1. The elder unto Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth.
2. Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prosperth.
3. For I rejoice greatly when brethren came and bare witness unto thy truth, even as thou walkest in truth.
4. Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.
5. Beloved, thou doest a faithful work in whatsoever thou doest toward them that are brethren and strangers withal.
6. Who bare witness to thy love before the church; whom thou wilt do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God.
7. Because that for the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.
8. We therefore ought to welcome such, that we may be fellow-workers for the truth.
9. I wrote somewhat unto the church, but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
10. Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth, prating against us with wicked words; and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and them that would he forbiddeth and casteth them out of the church.
11. Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God; he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
12. Demetrius hath the witness of all men, and of the truth itself; yea, we also bear witness, and thou knowest that our witness is true.
13. I had many things to write unto thee, but I am unwilling to write them to thee with ink and pen.
14. But I hope shortly to see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be unto thee. Thy friends salute thee. Salute the friends by name.
The Second Epistle is unique in that it is addressed to a sister; the Third stands out just because it is a “Third” Epistle. John’s letters are the last words of God to His people, and it just seems as if He cannot stop speaking to them. Knowing all that lay before the believers, He lingers as it were; and after exhorting, warning, and encouraging His children in the First Epistle, He adds a postscript; then a Second postscript. There is something very touching and very comforting in this. Love is concerned over the welfare of its objects; how supreme is divine love in this regard.
In the Second Epistle a lady is addressed; in the third, a man. In the Second, there is an exhortation to refuse the false; in the Third, to receive the true. Saints sometimes forget that the Third Epistle follows the Second. Some are over-zealous to refuse all those who do not measure up to their standard, and sometimes they set up a standard that the Word of God knows nothing about, while they neglect to receive all the dear people of God who have a right and title to Christian fellowship and hospitality. That is the burden of the Third Epistle. It is, in my judgment, as wicked to refuse to receive God’s dear people as it is evil to receive the bringers of false doctrine.
In this letter the exercise of love is pressed, as the exercise of truth is in the Second Epistle. Yet, in the opening verses, truth is first noticed and Gaius’ walk in it commended. The Apostle has no greater joy than to hear that his children walk in truth. Again truth is shown to be the basis of the exercise of Christian love.
Verse 2. How refreshing to read of one who is truly prosperous in soul! This soul-prosperity was manifest in Gaius’ personal life, for he walked in the truth; and also in his kindness and hospitality towards the saints and servants of God. Truth and love mark him. Truth with Gaius was not a cold, hard knowledge of the facts of the Christian faith, but a warm, throbbing reality, shown forth in his love towards all those in need. Often those who make a boast of having the truth, have it in such a cold, harsh way, that it repels both sinner and saint. Such forget that the glory of the only begotten Son was the glory of “grace and truth”—John 1:14. Truth should have the dominant place in my own life; and love be first in my conduct towards others. John desired that Gaius might be physically prosperous as he was spiritually. Alas, we often have to pray the other way around for the saints and for ourselves; that saints might be spiritually in health and prosper, as they do physically. How few Christians there are, for whom we can pray that they might be wealthy in material things and healthy in physical status, as they are in spiritual things. I have met Christians for whom I could pray earnestly that the Lord might see fit to bless them physically and materially, as He had blessed them with His spiritual riches. Such are the elite among God’s dear people. Oh, for more men and women like Gaius!
Verses 5 to 7. Gaius is commended for his hospitality. He not only received and entertained and sent on their way those whom he knew, but brethren who were strangers to him, as well. Today, in many assemblies of the saints, true Christians are refused because of barriers raised up unknown in God’s Word. Even Christians well known to be godly men, are refused sometimes because they do not belong to “us.” How utterly at variance with what we have here! Gaius is commended for receiving those whom he did not even know. Thus he might have received some who were not true to Christ, as probably happened occasionally. But it is better, once in a while to receive one who ought not to be received, than to constantly refuse those who ought to be welcomed. Heb. 13:2 says that in receiving strangers, one may entertain angels unawares. In receiving strangers, Gaius welcomed those who were greater than angels—God’s dear blood-bought people. The Spirit of God here warmly approves Christian hospitality. Like many another Christian virtue, it suffers somewhat from neglect in some places. Christians are apt to forget that even a cup of cold water, given for His sake, shall in no wise lose its reward. The name Gaius means “of the earth”. It only shows that a man may be of the earth, but practise heavenly principles. Here and now, while we are still of this earth, we should act as heavenly citizens.
Gaius not only welcomed these brethren into his home, but saw to it that they had what they needed ere they set forth again. He brought them forward on their journey worthily of God; and that’s indeed a high standard. And in turn these brethren spoke of his love before the assembly, appreciative of his Christian kindness.
These Christians had gone forth for His Name’s sake, or as it reads, for the Name, taking nothing from those of the nations. Here is the pattern of true Christian ministry. The servant of Christ is to go forth in dependence upon the Lord Himself. The Lord is rich, and is well able to take care of His own work. In condescending grace He is pleased to use His blood-bought people, of whom Gaius here is a sample, to finance His work. The servants of the Lord are not to look for their support to the world around. Anything like the shameful begging for money for the support of the Lord’s work, which is so common today, is foreign to the teaching of the Word, and dishonoring to the name and cause of Christ. His “Name” stands for all that He is, and thus He is the All-sufficient One. Those who make Him known may count unreservedly upon the great resources which He controls. Those who serve the Lord in that fashion should commend themselves to every Christian, and it is incumbent upon us to receive and encourage them on their way. In doing so, we become fellow-workers with the truth—ver. 8. Those who go forth, and those who tarry by the stuff, supplying the needs of the servants of Christ, are workers together, and shall share alike in the great harvest.
Verses 9, 10. In sharp contrast to Gaius’ conduct appears that of Diotrephes. Here is one who refused to receive even the Apostle John himself, and instead of receiving strangers, as Gaius had done, he will not receive the brethren, and forbids those that would, casting them out of the church. He loves to have the preeminence, that is the reason for his unreasonable conduct. This Diotrephes is a little pope, who wants to run the assembly as it pleases him. There is no intimation that this Diotrephes was a false professor, or an apostate, as those spoken of in the Second Epistle. No; apparently he is one of those men whom it has been the lot of some assemblies to have had to suffer; one who wants to run the whole thing, and resents any outside ministry, which he looks upon as interference. The Apostle Peter warns against this very thing in saying that the shepherd should not be a lord over God’s heritage, but an en-sample to the flock. Such seem to get the idea that the flock is their flock, instead of the Lord’s. They act as though they own it, instead of merely being servants. How terribly this evil has grown throughout the centuries, it is hardly necessary to state. We are not speaking of true humble servants of Christ, who may have “charge” of a certain congregation (though that too is foreign to God’s Word), but of those who high-handedly lord it over God’s people, arrogating to themselves rights which belong only to God. And in many assemblies of saints, of those who gather simply to the Name of Christ, may be found some who in their own little way want to rule and who resent outside ministry and help. They sometimes act as if they are all-sufficient, and as if the saints needed no other ministry save their own. The right of ministering the truth among the saints is open to every believer; and everyone who has a gift from the Lord not only has the right, but is responsible to exercise that gift.
It is not likely that the casting out of the assembly—see ver. 10—means that Diotrephes went the length of excommunicating from Christian fellowship. In that, the assembly itself would have a voice, and though they were under this man’s control, there is no indication that they were in agreement with his high-handed actions. It probably means that he cast out from the privilege of ministering in the assembly those who attempted to do so. Even the Apostle himself was refused his place, so it seems. One who loves to have the preeminence would especially resent another believer more capable than himself. This attitude is very common in the professing church in general. What concerns many of us is that in a minor degree it sometimes is true even in the assemblies of those who meet after God’s order. John says that he will bring to remembrance his works that he does, “babbling against us with malicious words.” I do not think it is stretching the truth to say that even so our blessed Lord Himself will remember in the day of reckoning when He, the greater than John, comes, all those who have served themselves, rather than the saints of God. Instead of the haughty conduct of Diotrephes, the minister of Christ should exhibit the spirit of Him who was meek and lowly in heart, and be, like our Lord, at the saints’ feet, in true humility.
Verse 11. “He that doeth good is of God; he that doeth evil hath not seen God.” This might indicate that this man Diotrephes may not have been a Christian at all, for his conduct was certainly evil. We do know that many take a place among the people of God who have never been saved at all; and such are very apt to rule with the high-hand that marked Diotrephes. It is bad enough when an unsaved professor acts thus, how much sadder when a true Christian exalts himself.
Verse 12. In this verse the third individual mentioned in this short letter is brought before us. Gaius and Diotrephes are both in the assembly; Demetrius, apparently, was a visitor there, one of the strangers referred to in ver. 5. For John bears witness of him to Gaius, indicating that Gaius did not know Demetrius, and that he therefore was a stranger. Since he is mentioned immediately after the reference to Diotrephes’ actions, it seems to indicate that Demetrius was one of those ministers whom Diotrephes refused to receive, even though Demetrius was well spoken of by all who knew him. And to this was added the testimony that Demetrius himself bore (for he had witness borne to him by the truth itself), and also John’s witness. Gaius received strangers; Diotrephes refused them. Gaius humbly sought to help and encourage the Lord’s servants; Diotrephes sought his own glory. Gaius welcomed even those unknown to him; Diotrephes cast out some who were in the assembly, and therefore well known. Here we have sharp contrasts between two kinds of believers. Gaius proved the reality of his profession; that of Diotrephes certainly left it very dubious. Yet we know that even true believers can go very far in doing that which highly displeases the Lord. It is needless to say that we should all seek to imitate Gaius, and to shun and loathe the attitude of Diotrephes.
Gaius had borne witness to him by the truth itself. It is a point of greatest importance that the truth is in itself a sufficient warrant to commend the one that brings it. Truth is of God, and God has a supreme right to be heard everywhere. If one brings the truth of God, such ministry should be received, and the minister also, unless the life he lives utterly belies the truth he brings. But if the life and the message agree, then the messenger should be welcomed and listened to. Officialism should have nothing whatever to do with it. The Scriptures know nothing of the necessity of having human authority to empower one to preach or teach God’s Word. Oftentimes ministry is refused because the minister has not been ordained by man. Such a false conception is absolutely unknown in Scripture, and it hinders the work of God seriously. It is another form of the same Diotrephesian error just considered. Truth is truth, and to veer from the question of the truth to the consideration of whether the one who brings it has been commissioned by man to do so, is a serious evil, and has been productive of the worst results possible. As the matter stands many who are so-called “ordained” preachers are preaching when in reality they are not saved at all; or, worse still, are apostate liars, while godly ministers of Christ are refused the right to speak. It is this that John’s Third Epistle speaks against so strongly. As the Second Epistle warns against receiving false doctrine, so the Third lifts its voice against refusing true doctrine.
Verses 13, 14. Again there is the suggestion, as in the Second Epistle, that the subject matter of the letter is so important that the Apostle cannot wait till his forthcoming visit to Gaius. We owe the truths of these two Epistles to this decision of the aged servant of Christ, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, to write these letters. The warnings against heresy in the Second Epistle, and against Clerisy in the Third Epistle (both so needed now, as they have been all through the Church’s dispensation) we owe to these postscripts. We are thankful, and our hearts turn to God in grateful praise.
Verse 14. “The friends salute thee; greet the friends by name.” This is the only letter in the New Testament which ends with the use of this exalted Christian title. It is perhaps the most precious name given to believers. To be a friend of God is to be in the secrets of His heart; to share the fullest fellowship with Him. It is the one title that the Scriptures make to depend upon condition. We are children and sons of God, saints and brethren, by virtue of redemption; but to friendship an “if” is attached. “Ye are My friends,” said our Lord, “if ye do the things which I command you.” Friendship is dependent upon conduct; being saints or children, on relationship. May we then crave to be truly His friends. John, who speaks so much of keeping His commandments, thus appropriately closes his letters on this note of friendship, for friendship flows from the keeping of God’s Word. And the closer we walk with Him, the closer will be the ties of divine, true friendship. Diotrephes might refuse even the Apostle John, but John had many friends there nevertheless. May it be ours to crave the friendship of those who walk with the Lord, who minister His Word. And above and beyond all, may we delight ourselves in being the friends of God.
May God bless to every reader the thoughts He has given us from these precious letters. May the love of God ever deepen love to God in our souls—a love that is to be manifested by us towards our fellow-men, and especially fellow-believers. Amen.