-Encouraging A Friend

JOHN’S THIRD LETTER Encouraging A Friend The spirit of Diotrephes may all too easily find a home within our own hearts.
The increasing availability of e-mail and other computer technology has caused handwritten letters to become more and more scarce. This makes it all the more impressive when a handwritten note is received; it suggests the writer’s intention to reach that particular reader.1 This is the same sense we should have when reading the personal letters of Scripture, especially the three which most closely address individual concerns: Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John. These epistles provide special glimpses into first-century Christian life and the hearts of the writers themselves.

Links Between The Letters
John’s third letter bears both similarities and contrasts to his second. The warm, personal tone is perhaps the easiest common element to notice. In his second letter, John addresses a dear Christian sister, mentioning her children and including their greetings. In 3 John, the apostle writes to a man he may have led to the Lord (v. 4). Both letters close with John’s desire to see these believers face to face. We should value Christian fellowship. God takes note of it, and it is a sweet fragrance to Him when believers speak of their common heritage in the faith (Mal. 3:16; Ps. 133).

Another connecting point between these letters is their theme of conflict. The warfaring aspects of Christianity should never be minimized, for our enemies (fleshly desires, worldly influences, and satanic attacks) never rest. Second John addresses the challenges to our faith that come from outside Christianity: unbelievers who deceptively spread doctrines that deny truths about Christ. By contrast, 3 John examines the intense difficulties created by conflict and pride within the Church itself. In Acts 20:29-30, Paul warned about “wolves” from outside as well as prominent leaders from within “speaking perverse things.” How sad John must have been as he wrote letters illustrating both warnings.

Third, each epistle highlights truth and love. Second John emphasizes how Christian love is expressed from a position of truth, while 3 John demonstrates that truth is maintained correctly only if love is also present. Both principles are needed; yet the situation of the “elect lady” in 2 John must have required an emphasis on one side, while the concerns of 3 John called for a focus on the other. No doubt we all have tendencies which cause us to require more exhortation on one principle or the other. Which aspect do we generally need to hear more? It is good to examine our own thoughts so that we are willing to hear what is needed. Like John, we should also learn to give just the right word to someone else.

John’s third epistle is organized around three people: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius. First, we’ll consider Gaius who had a prosperous soul. John prayed that Gaius would be as healthy physically as he was spiritually. Someone said it might be dangerous for us to pray the same way for each other, considering our weak spiritual state! Spiritual prosperity seems linked to a consistent trust in the Lord, and a constant supply of God’s Word – just as a tree flourishes when it gets a continual supply of water (Ps. 1:1-3; Jer. 17:7-8). If we are not interested in spiritual topics, if we do not thirst for righteousness (Mt. 5:6), if we fail to give our consciences exercise in discerning good and evil (Heb. 5:14), then we will not prosper. Yet maturity and growth are the desires of the Father for every one of His children, so we can be sure that a true desire for spiritual progress will be nurtured by His own tender care in our lives.

One proof of Gaius’ prosperous soul was his straight walk. John’s greatest joy was knowing that Gaius and others were walking in the truth (3 Jn. 3-4). While it is a happy time when someone is saved, it is even more encouraging to see fruit developing out of a steady commitment to the truth of God’s Word. In the parable of the sower, even though most of the farmer’s seeds began to sprout, only a few matured and produced fruit (Mt. 13:18-23). This suggests that we should strongly emphasize discipling new believers, nurturing them well beyond conversion.

The other proof of Gaius’ healthy soul was his faithful care for others. His love for Christians, even those he had never met, was clearly felt by them. John’s language suggests that those he especially had in mind were itinerant workers, who would stay awhile with Gaius before being sent “forward on their journey” (3 Jn. 6 nkjv). These travelers, who “went forth for His name’s sake,” did not seek support for their work from unbelievers, so Gaius’ involvement was all the more needed. John even indicated that this support defined Gaius as a “fellow worker” (3 Jn. 7-8).

This point is crucial to understanding how we can participate in the Lord’s work in His harvest field. Some Christians are more involved in Bible teaching and other noticeable roles; yet the Lord considers every act of support for them to be the act of a fellow worker. Perhaps Gaius would have liked to travel himself; perhaps he would have gone if it were not for some ailment (3 Jn. 2). But in the Lord’s eyes, love and hospitality linked Gaius with that work just as if he’d been doing the preaching or teaching himself.2 Further, it proved Christ was at work in his heart: “We know we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren … We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:14,16; Jn 10:17).

While the generosity of Gaius linked him with those faithful servants, John next comments on two other servants. As one of God’s workers, Gaius learned from John about God’s principles for evaluating other workers too. Now, let’s be careful on this point. It does not mean Gaius should try to determine whether he was better or worse than another, and it also does not mean that Gaius was now in charge of discussing those evaluations with others – or even with the workers themselves. That is the role of the Master only: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:4). However, it does mean that Gaius would appropriately examine others’ actions to see whether he would join them or not. “By their fruits you will know them,” the Lord Jesus taught (Mt. 7:20). Although the context refers to false professors of Christianity, it remains a valuable principle for evaluating the actions of believers.

One of the people John mentions is Diotrephes. He was notable for his desire to seize and hold the leading role in the assembly where Gaius fellowshipped (3 Jn. 9). John wrote that he was “prating” with “malicious words” (v. 10) – that is, engaging in injurious and evil talk. John and others with him were not welcomed by Diotrephes. Evidently he loved to have the preeminent place; perhaps he viewed John and others as competing for his self-assigned authority. Since he felt this way, others who welcomed a visit by John were put out of the church by Diotrephes. These actions even called into question Diotrephes’ spiritual state, for John writes, “He who does evil has not seen God” (v. 11). When he came, John fully intended to deal with Diotrephes in his authority as an apostle.

Many of us would immediately shrink back from spending time with such a brother as Diotrephes. But let us heed the example, because the spirit of Diotrephes may all too easily find a home within our own hearts. Do I easily assume a prominent place among other believers? Do I make my own voice heard frequently in a meeting, without allowing others an opportunity to be vocal? When I disagree with others, do I express it in a way which purposely demonstrates my distaste for them and their opinions? These are characteristics of a Diotrephes. We should ask our fellow believers whether these features are present in us – and then ask the Holy Spirit to display more of Christ’s gentleness and humility in us.

But all was not lost for Gaius. Though Diotrephes should not be his role model, there was still someone with whom he could keep company: Demetrius, who had “a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself” (3 Jn. 12). Demetrius was a kindred spirit for Gaius; both must have been occupied with the Lord’s interests, because both were commended by others and both were walking in the truth. When evil influences seem to overwhelm us, we can look to see where there might be another faithful brother or sister, even if only one.3 Psalm 101:6 declares, “My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land.” While we should be aware of sinful deeds and influences around us, we should not be consumed with them; that will only discourage us. No matter how bleak the picture, there is always an opportunity to continue serving the Lord with a fellow Christian.

John was perhaps the disciple who enjoyed the Lord’s love most fully, for he called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” on several occasions in his gospel. It is fitting that this tender-hearted apostle was used to encourage a tender-hearted servant in the work of the Lord. May we refresh the hearts of others just as Gaius did, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. May we be willing to examine our own hearts in order to turn aside from the slightest hint of the spirit of Diotrephes. And may we be like Demetrius, available to support hearts that may be downcast. There is a corner of the Lord’s field, a place in Christ’s body, where each one of us can work.

By Stephen Campbell

1. Other books, more general in nature, were probably delivered to individuals as well. For example, Philippians 4:3 specifically appeals to one of Paul’s fellow-workers.

2. It is worth noting here that contemporary views of hospitality often list it among the spiritual gifts found in passages like Rom. 12:6-8. In actuality, Scripture does not appear to support such a view. Rather, the New Testament presents hospitality as an expected method for demonstrating Christian love, completely apart from any “gift” for entertaining or any material resources which we might think would make hospitality more possible. The graces of Rom. 12:9-21, including hospitality in v. 13, are part of our Christian character; as Christ said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8).

3. Even if we feel we are all alone, we should do two things: trust the Lord, who will care for us in the worst of circumstances (Ps. 27:10); and continue to expect the Lord to provide a companion. Elijah’s mistake was to assume that he was all alone, and those words were even considered to be a prayer against the faithful ones among God’s people (1 Ki. 19:14-18; Rom. 11:2-5).

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.



1 Comment on -Encouraging A Friend

  1. “wow, amazing post.Many thanks. Much obliged.”

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