3 John – Praise for Faithful Service and a Warning About Prideful Action

The Elder: 

To my dear friend Gaius: I love you in the truth. 

Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually. For I was very glad when some brothers came and testified to your faithfulness to the truth—how you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 

Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers. They have testified to your love in front of the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, since they set out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from pagans. Therefore, we ought to support such men so that we can be coworkers with the truth. 

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have first place among them, does not receive us. 10 This is why, if I come, I will remind him of the works he is doing, slandering us with malicious words. And he is not satisfied with that! He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so and expels them from the church. 

11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. And we also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true. 

13 I have many things to write you, but I don’t want to write to you with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. 

Peace be with you. The friends send you greetings. Greet the friends by name. (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into four parts.

  • John’s greeting – verses 1-4.
  • John’s commendation of Gaius – verses 5-8.
  • John’s condemnation of Diotrephes and commendation of Demetrius – verses 9-12.
  • John’s farewell – verses 13-14.

John’s Greeting

The basic theme of this section is: When believers walk in the truth, they bring joy to Christian friends and mentors.

John begins this letter with the same title he used in 2 John, “elder.” We don’t know much about the recipient of this letter, Gaius, but we can infer several things from the context of the letter.

  • John clearly loved Gaius, as he used the phrase “dear friend” four times in the letter. The English rendering of the original Greek weakens the intent behind the phrase. It conveys a feeling of deep agape love that John has for Gaius.
  • From the context of the letter, it is likely that Gaius is wealthy as he is well-known for his hospitality to traveling believers.
  • Since John mentioned in verse four that he receives great joy when his children walk in the truth, it is likely that Gaius was one of John’s converts.
  • Gaius may have been ill since John was praying for his physical health to be as good as his spiritual health.

John now goes on to praise Gaius for his conduct in the church and toward other believers.

  • Gaius was recognized by others for his faithful conduct.
  • He obeyed God’s Word.
  • He walked in the truth.
  • What made Gaius’ life a good testimony?
    • He walked in truth, God’s Word.
    • He meditated on the Word.
    • He practiced it in his daily life.
  • Gaius’ life was wrapped in the truth.
    • True living comes from living truth.
    • Jesus is the truth. John 14:6 – Jesus told him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
    • Jesus is revealed in God’s Word, which is God’s truth. John 17:17 – Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.
    • The Holy Spirit is truth. 1 John 5:6 – Jesus Christ—He is the One who came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies,  because the Spirit is the truth.
    • Jesus teaches us the truth.
    • The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to reveal the Son of God. This, in turn, enables us to obey the will of God and walk in truth.
  • Gaius was faithful in what he believed, and he was faithful in how he lived.
  • Loyalty to Christ and the Gospel marked his life.
  • John then says he has no greater joy than hearing that one of his children is a faithful follower of Christ.
    • This was similar to how Paul talked about his converts. 
    • Anyone who has led a person to Christ is joyful when they hear the person is continuing to walk in faith and not drift away.

John’s Commendation of Gaius

The basic theme for this section is: Extending hospitality toward traveling missionaries brings God’s commendation. Believers should help missionaries work together for the truth.

John’s commendation of Gaius, which actually began in the introduction to this letter, now continues. Let’s take a closer look at why John was praising the actions of Gaius.

  • First, there is nothing to indicate that Gaius was a preacher.
  • It appears that Gaius was an enabler to those who were traveling evangelists.
    • We need to remember that during the first century, lodging was not plentiful, and what did exist was often associated with the darker habits of society.
    • John praises Gaius for his support to brothers who were “strangers.” The Greek term for a stranger would mean someone unknown or from another area; they weren’t native to the place they were visiting.
    • In 2 John, we learned of the importance of Christian hospitality.
      • In that letter, John warned against helping false teachers.
      • In this letter, John commends Gaius for showing hospitality to faithful ministers.
      • Gaius’ actions were an encouragement to both believers in general, as well as to the traveling evangelists.
    • The idea of hospitality is a challenge in today’s world because of violence and false teachers.
      • In the early church, traveling evangelists often carried letters of recommendation from their home church. An example is in Romans 16:1 – I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae.
      • It is important that we know the background of those to which we may extend hospitality.
    • Not only did Gaius open his home to the evangelists, but he also provided financial assistance to them.
      • The term “send” doesn’t just mean wishing them well as they continue their journey.
      • The Greek term implies aid of some sort, most likely financial aid or food.
      • Gaius proved his faith through his works. James 2:14-16 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 
    • Gaius’ actions also served as a witness to others.
      • Jesus taught that God’s servants deserve support. Luke 10:7 – Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t be moving from house to house.
      • However, John points out in verse seven that believers are to provide support, not pagans.
      • Consider Abraham’s response when the king of Sodom made an offering to him. Genesis 14:21-24 – Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people, but take the possessions for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand in an oath to Yahweh, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread or sandal strap or anything that belongs to you, so you can never say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing except what the servants have eaten. But as for the share of the men who came with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre—they can take their share.”
      • Many churches make it clear at offering time that gifts from unbelievers are not expected. 
    • Gaius’ actions displayed obedience to God.
      • Those who receive spiritual blessings from those who preach should share their material blessings with the preacher. 1 Corinthians 9:11 – If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you?
      • Believers can support ministry endeavors outside their local church, but they should contribute a portion of their offerings to their local congregation.
    • Gaius was a coworker with the traveling evangelists.
      • Gaius received the truth.
      • Gaius walked in the truth.
      • Giaus was a coworker and helper to those spreading the truth.
      • Walking in the truth is the same as walking in love.
  • Unfortunately, not everyone in the church is a Gaius.

John’s Condemnation of Diotrephes and Commendation of Demetrius

There are two themes for this section is: 

  • Prideful people who slander and spread gossip oppose Christian hospitality.
  • We can recommend a person to other churches for hospitality and ministry when that person’s life supports God’s truth.

John now turns his attention to another church member, Diotrephes, who is the opposite of Gaius.As we take a deeper look at Diotrephes, I want us to think about how that looks in the church we attend, or maybe you’ve seen this same behavior in a previous church. Regardless of when or where you saw it, the behavior is an example of someone who operates on pride and wants to be the “boss,” often leaving a wake of bodies behind them as they go. Sometimes it can be the pastor, but often it is someone in a lower level of leadership within the church or a lay member who is trying to “empire build.”

  • It’s apparent from the context of John’s letter that Diotrephes was prideful.
  • We don’t know the position Diotrephes held, but it’s likely he was an elder because of the level of influence and control he had over the congregation.
  • What is clear is that Diotrephes shunned fellowship with one of the apostles, John.
  • Why would Diotrephes do this?
    • As previously mentioned, Diotrephes was a prideful and selfish individual.
      • These are two of Satan’s favorite tools to disrupt the church.
      • If John challenged or removed Diotrephes, then Satan would be the loser.
    • He placed himself before the preeminence of Christ.
    • John challenged his dictator-like actions.
    • John was a threat to the “authority” of Diotrephes in that local congregation.
    • John knew the truth about Diotrephes and was willing to expose his ungodly actions.
  • Diotrephes also lied about John.
    • He slandered John to the other church members.
    • It’s obvious from the context of the letter that Diotrephes had a circle of followers; otherwise, the congregation would have removed him from his position.
    • There are some people who will believe anything they hear about others without verifying whether it’s true or not.
    • This example reminds us of why we need to carefully weigh what others say and act on truth and not lies.
  • Not only did Diotrephes shun John, but he also rejected those associated with John.
    • Diotrephes treated John’s associates as “guilty by association.” 
    • It’s true that, as believers, we shouldn’t associate with certain groups of individuals.
      • Apostates – found in 2 Peter.
      • Alliances with unbelievers – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.
      • Those who hold doctrinal positions that don’t agree with Scripture – Romans 16:17-19.
    • At the same time, there are doctrinal matters which don’t undermine the Gospel. We shouldn’t let those differences create discord in the body of Christ. Two examples:
      • The method of baptism.
      • Church government. 
    • We need to agree on the “majors,” the basic tenets of Christianity, and extend grace on the “minors.”
  • Diotrephes even went a step further than just rejecting John and his associates.
    • He disciplined those who disagreed with him.
    • Even though Diotrephes didn’t have the authority or the biblical basis for expelling those who disagreed with him, he still did it.
    • Scripture does contain instructions and examples of church discipline, which should be followed.
    • But church discipline is not a tool for a dictator to use to protect themself.
    • Church discipline is a tool for a congregation to use to promote purity and glorify God.
  • Diotrephes wanted to be served and not serve others.
  • It’s not difficult to identify church dictators.
    • They like to talk about themselves and what they’ve done for the Lord.
    • They have a habit of judging and condemning those who disagree with them.
    • They put labels on others and put them in categories.

John then switches the focus of his attention from Diotrephes to Demetrius. What a contrast between these two church members. Let’s take a closer look at Demetrius.

  • John warns his readers to imitate what is good, not to imitate what is evil.
    • Diotrephes represented evil. Those who practice evil don’t know God.
    • Demetrius represented good. Those who practice good belong to God.
  • We might ask if it’s ok to imitate a human leader. The answer is yes, as long as they are imitating Christ.
    • We can’t see God.
    • We can see God at work in the lives of His children.
  • Those who live a godly life dedicated to serving the Lord are an encouragement to fellow believers. Hebrews 10:24 – And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works.
  • Demetrius was a man worthy of imitating.
    • He had a good testimony from everyone.
    • He was well known.
    • He was well respected.
    • He was loved by the believers around him.
  • Not only did Demetrius have a good testimony from the believers in the church, but he also had a good witness from the truth, the Word.
    • Just like Gaius, Demetrius walked in truth.
    • He obeyed God’s Word.
    • Neither was perfect, but they were consistent in their lives by seeking to honor God.
  • Demetrius also had a good testimony from John.
    • John knew Demetrius had a good testimony from the church.
    • This aligned Demetrius with John, which would make Demetrius an enemy of Diotrephes.
  • Once John traveled to this church, there would be quite an alignment against Diotrephes.
    • There would be authority figures both from outside and inside this church to confront the actions of Diotrephes.
    • We don’t know the outcome, but the best solution is that Diotrephes would receive the rebuke, repent, and become a productive member of the congregation.

John’s Farewell

The theme for this section is: Personal friendship can be expressed through written means, but it is better expressed face to face.

John now concludes this letter in a manner similar to 2 John. It’s possible the format John used was the standard way to end letters in John’s time.

  • John planned to visit the church soon.
    • There is no indication of what “soon” might mean.
    • But it was likely an encouragement to both Gaius and Demetrius, as well as a veiled warning to Diotrephes.
  • John preferred to discuss things in person rather than through a letter.
  • Considering the turmoil that Diotrephes was causing in the church, John’s use of the phrase “peace be with you” must have been encouraging.
  • Those associated with John also sent their greetings.
  • John encouraged them to greet each other by name.


  • Open your home and assist others in ministry when you are able to do it. This can be challenging and uncomfortable at times, maybe all the time. However, Scripture instructs us to help one another in doing God’s work. When we assist others in ministry, we also receive a blessing in aiding their work.
  • When we do help others, don’t look to people for a reward. Our reward comes from God. Be content that what you are doing is “Kingdom work,” and don’t do it for public recognition.
  • Be careful that pride and temptations don’t cause you to fall away from the truth, especially if you occupy a position of leadership or influence. Our actions affect those around us, both positively and negatively. 

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