Third John – Study #1 (3 John 1-8)
The Good Example of Gaius
The Third Letter of John is a very short letter. The style is like many personal letters that have survived from that era. The entire letter would fit on a single sheet of papyrus. It divides into three main sections, each dealing with issues illistrated by the examples of three specific men; Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius.
He begins with a very simple but profound greeting in 3 John 1-2.
1. The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
2. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
The author of this letter identifies himself as “the Elder”. Evidence points toward it being the Apostle John. He was known as “the Elder” due both to his office in the church, and to his age.
The letter was written to a man named, “Gaius”. That was a very common name at that time. There are several men named “Gaius” in the New Testament, but it doesn’t seem that he was one of these others. Clearly this man was a believer in Christ who knew John personally. The letter expresses John’s deep affection for him. Four times Gaius is referred to in terms of endearment: “beloved” in verses 1,2,5, and11; and as, “whom I love” in verse 1.
The author expresses his desire that three areas of Gaius’s life would go well. The word translated as “pray” or “wish” is the Greek word, “euchomai” (εὔχομαι). It expresses John’s desire that Gaius would succeed in all that he does, that his health would be good, and that there would be success relating to his soul. The word translated as “goes well” in both places in verse 2 is the Greek word, “eudo-o” (εὐοδόω). It’s a compound word meaning “to go along the road well”, “to succeed”.
First, he expresses his desire that Gaius would succeed in all things. This probably has reference to the work he is doing. This would include all those things God called Gaius to be doing. We each have specific areas of responsibility. We need to work to pay for our material needs. We need to be active in encouraging our spouses and children, caring for the elderly and disabled, and being an encouragement to all who are part of our church family. We may not all be sent out as missionaries or as full-time teachers of the gospel, but we are all comissioned to represent God’s glory and the gospel truth in our day-to-day lives.
Next, he says that he desires that Gaius would have good health. To carry out our duties in life and to be able to promote the gospel we need to have a sufficient measure of good health. Caring for our bodies is a responsibility we all have. Our health is an entrustment God has given to us which ought to be preserved so we will be able to live for him.
Finally, John mentions the success Gaius has shown regarding his soul. John acknowledges that Gaius has a healthy soul. It’s evidenced in the comments he makes concerning his love of the truth and care for the needs of God’s people. He explains that he wishes him to prosper in all his duties and to be healthy in body just as he has been successful in the state of his soul.
This is not a “health and wealth” gospel of the “name it claim it” variety. We do not get things because we ask boldly enough to convince God that we should have them. That kind of gospel of material prosperity is heretical and makes man sovereign over God. We are to pray humbly for God’s provisions so that we can carry out our service to him in whatever duties he brings our way in life. What we have is ours by God’s grace. He entrusts us with what he intends for us to have and to use for his glory. We aren’t to pray for things just to make us comfortable and happy. We ask for and receive what will enable us to be good stewards for Christ’s service. James 4:3 reminds us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
John had heard reports about Gaius.
3. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.
4. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Good reports had come to John. He heard that Gaius was walking in truth. John used the same expression in his previous letters. It means living, behaving, in a way that agrees with God’s revealed truth. He wrote in 2 John 1:4, “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.” (see also 1 John 1:7, 2:6,9)
Obeying what God says is right and doing what he calls us to do shows God’s grace at work in someone’s life. The idea that we can honor God without the guidance of his truth is obviously impossible. It’s God’s word that defines what is good and right.
John had good reason to rejoice when he heard that Gaius was walking in the truth. His short letters are filled with references to John being able to rejoice over such things. The verb “rejoice” [“Chairo” (χαίρω)] occurs in 2 John 4 and here in 3 John 3. The noun “joy” [“Chara” (χαρά)] is used similarly in all 3 of John’s epistles: 1 John 1:4, 2 John 12, and here in 3 John 4.
John uses a superlative form of the word here. He has “no greater” joy than this. When believers live by God’s word it evidences and displays God’s converting power. It causes us to appreciate all the more the wide range of promises which become ours in the gospel.
When we live in ways that God teaches us, we become a testimony to God’s work of grace in us. It encourages and influences other believers. It’s part of what it means when we are “witnesses” to Christ. Paul commended the Thessalonian believers for their testimony before the world (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7). John rejoiced in the testimony of the elect lady’s children (2 John 4),
John’s reference to his “children” in verse 4 is used in the spiritual sense. They were not his biological children, but he still loved them as family, his spiritual family, those he had taught and guided to more maturity in Christ.
Gaius had helped traveling believers promoting the gospel.
5. Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are,
6. who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.
7. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.
8. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
There were believers who had gone out to promote the name of our Savior. Some of them had come to John with reports of how Gaius had faithfully helped them. Gaius didn’t know some of them personally so they are referred to here as “strangers” to him. God’s word tells us to care for believers who are away from home. Hospitality was presumed as a good person’s duty (Genesis 18:1-8, 19:1-3, 2 Samuel 12:4, Job 31:32, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 11:5, Acts 10:6, 16:15, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2).
Gaius is encouraged by John to continue to help send out those who promote the name of Christ. They testified that the promise of a Messiah had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Early records show that those spreading the gospel and teaching believers were provided for by the Christians in each community. The Apostle Paul asked Philemon to prepare a guest room for him when he visits him probably in Colossae (Philemon 22). In the non-biblical book of First Clement 1:2 some in Corinth were praised for their hospitality. The Didache (another 1st century christian writing — not authoritative or inspired) says, “Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stays three days, he is a false prophet.” (Didache 11:4-5)
This shows that this practice of hospitality to traveling teachers representing the apostles was common at that time, and that some were suspected of abusing the hospitality offered.
The support and care for these traveling teachers needed to be from the believers. They were to accept nothing from the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 9), the ones who needed to hear the gospel. It’s our duty as the body of Christ to support such men.
Luke 10:7, “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.”
1 Corinthians 9:14, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
1 Timothy 5:17-18, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.’ ”
“You will do well” is a polite request and a wise suggestion (verse 6). Gaius was also expected to send these travelers on their way with provisions. Paul had asked a similar thing of Titus in Titus 3:13, “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing.” They were to be provided for in a way keeping with the honor of their callings.
Gaius provided hospitality to them even when it made him unpopular. A man named Diotraphes was against giving care for these travelers for Christ’s gospel. (There is more about him in our next study.) He was making it hard for those in the church who were supporting these travelers. In contrast, Gaius showed his own strength by obeying God above the pressures of men.
His love and hospitality were an on-going practice. It’s what Gaius had done and is expected to continue to do. It served as proof, evidence, that he was walking in the truth. His love for Christ was not a mere claim. It showed in his life. He walked in a manner worthy of God. We see this evidenced in the lives of other believers in the early church.
Colossians 1:9-10, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,”
1 Thessalonians 2:12, “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
By sending out and supporting those promoting the gospel and other believers in their callings from God we become fellow workers with the truth. The Lord uses not only teachers, but also those who support these Kingdom workers. The Levites depended upon the lay people of Israel for producing food from the land. Israel depended upon the Levites to instruct them in the law and to lead in temple worship. The division of labor in the body of Christ demands this kind of inter-dependence.
When we do well as God’s children in Christ, we mature spiritually and God receives honor and praise.
How can we apply this principle today?
Today we live in a different christian culture than was common in the early days after the resurrection of Christ.
Outreach ministries and full time missionaries need to be supported and helped by believers called to other occupations.
It’s important for local churches to support these ministries for the spread of the gospel and for the establishing of sound churches in places where they are needed. Individual believers can also become directly involved in providing for these full-time Kingdom workers by directly giving to them or housing them when they come through their community.
Since some ministries and missions promote things that are not sound, individual believers should rely upon the leaders of their church to identify worthy missions.
By this we all become workers together in these mission efforts and in the advance of God’s kingdom in Christ. In so doing we also share in the blessing of the work of Christ.
Bob Burridge ©2017
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted