The last of the short letters from John includes simple reminders to help us improve as ministers of the Gospel. This short narrative seems to be a very personal letter written to John’s friend, Gaius.
John begins with words of encouragement and appreciation for the way Gaius is leading the church. This is similar to his approach in Second John; namely, there is no “but” in reference to Gaius.
It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 3-4
I know we are not to seek earthly glory and honor, but those words must have been so comforting to Gaius. As we read the rest of the letter, we can sense the tension in the church, the strain Gaius must be feeling as their leader. John acknowledges the issue, supports Gaius, and declares he will not let the issue fade. John will confront Diotrephes.
Division by Diotrephes
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 3 John 9-10
Perhaps John wrote a letter that Diotrephes intercepted. Commentors propose two schools of thought that drive Diotrephes: 1) church polity or 2) church doctrine. The first idea is that John is extending his reach too far as the overseer of churches. This is like a contemporary denomination leader trying to control a local church. We don’t have much to discuss regarding church doctrine or polity for that matter, but something has created a considerable division between John and Diotrephes.
The early church is exhibiting signs of struggle as the next generation begins to emerge. John certainly sees the concern and assures his family that he is aware of the problems. I suspect Diotrephes will be long gone if John were able to visit in person. His negative impact will continue to echo in the church if it goes unattended. John will address the nonsense.
What is the problem with Diotrephes? He loves to be first. More than that, he is spreading malicious nonsense about John and his leaders. It gets worse. He does not welcome other believers and encourages others to do the same. This is more than just a personality clash, but we don’t have many clues about the issues at hand.
Presently, there is much talk about Millenials in churches and businesses. As this demographic matures and takes positions of leadership, changes will be required. The question remains relevant today. How do we accept the “me” culture without losing the “we”? Was Diotrephes the first Millenial?
John provides an incredible example of how leaders should lead leaders. The carefully chosen words support Gaius while addressing the need for intervention.
How do we resolve conflict given a great distance and lack of realtime communication? It’s not difficult to imagine the challenges facing John in ancient times. He had to employ emissaries to convey messages just like Paul used to communicate with distant churches. It was important to support the messenger to establish credibility. Referring to Demetrius, John wants those in the house church to listen.
We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. 3 John 12b
John’s kindness is remarkable. I hope we can learn from his pastoral care for Gaius and friends many miles away. Sometimes distance can be a friend. Not having immediate access to his cohorts means he has to take care, to choose his words wisely. But is this limited to distance? Shouldn’t we treat everyone with this much grace? I wonder what would happen if we were to end conversations with this:
I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. 3 John 14
Don’t miss the last phrase: Greet the friends there by name. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but learning names is central to gaining the trust and respect of others. John begins his letter by showing his love and respect for Gaius — by name. He ends the letter by reminding us to do the same. I don’t have any problem remembering the names of my earthly children, brother, or sisters. Lord, help me remember the names of my spiritual family!
p.s., The following seems a bit out of place, but I didn’t want to lose the thought.
I was surprised to read that some have used 3 John 2 as a foundation for their prosperity Gospel as if this were a license to accumulate wealth and material possessions.
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. 3 John 2
I point this out not as my observation, but that from others who have taken this verse out of context and created their own personal movement. In my mind, everything about this verse (along with verse 1) is a simple greeting. The more literal translation it this:
Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 2
By carefully lifting “in all respects you may prosper” and engraving that in stone, it is possible to promote some form of prosperity gospel. In the infamous words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.