Third John is the correlative of Second John. In this letter we learn the breadth of Christian fellowship, and in it narrow ecclesiasticism is sharply rebuked. In this Epistle the apostle addressed Gaius, a brother in the Lord, honored for his large-heartedness, and whose home was always open to preachers of the gospel. To him John expressed the wish that he may “prosper and be in health, even as [his] soul prospereth” (2). There was no doubt of the latter condition, but a weak body is often the dwelling of a happy and prosperous soul. Traveling brethren had reported to John of the graciousness of Gaius and his walk in the truth. He was possibly a convert of John’s, as seems implied in the words, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (4).
Then he added, “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, even to strangers; Which have borne witness of thy [love] 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” (5-7). What a sidelight this throws on conditions in the early church! As itinerate evangelists and teachers traveled about, they were graciously entertained by such as Gaius and helped on their way. They did not look to the world for sustenance. They recognized the fact that the Lord’s work should be supported by the Lord’s people. Thus they were happily independent of the heathen to whom they ministered, and so had a rightful claim on the sympathetic help of fellow believers. “We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow helpers to the truth” (8). Not everyone may be gifted as preachers or teachers, but all can help those who are and thus keep them independent of the world, but dependent on God.
What a contrast this delightful Christian simplicity is to the unholy and utterly unchristian financial methods of many today who are presumably attempting to follow in the steps of these first century workers! High-pressure efforts to squeeze money out of Christ-rejecters and even carnal Christians is thoroughly opposed to the grace of the gospel. On the other hand Christians need to be reminded that “we ought” to further the gospel by supporting godly men as they launch out in dependence on the Lord.
From verses 9 and 10 we learn that already men had arisen in the churches who were of a narrow sectarian spirit—men of hard, rigid ecclesiastical views who despised these “free lancers,” and refused to recognize anyone outside their “group.” John had evidently written to the church where Gaius was locally connected commending an itinerant named Demetrius, but he said, “Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not” (9). He rejected Demetrius, and in rejecting him he was rejecting the apostle who endorsed him. “Wherefore when I come,” John continued, “I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (10). Diotrephes was the sample ecclesiastic to whom church order meant more than love of Christ’s sheep. “He does not follow us,” would be his slogan, “therefore we cannot receive his ministry or show him fellowship!” Unfortunately, the spiritual descendants of Diotrephes are many. They may be found not only in the great denominations but in the humblest Christian assemblies. They are self-seeking, self-important, self-elected “bishops” and “overseers,” lording it over their brethren and arrogantly relegating to themselves the right to say who may or may not be recognized.
John himself, an inspired apostle, had no fear of the anathema of Diotrephes, but many a humbler worker has been utterly discouraged and turned aside by the presumptuousness of men of similar spirit. And so the message comes: “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God [whether approved by Diotrephes or not], but he that doeth evil [whatever his ecclesiastical standing] hath not seen God” (11).
It is evident that the servant who had been so ruthlessly rejected by this self-elected leader is the man named in verse 12. “Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear [witness]; and ye know that our [witness] is true.” But such a report matters little to those with the spirit of Diotrephes. They could care less that a man is honored of God, that he proclaims the truth, that his walk is blameless, that many can testify to his devotedness, piety, spirituality, and helpfulness of his ministry. These arrogant people feel that if “he foUoweth not with us” he must be treated as a publican and a sinner, or rejected as though he were a blasphemer. What an insult to Christ, the head of the church, and to the Holy Spirit of God! How aptly the second and third Epistles of John thus counterbalance each other—the one testifying against fellowship with apostasy, the other inculcating fellowship in the truth.
The closing verses of 3 John again are too plain to need any comment, but they testify to the freedom of communion between the apostle and his friends in Christ.