The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 3 John 5-9

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck
Week Three:  Sept 25, 2011
This week we continue the study in 3 John picking up in verse 5.

I. Body

Having finished with the formal introduction of the letter, John now begins to move towards the purpose of his letter which centers on the support of traveling missionaries.   First he starts with praise of Gaius and his treatment of traveling missionaries before moving on to a problem that has arisen.

a. Commendation of Gaius (5-8)

5 – Dear friend, you are faithful in whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers.
– Again (see last week verse 2) John begins this section with a statement of affection.
– He points out how Gaius’ personal ministry was one marked by service to fellow Christians.  Yet Gaius did not restrict his service just to his friends.  It is one thing to help friends.  It is quite another thing to help strangers. But Gaius seems to have gone out of his way to help those he did not know.  Gaius’ ministry brings to mind Mt 25:40 – “I tell you with certainty, since you did it for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’”
6  – They have testified before the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.
– Evidently when the traveling missionaries returned from their trip they gave a report to the church and they made mention of the kindness Gaius had shown them.
You will do well
– While in English this can carry and air of warning, in Greek it is an idiom expressing a polite form of request. John is simply encouraging Gaius to continue to extend his hospitality in future visits.
a manner worthy of God.
– Those in the service of the gospel need our support.  1 Tim 5: 18 says – For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox while it is treading out grain,” and “A worker deserves his pay.”
o Side note:  This is a citation from Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7.  But both are being referred to as scripture.
7 – After all, they went on their trip for the sake of the Name,[1] accepting no support from gentiles.
– John supports his request by pointing to their dedication (the sake of the Name) and their need (accepting no support from gentiles).   This was an unusual practice for the time period as many teachers, philosophers, and non-Christian religious preachers lived by selling their services.  Priests of a Syrian Goddess would brag that each “missionary” journey would bring in 70 bags of gold.  (Rogers)  Instead as Jesus told his disciples in Mt 10:8 You have received without payment, so give without payment.
8* – Therefore, we ought to support such people so that we can become fellow workers[2] with them.
– Note here that John switches to “we.”  He is making a universal point that all Christians ought to support those who work to spread the Gospel.    The Greek word for “ought” is one for a moral obligation, or to owe a debt.  (Rogers)
so that we can become fellow workers with them
– While we are all to share our faith, not all are called out for evangelism.  Instead God has gifted and called some for this task.  If we are not called, then we should support those who are.  This makes us fellow workers all working together for the same goal.
– This should be our view for all ministries.  If we are not out on the front lines, how can we help those who are?
b. Criticism of Diotrephes (9,10)
9 I wrote a letter[3] to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be in charge, will not recognize our authority.[4]
– Having laid out the positive part of his message, John now comes to the heart of the letter.  This was the problem that had spawned the letter.  He had sent an earlier letter to Diotrephes, apparently with some instruction or council, but it was rejected.  This immediately raises three questions.  Which letter is John referring to?  To which church did he write? And who was Diotrephes?
Question 1:   What Letter is John referring to?
There are basically three possible answers, 1 John, 2 John, or a missing letter.  Based on the context in this letter, the earlier letter John wrote seems to have dealt with the support of traveling missionaries.  This would seem to rule out 1 John, which is concerned with a group that split away from the church, not traveling missionaries.    While 2 John does deal with traveling missionaries, the missionaries in that letter are spreading false teachings.  There is no indication of false teachings in 3 John.   So that would seem to rule out 2 John.
That leaves us with the option of an unknown missing letter.  This is not a problem.  We know that not everything the apostles wrote made it into the New Testament.  1 Corinthians 5:9 seems to refer to an earlier letter, and the description of the severe letter mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:3-9 does not really match 1 Corinthians.  While we do not know why these two letters were not included in the New Testament, the reason that earlier letter from John mentioned in this verse was not included is probably very simple.   Having rejected the letter, it is highly unlikely that Diotrephes would have saved it.
Question 2: To which church did he write?
The most natural reading of this would indicate that the church in question was Gaius’ church. But this raises an issue.  From what we have read so far, Gaius was mostly likely a prominent person in his church. This would also be indicated by the fact that John is writing to him, and not someone else.   But if Gaius was such a leader in same church as Diotrephes, then why is John writing to tell him about things he should have already known?
This has led some to conclude that the church headed by Diotrephes was a different church than Gaius’.  In this case John is warning Gaius lest Diotrephes’ influence spread to Gaius’ church.   While this may initially seems a better solution, as we look closer it is not.   First off, given the praise of Gaius in previous verses, it is difficult to see that there was any real threat that Gaius would be influence by Diotrephes.    Even more difficult is John’ statement in the next verse saying, “When I come…”    So it would seem that Gaius was a member of Diotrephes church.
So how do we explain the letter?  There would appear to be three options.  First, it is possible that Diotrephes destroyed the letter before Gaius and the rest of the church knew about it.  His attempt to communicate with Diotrephes having failed, John is now writing Gaius.  This would also explain why we do not have the letter.
A second option is that Gaius, while a prominent member, lived far enough away so as not to have known what was going on.  This explanation also has an added benefit; in this case it would explain why Gaius was so important to traveling missionaries.
A third option is that it is possible that Gaius had been ill.  We saw in verse 2 that John prayed for Gaius’ health.  While this does to mean that Gaius was in fact ill, it is a possibility, and would explain the need for the letter.    Finally, it could have been some combination of the above.
Question 3: Who was Diotrephes?
This is the only mention of Diotrephes in the New Testament.  During the first century the name was not very common, and literally means “Comes from Zeus” or “Zeus-Nurtured.” When the name is found it is normally associated with nobility.  The Greek word for “loves to be in charge” (philoproteuon) means a desire to be first, the desire to lead others.  It indicates that the root of the problem was an issue of power and ego, not doctrine.  Diotrephes wanted to run his church as he saw fit, and was rejecting the authority of John.  He also had some other issues as we will see in the next verse.
It is easy to write this off as simply a personal problem with Diotrephes; one that has little to teach us, but when we consider the time and place it is also easy to see that there was some more going on here that does speak to our time.
When John wrote this letter he was probably old and very likely the last of the Apostles.  The early church was in a period of transition, from the rule of the Apostles, to what would end up as the rule of Bishops.  But none of this was formal or structured.  That would come much later.   As such, it should not be all that surprising that in this time of transition there would be a young ambitious man who would come to think he could do things better, and in doing so would question why he should have to submit to John.
The problem of Diotrephes is something that many young people have felt in many walks of life.  It is something that many young pastors have struggled with.  But it is not limited to pastors.  We all tend to think that we could do things better or different.  While at time the old are too reluctant to change, likewise at times, the young are too eager. We must guard against both.
Eph 5:21 says that we should “submit to one another out of reverence for the Messiah.”  Yet this is not a command, even though it often appears as such in many translations.  This is because all translation must balance readability with accuracy.  In modern English long complicated sentences are to be avoid.  Here the sentence begins back in Eph 5:18 with the command to “keep on being filled with the Spirit, then you will…”  What follows is a list of the effects of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Thus when we get to verse 21, submitting to one another is result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, not a command.
This is a particularly important message today because it is so counter cultural.   Our culture sees submission as a bad thing. In fact we see rebellion as a good thing. On top of that, our culture emphasizes the young, and devalues the old.  Even within the church, tradition is rejected and the new is sought.  So Diotrephes would fit right in with our modern view of the world, and as such is a warning to the modern Church.


I encourage an open class and a range of questions, not just those dealing with the material covered in the class that week. This week two people had a question on how to deal with co-workers. In one case the co-worker was a Jehovah Witnesses, and in the other a Mormon.   The first point I made is to avoid loaded words like “cult.” This is because nothing is gained, except to divert attention on to a semantic discussion on the meaning of the word.  Instead, I refer to these groups in factual terms, i.e., that they differ from the beliefs that have historically defined Christianity.  Most Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses I have talked to would agree. They differ from historical Christianity, because they think historical Christianity is wrong.   This keeps the discussion way from semantic debates and focused on what really matters, which view is correct.
The second point I made was to point out that this is primarily a spiritual issue and not really an issue of evidence and reason.  Jesus makes magnificent arguments.  In terms of reason, logic, and evidence his arguments were solid.  Yet in response his opponents wanted to stone him. He raised Lazarus from the dead and in response his opponents wanted to kill Lazarus.  We cannot expect to do better than Jesus did.
So what then can we do? Pray.  This is a spiritual battle, and our first line of defense is to pray. Pray for them, and pray for yourself.  Second, listen.  You are not witnessing to “a Mormon,” or “a Jehovah Witness.”  You are witnessing to a person who has their own issues and beliefs.  Why are they a Mormon?  Why are the Jehovah Witness?  Why do they hold the belief that they do?   Three, don’t feel like you need to be the Bible Answer man.  Feel free to say “That’s a good point, let me look into that.”   This will give you time to research the issue and get back to them.  Forth, seek to ask questions more than make points.  The evidence and the facts are on our side. Let them defend how they get around those facts, and why they ignore the evidence.
Finally, I made the point that you should not expect to see results. If you do, great! But, often we never see how the Holy Spirit will use what we have said. When I was an atheist, it was not the statements that Christians said that affected me, it was how the Holy Spirit used those statements, how I struggled with them later on, which had an impact.
Next week we will start in 3 John 10
If you have question about the class, feel free to send me an email at and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.
See here for more background on the class.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission.
Note: Some places I have modify the text from the version ISV. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

[1] 7 I.e. God
[2] ISV: genuine Helpers
[3] 9 Lit. wrote something
[4] 9 The Gk. lacks authority
Sep 28th, 2011

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