Notes On The Third Epistle Of John

We have here the same great principle in general that we saw in the Second Epistle—that is, loving the truth. Only there John was warning against any one that transgressed the doctrine of Christ, and here he is rather encouraging gracious ways and liberality towards those that were going about with the truth.

There is here the kindness that works among Christians. He desires that Gaius might prosper and be in health, even as his soul prospered. This Gaius received the brethren that went about preaching the word, and Diotrephes was jealous of them. He not only refused to receive the brethren himself, but hindered those that would. There was resistance to the free witness to God rendered by these persons going about. “Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.” They went out freely, trusting the Lord, and Diotrephes would not have such things. So he not only would not receive them himself, but if other people did, he forbade them, and cast them out of the church. The Apostle writes to strengthen Gaius in the spirit of hearty welcome in receiving them.

With Diotrephes it was love of prominence, a fleshly desire in him, and this even rose so high that he was speaking against the apostle. Still, the main point that the apostle dwells on, in writing to Gaius, is that he was in the truth. It is remarkable in John that, while he speaks of love, he always guards it in the most definite way by what he calls “the truth.” Real charity is in God Himself. He is love, and wherever love is real, it must be guaided by the truth as it is in Jesus, or it is not of God. Therefore, before he commends Gaius for his love and hospitality to the brethren, he says, “I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.” This is the first thing he dwells upon, before he even speaks of what he does to the brethren and to strangers.

“Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and that strangers, which have borne witness of thy charity before the church; whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well; because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.” Gaius was evidently a gracious man, hospitable to these strangers. “We ought therefore to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth.” It is a remarkable expression— “the truth.” “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Christ is the truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Whatever was not Christ was nature, and this was not the truth, and you never could be able otherwise to discern good and evil.

Indeed Christ is “the truth.” If we speak of the truth, we mean that it is a person speaking exactly what is true about anything. Christ tells us the truth about God. Satan takes very fair forms, as, in the case with Peter, when he said, in reference to the sufferings of Christ, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” But Christ says, “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me,” etc. He told the truth about that. It looked a very fair gracious speech; but it was really denying all that He had to do, and Christ tells the truth about it. And so about man. Who would have suspected that man could have done such things as he did when Christ was here? There you get the truth about man; all his evil was brought out; it was not fully detected till Christ came. So, too, I do not know what sin is till I see it in the cross of Christ. And just the same about righteousness. Christ is the truth. Whether it is God or man or Satan, or righteousness or sin, the truth about everything is in Christ; and if we have Christ, we have the truth. When we have to discern our way in the midst of good and evil, we do not know the truth unless we have got Christ. The truth is in Him: it is not in me.

The moment that I have Christ, and that I judge according to His feelings and thoughts, I am able to discern sin. It may take a very fair form—perhaps the loving your father or mother; but still the truth detects everything. God has shewn Himself to be love, rising above all evil; but still it is always “the truth.” If He rises above the sin, He shews also what the sin is. It is of immense importance to hold fast Christ, else we do not know what the truth is. Satan is the father of lies, and no lie is of the truth. With the apostle, we see that it was his joy to get this truth sharper than any two-edged sword, sparing nothing in himself. It was his joy to see his children walking in the truth. Then, when the truth is settled, the outflow of love is beautiful. “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers, which have borne witness of thy charity before the church.” There you find the love coming out beautifully. The moment it is settled in Christ as the truth so that our own heart is judged, then God is free to act. The moment I have got the truth—Christ, then, freed from self—this divine love begins to act in its right channel. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” God has a peculiar love to His own, but He is gracious and kind towards even the very sparrows—makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

“Whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well.” They were these preachers going about. “Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.” They were casting themselves upon God.

“Demetrius had good report of all men, and of the truth itself.” John looks at “the truth” as a thing standing in the world, and going through a great service in conflict. Demetrius is witnessed to by the truth: the gospel itself bore him witness. The gospel or truth is personified. If a man is hated for the truth’s sake, we say that it is the truth that is hated. The gospel is love in the truth, and this working in the world. That is the substance of this Epistle: first, the truth; then, the working of love and grace, which becomes a fellow-helper to the truth. Then he says that there were these persons coming into the church, who were setting up to have a high place in it. They did not even receive the apostle. But that did not take away the apostle’s power. “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth.”

“Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God; but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.” We have seen the truth first, and then grace to the brethren and to others in general. If you do good, you are of God. It is not the question of mere evil; but “he that doeth good is of God.” It is the active service of love. God does not do evil—that is clear; but He does good. “Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself; yea, and we also bear record; and we know that our record is true.” Demetrius was one of those who were going about in this way whom Diotrephes would not have, and one that the apostle encourages Gaius to receive.

It is an interesting thing to see not merely great doctrines in Scripture, but all the interior of what was at work even then. We are apt to see things upon stilts. Things were going on just then as they are now. There were some going about preaching the truth, and some did not like to receive them. We see thus the interior of Christianity going on, whereas we generally think it was something extraordinary; instead of being just the same struggling with good and evil, in principle the same kind of thing that is going on now. The apostle was left to watch over the declension of the church, and to give us the warnings that were needed all through.

It is a wonderful thing to know that “the truth “has come into the world. It is not merely that certain things are true, but the truth itself has come. I have got that which is God’s own truth, in the midst of men’s thoughts and confusions. “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” We have seen here these two things: the truth which has come and tested everything; and then grace towards the brethren and these strangers, according to this truth. It is a great thing to have what links us up with Christ, which is to abide for ever. This world is all passing away, and man’s breath goes forth. “He returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” But we have the truth in the midst of it all. The word of our God abides for ever. Holding peacefully fast by that, we have got, by grace, what we know is everlasting. Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.”