1. Salutation and Prayer for Gaius - 1 - 2
"The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper (euodousthai from eu = good + odoo = way) and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." This greeting or wish is in the form of a prayer that reveals much about Gaius. He is not only deeply loved by the apostle, but his spiritual health is better than his physical condition. John was praying that his physical strength might match his spiritual stamina and prosperity. Dare we pray this prayer for our fellow Christians? Most of the time if our physical condition paralleled our spiritual condition, we would be upon the bed of affliction and near death.
Spiritual prosperity is so much more importance than material progress and success. There are multitudes of people who are deeply concerned about the health of their bodies and who bestow the utmost care on the needs of their bodies, but they never give a thought to the health of their souls. Mankind is so concerned that the body is properly nourished and that he must have three meals a day, while he goes unfed spiritually and wonders why God withholds His spiritual blessings upon him. When a child of God fails to read God's Word and when he fails to worship God on the Lord's Day, malnutrition of the soul will develop, and he will become spiritually bankrupt. John prayed that Gains' bodily health and general prosperity may match the prosperity of his soul.
2. Commendation of Gains - 3, 4
"For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." Traveling brethren had reported to John the graciousness of Gaius and his walk in the truth. Because Gaius remained firm in the gospel, it afforded John much joy when the brethren spoke so highly of the sincerity and fidelity of his life. His practical life was in perfect harmony with his profession of Christ and his acceptance of the doctrine of Christ. He was a man in whom the divine truth lived which gives convincing evidence that he has life from God. The truth is IN HIM, and he walks IN THE TRUTH.
Furthermore, John rejoices in the soul prosperity of all believers. Every genuine servant of the Lord, and more especially the true minister of the gospel rejoices when he hears of men walking in the truth. But the writer seems to express additional joy which arose from the close tie by which he and Gaius were united. No doubt, Gaius was his child in the faith; he had probably been saved under the preaching of John. The success of a young man in temporal matters brings great joy to the parents. Likewise, there is even greater joy when Christian parents see their children give their hearts to God, and walk daily in the truth.
3. Hospitality to Missionaries - 5 - 7
Herein is a beautiful picture of true mission work. "Beloved, thou does faithfully whatever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers (zenous), who have borne witness of thy love before the church; whom, if thou bring forward on their journey (propempsas) after a godly sort, thou shalt do well, because for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." Herein can be the principle of sending and supporting missionaries as they preach the gospel. Evidently word had come to the apostle that Gaius was showing special kindness to his brother missionaries. His loyalty and faithfulness enabled him to offer hospitality to Christian brethren even when they were strangers. He took them unto his himself, cared for them, and sent them on their gospel journey in a manner worthy of their calling as messengers of God. To "bring forward on their journey" meant "to speed the parting guests and sometimes accompanying them, sometimes providing money and food" (Hobbs, p. 166).
A genuine hospitality is one of the most beautiful and gainful duties to God's children. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren (fed them, given drink, clothed them, and visited them), ye have done it unto me." Gaius treated the ambassadors royally for the sake of the King Who had sent them. He would certainly hear at the judgment his Lord's word of approval, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." The missionaries were laboring in the Name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, and those who supported them were to receive a reward because their work was just as important. The missionaries were to receive nothing for themselves from the heathen whom they were sent to evangelize. Yeager says, "The brethren were traveling from place to place for Jesus' sake as they carried His gospel. They had no financial support from the unsaved people to whom they witnessed ...There is no record in the New Testament that any sincere Christian used the gospel as a means of making money for himself beyond expenses" (Vol. XVII, p. 442). Since the apostles and teachers were refused help or hospitality of the Gentiles, the Christians ought to receive them into their homes and entertain them.
So the Third Epistle of John may be called a missionary epistle. It brings before us a band of laborers going to the heathen, proclaiming salvation in the name of Jesus, and even being willing to die for Him, and, furthermore, it encourages support for these missionaries from the churches who send them out. Those who support the missionaries are fellow-workers and they will have their reward in the work of spreading the truth. "John is anxious that Christian missionaries receive nothing from the heathen, as our missionaries have to watch against the charge of being after money" (Robertson, VI, p. 262).
4. Receive Christian Missionaries - 8
"We, therefore, ought to receive such, that we might be fellow helpers (sunergoi) or companion in labor to the truth." The one who gives to support the missionary is himself a missionary in the truest sense of the word. He who goes and he who sends are ONE in the work of the Great Commission. The great missionary to India, William Carey, compared his missionary work to the exploration of a mine when he said, "Yonder in India is a gold mine, I will descend and dig, but you at home must hold the ropes."
1. Domineering Diotrephes - 9 - 11
"I wrote unto the church, but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not" (verse 9). We know nothing of Diotrephes except what is told us here in this letter, and he certainly appears in a very unfavorable light. John seems to have written a previous letter to the church of which Gaius and Diotrephes were members; either this letter was lost or Diotrephes suppressed it. Possibly it could have been this letter (III John).
There were three characteristics that stand out in the personality of this rebellious individual. First, it is said of him - he "loved to have the pre-eminence (philoproteuon) or was fond of being first among them;" that is, in the church. Diotrephes was a man of self-glory. He had sought and gained a place of prominence among those who had accepted Christ as Savior, and he was committing a sin against the Head of the church. Doubtless, the Holy Spirit and prayer had been pushed aside by him, and he dared to put his will for the will of God. In utter contempt of the teachings of Jesus he wanted to "lord it" over God's heritage which was strictly forbidden of Jesus according to Matthew 20:25 - 28, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them and they that are great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
A second sin of which Diotrephes was guilty is found in verse 10, "Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words; and not content with that, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church." He was guilty of prating (phluaron) or babbling (literally, talking nonsense) against the elder which was at least uncharitable and possibly some doctrinal differences were involved. This ambitious, arbitrary, jealous, self-seeking Diotrephes was "boiling over" or "bubbling up" with malicious (ponepios) or wicked words. He was not merely an empty "windbag," but his words were malicious and perniciously evil words.
The aged apostle is not afraid of Diotrephes; in fact, he defies him, indicating that he will deal in not so gentle a fashion with this arrogant man. Furthermore, the writer points out a third characteristic of this one - he refuses to welcome the traveling missionaries sent out by the churches. Diotrephes has turned the church, which was established to further the gospel, into an opponent of the gospel, and even brought about the dismissal of the missionary-minded from the fellowship. Diotrephes manifests a spirit of antichrist, indeed!
All of this adds up to a sin of terrific proportions. When an individual gets in the way of the progress of the gospel, he commits a grave crime against Christ, against His servants, against the Word of truth, against the eternal welfare of immortal souls and against all that is high and holy. Christianity has made great gains, in spite of false professors and much unfortunate work and has proven itself divine. Non-participation in the spread of the gospel marks an individual as a member of the tribe of Diotrephes.
"Beloved, follow (mimou) or do not mimic 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." John is saying to the beloved Gaius, "What Diotrephes has done is evil; do it not, but receive the brother missionaries, for it is right, and right is of God. You do well when you support the missionaries. What Diotrephes did is evidence that he has not seen God. Imitation of evil would be to follow Diotrephes and abandon the precious practice of hospitality to the missionaries sent out by the churches. Your well-doing, your kindness, your Christian helpfulness, proves your alliance with God in a spiritual nature. He that manifests the likeness of God is related to Him in the new birth.
Robertson says, "This ambition of Diotrephes does not prove that he was a bishop over elders...He may have been an elder (bishop) or deacon, but clearly desired to rule the whole church. Some forty years ago I wrote an article on Diotrephes for a denominational paper. The editor told me that twenty-five deacons stopped the paper to show their resentment against being personally attacked in the paper" (VI, p. 263).
2. Godly Demetrius - 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." John's idea here is, without a doubt, to contrast Diotrephes and Demetrius. He would say, "Rather than imitate Diotrephes, I would that you imitate Demetrius because Demetrius is an example of one who 'has seen God'." The example of this man is a noble one to follow, he is supported by a threefold testimony. First, he is well-spoken of by his church and perhaps the churches at large. He has a "good report of all men." Secondly, he has the testimony of "the truth itself." The truth here is the Christian faith as opposed to the Gnostic heresy. Thirdly, he has the witness of the apostle himself as well as his fellow-workers at Ephesus.
3. The Conclusion - 13, 14
"I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee, but I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends greet thee. Greet the friends by name." The apostle hopes to see Gaius immediately and to speak to him face to face. Meanwhile, he invokes on his dear friend at the end of his letter his Divine blessing. The last verse has a very personal tone. The expression, "Peace be unto you," is the normal Jewish SHALOM. How appropriate this benediction, seeing what troubles and distractions surrounded Gaius, and what anxieties and pains naturally filled his soul! And to know that Gaius had the blessings and prayers of many friends was no less an encouragement to him.