A Beloved Servant

3 John 1–4

Churches are like families: full of members with differing personalities, dispositions, and temperaments. Some members are friendly, loving, truthful, generous, and hospitable, while others are unloving, arrogant, and abusive.

The apostle John addressed this situation in his third letter to Gaius—a truthful, loving, and hospitable servant of Jesus Christ. He commended Gaius for his testimony and warned him about Diotrephes, an arrogant, abusive church leader who refused to receive John or his emissaries.

The books of 2 and 3 John share many similarities:

  • They resemble each other in appearance, grammar, vocabulary, theme, and organization.
  • They address specific people (the elect lady in 2 John and Gaius in 3 John).
  • They praise the addressees for knowing and walking in truth.
  • They instruct the addressees on how to treat traveling teachers who seek opportunities to minister in the local church.

The format of 3 John follows the typical style of letters during that period. The salutation mentions both the writer and recipient, praises Gaius’s commitment to the truth, and includes a prayer for his health and welfare (vv. 1–4).

The body of the letter praises Gaius’s treatment of traveling preachers (vv. 5–8) and warns him about Diotrephes (vv. 9–12). John concluded his letter by stating his desire to see Gaius in the near future and wishing him well (vv. 13–14).

Most scholars believe John wrote this letter from Ephesus around AD 90.

John never emphasized his apostolic authority by addressing himself as the author. He simply referred to himself as “The Elder” (v. 1; cf. 2 John 1), stressing his position as a loving shepherd over his flock.

Elders (Greek, presbuteros) were overseers in the first-century church (equivalent to bishops). They were the spiritually mature leaders of the local assemblies (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1–7). There are two types of elders: ruling elders and teachers—“those who labor in the word and doctrine” (5:17). They function as undershepherds of the Lord and stewards who administer the affairs of a local church.

Since John is not named as the author of 3 John, some Bible scholars have questioned his authorship. However, John never identified himself by name in any of the books he wrote. In the Gospel of John, he simply called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20; cf. 13:23; 20:2; 21:7).

Style, vocabulary, time frame, and message provide convincing evidence that John wrote all three epistles bearing his name.

Praising Gaius
John wrote, “To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 Jn. 1–2).

Gaius was a common New Testament name. Four men bore it:

  1. Gaius of Macedonia, who traveled with Paul and Aristarchus to Ephesus and was seized along with them in the riot there (Acts 19:29).
  2. Gaius of Derbe, who traveled with Paul from Corinth to Troas (20:4).
  3. Gaius of Corinth, whom Paul baptized while in that city (1 Cor. 1:14). He likely was the same Gaius who hosted Paul and “the whole church” when Paul penned the book of Romans (Rom. 16:23).
  4. Gaius to whom John wrote this letter.

Scholars generally agree the Gaius in 3 John is different from the others associated with Paul.

Although John did not state where Gaius lived within the Roman province, he probably lived far from Ephesus, where John resided. Nothing in the letter indicates Gaius functioned as a leader within his local church, but he must have been a moral, loyal, and trustworthy man in his assembly.

The word beloved (3 Jn. 2) is the Greek word agapetos, which means “well-beloved.” It expressed John’s deep, ongoing relationship and affection for Gaius. John, as well as believers in Gaius’s local church, highly respected him. John called Gaius “well-beloved” four times (vv. 1, 2, 5, 11). Although John continually encouraged believers to love all people as God does, John dearly loved Gaius as a brother in Christ.

He used the phrase whom I love in [the] truth (v. 1) to emphasize the type of love he possessed for Gaius. He did not say “in [the] truth” to underline the genuineness of his love (although it was genuine) but, rather, to denote that his love was a brotherly love that functioned in the circle of believers—those who know and practice the truth. This is the type of love believers have for one another (cf. vv. 3, 4, 8, 12).

Praying for Gaius
Rather than include a standard greeting, John began his letter to Gaius with a specific prayer and wish for him: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (v. 2).

This is the second time John called Gaius “beloved” in his salutation, indicating his close bond with his brother in Christ. These words probably greatly encouraged and strengthened Gaius, especially since they came from John. John wanted Gaius to know how much he appreciated his commitment to serve the Lord in order to undergird him for the problem he would later mention in this letter.

John’s prayer for Gaius was two-fold: First, John wished that he “may prosper in all things” (v. 2). The word prosper means “way, path, road, route, course, or journey.” The idea is to be led along in one’s trip and brought to a safe, successful end upon arrival. John used the word not to wish Gaius a successful trip but, rather, to wish him God’s help on his path in serving the Lord.

Some preachers misuse the phrase that you may prosper in all things to promote what is called “the prosperity gospel.” They teach that God wants all believers to be healthy and wealthy—free from all physical afflictions and financial woes.

These preachers also seriously misinterpret and misapply Deuteronomy 8:18, which states God has given His people “power to get wealth.” They rip the passage from its context. God does not promise believers health and wealth in this life. To the contrary, Jesus promised, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

Second, John wished Gaius would “be in health” (3 Jn. 2). This expression does not mean he believed Gaius was sick. Rather, John wanted to know about Gaius’s welfare so that he would not burden him by asking him to house missionaries if he was not healthy.

John added “just as your soul prospers” (v. 2) to indicate he knew Gaius was a dedicated man in character and conduct who was growing spiritually as he served the Lord. John wished Gaius’s physical health would be as hardy as his spiritual health.

Pleasure Over Gaius
John then concluded his salutation: “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth” (v. 3). The apostle “rejoiced greatly” at the good news he received about Gaius’s well-being.

The “brethren” who reported to him were most likely Christian workers whom John sent from Ephesus to evangelize surrounding cities and teach within the churches. Upon their return, these workers reported to John on the churches’ spiritual conditions, their leaders, and their hospitality.

Such reports kept John informed on the assemblies under his administration, enabling him to provide counsel and correction if needed. Since he received a glowing report on Gaius and his ministry, John praised him for a job well done and encouraged him.

John wrote to Gaius, “[The] brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth” (v. 3). The brethren not only heard of Gaius’s godly walk with the Lord, but they personally witnessed it.

While staying with Gaius, they would have observed him daily in all types of situations and could have evaluated him and vouched for his obedience to Christ.

John used the word truth three times in verses 3 and 4 to refer to two things: (1) doctrinal truth in the gospel of Christ (cf. 1 Jn. 2:21–23) and (2) the individual’s character and conduct in living daily for Christ (cf. 1:6; 2:4; 3:18–19). Gaius’s possession of the truth manifested itself in the love he showed to fellow Christians (3 Jn. 6).

John was so pleased by Gaius’s commitment to truth and love that he wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (v. 4). In other words, hearing of Gaius’s godly life and sincere commitment to serve the Lord was the greatest news John could have received.

The phrase my children (v. 4) could be interpreted in two ways:

  1. It could refer to those John led to the Lord. Paul used a similar phrase when referring to his converts (1 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 4:19). Thus John might have led Gaius to the Lord.
  2. It could refer to those under his spiritual care and supervision since he was the elder over many churches in the region. The latter is more likely, though either interpretation could be true.

The phrase walk in truth (3 Jn. 4) conveys the idea not merely of accepting the truth of the gospel, but also living out one’s Christian beliefs.

The report John received on Gaius is the commendation all Christian leaders long to receive about those whom they have led to the Lord, discipled, or oversee in a local church. It is thrilling to be used of the Lord to lead others to Christ, and it is an added delight to watch them grow and mature in the faith. How does your commitment measure up to Gaius’s?

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