Having seen the message of 2 John, we now come to the next short book, which is 3 John, has a different message, and John writes to a different person and for a different purpose. He writes here to the beloved Gaius. If we notice in 2 John, he does not write to the beloved lady, although he can, as an elder and apostle, but he uses wise discernment in his writings, and we too should use wise discernment in who we address, whether it is verbal or in writing. The thought of the truth is also brought out here in verses 1-4. This is the same truth that is in 2 John.
If 2 John was written to a household, we can say that 3 John was written to a local church (assembly), or local place of gathering. In those days, and even in some parts of our world today, there are local gatherings at a person’s home, so it may be that Gaius’ place of gathering with his brethren was at his home. 2 John warns against deceivers, namely those who present fatal teaching that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh. However, 3 John encourages us to receive the faithful servants of God, the brethren who labour and work for the Lord.
3 John presents to us 3 different characters, and these characteristics are pretty much in each and every local place of gathering. The characters are Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius. They may all have been from the same local place of gathering, and therefore present different characteristics of a Christian believer. Sadly, some characteristics are negative, where we allow the flesh in us (the old sinful nature) to take its course and guide our lives, we can cause trouble in our local place of gathering. Such was the character of Diotrephes. John here writes to Gaius and commends him for receiving visiting brethren and welcoming them to their local church. Gaius not only had the truth, but showed it by walking in the truth and this was evident by him showing interest in other believers (verses 1-4). As having the truth and walking in it, he acted faithfully not only towards those in the local church, but also to strangers and those who visit, who were devoted to the service of the Lord. May we all strive to be like Gaius. It is not enough to have the truth; we need to walk in it. There is nothing to suggest that Gaius was gifted at all as a teacher or preacher, but he definitely used what God gave him in his sphere of gathering and did it cheerfully, and received the faithful brethren and visitors from afar.
The next person is Diotrephes. If in Gaius we see a good example of a believer, in Diotrephes we see the flesh working in the life of a believer, which causes trouble and sadness among those gathered together in the local church. Diotrephes loved the first place in the local church (verse 9). This is rather serious, because the Person who should have the first place is the Lord Jesus Christ, and not man. Yes, there is a responsibility for man, but not lording it over the sheep, but to shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-3). Diotrephes wanted to be seen as important and prominent, and one may conclude that by this, he was a gifted person in preaching and teaching, but the gift was spoilt by his pre-eminence. Dear reader, you may be gifted in preaching and/or teaching, but if this causes for you to love being pre-eminent in your local place of gathering, then it will spoil the gift. Diotrephes was marked by being vainglorious (Galatians 5:26; Philippians 2:3). This always leads to jealousy, and here is the issue that John is getting to.
When we love to have the first place in the local church and do things through strife or vainglory, then jealousy arises. How? We may feel insecure because another gifted labouring brother who is visiting may give a word from the Scripture, and through this we may be offended and think that a stranger has no place in our local church. We are forgetting that he is a brother in Christ. This is the problem of Diotrephes. Feeling insecure and moved with jealousy, he speaks ‘wicked words’ against John and the other visitors who come to the local place of gathering. As a gifted brother, Diptrephes was most likely one who asserted his own views about certain teachings, and if anyone disagreed, he would put them in his ‘black book’ and have a desire to take negative actions against the person. Moreover, he does not receive these brethren who visit from afar, or close, and even prevents those who would receive the faithful brethren. He does this to the extent that he casts them outside of the local church (verse 10). Does this mean excommunication? Surely one brother cannot excommunicate a group of brethren from the local church. So, what do we do with a character like Diotrephes? Do we as part of the local church cast him out? John does not prescribe, or even encourage this. We still admonish him as a brother and not treat him as an enemy. Yes, it is difficult to do that, but if we are serious Christians and serious in our relationship with the Lord, we can bear with such a brother. After all, he is also a brother, and one whom the Lord Jesus died for. Some people have been disheartened and left their local church for the reason that too many ‘Diotrephes’ characters exist. May it not be like that in our local church.
The last person is Demetrius, who is written of as ‘has witness borne to him by all, and by the truth itself’ (verse 12). Demetrius, we can say, was well known to all in the local church, and therefore it may be concluded that he was gifted and moved around where the Lord’s people were gathered, he visited them to encourage them and help them in the Word of God. We can see the opposite sides of two gifted brothers – Demetrius and Diotrephes. A brother may be gifted and not be a vain, or self-assertive man, or not seeking a prominent place in the local church. This should be the character of a believer who is gifted and seeks the glory of the Lord. Diotrephes was self-assertive and always wanted his own way, but it was not so with Demetrius, and should not be so with any of us.
Demetrius also had a good report of all that were in contact with him, and they witnessed to his integrity because he also walked faithfully in the truth and in accordance with the teaching of the apostles. These are the characters of Christians in the local church, and it is good that gifted brothers freely move among the people of the Lord ministering the Word. May we learn from both the positive examples (Gaius and Demetrius) and take heed from the negative example of Diotrephes, and if we continue following the good example, we will have a good report of all that we come in contact with.