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.