3 John Overview & Verses 1-4 – 2023 Oct 19

The third letter that John wrote was written at about the same time as 2 John, and in fact, even was dealing with the same general topic of hospitality.  The previous letter was written to a lady who ran a house of hospitality and let her know that love could not be shown to false teachers attempting to infiltrate the church.  This letter is written to a man named Gaius, who must have also run a house of hospitality.  In this case, John is instructing Gaius that love should be shown to all those who were in the faith and then dealt with a very specific obstacle that over the centuries since then has become all too common in the church, but more on that momentarily.

This ministry of hospitality is something that I personally think has somewhat fallen out of favour or use in modern times, but there are equivalents.  For example, how often do YOU help other believers?  It doesn’t always mean money, so don’t use the old trope of “I’m broke, I can’t do that.”  What do you do to help or build up other believers?  As Baptists, we believe every member of the congregation is a minister (servant) who is charged with the building up of the house of God.  What are you doing to help build the house?  And I mean with worthy things, not just wood, hay, or straw.  Where are the figurative gold, silver, and precious stones?  If you are not providing these kinds of things that build up the church, then you are not practicing this hospitality.  We’ll say more about that when we get into the text of the book as well.

The name Gaius itself means “One who is happy,” or one who is blessed or spiritually prosperous.  This kind of language is always used to describe a believer, and it is clear in the text that John loves Gaius as a brother in Christ.  Most commentators apparently think that Gaius also ran one of these houses of hospitality.  In a sermon he preached on this topic, Doctor John MacArthur thought he did, and he even spoke about his conviction that Gaius had suffered for it in a very particular way.

This is the all-too-common obstacle to the church today, and it is simply this: there are powerful and worldly people that over time work themselves into places of authority that when they get there, begin to hamper the work of God in any way they can.  Such individuals are like those false teachers, being false brothers, and they know the right words to say to get there and then the right things to do to hinder the work.  The one that becomes the subject of this letter is named Diotrephes.  We know people who seem to fall into this category, though time and good taste will prevent us from mentioning them here.  What made Diotrephes bad?  He was trying to seize control of who could speak in the Church and his ideas did not align with God’s ideas apparently.  John states that his particular problem was that “he loved to be first among them.”  Beloved, that hubris, or pride, and it is the very sin that first took down Lucifer, the son of the morning, the greatest being in creation at the time.

How many gatherings of God’s people have these kinds of individuals at the top of the heap?  I’ve seen my share, and I haven’t fellowshipped in all that many places.  That means I’m either very unlucky (a concept I don’t believe in, God is sovereign) or the phenomenon is more than just a little common.  A person who will not listen to input from others, or has all kinds of rules that they never share with others, or who tries to somehow regulate who gets a seat at the table is like that.  Granted, that can be done for seemingly good reasons, but this does not reflect the freedom to which God has called us.  Everyone should have opportunity if they want to give it a whirl, with some biblical provisions.  Those provisions may even prevent some of this and are listed in 1 Timothy 2 and 3 as well as Titus 1 among other places.  We’ve looked at those in these bible studies already, and you can find those on BereanNation.com if you go back into the archives, or if you look at the Book Study page that links to all of the books we have studied.  I haven’t updated it since 1 Peter, but that’s my issue, not yours.  Time, energy, and motivation, right?

There is a phrase, maybe you’ve heard it, that says, “The church is like a business, and should be run just like a business.”  I think that’s a part of this kind of an individual getting into power, and to be fair, they may not display that kind of behaviour, or “fruit” if you like until they gain that position of authority.  You cannot always see them coming.  The church is NOT a business, it is a living organism, imbued with the life of Christ Himself.  Anything or anyone that doesn’t see that needs to be discipled at a minimum, because that’s bad ecclesiology, the part of systematic theology that deals with the church.  That phrase used to be said around here, and even caught on for a while until the council stood up and said the church is not a business to the individual pushing that line.  He repented, by the way.  Diotrephes was a little more over the top than this.

It seems that Diotrephes had an issue with what John was teaching.  I guess it didn’t fit his own agenda of control, and that is usually what this is about.  So he forbade the houses of hospitality from hosting these men who were real servants of God that God had sent to do His work in the church.  That may have included John.  Those who disobeyed the command of Diotrephes were placed by him under church discipline, up to and including expulsion from the church.  There is at least some speculation among commentators that this may have happened to Gaius.  That pride and self-righteousness being displayed by Diotrephes does nothing but damage people who are trying to serve Christ, and as John suggests in the letter, needs to be exposed so that it can be dealt with in a way that honours Christ.

This letter touches on the topic of hospitality, love for the brethren, and church discipline in a way that is practical even today.  As we examine the text keep those things in mind. 

This evening, we have decided to deal with verses 1-4 as the text, so that we can analyze the rest of the text in a way we can all take the needed time to digest.  I broke that down into thought units as follows:

KV3:  Testifying of the truth in love

3:  For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth.

1:  Communication of love in truth

2:  Prayers of and for the saints

3-4:  The joy of walking in the truth

Like 2 John, this letter speaks of walking in the truth in love.  However, this does more than cover the concept and ideas, but instructs first Gaius and then us in how with our actions, also known as our walk with Christ, we may give testimony or witness to and for the Lord Jesus Himself, regardless of who says what about it.  We will leave the disciplinary considerations to the next study.

KV3:  Testifying of the truth in love

3:  For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth.

Last time, we connected how the concepts of agape and alethia, or love and truth respectively, go together.  We talked about how the truth has to go with love, or bad things happen.  If we were only to speak the truth, it could hurt someone in a way that presents no remedy, and that would be bad.  If we simply “loved” the person, we might be over-permissive, and well, smarmy.  There would be no accountability or discipline of any kind.  The unbalanced results of both of these things are replete in some of the nonsense and cultism that the evanjellyfish in Christendom have to navigate.  Let’s see if we can’t establish a better road to get there from here.

1:  Communication of love in truth

The essential use of hospitality requires a form of communication rooted for the believer in both truth and love.  As a reminder, we are always speaking of agape love in the case of the Scriptures, and such is the Greek used throughout the letter.  This is nothing other than the love of God Himself.  It is the love that loves by choice, is self-sacrificing, and puts all other interests ahead of its own, the kind of love that Jesus told all of us to have for everyone, especially believers.  The “love” that the world confuses with this is not love at all but is more akin to lust.  “Love is love is love is love,” they say.  Well, simply put, they are wrong.  This lust is driven by emotion and what is better described by eros, the impulse that wants something.  In Greek, there isn’t necessarily a connection with sex, but it is the Greek word where we get “erotic” in English.  It has evolved within the last decade to mean “whatever gives you sexual gratification,” and that is most decidedly NOT the love that we are to present and call love to the world.  The love we are to communicate with agape may involve emotion, but that is not its driving force.  It may be strong enough in a person to drive them with need, but it will never be a selfish need.  It will always be what is best for someone else and is concerned with the will of God for that person.  Let’s get into the text here.

1:  The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

  • The letter itself was written from probably Ephesus by the Apostle John to one of the churches in either Macedonia or what is now Turkey.  He is sending it to his friend Gaius, about whom we know very little that we have already discussed.
  • Looking at the verse itself, the very first thing to notice is that John is naming himself “the elder” again.  As we determined last time, this might serve a few different purposes.  First, John is funning.  He’s calling himself “the old man.”  And certainly, he was ancient compared with most people at this point, having lived into his eighties or nineties.  Also, he wasn’t AN elder, he was THE Elder, a nod at the fact that at this point he was the last living Apostle of Jesus Christ.  Then, it was also a nod at his position within his own gathering, that of Elder.  I mean why wouldn’t he be? 
  • The address is to Gaius as we know, and since John calls him “Beloved,” we know he is known to John and is a believer.  John further asserts this by acknowledging that he loves Gaius in truth, and not just any truth but the truth as it is in Jesus.

John has once again established the connection between love and truth right at the outset of the letter.  Let’s see where that takes us.

2:  Prayers of and for the saints

One of the ways that we can communicate our love (agape, always agape) for the saints is to pray for them.  John lets us know some things in this verse.

2:  Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.

  • There are several noteworthy things in this verse, and <grin> some of them even relate to the point.  The first of these is that John calls Gaius “Beloved” a second time in eight words.  I think this is a couple of things.  First of all, it is how John viewed Gaius.  He loved him in Christ and wanted him to know it.  This is the reason I call you beloved from the pulpit here.  I love you in Christ, and I want you to know it, Beloved!  Maybe I don’t always get it right, but I will do my best and keep trying.
  • Second, I think the Holy Spirit is using a “once I have said it, twice I have confirmed it” kind of pattern.  Jesus said “truly, truly” when He meant things as an absolute fact, and this is my opinion, but I think this is a similar thing.  It was an absolute fact that Gaius was beloved of God, and John knew that.
  • John’s prayer for Gaius was that he would prosper and be in good health.  Now before the back bench on the internet starts to shout about how this is proof that God wants all believers to be financially prosperous and healthy all the time, I need to tell you this was a standard greeting in ancient letters of this period, and does not imply that Gaius was ill or had been miraculously healed in any way.  Having said that, it is not wrong to wish well-being for other believers.  It is a good thing for those who achieve it, and it is certainly something to be desired.  If you don’t believe me, just lose your money and your health.  Sometimes you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone, so to speak.
  • John also tells us that Gaius’ soul was prospering despite what his physical or economic circumstances may have been.  That’s the thing if you have been redeemed.  Your walk with Christ will always be in that “worthy manner” that Paul talks about in several of his letters if you are really Christ’s.  If not, everyone will see it.  The only one you are “fooling” if you’re trying to hide things is yourself.  Beloved, we see it and we care about you, so we don’t want you to continue in your sinful behaviour.  We will say things and do things that will try to help you focus your attention on your need for repentance because that is our job–to build you up in your most holy faith.  If you are truly a believer and you truly belong to Christ, you will understand that.  If not, maybe we can speak later.
  • John said these were his prayers for Gaius.  We should pray for our brothers and sisters like this.  We should pray for health in believers who need it, and we should pray for the resolution of financial issues for those that require it, but we MUST NOT “heal” people (we can’t unless we are doctors, and even then) and we cannot fix someone’s money problems by giving them money.  We must pray instead that God would bless them according to His will.  And whatever it is you think you need, I bet that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them that love Him. (1 Cor. 2:9)  My point here is that whatever you think you need, God has something WAY better than what you think for you if you will trust Him and let Him do His will in your life.  That’s what we should pray for other believers–that God would do His will in their lives.

John prays like this.  We need to imitate him as He imitates Christ.  If we will walk in this manner that is worthy of the life He has called us to, then he will fill us with His joy.  Next thought unit.

3-4:  The joy of walking in the truth

It is no coincidence that John wrote the passage in the order that he did.  The Holy Spirit who inspired this letter is the God of order and logic among everything else.  He inspired this in a way that would be easy for those who truly seek Him to understand and learn what is the will of God from Scripture.  Let’s see what John says here.

3:  For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth.

  • As servants of God, we hear things about others in the work.  Sometimes those things make you angry, sometimes sad, and at other times fear and reverence for the Lord.  In this case, John was filled with the joy of Christ that Gaius was walking in the truth.  John uses the phrase “your truth.”  The Greek is ho te alethia, literally “Your truth.”  We often hear that phrase in a negative context after sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it is the only way to be saved.  “Well, that’s YOUR truth.”  It makes those who are more familiar with basic logic chuckle if I’m honest.  As if there is a separate and contradictory truth, right?  It cannot be the case.  Truth by its nature is exclusive, and it excludes everything that is not the truth!  What does this mean then?
  • I think it is a case of Gaius appropriating the truth of Christ and John recognizing that fact.  Truth must be realized and appropriated, and with some individuals that can be a painfully long process, but it does happen.  With others, it never happens.  What should our actions be?  We need to be faithful to speak the truth in love and be joyful when someone DOES finally appropriate it.  In the meantime, we speak the truth, we speak it in love, and we appeal to them “as a dying man unto dying men,” as Richard Baxter put it in his work, The Reformed Pastor.
  • How do we know Gaius (or anyone else for that matter) has appropriated the truth of the Gospel for themselves?  It changes their life.  They actually walk in truth, and don’t just pay lip service to theological ideals but do nothing to change.  I am often amazed at how people, particularly of the Calvinist persuasion, seem to forget that all men still have free will.  We could debate the meaning of the term free will, but the results of that debate are kind of pointless in this light.  Did god choose His elect to give to His Son before the foundation of the world?  Yes, and He wrote them down in a special book called “The Lamb’s Book of Life.”  Now let me ask you:  Have you read a single entry in that book?  I will answer for you as well:  No, you have not.  We have no idea who is in that book and who is not.  Further, God has said we are to examine ourselves to see if WE are in the faith, not become some kind of self-appointed fruit inspector and then treat all the people you can “disqualify” from the elect like dirt or worse.  Agape does not do that.  It chooses to love no matter who is in front of them and is willing to pay the price to do so.  And that is a matter, with that kind of love, of choice.  Choice here may be defined as an exercise of your will to put that other person’s benefit and well-being before your own no matter how they have wronged you or will wrong you.  Paul told Timothy (I Tim. 2:1-2), “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”  Who was the king at the time?  Caesar Nero.  Paul still told Timothy to pray for the king, and in fact for all people.  Do you feel like someone has wronged you?  Maybe that’s true.  You still have a responsibility to love them and pray for them.  That’s what it means at times to walk in the truth, and in the next study, we will meet a gentleman that I personally would find very difficult to love.  For the record, we have already named him, it is Diotrephes, and if you want to be like him, just love to have the place of preeminence over God’s people and then try to protect yourself from the truth.  I’m setting the stage for what is to come. 
  • John knew that Gaius, the happy or blessed man, was walking in that truth.  Next verse.

4:  I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

  • Do you want to give people around you joy?  Walk in the truth, just as we have been discussing.  Did you know that your pastor, and by appointment of God, that includes me whether we like it or not, will have to stand and give a report of how you responded to the teaching of God’s word and the conduct of your life?  The Scriptures say so in Hebrews 13:17!  “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”  I am happy to say that I will be able for the majority to give joyful reports, but there are a couple of guys…all I will say is that I will grieve to have to report what I will have to report.  And from our conversations, you should know who you are.  I try not to speak unkind words, so you may have mistaken that as a good report.  Please, be honest with yourselves.  Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).  But enough about that.
  • It is a joy for the elder (John, or any of the others who have legitimately been ordained by God to that exercise) to see people walking in truth.  You have no idea what highs I experience when I finally see someone actually get what I have talked about, sometimes ad infinitum ad nauseam.  For all you non-Latin scholars it means “to infinity until nauseated.”  I see that and it’s Celebration Time!  Come on!  Let’s celebrate!  And I don’t even have to see it, all it takes for John (and the rest of us) is to hear the report and it will supercharge us to service for Christ.
  • On the other side of that coin is what happens when we do NOT see or hear that.  We don’t get depressed, we don’t get angry.  We become more strong and define our terms more specifically.  We speak more earnestly.  We counsel more individually, right up until the only option left is to discontinue when they have stopped listening.  And even then at the command of the Lord through Paul, we preach the gospel to such individuals in the hope that God would grant such an individual repentance.  That’s publicly.  Privately, once we have spoken our piece, we still try to do the same thing.  The only way you can get any one of us to quit is to sever the relationship between us, and even then we will still preach the gospel to you privately.  We will pray for you, in agony if need be, before the throne of God in our secret places and times of prayer.  And if we were to lose touch with such a one, we would do so until we arrive in glory before Christ.  That’s what Paul advocated, and Peter, James, the writer of Hebrews, Luke, Matthew, Mark, Jude, and now John would do, as would all those who were ever legitimately ordained by God to the exercise of overseer or elder.  Why?  That is what Christ called us to, and we want to obey Him.

John wrote this letter to address an issue that he became aware of in a church where we can only guess at the location.  We cannot know where Gaius was located because there are at least three and more likely four men by that name in the New Testament, and it was a popular name at that time.  What we CAN know is what John was saying to him by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and it can in turn give strong encouragement to us to walk in a worthy manner of what Christ has called us to in John’s and ultimately His own footsteps as His followers.

That’s what I saw in the text this evening.  I know it might seem a little off-speed from normal, but it’s setting up for the next study.  Next time, we will finish the letter, and then I will need a week off for Jude.  I apologize, but I am doing the work myself, these are not canned studies, Beloved.  I appreciate all your prayers for me as I prepare these.  I should also mention that I’ve made some upgrades to the BereanNation.com site.  We have taken the step of faith to take it out on our own.  I want to say thank you to the individual that was hosting it for us for free, and even helping at times to pay some of the bills like the domain name and such.  He knows who he is, and I won’t name him out of respect for privacy concerns.  Thank you, brother.  We are fully moved into our new digs online, and everything seems to be working.  If you find bugs, drop us an email.

That brings me to a special call out to like-minded brothers in Christ who may want to help donate some of their time and internet skills to edit and post things on the site.  It’s WordPress, so if you’ve done it before, it’s just like that, and if you have any knowledge at all it is very intuitive.  Again, drop me an email at pastoreGer@outlook.com.  I’d be happy to chat with you about it.

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