The apostle John’s third epistle has a message for three individuals, and a larger message for Christians of all ages. What can we learn from this short book?
The epistle called 3 John concerns three individuals, and in this letter the apostle John sends an essential message to each of them:
As in his first two epistles, John continues to stress the importance of “the truth” and how he was filled with joy when he heard of those who “walk in the truth” (verses 3-4). He encourages support for those who “become fellow workers for the truth” (verse 8).
Outline of 3 John
- Introductory greeting (verses 1-4).
- Gaius commended (verses 5-8).
- Diotrephes—a poor Christian example (verses 9-11).
- Demetrius—highly commended (verse 12).
- Farewell greeting (verses 13-14).
“To the beloved Gaius”
The epistle is addressed to Gaius, whom John refers to as “the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth” (verse 1). With reference to Gaius, John “rejoiced greatly” when he was informed “of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth” (verse 3).
John commends Gaius for his love of the brethren and the hospitality and generosity he showed to strangers (verses 5-8)
Diotrephes, the troublemaker
Although apparently prominent in the Church, Diotrephes allowed ambition to create problems among the members. He even attempted to excommunicate members who did not agree with or opposed him, and he apparently succeeded in putting some out of the congregation (verse 10). “Diotrephes is damaging John’s own character, suppressing his letter, spreading lies, hugging his own position as leader” (David and Pat Alexander, The Lion Handbook to the Bible, p. 643).
John encourages us to imitate good rather than evil and, in so doing, to fulfill the will of God (verse 11).
Demetrius, a distinguished example
Demetrius may have been the messenger who brought the epistle to Gaius. John holds him in high regard and states that he “has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself” (verse 12, emphasis added throughout).
There could be no better endorsement and words of encouragement for Demetrius from the aging apostle!
What is the love of God?
John also emphasizes the love of God in this epistle as he had in his other writings. “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, 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” (verses 5-6). This giving service to others in a way that is pleasing to God is the essence of the two great commandments.
Contrary to what some professing Christians have been taught, Christ did not come to do away with the 10 Commandments. He lived a good and perfect life as an example to us, not to absolve us from obedience to His beneficial laws.This backs up the definition he gave in 2 John 1:6: “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.”
John’s definition is different from the commonly held belief that all Christians have to do is “believe in the Lord Jesus.” Many believe that God’s commandments have somehow been “done away” and “nailed to the cross.” Contrary to what some professing Christians have been taught, Christ did not come to do away with the 10 Commandments. He lived a good and perfect life as an example to us, not to absolve us from obedience to His beneficial laws.
Instead, Christ came to “exalt the law and make it honorable” (Isaiah 42:21). He stated that He did not come to do away with the law, but to magnify the law and help us understand its spiritual intent: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).
The word translated “fulfill” means: “To cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment: Mt. v. 17” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
Farewell: Peace be to you
In John’s farewell message he demonstrates his personal love and genuine concern for each individual. To him, they were not simply a few faceless people in another region. Each member of the Church is important to God, as each was also to John.
The word “peace” in verse 14 is the traditional Jewish greeting. It encompasses the aspirations, the desires and the hopes of God’s people throughout the ages—of a time when Christ will return to usher in peace, prosperity and an abundant life for all peoples and nations.
Each person is offered the opportunity to be part of the solution to the daily ills tormenting so many human beings at this time. There will come a day when “the former things have passed away,” including tears of grief and sadness, sorrow, pain and death (Revelation 21:4).
God offers an eternal reward to those willing to accept His Word and who walk in His truth (Revelation 22:12-14). However, God will not force anyone to accept His offer, but encourages us, as the apostle Paul said, to “leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of my high calling by God in Christ” (Philippians 3:13-14, J.B. Phillips Translation).
Paul, like John, was willing to put his energy, his entire life, into reaching the ultimate goal God had set before him.
We can as well!
For further study, read the articles in the section “General Epistles.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.