Dealing with Truth Devotees – 3 John

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)

Farewell (v.13-15)

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.

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Dealing with Truth Decay – 2 John

While there are several sensational theories about the authorship of the epistles of John, 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.

The church of Christ is the pillar & foundation of truth. What does it mean for the church to be pillar & foundation of truth? The apostle John in 2 John explains that as the pillar & foundation of truth, the church promotes, practices, and protects truth. In the opening verses, John Promotes Truth as having been received by and remaining with the church of Christ. The remainder of the epistle is devoted to the practice of Truth among the church and the protection of Truth from the corrupt.

Outline of 2 John:

Greetings, 1-3

I.       The Church is to Practice Truth (v.4-6)

A.     John sees those that walk in truth (v.4)

B.     John seeks these to walk in love (v.5-6)

II.    The Church is to Protect Truth (v.7-11)

A.     John tells Christians in danger to beware (v.7-8)

B.     John teaches Christians the danger of befriending (v.9-11)

Farewell, 12-13

2 John (ESV)

1The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,

The Elder: John. Either 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.

The elect lady: person or personification; individual or institution? lady is Gk. kuria, which is the feminine form of Lord (kurios). Here is the Bride of Christ, reigning with Him in the heavenly realms. (note v.13, an elect sister’s children = sister congregation of the Lord’s church). Children = members

Whom I love in truth: John loves the church. “Christian love rests in Christian truth”

Not only I…all who know the truth: definite article before “truth” seems to indicate that this is the Truth, i.e. Jesus Christ. Knowledge of the Truth sets one free (John 8.32). The possessors of knowledge (gnosis) v. those who know false knowledge.

2because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

Because of the truth: again definite article before “truth” indicates this is the Truth, i.e. Jesus Christ. Through the Truth John loves the brethren and knows truth.

That abides in us: present active part, truth is abiding in us (i.e. the church). Some scholars identify the indwelling Holy Spirit here.

And will be with us forever: Truth is never going away. It is permanent, eternal. That is, the Word is eternal

3Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

Grace, mercy, and peace…: Grace covers the sins of men; mercy relieves men of their miseries; peace follows both. Similar greeting to Paul (see Rom 1.7; 1 Cor 1.3; et al) with the insertion of mercy. These “will be with us” (fut. Mid). As truth remains and is never going away, so too grace, mercy, and peace. John is acting as prophet (v.2 also).

From God [the] Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son: the Father and the Son are the single source of these three gifts. John affirms what he has already established about the Son in his gospel, namely He is begotten of God (1.14; 3.16). The miraculous conception of Jesus is in view which the Gnostic would have denied.

In truth and love: to receive these virtues, one must remain in the God’s truth and love God’s people.

4I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.

I rejoiced greatly: a recent occasion was cause for happiness and well-being for John

To find [some] of your children: certain members of the church possibly visited John. Or through missionary work he came to find and still finds (perf. Tense).

Walking in [the] truth:  “In the specific context of 2 John the phrase [“walking in truth’] refers to true Christians who are holding fast to an apostolic Christology in the face of the secessionist opponents’ challenge to orthodoxy.” (NET)

Just as we were commanded by the Father: i.e. through the Son (1 Jn 2.6).

5And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another.

And now I ask you, dear lady: John has a request of the church to which he writes.

Not as though…from the beginning: this is not new revelation but reminder of what they know. Cf. Jn 13.34-35; 15.12—when Jesus gave it, it was new. Now, approx. 60 yrs later, it is that which is “from the beginning” of the Christian age.

That we love one another: Present active tense. Here is the request John has for the Lord’s church to whom he writes. Love is explained next.

6And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments: living in active obedience to God’s commandments is love (cf. John 14.15, 21, 23, 24; 15.10).

This is the commandment: i.e. love one another with the love of Christ. This is a love not merely in word or talk, but in deed and truth (1 John 3.18).

Just as you have heard from the beginning: they’ve heard once for all (aorist tense) since the first publication of the gospel.

So that you should walk in it: so that it is your present, habitual, continual direction. A walk is a career, lifestyle. Implies direction, progression, separation.

7For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

For: hoti, John begins to explain why walking in love & truth is so vital.

Many deceivers have gone out into the world: deceivers are equated with antichrist at the end of the verse. This is repetition of 1 John 2.18, 19. They left wandered away from the church, roving about as imposters. Their message?

Those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in [the] flesh: Not some shadowy political figure rising up out of a reborn European Union; this is one who assaults the nature of Christ by denying He came in flesh. They do not speak the same word concerning Christ as the apostolic college. When Christ came from heaven to earth, He came (lit.) in flesh. John affirms that Jesus retains His humanity (“coming” present part.), which Docetics would deny. These deceivers deny the incarnation. If Christ did not come in the flesh, He could not have died for sin. If He did not die for sin, there could be no blood atonement. Without blood, there is no forgiveness.

Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist: John uses the strongest language possible to classify these false teachers. They are opposed to Christ.

8Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.

Watch yourselves: present imperative. Beware! Look out! “When error abounds in the world, our first duty is not to attack it and make war upon it; it is to look to the citadel of our own souls, and see that all is well guarded there.” (Barnes)

So that you may not lose what we have worked for: some debate concerning mss but it seems this is correct reading. Beware of allowing our work in you to be undone.

But may win a full reward: alla is strong contrast. Rather than a grievous loss, there is a full day’s wage (Gk misthon, cf. Mt 20.8). This reward is God Himself (see v.9). Hence, there can be no partial reward; either it is enjoyed in full or lost entirely.

9Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Everyone…teaching of Christ: to “go one ahead” is to go beyond established boundaries of teaching and doctrine. The implication is failure to obey. Specifically, the teaching concerning the humanity of Christ, which Docetics and Dualists would deny in their attempts to progress beyond simple facts and simple moral teaching of the gospel.

Does not have God: present active indicative with negative. “They had advanced so far that they had even left God behind” (Morris). One cannot reject Christ and retain God.

Whoever…and the Son: Remaining in the apostolic teaching keeps one in God & Christ. Cf. 1 John 2.22-23, to acknowledge the Son is to possess the Father (and Son).

10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,

If anyone…this teaching: John is not presenting a hypothetical; indicative mood points to this being a fact—people are coming and bringing this doctrine. When they do…

Do not receive him into [your] house: present imperative (pl.). Understand: 1) John refers to teachers of false doctrine, not merely believers; 2) John refers to “official” visit, not merely private hospitality; 3) John seems to indicate that this is in regards to the church (lit. in house), not merely in-home policy; 4) John refers to teachers of false doctrine of the incarnation, not merely those who disagree with our pet traditions.

Or give him any greeting: seems to indicate an “official” welcome into services.

11for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

For whoever…works: Here is how serious John is about this. This is tantamount to fellowship with the works of darkness. No encouragement is to be given to the propagators and promoters of doctrine which will separate people from God and send them to eternal ruin!

12Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

Though…face to face: John has written what was of urgent importance to prevent fatalities in the body. Seems John has written with his own hand (cf. 3 John 13).

So that our joy may be complete: “Complete joy is the result of fellowship.”

13The children of your elect sister greet you.

The children…greet you: members of another congregation wish these Christians well.

Truth decay can still happen in the Church today. As the body of Christ, the chosen lady, let us practice and protect the eternal truth spoken to us by God through his Word.

Fellowship with God is rooted in our understanding of our status as children

John has detailed how fellowship with God is rooted in love for God (2.15-17) and apostolic epistemology (2.18-27). Now he broaches the subject of the Christian’s relationship with God as Father and how fellowship is realized and enriched when God’s children understand that status.

1 John 2:28–3:3 (ESV)

28And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

Little children—term of endearment/affection of the aged John to these Christians-2.1,12,18

Abide in him—same exhortation as we have seen in v.27: keep on abiding in Him (only). Him who? God? Christ? In one sense, yes. But specifically (contextually), I lean toward God (v.29). Here is the exhortation from John—in light of His coming, remain in Him.

So that (purpose) when he appears—Not sure when, but He will come, no uncertainty.

We may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame—John commonly juxtaposes counter positions and here is another example: boldness v. shame. The person who abides in Him has confidence (though standing in the intimidating presence of God) and does not need to be ashamed from Him (here is the shrinking back). Fear not, you who abide in Him.

At his coming—Lit. in His presence. Though in the presence of Almighty God, there is no need to be afraid, ashamed if we abide in Him. It would seem that John has the final coming of Jesus in mind.

29If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

If you know that he is righteous—”know” is perfect tense from oida, that knowledge that is absolute. It is absolute knowledge that God (He must be God the Father based on latter part of this verse) is righteous, right, just.

You know the one practicing righteousness—lit. the one doing right(ness). You are doing the same thing God and it is you habitual practice to act like God (walk in the light). Children of God will act like their Father.

Has been born of him—”has been born” is perfect tense passive. We were born (in the past) and stand begotten of God. Further, it is God who made us children of God. This verse speaks not to the means by which one becomes a child of God but rather speaks to the evidence that shows one is a child of God.

1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

What kind of love the Father has given to us—”what manner of love,” lit. “of what country.” This kind of love is of divine origin; it is out of this world. And God gave it and continues to give it to us.

That we should be called—this is an appeal to the conscious nobility of the readers: you have been given a great title, name, even God’s name.

Children of God—Paul often speaks of Christians as “sons of God” and this points to the adoption aspect of our conversion. Strictly speaking, though, the word used by John speaks to the actual parentage involved. Coupled with “the Father” who has called us and the picture is set.

The world does not know us—present tense, the world could perceive that we are of God if they would but know God first.

It did not know him—aorist tense, seems to point back to Jesus. This is the same point Jesus made while on earth (see John 15.18; cf. 1 Jon 3.13).

We are children of God. Therefore the world does not know us for the world does not know God. God is known/seen by seeing/knowing Christ (John 14.8-9).

2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

We are God’s children now—in this present age/world, this is the present reality.

What we will be… – though our present state is known, the future state is unknown. It simply has not yet been manifested even as Christ has not yet been manifested (2.28).

We know…we shall be like him—though there is much we do not know, what we do know is that we’ll be like him (Jesus), of the same or similar nature/kind.

We shall see kim as he is—present tense, Christ has exchanged mortality for immortality and is presently with the Father functioning in His salvific roles (1 Tim 2.5; Heb 7.25; et al).

3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Everyone who thus hopes—to be like Him, with Him.

Purifies himself—present, keeps on purifying body and spirit (2 Cor 7.1). Christ, the Son is pure; what about the rest of God’s children, us?

Fellowship with God is rooted in the advocacy of Jesus

We continue to discuss the fellowship principles which John is communicating to the church. We’ve seen fellowship is rooted in the apostolic witness of Christ’s life and fellowship is rooted in the moral nature of God. In John 2.1-14, we will see four (4) more fellowship principles.

1 John 2.1-2 (ESV), My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

My little children – the aged John affectionately referring to the members of the body, endearment.

These things – v.5-10, concerning who God is (light, absolute moral perfection), the fellowship we have (presently) with God as a result of what Christ has done (His blood shed for our forgiveness), and what we need to do (walk in the light, a condition of forgiveness).

so that (purpose) you may not sin – John will address the practice of sin later in this epistle (3.4, 6, 8-9). Here John is focused on the act (singular) of sin. A walk in the light is not a perfect walk – we do stumble. Here is what John writes to in this verse – not only the habit of sin should be put away but work to put any and every sin. If God is the standard and he calls us to that standard, he wants us to be morally perfect.

“It is clear the author [the apostle John] is not simply exhorting the readers not to be habitual or repetitive sinners, as if to imply that occasional acts of sin would be acceptable. The purpose of the author here is that the readers not sin at all, just as Jesus told the man he healed in John 5.14 – Sin no more!”[1] The grace of God and the blood of Jesus are not reasons for our continued disobedience/rebellion/sin! Rather, if we truly understand Calvary and redemption, these should be deterrents from sin and encourage clean living.

But if anyone (Christian) does sin – and we will. Try as we might to live according to that standard of perfection, practically we fail. What are we to do?

We have an advocate (lawyer, attorney) with the Father (Judge), Jesus Christ the righteous (Or, righteous Jesus Christ) – Jesus is (in this sense) our legal advocate; hence, John is sure to stress that he is righteous and right in his intercession in this regard. He is one we can call alongside us when we do sin and stand before the righteous Judge, the Father.

He (Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins – propitiation is satisfaction of the wrath of God. Christ on the cross is taking the wrath due us in His own body. By His sacrifice, atonement is made and forgiveness available.

The sins of the whole world – everyone who would come to Him by faith can find the wrath of God against satisfied in Christ.


[1]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006; 2006).