Read Third John here
Third John, the very last letter written by the beloved Apostle John in his elderly 90's (around 90 AD), can be read in about a minute. I would encourage you to go back and read it 2-3 more times before you continue. Though Revelation is put last in our Bibles, 3 John was actually John's final letter and the last chronological New Testament book authored. It is written specifically to his friend Gaius, who himself is dealing with a very practical matter in the church. This issue revolved around the support and hospitality of Christian missionaries. These traveling itinerant preachers of the Gospel, like the one named Demetrius in this letter, needed food and housing and support while they spread the truth of Jesus and ministered the Gospel across the known regions of the first century world. They were first century missionaries - and the first true traveling Christian missionaries. This is where missions comes from - and it's all right here in 3 John. Did you know that? Do I have your attention yet?
John is giving Gaius counsel to continue in hospitality (which literally means "having love of strangers") toward Demetrius and to other true missionary preachers who would need food, housing, and support. This same practice has continued for over twenty one centuries right through today. Verse 8 specifically says, "Therefore we ought to support such men so that we may be fellow workers with the truth." If you have ever supported a pastor or missionary, you have participated in his or her work of truth. Isn't that just simply awesome? We are tied in truth to the ones we support. John's call to Gaius centers on the following concepts:
- Truth - this word is mentioned seven times in just 15 short verses
- Loving Greetings - John links gracious love with the truth as inseparable
In verse 9, John calls negative attention to an adversary of the church named Diotrephes (pronounced "Dee-Autra-Feez"). I think it is quite interesting that an elderly man in his 90's (the Apostle John), who has seen the entire first century history of Christ Jesus' Church, picks such a seemingly small problematic character to highlight in Diotrephes. It seems that John could have re-emphasized a pure Gospel, or have pointed to the life and work and teachings of the apostles. He could have reiterated the many things Paul wrote and said (even Paul has been gone at this time for almost 25 years). But John doesn't write the predictable. Instead, this seasoned old man, called the apostle whom Jesus loved (who might I add was also a son of Thunder like his brother James), writes and signs and seals and sends this letter to his beloved friend Gaius. It appears that Diotrephes (like a church filter) had intercepted John's first letter, which is probably lost to us. Needless to say, this letter made it to Gaius. And embedded in the middle of this powerful Scripture is this warning: "DIOTREPHES IS NOT THE MODEL; DON'T IMITATE HIM. HE LOVES TO BE FIRST. HE IS NOT HOSPITABLE TO TRUE MISSIONARIES AND TRAVELING PREACHERS. HE IS A PROBLEM. HE MODELS EVIL. I WILL COME AND DEAL WITH HIM." It could not be a more clear alert to this man. The warning is strong and forthright and clear.
John's warnings about Diotrephes is uncomfortable truth in our "positivity" driven culture. Sometimes we gloss over the hard warnings of Scripture and only stop to give them adherence if it involves some gross sin. John grabs a hammer and drives a sharp wedge between good and evil and basically says that Diotrephes represents what is evil. Here are some very detailed statements that John makes VERY DIRECTLY about Diotrephes:
- He isn't walking in the truth like you do, Gaius (v.3-4)
- He isn't showing Christian hospitality to itinerant preachers & missionaries (v.5-6)
- He doesn't support the love of strangers (v.7-8)
- He loves the preeminence (literally has "a strong affection to be first" v.9a)
- He doesn't accept even John's authority (v.9b)
- He makes wicked false accusations against real spiritual leaders, even against John (v.10)
- He rejects real Christian brothers (true believers and true missioned preachers v.10)
- He ensures that others also do the same rejecting (see #7 above, v.10)
- He puts the wrong people out of the church (v.10); inferring he lets the wrong ones remain
- He is representative of evil (not of what is truly good v.11); he is FALSE
- He hasn't seen God and does not know God and is not of God (v.11)
This list is very self-explanatory. Diotrephes hurt the churches by rejecting real teachers and real biblical preachers and real missionaries of truth. Diotrephes may have been prohibiting Gaius from receiving these traveling missionaries and from giving them hospitality. Diotrephes loved the preeminence of being first. He white knuckle gripped whatever position or spiritual authority he assumed he had over people in the churches. So without fear, the aged elderly Apostle John shows his namesake as a son of Thunder and gives Gaius fearless counsel about hospitality and then says, "When I come, I will deal with Diotrephes!" He vows to call attention to the evils so that the truth and what is good is preserved and followed. John highlights the word "truth" seven times in just 15 verses. This is by design. John loves THE TRUTH. The last things this dear elderly saint says is about how to love in the context of truth. It's about Christian hospitality. It's about loving well. Go to the top of this article and re-read 3rd John. This passage is simple but is full of profound truths. If you know me, you know that I am simply overwhelmed by the many immense riches found in God's Word. As you live on mission in your community and in your neighborhood and in your home, have a love of strangers that truly defines Christian hospitality. Support your local church with your time, your treasure, your talents, your words, and your hearts. Be hospitable to Christian missionaries and those who serve you for the sake of Christ's Gospel. Live on mission as you love strangers.
John's apostolic commands to Gaius to do this is the very last thing that we hear from this beloved old man who walked with Jesus as a very young man some 65 years before. Now, at that point in the early 90's AD, John had seen the church explode and grow under great persecution for many years, yet he knew there were still threats to the church. And with final courage, John aims at Diotrephes and doesn't hesitate to pull the trigger. His miss is small because this wise man has loved and lived and served and known so much, and his love for the church drives this targeted letter. Read 3 John again. Add to your reading these passages: Jude, 2 Peter 2, & Matthew 23, Jeremiah 23. There are others like Diotrephes. And the Bible is not without similar warnings - relevant then and applicable today.