3 John 1-14.
Ministering to the Ministers

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2015, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV

This third letter of John is the shortest book in the Bible, but despite the few words that the Apostle John penned to his beloved friend, Gaius, it deals fully with an issue that was important to the growth of the early church, and is still relevant today.  In this letter we will be introduced to four personalities, each representative of those who make up the body of faithful followers of the LORD, Jesus Christ.

Though the order of the writing of John’s three epistles is unknown, they all deal with the struggles that are faced by a church that is immersed in a wicked world.  The early church was divided into many small groups, and scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean region.  Largely ignorant of the written Word of God, they were dependent upon the teaching of Christian leaders who came from a variety of backgrounds, faith experience, and scriptural knowledge.  By the time that John writes these letters he is the only living Apostle, and revered as the primary Elder of the church. 

Though there were many Christian leaders who taught the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there were others who, whether by ignorance or malicious intent, are propagating heresies that were working to draw the fellowships away from the truth.  John’s letters were written to instruct the fellowship on how to recognize the heretics and heretical teaching, and to encourage them to hold to the truth that they learned from the beginning, doing so while expressing sincere and true agapē love for one another.

Though we are separated from the early church by two millennia, the state of the body has not changed that much.  The church is still fragmented into independent groups, though they now are spread out all over the surface of the earth.  Like the early church, many are largely ignorant of biblical truths, depending upon the teaching of others rather than dedicating themselves to Bible study. Consequently, as the church is still immersed in a wicked world that is constantly attacking from every direction, there are those in the body who teach heresy, and are working to lead the church away from the truths that it knew at the beginning.

This letter, written by the Apostle John to his beloved friend, Gaius provides us with some instruction on how to deal with those who bring conflict into the church body.

3 John 1. The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.

As in the other letters, John refers to himself as “the elder,” establishing the nature of the relationship between himself and the faithful Gaius who is seeking to lead a local fellowship in the truth.  The relationship between them is quite close, at least from John’s point of view.  The word that is translated “wellbeloved,” or “dear friend” is agapēte, noting that the love that John has for Gaius is far greater than that of a friend.  It is that unconditional love that can only be expressed within the context of the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. 

Though the letter follows the form of a Roman or Greek personal letter, the word that would be used in a secular letter would be based upon the Greek word phileo, referring to the secular, but still powerful, love that is felt between those who do not know the LORD.  The word that John uses immediately sets the tone for the letter and the nature of the love he has for the Christian leader, Gaius, who is desperately in need of encouragement.  While Gaius is finding himself in a difficult and stressful situation, John’s letter would serve to let him know that he is not alone, and the one who is standing with him loves him greatly, and is also the most well-known and well-respected of Christian leaders.

Driving his point home, John refers to the love that he has for Gaius a second time, noting that the foundation of that love is truth, the one truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth that is coming under attack by those who would work to bring down Gaius, John, and the Christian church. 

3 John 2. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

The structure of a typical Greek or Roman letter includes a blessing following the identification of the sender and receiver.  John’s blessing for Gaius begins with a repetition of the word agapēte, repeating a second time the sincerity of the agape love that he holds for Gaius.  It is evident that John believes that Gaius is a faithful, mature Christian and that John respects him highly for that faithfulness as he refers to the “prosperity” of Gaius’ soul.  Again, John’s form is similar to a secular letter in that the blessing is often spoken to express a blessing on the receiver’s health.  Just as John added the spiritual context to the word he uses for love, he added the spiritual context to his blessing for health as is wish is that Gaius’ physical health would be as good as his spiritual health.

3 John 3.  For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.

John’s blessing also indicates that he considers Gaius to be spiritually mature, solid in his faith, consistent in his Christian walk, and holding to correct doctrine.  This would also serve as an encouragement for this Christian leader who is dealing with at least one heretical leader in his faith community.  It also informs Gaius that John is very interested in his welfare.

3 John 4.  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

We may note from this statement that John considers Gaius and those with him to be his children in the faith.  This would imply that John had a significant part in bringing Gaius and the members of his fellowship to faith.  Gaius has been entrusted to lead this fellowship, and he has established a reputation of standing on the truth of the gospel without compromise, and practicing it at every opportunity.

3 John 5. Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers;

One of the primary reasons for John’s letter to Gaius is to thank him (and praise him) for the hospitality that he showed to some itinerant missionaries that came through his community.  His faithfulness to the fellowship was also demonstrated to these missionaries when they visited his fellowship.  Such hospitality included providing a place for them to stay, making sure they were adequately fed, and that they were able to minister to the community without encumbrance or need. 

3 John 6-7.  Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:  7Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.

When the missionaries either returned to John, wrote to him, or sent a message to him, they informed John of Gaius’ gracious and generous hospitality.  The missionaries also reported that they witnessed Gaius’ love for the church and the sacrifices that he made for it.

It is apparent that, as the missionaries ministered in Gaius’ community, they did not receive any form of offerings or support from those to whom they were ministering because Gaius provided for all of their needs.  Gaius did this joyfully because the missionaries were working for “His name’s sake,” supporting and complementing Gaius’ work.

3 John 8.  We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be  fellowhelpers to the truth.

John notes that Gaius’ generous and loving hospitality towards the missionaries serves as an example that “we,” referring to the church as a whole, should follow.  By supporting the work of the missionaries, they became part of that work themselves. 

Gaius’ example is still relevant today.  Because of the self-centeredness of most church members, Christian pastors and missionaries are systematically under-supported and under-paid.  The idea that by fully supporting the needs of the pastor/missionary they become an integral part of their ministry.  Instead, congregations often provide a bare minimum of substantive support to those whom they call to minister to them.  This shameful behavior has left an entire generation of retired and retiring pastors and missionaries either living in poverty, or are forced to work at their advanced years because of their inability to build enough substantive equity during their years of ministry.

The inadequate support of church pastors and staff is one of the great shames of the modern church.  All that would be required for churches to support their ministers properly would be to have one or two leaders in their faith community who have the responsible, generous, and loving spirit that is found in Gaius; those who would insist that the people fulfill their responsibility to the LORD by giving the proper tithes, offerings, and gifts to the work so that their ministers can serve the LORD and minister to them without the stressors of need. 

The most common excuse for this behavior is, “we cannot afford to pay our pastor what he is worth.”  This is one of satan’ successful lies.  One only needs to look at their own congregation, person by person, and make a quick and honest estimate of the income of each, divide by ten, and determine the amount of resources that would be available to the church if everyone had the spirit of Gaius.  Without exception, such a calculation would produce an amazing amount, easily ten to twenty times what the people actually give to the church.

There have been several models for determining the appropriate support for a pastor, and one highly-accepted model suggests that the church pastor be given a support package that is similar to that provided to a high-school principal in the community where the church resides, using a similar compensation package that takes into consideration both experience and education. 

When we consider the kind of support that Gaius provided the missionaries it may be instructive for us to take a serious look at the real and substantive support we give to the pastors and staff of our own churches.  Many churches will negotiate with a prospective pastor to determine the minimum support package that he will accept.  A far better model is to prepare a proper package, and present it to the prospective pastor as a generous gift that is intended to support them and their ministry.

Consider a few errors that churches make when preparing a “package.” 


1 Timothy 5:17-18. The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain and, the worker is worthy of his wages’ (HCSB).


3 John 9.  I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

John wrote another letter to the church, apparently received by another leader in the fellowship who did not respond to John’s request for hospitality in the way that Gaius did.  Diotrephes is described as one who “loveth to have the preeminence among them.”  There are at least two distinct types of leaders in the church:  those to serve the LORD by humbly dedicating themselves to service to the church, and those who love a position of preeminence, finding their leadership responsibility as a source of pride and personal pleasure.  It is these latter leaders, often characterized as bullies in the fellowship, who seek to exercise power over the other members of the church simply because it is so easy to do so in a Christian fellowship where few people will stand up to them. 

When John had earlier requested similar assistance from Diotrephes, he was refused.  Diotrephes would have nothing to do with the support of John and his missionaries.  It is evident that Diotrephes felt threatened by John and those he would send to the church.  It is an axiom that those who demand preeminence in the congregation are threatened by any source that would expose their hypocrisy.  It is likely that Diotrephes was one of the heretics who led the people by demanding a different gospel.  Diotrephes did not want John or his missionaries to come to the church and turn them back to the doctrine of Gaius because he would lose his position of influence.

Of course, these words are written to Gaius.  John simply informed Gaius that he is quite aware of the heresies of Diotrephes, and that Diotrephes is driven by selfish pride.  This would also vindicate Gaius’ spirit as he also is aware of the ungodliness of Diotrephes, and John’s agreement with him would be encouraging.  Also, after John complemented Gaius on his model hospitality, he noted that Diotrephes rejected John and his missionaries.

3 John 10.  Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.

Not only did Diotrephes fail to show hospitality to John, he actually led his group of believers to reject them.  When John wrote Diotrephes of his coming, Diotrephes addressed his congregation with malicious words, denigrating John and his doctrine.  Diotrephes could not allow John to address his congregation, so he went on an offensive attack against John.

Diotrephes’ adamancy went beyond rejecting John.  It also included the rejection of anyone who would support John.  John writes literally, “Not being content with malicious words alone, he threw out of the church any who would receive John and his missionaries.”  Diotrephes was not only willing to split his congregation over his demands, he actively did so.

The splitting of churches, particularly those that are congregational in polity, is a common occurrence.  Without fail, one can identify the person or small group of persons who have the spirit of Diotrephes, who are willing to split the congregation in order to maintain their power.

3 John 11. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.

There is a marked difference in the way that these two men lead their respective congregations.  Gaius leads his fellowship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  By following the truth, He does not work to usurp the Lordship of Jesus in the fellowship, but rather seeks to be submissive to the Word of God in all that he does.  He seeks the LORD’s will in his decisions using the many resources available to him including prayer, the Holy Scriptures, the teaching of John, and the testimonies of other Christians.  He is characterized by his loving, humble, generous, and serving nature.  He works to meet the needs of his congregation as well as its visitors, and the community at large.

Diotrephes is quite the opposite.  He is everything that Gaius is not.  Consequently, having illustrated the dramatic contrast between the two men, John clearly declares the evil nature of Diotrephes as opposed to the godly nature of Gaius.  John then gives Gaius some very wise advice:  do not follow Diotrephes and those like him.  By his evil nature, Diotrephes has demonstrated to all that he is not a man of God.  Therefore, he is not to be given authority in the church.  John instructed Gaius to have nothing to do with Diotrephes because of his evil intentions.

3 John 12.  Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.

It is likely that Demetrius is one of the missionaries who Gaius treated with utmost Christian hospitality.  It is also likely that he was the bearer of this letter to Gaius.  In dramatic contrast to his description of Diotrephes, John describes Demetrius as one who can be trusted, one who receives a good report of all who meet and get to know him.  He is known for sharing the truth of the gospel without any mixture of error.  His teaching amongst the people in Gaius’ fellowship can be trusted.

Furthermore, John adds his own positive recommendation of Demetrius.  The words that are translated “bear record” imply that the record is written down in a permanent form, proverbially, “written in stone.”  Furthermore, knowing that Demetrius’ teaching is in agreement with John’s, Gaius can be confident in allowing Demetrius to preach to the members of his congregation as he seeks to encourage them, help them deal with wrong doctrine, and to help the small congregation.

3 John 13-14. I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:  14But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.

John would like to have written a longer letter, but sent this short one in order to accomplish some immediate tasks:  to thank Gaius for his gracious hospitality to the Christian missionaries that John sent his way, to defend the integrity of the missionary, Demetrius, who John sent to minister to Gaius’ congregation, and to encourage and edify Gaius as he is finding himself on the defensive against the heresies of Diotrephes. 

As we consider our own relationship with those who minister to us, we may find a similar need for the encouraging wisdom that John provides.

[1] Adapted from Thom S. Rainer, thomsrainer.com.