doesn't hesitate to help support those who are engaged in ministries of the Lord. Remind us to open our heart and our home to them. We pray that you'll encourage and stimulate us to honor you and the truth about you, now here on earth, until we see you later, face to face. We ask this of you, Jesus, by praying in your loving Name, with much appreciation and high expectations. Amen, Lord Jesus.
- Q. 1 What kind of personality sketch would you draw for Gaius? . . . Diotrephes? . . . Demetrius?
- Q. 2 Do you find opening up your home to new people easy or difficult? How about missionaries? Why is that?
- Q. 3 Does the term "living a life of love" motivate you? If so, how would you begin or continue living that way?
3 John, vv. 9–14
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to Third John narrated by Max McLean.]