3 Lessons from 3rd John
The 2nd shortest book in the New Testament is not short on valuable lessons that must be learned and applied to the lives of Christians today. Three main points stand out among the many treasures to be found in the apostle John’s letter to Gaius.
Godly Priorities in John’s Concern for Gaius
Several years ago, I attended the wedding of a good friend and during the reception I was greeted by an elder of the local congregation where I grew up. We exchanged the usual warm pleasantries, and then quite out of the blue he turns to me, looks me in the eye and asks gently but firmly, “How is your spiritual life?” I felt as if I had suddenly been struck dumb. “What kind of a question is that?” was the first thought to pop into my head, followed closely by “What should I tell him?” To my memory, I had never been asked that question before, and can count on one hand the number of times since.
We can fall into the trap of only asking about the physical or material well-being of others, to the exclusion of the most important well-being of all: spiritual well-being. Are we concerned at all for the spiritual well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ? (Or do we measure spiritual well-being by the number of times a person does/does not miss worship services?) This is not to say that we are not concerned for the physical and material matters of one another (Acts 2.44-45; 1 Tim. 5.23), but there is a danger in allowing our concern for those things overshadow what spiritually-minded people should primarily be concerned about.
We see in the opening verses of 3rd John that the apostle John is concerned for the physical well-being of Gaius but notice the emphasis on the spiritual state of his beloved friend. John prays that all would “go well” with him, and that he would “be in good health” (v.2), but verse 3 we find what causes John to celebrate: “For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (v.3-4). Imagine if Christians today were to exhibit this level of concern and joy (or sadness, if appropriate) for the spiritual well-being of their brethren. Perhaps they would follow more closely the example of Jesus, who was not unconcerned with the physical but was preoccupied always with the spiritual matters of those around Him.
Contrast: Supporting Brethren vs. Hindering Brethren
John takes the middle portion of this letter (v.5-10) to draw a great contrast between the brethren-supporting actions of Gaius (v.5-8) and the hindrances of one known as Diotrephes (v.9-10). While it is not exactly certain from the text what Gaius did to support his fellow brethren, his efforts do not go unnoticed nor unappreciated by John. Our efforts in supporting those who work among us as servants of the Gospel as well as those who serve in other places is likewise not going to go unnoticed by our God! Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 10.41-42: “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
By contrast, the Christian known as Diotrephes has not been helping fellow Christians in their work. Rather, because of his desire to “put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority” (v.9). We see in this passage what the source of this hindrance is: pride! His desire for preeminence among the brethren where Gaius is located provokes him to whatever actions are necessary to protect his “place”. This causes one to recall the Pharisees, who gave as one of the reasons why they would kill Jesus Christ was to prevent the Romans coming to “take away both our place and our nation” (John 11.49). Diotrephes does not recognize the apostles’ authority, speaking “wicked nonsense” against them. (3 John 10), going even to the point of not welcoming fellow Christians into their number, and expelling those who would do so! (another obvious similarity with the Pharisees: John 9.22, 12,42)
The question a Christian must ask themselves after reading the two accounts is a simple one: which one am I going to be? Will I adopt the servant’s attitude that Jesus taught and commanded from us, welcoming fellow Christians, practicing subjection to the teachings of the apostles, and behaving in a matter worthy of God? Or will I “throw my weight around” in the local congregation, and bully, coerce, gossip, and generally hinder whatever I don’t care for? The truth is Christians will have to answer for how they behave themselves with other brethren.
“Do Not Imitate Evil But Imitate Good”
As is typical of John’s writings, he instructs Gaius in a simple yet powerful way. “Beloved, do not imitate evil, but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” (v.11) John also exhibits another common trait found in his writings, which is one that Jesus Himself employed: a clear division between two groups of people. There are those who do Good, and those who do Evil.
The sometimes-overwhelming temptation Christians must face daily is the desire to do as the world around us does. This world is ruled by Satan (John 12.31), and simply having an overabundance of bad examples around us can tempt Christians to imitate the evil that is around them. This is especially easy to do among other Christians, where it is easy to take for granted their righteousness and goodness. Diotrephes stands as a clear example of a Christian who is to be anything but imitated and followed.
In v.12 John seems to offer up someone whom Gaius would do better to associate with and imitate, another Christian by the name of Demetrius. John speaks as highly of him as any other apostle does of anyone outside of Christ: “Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know our testimony is true.” (v.12) It is valuable to remember here that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27.17), and all Christians need other Christians who will comfort, support, aid, and (when necessary) rebuke them.
John cuts this letter off shorter than he would like to have done and would that we could have heard/read what John spoke to Gaius about when/if they met face-to-face. But despite the brevity of this epistle we have much that teaches us and helps us as we try to lead Christ-like lives. “Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greed the friends, each by name.” (3 John 15).