Invitation to 3 John
3 John encourages a specific individual, Gaius, as he faithfully follows the Lord, warning him about a wicked man in the church and pointing to another faithful example in the church.
“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”
— 3 John 11 ESV
I. Greeting (1–4)
II. Commendation for Support of Missionaries (5–8)
III. Critique of Diotrephes (9–10)
IV. Demetrius and Imitation (11–12)
V. Closing (13–15)
On the use of the term “elder” see comments on 2 John 1. Gaius was a common name, making it unlikely that this is the same Gaius mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:14 and Romans 16:23. What is striking is the repetition of words for “love” in reference to Gaius (“beloved,” [twice] and “love”). We also have here the combination of “love” and “truth” paralleling 2 John 1–3.
Opening the letter with concern for health and commendation was common in the ancient world. John’s prayer is for total well-being. The word translated “soul” refers to one’s entire person, not simply the immaterial, but combined with “health,” it envisions every area of life. This is a good model for our prayers, reminding us we ought not think it unspiritual to pray for physical health, and we also ought to pray for spiritual, emotional, and relational health as well.
This passage paints a beautiful picture of Christian friendship and pastoral ministry as love, joy, and truth combine. Those who know the truth—specifically the truth about who God is and how he has provided salvation—love that truth and love others who embrace that truth. People changed by truth seek to live out the truth and rejoice to see others living out this truth, as John does here. Unity around love of the truth, rejoicing in shared allegiance to the truth, and celebrating one another’s progress in living out the truth are central practices to the health of individuals and churches.
Commendation for Support of Missionaries (5–8)
Using his term of endearment (“beloved”) once more, John commends Gaius for his support of the traveling preachers who have come through his region. This passage is a central one for thinking about missionary support. Gaius’s church did not know these men personally but they cared for them (“your love”) because of their mission. Such care is a “faithful thing” to do, John says. Furthermore, John urges supporting such workers “in a manner worthy of God.” That is a high standard of support and care!
Who should receive such support? Those who go out “for the sake of the name,” that is people who leave their own location, with the commendation of the church to proclaim the name of Jesus to others. They do not look for support from the Gentiles, but the people of God “ought to support people like these.” The word translated “Gentiles” is not the typical word ethnos but a word (ethnikos) which has stronger connotations of unbelieving and opposed to the gospel. And, not only is it the church’s duty to support such gospel workers, such support is our delight because it affords us the opportunity to share in the work they are doing. Those who love the truth love those who spread it to others and rejoice in the opportunity to participate in such work.
Critique of Diotrephes (9–10)
Even though John finds much to commend about this church, some trouble still exists, as is usually the case. One member, Diotrophes, is exalting himself, rebelling against apostolic authority, opposing the travelling preachers, and putting out those who want to support the missionaries. This is often what happens when pride gets in the way—it leads to rebellion, hindering God’s work, and resulting in disunity within the fellowship. A church cannot be healthy when members seek their own way at all costs. John promises to deal with Diotrephes directly when he comes. Such behavior of Diotrephes cannot be ignored or permitted; it must be rebuked if the church is to move forward in serving God.
Demetrius and Imitation (11–12)
Returning to direct address to Gaius, John uses “beloved” once again. Although this passage is universally true, the action of Diotrephes is no doubt in view as what is “evil.” But why would Gaius need to be urged not to imitate Diotrephes, a man who is so clearly exposed as wicked? Often, evil manipulation and abuse of power like what Diotrephes is doing are so effective that we can be tempted to use the same tactics. But we cannot do divine work by devilish means. We will never advance the truth if we undermine it by the way we act.
John then affirms another man in the church, Demetrius, whose lifestyle is commended by the truth itself (i.e., he lives in accord with the gospel) and by John. It is as if—after speaking against the bad example of Diotrephes—John wants to point Gaius back to a positive example in the church. We will almost always have bad examples and good examples around us. We must imitate the good.
As in 2 John, John expresses his desire to communicate in person, “face to face.” This reminds us that the letter is an exercise in pastoral ministry. John is shepherding Gaius in a difficult situation, commending him, encouraging him, and warning him. And John is willing to use whatever technology he has available (papyrus, stylus, and the postal service) in order to provide the help needed in the moment. But, as John indicates, nothing compares to in-person communication, and with the heart of a pastor, John yearns for that opportunity.
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1:1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothersOr brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters; also verses 5, 10″>1 came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Support and Opposition
5 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. 7 For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
9 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.
13 I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.
 1:3 Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters; also verses 5, 10