This commentary is offered with the working presumption that the author of 1, 2, & 3 John is the apostle John who also penned the gospel according to John and the Revelation. Further, while some have sought to reconstruct the occasion for John writing this postcard of an epistle, the frank reality is that there is precious little to truly build a definitive case.
Slightly different from 2 John which dealt with those who oppose the truth, in 3 John the apostle is going to give us the answer to what to do with those who love truth. This epistle is much more pointed as John names the person opposing the truth (Diotrephes) and much more personal as he names members of the church who support the truth (Gaius & Demetrius). 3 John provides us a glimpse of early church practice & faithful brethren. The take away is that Christian is to be an encourager of those devoted to truth not an inhibitor.
Outline of 3 John:
I. The Perseverance of Gaius the Exhorter (v.1-8, 13-15)
A. John’s Prayer for Gaius (v.1-2)
B. John’s Praise of Gauis (v.3-8)
C. John’s Plan Concerning Gaius (v.13-15)
II. The Pride of Diotrephes the Egotist (9-11)
A. The Wickedness of Diotrephes (v.9-10)
B. The Warning about Diotrephes (v.11)
III. The Profession concerning Demetrius the Example (v.12)
A. His Associates’ Testimony (v.12a)
B. The Apostle’s Testimony (v.12b)
3 John (ESV)
1The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
The Elder: John. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop (i.e. overseer) of the church in Ephesus. Since he is “the elder” this could suggest that he is the last survivor of the Twelve. However, could simply mean older man.
To the beloved Gaius: called “beloved” or “dear friend” (NET, NIV) in v.2, 5, 11. All that we know about this Gaius to whom John wrote is what is contained in this epistle.
Whom I love in truth: No definite article before “truth.” “[John’s] love is governed by this truth even as his love is that of true comprehension and corresponding purpose” (Lenski). John loves this brother affirming it repeatedly since Diotrephes didn’t.
2Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
Beloved: Common title of address for those whom John loves (v. 5, 11; 1 John 2.7)
I pray…good health: John’s constant prayer (pres. Tense) for Gaius is that 1) lit. his journey would go well (meta. Success or prosper), even 2) his health would be good (or he would be safe and sound). This is similar language to contemporary letters of general well wishing in all things and/or health.
As it goes well with your soul: John knows that Gaius is spiritually healthy.
3For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.
For: Gk. gar, here is how John knows that Gaius is in spiritual vitality…
I rejoiced…brothers came: a recent visit from some traveling missionaries from Gaius was an occasion for celebration on John’s behalf.
Testified to your truth: lit. witnessed (Gk marturounton) of you in the truth or of your truth. The report about Gaius is an excellent one; he is a spiritual pillar. Coupled with his love (v.6) he is a balanced Christian with the proper mix of truth & love.
As indeed…[the] truth: He has been faithful to the apostolic doctrine of Christ, refusing Gnostic intrusion and heresy.
4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
I have no greater joy: nothing fills John with such cause for rejoicing
Than to hear that my children: “The elder” refers to all of those Christians younger than him as his “children.” This is the fatherly affection John has for his brethren.
Walking in [the] truth: the definite article is found in some mss (eg. Alexandrinus) but is absent is others (eg. Sinaiticus). Given the construction in v.3 as well as 2 John 4, it seems that John did not include a definite article when he wrote this. Members holding fast to the apostolic teaching of Christ in spite of heretical attacks fills John with much joy
5Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are,
Beloved: affectionate term of endearment John regularly uses for his recipient.
It is a faithful…these brothers: “All his conduct towards the brethren, even when they were not previously known to him, was such as became a faithful Christian” (Pulpit Commentary). In Gaius, philadephia and philoxenia are combined; he loves the brethren and strangers.
Strangers as they are: “he treated brethren who were entire strangers to him, not as strangers, but as brethren” (Pulpit Commentary). He did not pick and choose whom to show hospitality and neglect the rest; every traveling missionary was sure to be received by Gaius.
6who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.
Who testified…before the church: those who had experienced the hospitality of Gaius came back and reported to the assembly of saints about what this Christian man had done on their behalf. (cf. Matt 25.38, 40)
You will do well…worthy of God: It is a faithful & beautiful thing to send forth missionaries with all they would need for the journey. They should be fully supported. Since they are representatives of God, treat them as such (cf. John 13.20). Send them out as if you were sending out Jesus as a missionary.
7For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.
For they have…of the Name: Gk. gar, John explains that since these missionaries went out on their mission on behalf of the one & only Name in John’s mind—Jesus!
Accepting nothing from the Gentiles: these missionaries support was not solicited (as a policy) from non-Christians. If offered, they might accept, but not solicited.
8Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
Therefore…like these: this is the proper deduction. We owe it to them (indebtedness is implied) to help & show hospitality to these missionaries.
That we…[for] the truth: by supporting these missionaries, we work together with them with the Truth (cf. 1 Cor 3.9).
9I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.
I have written something to the church: 2 John or a lost epistle?
But Diotrephes: name means “nourished by Zeus.” Probably a church leader.
Who likes to put himself first: present participle (Gk. philoproteuon); lit. the one loving first [place]. He is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus (Mk 10.43-44). “Not doctrinal heresy but personal ambition was the cause of the trouble” (Morris 229). If Diotrephes is first, where does that put Christ (Col 1.18)?
Does not acknowledge our authority: Lit. does not welcome/obey us. Diotrephes does not welcome, accept, or obey apostolic authority. Is he trying to take their place? If nothing else, he is not in compliance with divine injunction.
10So 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.
So if I come: John desires to come (v.14) and visit these brethren and also…
I will bring up what he is doing: John will confront Diotrephes’ unholy desires and the challenges to John’s apostleship, perhaps reminding him but certainly remind the church of his apostolic authority. “The root of the problem is sin” (Morris 230).
Talking wicked nonsense against us: “malicious gossip” (NIV) & “wicked words” are the product of this perverted presbyter. The se were senseless & wicked words.
And not content…the brothers: those brothers who are with John are unwelcome
And also…the church: Diotrephes says who’s in and out and those who disagree with him, wanting to welcome (support) their brothers are thrown out
11Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
Beloved: favorite affectionate address of John for those to whom he writes, here Gaius.
Do not imitate evil, but imitate good: Gk. mimou, comes mimic. Follow after that which is spiritually & morally beneficial, not what is deficient. Demetrius is an example of the good to imitate; Diotrephes is a bad example to follow. Don’t follow Diotrephes.
Whoever does good is from God: present participle. The one whose habitual practice is to do good is from God (cf. 1 John 3.9-10). Not mere kind acts every so often.
Whoever does evil has not seen God: present participle. The one whose habitual practice is toward what is displeasing & disobedient to God hasn’t experienced God.
12Demetrius 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.
Demetrius…everyone: all we know of this man is what is found in this single verse. Nevertheless, he is a member who does what is spiritually & morally beneficial. Probably unknown to Gaius, therefore the three-fold testimony (everyone, truth, us) to let him know that this leader/letter bearer is on the level (not a Diotrephes). He has received in the past and continues to receive even now a good testimony (perf. Tense); remains valid
And from the truth itself: definite article before “truth.” The Word is an objective witness of Demetrius for his life conforms to the Truth, which is Christ.
We also add our testimony: the apostolic college commends Demetrius. That is, John speaking on behalf of those apostles who have already gone to be with the Lord.
And you know…is true: perfect tense, have come to know and continue to know this
13I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink.
I have much…pen and ink: this short volume on a single sheet will suffice for now
14I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
I hope…face to face: John hopes to set the record straight in person (v.10).
15Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.
Peace be to you: a Hebrew greeting with new meaning in light of Christ’s resurrection. Peace is much needed with all the strife brought by Diotrephes.
The friends greet you: unique designation for Christians harkening to Jesus – Jn 15.13
Greet the friends, each by name: Sheep should know one another by name.
Let us imitate the example set by these men of truth like Gaius and Demetrius and walk in truth, willing to support those who walk in truth as well.