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3rd John: Encourage those who do good work

The epistle known as Third John is the shortest letter in the New Testament. Like Second John, it is from the “Elder” but, unlike Second John, it is addressed to an individual, “Gaius” and not to a local congregation, although the letter may well have been intended for a wider audience.

John had written a letter to the church where Diotrephes was a leader. In that letter, John had told the church about some men who were coming to teach. He wanted the church to help them. But the church had not received the letter. Perhaps Diotrephes had kept or destroyed that letter. Diotrephes would not help the teachers. He also did not allow other church members to help them.

Verses 1,2: “The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”

“The elder” is the writer of the epistle, the Apostle John, who so styles himself on account of his age, and office, as in the preceding epistle.

‘The beloved Gaius.” It is impossible to say whether this was the same as any one of the others of the same name mentioned Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4. Romans 16:23. 1 Corinthians 1:14.

Gaius was a friend of John. He may have been John’s convert, for in verse 4, he is included in “my children.” It means his love for them is because of their devotion to the truth. In the past, Gaius had been kind to the travellers who came to teach. They stayed in his home while they taught in his town. Afterwards they told their own churches how good Gaius had been.

Perhaps Demetrius brought this letter to Gaius.

“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things:” The word for prosper literally means “to have a good journey.” It metaphorically means to succeed or prosper. It is like saying, “I hope things go well for you.”

“Be in health:” Some have wrongly taken this as a guarantee of perpetual wealth and perfect health for the Christian. Of course, we should always remember that God wants our best and plans only good for us. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). Often present material prosperity and physical health are part of that good He has for us, and this prosperity and health are absolutely promised as the ultimate destiny of all believers. Yet, for the present time, God may…according to His all-wise plan use a lack of material prosperity and physical health to promote greater prosperity and health in the scale of eternity. Nevertheless, some live in poverty and disease simply because they do not seek God's best, follow God's principles, and walk in faith. As well, there are some others who say we should use God's general promises of blessing as a way to indulge a carnal desire for ease, comfort, and luxury. –Adapted from: David Guzik Commentary on 3 John

“Just as your soul prospers:” John here made an analogy between the condition of our health and the condition of our soul. Many Christians would be desperately ill if their physical health was instantly in the same state as their spiritual health.

Verse 3,4: “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

“The truth was in Gaius, and Gaius walked in the truth. If the first had not been the case, the second could never have occurred; and if the second could not be said of him the first would have been a mere pretense. Truth must enter into the soul, penetrate and saturate it, or else it is of no value…In us truth must be a living force, an active energy, an indwelling reality, a part of the woof and warp of our being. If it be in us, we cannot henceforth part with it…To walk in the truth, imports a life of integrity, holiness, faithfulness, and simplicity—the natural product of those principles of truth which the gospel teaches, and which the Spirit of God enables us to receive. We may judge of the secrets of the soul by their manifestation in the man’s conversation. Be it ours to-day, O gracious Spirit, to be ruled and governed by thy divine authority, so that nothing false or sinful may reign in our hearts, lest it extend its malignant influence to our daily walk among men.” –C.H. Spurgeon

“The truth of God is a wonderful asset to a Christian. Joni Tada likened the value of God's truth to an experience in her childhood. She wrote, ‘At four, I was too young to have my own horse, and I'm not sure a horse fit for a four-year-old could have kept up with my father and sisters. So when we went horseback riding, I sat behind my father on his big horse. With my tiny hands, I'd hang on to the back of his belt and away we'd go. I'd bounce up and down in the saddle, sliding this way and that, but as long as I had a strong hold on that belt, I knew I was safe.’ God's truth is like that belt. It's strong and reassuring, and we can hold on to it amid the turns and bumps of life. He is our all-loving, all-powerful God, and He does not change. He will give us all the help we need.” —D. C. Egner, Our Daily Bread

Christian ministers have spiritual children. Because they are always in the process of winning and discipling, developing and helping others grow in the Lord. It always rejoices the heart of a minister to see one of his disciples go on with the Lord. Walking (living) in the truth depends on how well our soul prospers. Our walk will be right if our heart is right.

Verse 5: “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers…”

What is in view here is the hospitality of Gaius extended to traveling brethren who were spreading the gospel; and the words "brethren and strangers " show that he did not merely entertain those with whom he was personally acquainted. There were good reasons why traveling preachers of that day depended on faithful brethren such as Gaius for their maintenance. The scarcity of inns, the disreputable character of such inns as were available, and the general poverty of many Christians contributed to this necessity.

Verse 6a: “who have borne witness of your love before the church.” The brethren and strangers were well aware of Gaius’ love, not only for them but for the church.

Verse 6b: “If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well…”

“The Greek works used here imply not only good wishes, but material support. The New Testament custom of congregations accompanying such travelers a part of the way upon their departure is glimpsed again, and again, in the account of Paul's travels in Acts.” ­–Coffman

Verse 7a: “because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles;”

Here John gives three reasons why we should support those who are spreading the Gospel: 1) What they are doing is bringing glory to the name of Christ, 2) They did not have to take up collections from the heathen people they were trying to reach, and 3) When such people are supported, their helpers become fellow-workers with them, sharing in the rewards of their labors

Verse 7b: “for His name’s sake…”

The holy name of Jesus Christ stands for everything that Christians held dear. “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The generosity of the early church toward traveling preachers was great, leading to all kinds of abuses. Ignatius in his writing to the Ephesians said, “There are some who make a practice of carrying about the Name with wicked guile, and do certain other things unworthy of God.”

In Acts 5:40-42 NLT, “They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.” They continued preaching for the sake of the name, Jesus!

Verse 7,8: “taking nothing from the Gentiles…”

“Let me tell you about a false prophet. They go out for their own sake and take money from everybody they can find. And how did the true Apostles of Jesus Christ, the true preachers of the gospel distinguish themselves from the endless myriad false teachers? By not taking money for what they did. Paul said, ‘I have a right to support, but I'll never make the gospel chargeable. If need be...he said...I'll work with my own hands but I will not become a huckster, a con man, a peddler of the Word of God. I will not sell my soul.’” These people went out for the sake of the name. They went out for the glory and honor of Christ. They didn't take any money from the pagans, the heathen, the Gentiles.” –John MacArthur

“The term ‘Gentile’ embraced all who were not Jews, and it is evident that these persons went forth particularly to labor among the pagan. When they went, they resolved, it seems, to receive no part of their support from them, but to depend upon the aid of their Christian brethren…Why they, resolved to take nothing of the Gentiles is not stated, but it was doubtless from prudential considerations, lest it should hinder their success among them, and expose them to the charge of being actuated by a mercenary spirit. There were circumstances in the early propagation of Christianity which made it proper, in order to avoid this reproach, to preach the gospel ‘without charge,’ Paul wrote, ‘What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel’ (1 Corinthians 9:18). –Adapted from Albert Barnes

It would be wonderful if pastors did not have to receive salaries from their congregations. However, Paul writes, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). And, “Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17 NLT).

I don’t believe that pastors should be getting rich from their ministry, just a sufficient amount so they do not have to worry about daily sustenance. I also do not believe that a pastor should be poverty stricken with not enough to live on. One church where I was meeting with the pastoral search committee asked, “what salary I would expect to receive?” I asked, “What is your salary?” The chairman of the committee replied, “You wouldn’t expect to get the same amount that we do would you?” I said, “no,” “but I have to pay for the same housing that you do. I have to buy my groceries and drug store items in the same stores as you.” I have to buy gas for my car in the same gas stations as you. The cost of taking care of my family is no different from yours.” By the way, I never heard from them! The old adage is, “We want a pastor that is humble and poor.” The old deacon said, “Okay, Lord, you keep him humble, we’ll keep him poor.”

Verse 8: “We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.”

“Christians must first see that they are doing something to help the spread of the gospel. Then they must see that they do it in a manner worthy of God. God calls every one of us to have a part in the great commission, the command of Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” One can have a part by going or have a part by helping, but everyone has a part and should do it well.” –David Guzik

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward” (Matthew 10:40,41).

Verse 9,10: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.”

The Greek word for preeminence is proteuo, meaning, high importance; superiority, to be first, or to hold the first place.

In my 50 years as a pastor I have endured several Diotrephes! Men whose boss won’t let him talk at work, his wife won’t let him talk at home, but when he walks into the church he wants a standing ovation. It may be their position in life, a boss or owner in business, or a person of wealth. One of our church members would only give if he could announce it publicly. No matter the reason they must be exposed.

“It is clear that Diotrephes, who was a prominent church leader, loved to be seen as important, and to be honored and feted, and this probably contributed to his not wanting outsiders coming and taking over the ministry, and stealing some of his glory. He wanted no interference in his church, even from the Apostle John, and found fault with all who came from outside. It is probable that ‘receives us not’ refers to the lack of welcome John’s letter received. And most of the church in which he ministered seem to have sided with him. Such is the danger when one man becomes pre-eminent. To receive honor is always a dangerous thing for a man who would please God, for he soon begins to see himself as important, and then his usefulness is diminished.” –Peter Pett

“Diotrephes was condemned not because he violated sound teaching regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ but because his ‘life’ was a contradiction to the truth of the gospel." –Glenn W. Barker

Pastoring in Texas many years ago I encountered a man who wanted to join our church. He told me he had been “churched” (excommunicated) by another church. I called the pastor of the church that had excommunicated him, asking about this man. He told me, “I kicked him out.” When I asked about the procedure for disciplining this man in such a way, he said, “No procedure, I didn’t like him so I asked him to leave.” Matthew 18:15-17 outlines for us the procedure in church discipline. “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” By the way, that man in Texas became a church member and was one of the best men in our church and a great soul winner. He facilitated our prison ministry.

“And I've learned through the years in dealing with our young men who go out to preach that rarely ever have I heard of a church dismissing a pastor for poor preaching, rarely ever for poor living, almost always power struggles because somebody loves to be first. And that's what splits churches, destroys ministries. Well, more could be said about that. But Diotrephes for all his efforts to be preeminent, got his name in the book, didn't he? He got his name in the book, but it's a shame that it's here.” –John MacArthur

“The problem of bossy church leaders was not limited to the first century. A. T. Robertson wrote a magazine article in which he rebuked leaders who follow in the footsteps of Diotrephes. After it was published, he received letters from at least 25 different church leaders, demanding that their subscriptions to the magazine be canceled. Although Robertson had never met any of them, they all said in effect, ‘You have personally attacked me!’ A lust for power springs from pride and selfishness. In contrast, Jesus served in humility and obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:8). He must be our pattern.” –Our Daily Bread, October 25, 1992

Verse 11: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.”

John probably had Diotrephes in mind when he wrote this. He is admonishing Gaius to handle this situation in the right way, “not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). He may have been saying, do not imitate Diotrephes’ evil ways, his pride, ambition, love of preeminence, and tyrannical government in the church, and especially his hard heartedness, cruelty, and inhospitality to the poor saints; do not imitate him with the same evil.

“This is clearly a reference to Diotrephes’ evil behavior. The author exhorts Gaius (whom he wishes to continue assisting the missionaries) not to follow the negative example of Diotrephes, but to do what is right. Implicitly there may be a contrast between the bad behavior of Diotrephes and the good reputation of someone else, though it is not clear whether the one representing the good would be Gaius, to whom this letter is written, or Demetrius (mentioned in the following verse). It seems more likely that Demetrius is himself one of the traveling missionaries (perhaps their leader), rather than the leader of a local congregation (like Gaius) who, unlike Diotrephes, has supported the missionaries himself.” –W. Hall Harris III

Imitate what is good: be a follower of God, imitate Him in acts of kindness and beneficence, be merciful as He is; copy the deeds of Jesus Christ. Those who do good are of God. But those who do evil have not seen God. They cannot have, for God is light, and had they seen Him they would have repented. John is quite clear. “You will know men by their fruits.” He knew nothing of a salvation that did not produce fruit. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15,16).

Verse 12: “Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.”

Demetrius may have been another church leader, or a more probably a visiting preacher, a representative of John, and he may well also have been the letter bearer. John gave three recommendations of Demetrius’. 1) He had a good reputation among all who knew him, 2) his character and conduct were in harmony with the truth, and 3) John personally knew him and vouched for him. Like Gaius, Demetrius is “walking in the truth.” His life matches his confession. He manifests the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). He lives a life of love.

Verse 13,14: Farewell Greeting: “I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.”

John preferred face to face contact. He probably felt that long letters were too impersonal. Possibly both letters were written around the same time and went with Demetrius to the same area. John concluded as he did to explain the brevity of this epistle and his hope to visit Gaius soon. This conclusion is very similar to the one in 2 John.

“Peace to you.” The usual form of salutation with the Jews, and John was one.”

“Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.”

It was unusual to use "friends" to describe believers. John evidently wished to draw attention to the basic quality of friendship that exists among believers. As friends Christians should show hospitality to and should support one another, the specific expression of love that John urged in this letter.

I have had many friends in my 82 years. Many have been very close, some were only nominal friends who lasted for a short time. I have been blessed by good friends and I have been betrayed by those whom I thought were friends. My wife if 61 years, Marlena has been my best friend all of our married lives. It’s so great to have a friend as she is, to know everything about you and still is your best friend.

I have a best friend that I highly recommend to you, he is “a friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). A best friend is one who loves you just the way you are, and yet helps you to be all you can be. Jesus is my best friend because no one has ever loved me as He does. He loved me so much that He gave His life for me. And He loves me today just as much as He did then. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). My best friend is Jesus Christ, the Messiah and soon-to-return King of Kings, is the perfect Friend.

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

Marlena and I support this ministry with our Social Security plus donations from a few of our friends. We need more friends! Will you be a friend to us and God’s word For You? Your financial support of this ministry is much appreciated. You may send checks to God’s Word For You, 25413 Alpha Street, Moreno Valley, CA 92557

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