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Good Things Come in Small Packages

The 3rd Letter of John

Mike Wencel


Date Written: ± 90 A.D.

Read the whole chapter through first


[1]  The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

The Elder – was John an elder in the early church?  The Greek word here is “Presbuteros” which is the same Greek word used in Paul’s epistles that describe the qualification of elders of the church. But the term elder can also be used just to signify an older man. It may not be particularly important, because John’s office as an apostle would supersede the office of elder anyway. John certainly meets the qualifications for an elder, although it is not mentioned in the Bible whether he had a wife or children. Perhaps addressing himself as Elder was to shield himself from persecution, as addressing himself Apostle would single him out, as is the only apostle believed to be alive at this time.  

Guy N. Woods says: He was, in point of years, an exceedingly old man when he wrote this missive, and the relationship which he sustained to his readers was that of a father counseling his children. Inasmuch as “The” appears before "elder," emphasis is given to the writer as a person, rather than to an official position. He is here called an elder because he was an old man.


Gaius Who is Gaius? Nelsons Bible Dictionary notes there are several men named Gaius in the New Testament:

     1. A native of Macedonia and a companion of the apostle Paul (Acts 19:29).

     2. A man of Derbe who accompanied Paul as far as Asia (Acts 20:4). He may be the same person as No. 3.

     3. A Corinthian who was baptized under Paul’s ministry (1st Cor 1:14).

     4. The person to whom John addressed his third letter. He may be the same person as No. 3.


The name Gaius means “lord” (small L)


One thing we know for sure is that Gaius was dearly loved by John. In this short letter or only 14 verses,  John uses the term beloved or love in relation to Gaius 5 times. This is a touching picture of two brothers in Christ sharing a special bond of love for each other based on their mutual love for Christ.


The idea of love between two men has been perverted and corrupted to such an extent that most people now immediately interpret such love as a homosexual relationship of some type. It is so sad how man has taken beautiful things and degraded them into something carnal.  Think about David and Jonathan.   

The word translated beloved, in the Greek is agapetos and the word love is the Greek word agapao, and this informs us that their love for one another was of the highest spiritual type of agape love.

Vine states that agape and agapao are used often in the NT:

l to describe the attitude of God toward His Son

John 17:26b

 that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. )


l to describe the attitude of God toward  the human race, generally

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us


l to describe the attitude of God toward those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

John 14:21

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him


l to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude toward one another

John 13:34

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you,     that you also love one another.


l to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude toward all men,

1 Thess 3:12

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to                   all,  just as we do to you.

1 Cor 16:14

Let all that you do be done with love.


l to express the essential nature of God,

1 John 4:8

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 


Whom I love in truth – Barnes notes that the meaning here is, that he “truly” or “sincerely” loved them, based on one of Strong’s definition of the word truth which is simply “truly”.  


This is the highest form of love and it is the type of love that we should all strive to have                    for our Christian brothers and sisters




[2] Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 

NT Restoration Commentary: Here is the standard by which to determine how rich one may safely become: just so long as the soul prospers! So long as one enjoys soul prosperity, his riches bless and benefit not only himself, but others; but when they impair spiritual health, the interests of the soul demand, as in the case of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17 31) that a surgical operation be performed and they be severed from us!


Barnes: John had learned, it would seem, from the “brethren” who had come to him, that Gaius was living as became a Christian; that he was advancing in the knowledge of the truth, and was exemplary in the duties of the Christian life; and he prays that in all other respects he might be prospered as much as he was in that. It is not very common that a man is more prospered in his spiritual interests than he is in his other interests, or that we can, in our wishes for the welfare of our friends, make the prosperity of the soul, and the practice and enjoyment of religion, the standard of our wishes in regard to other things. It argues a high state of piety when we can, as the expression of our highest desire for the welfare of our friends, express the hope that they may be in all respects as much prospered as they are in their spiritual concerns.


[3] For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. 

Thayer defines the word truth as: ¢ what is true in things pertaining to God and the duties of man - moral and religious truth ¢ the true notions of God which are open to human reason without his supernatural intervention ¢ the truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man, opposing alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians.

In other words,  the truth is another term for the Bible because it the only reliable source of God’s will for man.   


John makes two distinctions in regards to truth: (1) the truth that is in you and (2) walking in truth

Thayer defines the word walking here as: to make one’s way, progress; to make due use of opportunities;  to live;  to regulate one’s life; to conduct one’s self


Knowing the truth is of little value if you are not walking in the truth, that is to say that your outward behavior does not reflect the truth that you know in your mind, as revealed by God in his Word.

I am reminded of a phrase in the hymn Trust and Obey: When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way, when we do his good will he abides with us still…  

This commendation of Gaius from John gives us a good picture of the kind of man Gaius was – a  righteous man, not a hypocrite, and one whose values are aligned with God’s.


[4] I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. 

When John uses the word children he is referring to people whom he, or one of his helpers converted, or brought to the faith. It is a term of endearment, and has nothing to do with physical age.

Thayer says: pupils or disciples are called children of their teachers, because the latter by their instruction nourish the minds of their pupils and mold their characters.


The relationship between the teacher and the pupil is akin to the physical parent-child relationship – the same nurturing love, concern for the pupil’s welfare, desire for the best for the pupil, happiness on their growth and successes etc.


This joy of John mirrors God’s joy when His children walk in the truth. What more can man                     ask for than to know that God is pleased with him.


[5] Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers,  [6] who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well,  [7] because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles.  [8] We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.

It the first century there were many who traveled around preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. These itinerant teachers need a place to stay when night fell, and because of the scarcity of inns and the unscrupulous price gouging that some innkeepers practiced, they would prefer to stay in a Christian brother or sister’s home. Apparently Gaius was a person of godly hospitality who opened his home or another suitable home or shelter for these travelling teachers.  


John commends Gaius for his generosity and stresses the importance of this kindness, because these preachers were going forth for God’s sake, to preach His word, with no pay, perhaps having left family behind, and having only the few things they could carry with them. Without people to provide them shelter, food and drink, they would not be able to do their vital work in saving souls, and Gaius was wise enough to understand this. In a way, his contribution to their work was as vital as their work itself. That’s why John says that extending this kind of hospitality will allow them to become fellow workers for the truth.

Not everyone will be a teacher or preacher, but those who are not, can support those who are, financially, materially and spiritually, and they too will be workers for the spreading of the truth.


We sometimes fall into a trap of not wanting to contribute to the church, because it is only used for seemingly mundane things like paying the electric bills, or maintaining the building. But without those activities we would not have a conducive place for worship, for fellowship, for learning, and for hosting visitors, so those things are essential to the continuance of the church – we need to think of them in that way.        


This kindness to strangers is mentioned several times in the bible, for example, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30), in Hebrews 13:2 -  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. 


[9] I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.

Strong’s definition of the word translated “pre-eminence” gives us some insight into Diotrephes personality:

   “to be fond of being first, that is, ambitious of distinction”. Thayer says: “to desire to be first”

Very little is known about Diotrephes except what is written here, He may have been an elder or deacon, probably a Judaizer.  He refused to receive a former letter sent by John, thereby declining to submit to his directions or acknowledge his authority, moreover circulating malicious slanders against the apostle, and exercising an undue, arbitrary, and pernicious influence in the church. NOT THE KIND OF GUY YOU WANT TO HAVE OVERSEEING YOUR CHURCH! I imagine if he had his way his church would be named the church of Diotrophes, not the church of Christ


AS Christians, humility needs to be our hallmark. Humility is the opposite of desiring preeminence. Recall Proverbs 29:23 - A man's pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor. 


[10] 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. 

Here John makes it known to Gaius, that when John is able to be there in person, he plans to confront  Diotrephes, address his error and exercise his authority as an apostle to take the necessary action to restore that church to way it should be. John has every right to disfellowship Diotrephes if he refuses to repent and change his behavior. He is harming the church, and causing souls to be lost, and John can not allow that to continue.  

Diotrophes appears to be ruling this church in a dictatorial iron-handed way. He certainly did not take to heart the Hebrew writer’s admonition in  Hebrews 13:17 to “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”


Prating against us”:  Thayer:  to utter nonsense, talk idly,  to bring forward idle accusations, make empty charges, to accuse one falsely with malicious words.

Barnes: the grounds of the opposition of Diotrephes is not fully stated, but it seems to have arisen from two sources:

(a) A desire to rule in the church; and,

(b) A particular opposition to the writer of this Epistle, and a denial of any obligation to recognize his instructions or commendations as binding. The idea seems to have been that the church was entirely independent, and might receive or reject any whom it pleased, though they were commended to them by an apostle.

That he was a man of influence is apparent; that he was proud, ambitious, and desirous of ruling, is equally clear; and that he prevailed upon the church not to receive the strangers commended to them by the apostle is equally obvious.


This is a perfect example of why Paul insisted on a plurality of elders in each congregation, so that this very type of preeminence of one man would not occur. One can see by Diotrephes’ example how much trouble this can cause without a proper system of checks and balances in place.  This also demonstrates the need for dis-fellowshipping of rebellious members/leaders before they do irreparable damage to the church.


Diotrephes also does not meet these qualifications of an elder:

1st Tim 3:6-7

Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Titus 1:7-11

For a bishop must be blameless, … not selfwilled, … a lover of hospitalitya lover of good men, just, holy, Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not

It almost sounds like Paul is describing Diotrephes!  


As an interesting side note I will give you this tidbit with no comment, and let you form your own thoughts about it: The Catholic Pope's proper title, according to the Vatican's website, is Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.

Do those sound like titles of preeminence to you?


[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. 

Barnes: There can be no doubt that in this exhortation the writer had Diotrephes particularly in his eye, and that he means to exhort Gaius not to imitate his example. He was a man of influence in the church, and though Gaius had shown that he was disposed to act in an independent manner, yet it was not improper to exhort him not to be influenced by the example of any ne who did wrong.


It’s wonderful that God gives us not only good examples of people to emulate but bad examples to not emulate.  There is much for us to learn from both types of characters.



[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. 

Nothing is known about Demetrius but that he was a good Christian man.

Coffman: Three forms of testimony of Demetrius' character were cited. (1) "the witness of all men," that is, general consensus of opinion. This is good up to a point but can be wrong. (2) Testimony from a trusted friend(s) is more reliable but (3) the integrity of Christian character in which "the gospel exhibits itself in life" crowns all else


A stranger doesn’t have to know a lot about you to determine whether you are a good Christian or not. That should be obvious without your having to say a word.



[13] I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink;  [14] 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 realizes that writing is a poor substitute for face to face communication, and he is anxious to be able to communicate with Gaius in a more personal and intimate way in the near future. And undoubtedly Gaius would be very happy to see John too. After all John, had seen so much, been with Jesus for 3 years, suffered for Christ and was now an old man full of wisdom and the truth. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with him?  

If it were me. I would want to spend as much time as I possibly could with this aged apostle who had such a close relationship with Jesus. Imagine having someone like that for a teacher and friend!