This third Epistle is a private, personal letter written to Gaius, who was no doubt a very hospitable Christian. John addresses this letter, not to the church as such, but to a faithful brother for the encouragement of those who were standing fast. It was written to commend to Gaius a Christian named Demetrius, as there was the possibility that he, with others, would be paying them a visit shortly. The apostle has on his mind certain things that he wants to write regarding the church life of the little company.
The Epistle is divided up as follows:
The apostle John is the writer, and here, as in the second Epistle, he designates himself as “The elder”, a simple term of affection by which he was generally known. Gaius occupied a prominent position in the church; he was also held in very high esteem by the apostle John himself, because he could say, “whom I love in the truth”.
John was very well aware that the soul of Gaius was in an excellent and prosperous condition. His prayer was that he might prosper bodily, and also enjoy excellent health. Notice the right relationship between spiritual and material prosperity. The spiritual has the first place, but the material is also mentioned. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”. Matt. 6. 33. John puts first things first, but he was also concerned with Gaius’ prosperity and good health. How easy it is to have the wrong priorities in life, so that the Christian life is neglected.
John says that he rejoiced greatly when the brethren bore willing testimony that Gaius walked in the truth. It is obvious that these visiting brethren who experienced his Christian kindness told it to John; therefore verse 4 states, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth”. The apostle implies that the secret of true prosperity of the soul is to possess the truth and to be inspired and controlled by it; to John, the truth meant the Lord Jesus Christ, for He had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.
In this section, we note that Gaius had given hospitality to visiting Christians who were strangers to him, and the Epistle infers that he had incurred displeasure and condemnation from some members of the church. John hastens to express his most emphatic approval, “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers”. He is full of gratitude, and beseeches Gaius to carry on this great work in sending them forward on their journey in a way worthy of God, because “for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles”. For the Christian, the Name of Christ means all— His Deity, His gracious humanity, His self-sacrifice, His resurrection—all is summed up in the Name. John explains this so that we may be fellowhelpers to the truth. It is a great privilege to be used by the Lord for the carrying out of His gracious purpose. We need to maintain the home base of operation, at the same time supporting the workers in distant fields.
Diotrephes was a man of prominence and influence. There are two charges made by John against him. (1) He “loveth to have the preeminence”, namely, he demanded the first place, he must always be in the lime-light, and he was always ready to talk against the apostle and his friends. (2) He took a harsh and forbidding attitude to those commended by John, and he went as far as to break off relations with those who welcomed them.
How easy it is to love the preeminence, to desire the power to lord it over one’s fellow brethren, 1 Pet 5. 3. Paul, when writing to the church at Colosse, could say, “that in all things he might have the preeminence”, 1. 18.
The apostle was commending Demetrius to the little company of which Gaius and Diotrephes were members: he had a “good report of all”. This suggests that he had a good report of all the churches round about, and John adds his own voice to this commendation, “we also bear record; and … our record in true”. It is a good testimony to the gospel of Christ to have a good report of all men. It was said of the disciples, the Jews “took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”, Acts 4. 13. Demetrius also had the witness of the truth itself.
The final greeting “Peace be to thee” is often used in Scripture; in fact, the same words were used often by the Lord Himself. When he appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, He used the same words, “Peace be unto you”, John 20, 19. How lovely are His earlier words, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you”, 14. 27. When writing to the Philippians, Paul promised, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”, Phil. 4. 7.
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