The Third Epistle Of John: How to deal with Controlling Individuals

Dec 12th, 2009 | By | Category: 1st & 2nd & 3rd John, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

The Third Epistle Of John: How to deal with Controlling Individuals

3 John 1 The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.

John’s third epistle was addressed to a consecrated individual named Gaius. The aged apostle again called himself “the elder” (see 2 John 1). He loved Gaius “in the truth.” By addressing him this way, John was implying that many were following false teachers.

3 John 2 Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

The King James is a poor translation using archaic English, but probably Gaius was in ill health. Some translations are similar to the following: “I know it is well with your soul, and I hope you are healthy in a natural sense as well.” John prayed that all would go well with Gaius and that he would be in good health, even as his soul prospered. He did not pray for temporal health “above all things.”

John’s first epistle was general, for it was not addressed to any individual or class; it was like saying, “To whom it may concern.” The second and third epistles were pastoral but addressed to individuals. The second epistle was addressed to “the elect lady,” which was probably the personal name Cyria, and the third was definitely addressed to an individual by name.

Q: Is Acts 19:29 talking about the same Gaius? “And the whole city [of Ephesus] was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.”

A: It could be the same, but Gaius was a familiar name, so we do not know.

3 John 3 For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.

John was glad to hear about the zeal of Gaius in the truth. Gaius did not merely believe, know, and speak the truth, but he walked in the truth; that is, his deeds matched his good profession.

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

John might have been involved with Gaius’s coming into the truth originally. Being older, John spoke patronizing to the faithful younger brethren, calling them “my children.”

3 John 5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers;

3 John 6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:

As testified by the brethren, Gaius was very hospitable. Romans 16:23 mentions Gaius as the “host” of Paul “and of the whole church.” If he was only in his twenties at that time, then John was addressing the same Gaius, who would now be in his 80’s.

Other brethren visited Gaius and stayed with him. Many of these consecrated ones were strangers, but he entertained them in good faith. These brethren brought back a good report to John. Possibly this very letter was delivered to Gaius by one whom he would then receive and entertain.

Moreover, when the brethren departed, Gaius gave them  a financial contribution to help themon to their next destination. However, one with such a generous disposition had to be careful to properly discriminate in regard to troublemakers and false teachers.

Of course the original word “charity” conveyed the thought of “love,” but verses 5 and 6 are emphasizing the generosity and hospitality of Gaius in every way, both spiritually and materially, “to the brethren, and to strangers.”

“If thou bring forward on their [missionary] journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well.” In connection with missionary efforts, it was suggested that brothers bring with them letters of commendation identifying them with a particular ecclesia, for example.

3 John 7 Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.

Verse 7 is a further confirmation that Gaius gave visiting brethren temporal help: food, shelter, financial contributions, clothing, etc.

3 John 8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow helpers to the truth.

“We therefore ought to receive such [brethren who are sent out as missionaries].” Hospitality is part of Christian service “that we might be fellow helpers to the truth.”

3 John 9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

3 John 10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.

Diotrephes was a dominant personality in that area. John had previously written to “the church,” to the ecclesia, which was probably in someone else’s house, that is, not in the house of Gaius. The first letter was not fruitful, so now John was writing to Gaius.

Diotrephes “loveth to have the preeminence” and considered himself superior to the Apostle John. Being high-minded, he did not respect John and was “prating against” him and brethren more favorable to him. Diotrephes wanted to get rid of those in the class who adhered to John’s thinking and advice. By his malicious words toward John and his sympathizers, Diotrephes was presumptuously assuming a false leadership.

The attitude of Diotrephes was entirely different from that of Gaius. Diotrephes not only did not receive pilgrim brothers but cast them out if they did not agree with him, and he forbade others to receive them. John pointed out Diotrephes by name.

Gaius did well to ignore Diotrephes and to continue to entertain the pilgrim brothers, yet Diotrephes spoke against them when they visited the ecclesia. He also spoke maliciously against the apostles. John indicated that if he visited that ecclesia, he would remember what Diotrephes had done and would not just cover everything over with “love.” John would take action and sharply rebuke him.

Diotrephes “casteth them out of the church.” He was so bold that he cast out those he did not regard favorably. He wanted to dominate and put himself first, slandering the apostles in the process. This was a blatant manifestation of hating the brethren who were faithful to the truth. No doubt a split would occur in this ecclesia if it had not already happened. In his first epistle, John mentioned those who separated and “went out” from him (1 John 2:19).

Possibly one reason John wrote this epistle is that he had heard what was going on, and he knew of Gaius’s hospitality. Also, he knew that Diotrephes would castigate Gaius and excommunicate him from the class. In fact, Gaius may already have been excommunicated, and if so, John would be encouraging him.

Comment: John treated this situation with strength—similar to the way Paul handled the immorality problem in the Corinthian church. Both apostles acted as if they were present in the ecclesia, making strong statements. John even said that if the problem had not been corrected by the time he came in person, he would remember the evil deeds. He would not let the problem rest because a principle was being violated.

Reply: Yes, instead of being the apostle of love here, he was a son of “Boanerges [thunder]” (Mark 3:17).

Comment: The situation with Diotrephes is a good illustration of where it is necessary to meet strength with strength.

Comment: The RSV reads, “I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, prating against me with evil words. And not content with that, he refuses himself to welcome the brethren, and also stops those who want to welcome them and puts them out of the church.”

Q: Did Diotrephes “cast out” the ones in the ecclesia who received the outside brethren, or was he casting out the outside brethren?

A: He did both. He forbade some from coming in, and he forbade some who were already in but were not in harmony with him.

3 John 11 Beloved, follow not 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.

3 John 12 Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.

John’s advice was, “Beloved, follow not that which is [obviously] evil, but that which is good.”

He was speaking pragmatically; that is, “Common sense tells you, from a scriptural standpoint, what to do in regard to Diotrephes.” When we read John’s epistles from the standpoint of their being written in the second (or Smyrna) period of the Church, his advice is easy to understand, but if we read them from our standpoint—from the type of environment and thinking of today—the advice does not square. However, when conditions change at the end of the age, John’s epistles will come back to life again.

Demetrius had a good report of everyone, and his doctrine was sound. “We also bear record”; that is, John put his stamp of approval on Demetrius. According to tradition, this Demetrius is the same one who caused the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:24-40). If so, he later became converted, and John would have been reassuring the brethren that Demetrius was a changed character from what he formerly was.

Demetrius may have been in the same ecclesia, or else he was in one nearby. John commended him for being both loving and straight in the truth. If he was in another ecclesia, this was a brother Gaius could meet with. Or if Demetrius was in the same class with Gaius, John was suggesting that they split from the class and meet together. Apparently, Diotrephes and Demetrius were teachers but not Gaius.

For verse 11, the Revised Standard has, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God.” John was saying to Gaius, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump, so do not stay with Diotrephes and get contaminated by his clearly manifested evil deeds and words. Separate and follow good with Demetrius.”

“He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.” Someone doing evil can be easily discerned through malicious words and bad deeds, but to discern someone who is doing good is more difficult. Unless one is reflective, observing, and trying to exercise proper judgment, the good can be overlooked. For example, doing good can include visiting the sick, supporting those who are imprisoned for speaking the truth, holy and humble daily living, and being hospitable to the brethren.

Comment: John was recommending that the brethren disfellowship Diotrephes, who would fall under the category of a railer (1 Cor. 5:11). To prate against someone with evil words is railing.

Reply: Yes. John would take care of Diotrephes when he came. In fact, he would do a twofold work: (1) He would nullify the influence of Diotrephes, and (2) he would coalesce, or bring back into good fellowship, those who had been cast out by Diotrephes. John would restore into united fellowship those who could be restored.

Q: Was Diotrephes a further example of the Nicolaitan (lordship) spirit that started in the first period of the Church?

A: Yes, that is true. In the Ephesus period, Peter and Paul right away identified individuals who manifested the Nicolaitan spirit. John was now doing the same thing but somewhat belatedly.

There was progressive deterioration. The mystery of iniquity worked in a few individuals in Ephesus. More and more individuals with the Nicolaitan spirit sprang up boldly in the Smyrna period. The Nicolaitan doctrine was affecting entire ecclesias during the Pergamos period, impregnating the Church with error.

“He that doeth [practices] good is of God: but he that doeth [practices] evil hath not seen God.” John was speaking of a pattern of doing good versus a pattern of speaking malicious and bitter words and doing bad deeds.

“Ye know that our record is true.” Not only was John giving his approval, but he had inside information through communication with the Holy Spirit in a special way.

3 John 13 I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:

John hoped to soon visit Gaius in person, for certain matters were on his mind that would be burdensome to put in writing. To come personally into their midst would be more efficient. The epistles were written on parchment with pen and ink. Parchment was first made in Pergamos in Asia Minor, which John visited.

3 John 14 But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.

“But I trust I shall shortly see thee [primarily Gaius plus those who were in communication with him], and we shall speak face to face.” John intended to come in person, whereas Paul had threatened to come to Corinth if some did not listen to his advice.

John and his friends sent their greetings to Gaius and his friends. “Greet the friends by name.”

This selective greeting was to be by name to make sure that everyone walking in truth got John’s love. Some of these “friends” might have been cast-out or separated brethren. Others may have still been in the ecclesia because they had failed to take a stand; being weak, they needed advice.

1997 Study with Excerpts from 1982-1983 Study

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