I. Introduction to 3 John

  • Written (apparently) by the same "'elder" as the one who wrote 2 John.
  • A personal letter written from one friend (the elder) another (Gaius).
  • A conflict has arisen between supporters of Demetrius and supporters of Diotrephes.
  • Many insights into early Christianity can be gleaned from this short letter.

II. Through 3 John

1. 2 and 3 Jn are the final letters of a senior church leader and early disciple of Jesus Christ. His economy of words is noticeable!
1. Loving relationships are rooted in truth. Without truth -- and this includes others' being truthful -- a solid relationship is not a realistic possibility.
2. "Friend" may be a technical term. See comments on verse 14.
2. Health is a legitimate concern. Do we inquire after people's physical condition, or only after their spiritual health?
3. Truth is something in which we "walk" (live day to day), not just something to which we give assent.
4. Paul had similar feelings in 1 Thess 3:8. The "children" may well not be John's literal offspring, rather children in the faith.
5-6. Supporting true disciples, even those you have never met, is commendable. "Sending them on their way" indicates financial support (Matt 10:10, 1 Cor 9:14, Gal 6:6). Evangelists often (if not usually) were paid for their work. Elders too may have been paid (1 Peter 5).
7. These early missionaries did not accept assistance from non-believers. The church family takes care of the church family.
8. One way these men were assisted was in room and board. Hospitality is a high virtue in the Bible.
9. Diotrephes is unfortunately not so generously minded.
9. He "loves to be first." (Many applications') Ego may be a driving factor in much of church history and church politics.
10. Diotrephes' doctrinal persuasion is a matter for speculation.
10. John has no hesitation in dealing publicly with the wicked actions of Diotrephes. (Who seems to pervert the good principle of 2 John 10-11 for his own purposes.)
11. Before siding with a teacher, examine the fruit of his life. There is a connection.
12. Demetrius, the righteous leader, has a good reputation. This was a requirement also for overseers and ministers (deacons, servants) in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1.
12. There are three reasons Gaius and his friends should trust Demetrius: John speaks well of him; he is highly regarded by the church at large. Demetrius' life is in accord with the truth. The friends should weigh this triple testimony: that of John, the church, and the truth itself.
13-14. As he indicated in his previous letter, John prefers to deal with certain matters face to face. (See also 2 Cor 9:10-11.) "Pen and ink" here, "paper and ink" in 2 Jn 12.
14. "Friends" was an epithet of the early Christians. What do we call our fellow believers? There are many acceptable words to describe followers of Jesus Christ: disciples, friends, believers, the church the assembly, the Way, brothers, and more. Our term of choice reveals in part how we conceive of our relationship to fellow believers. (Note: the term "disciples" seems to have been current in the book of Acts, yet not once does it appear in any of the letters. This would suggest that our options are considerably broader than we may have been led to believe.)
14. The friends were to be greeted not generally, but by name. There is something special about remembering people's names and praying for them by name (2 Tim 1:3).

III. Conclusion

  • Though 3 Jn is quite a short letter, there is much for us today. Ponder the following questions:
    • Do we care about how others are doing physically, emotionally, and spiritually (1 Thess 5:23)? Spiritual interest alone is lopsided. God created the body and its emotional, volitional, and intellectual faculties, not just the spirit.
    • Do we love to be first, or are we well spoken of by others for our charitable spirit?
    • How do we feel about paid staff? Christian workers are worth their wages. While they may not always be able to receive them (Acts 18:3,5), it is the preferred norm. It is also right for us to support (at a distance) Christian workers we may never have met.
    • What is our "favourite" term for a follower of Christ? There are many available designations for a Christian. Biblically there is no warrant for limiting ourselves to the term "disciple."
  • We need 3 John. Without it, our Bibles would not be complete. This letter anticipates many situations with which we may find ourselves faced.

This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 2003. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.