Posted: 07 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
THE SITUATION BEHIND 3 John seems to be something like the following. The writer, the "elder" (3 John 1:1), presumably the apostle John, has written to a particular church in his purview, apparently asking that church if it would do what it could to help out some "brothers" (3 John 1:5) who have been sent out on evangelistic ministry. Unfortunately, that church had been hijacked by one Diotrephes, who, in the apostle's view, was much more interested in being "first," i.e., in self-promotion and autocratic control, than he was in the advance of the Gospel (3 John 1:9). With such values controlling him, Diotrephes was quite prepared to spurn the apostle's approach.
From a distance, there was little the apostle could do. Nevertheless, when he does show up, he will call attention to what Diotrephes is doing, exposing him to the church (3 John 1:10). Apparently John is confident that he has the authority and credibility to carry the day. Meanwhile, the apostle sidesteps the normal channels of authority and writes his dear friend Gaius (3 John 1:1), who appears to belong to the same church but is of a very different spirit to that of Diotrephes.
After some preliminary words (3 John 1:2–4), John enthusiastically praises Gaius for the way he has opened up his home to these traveling "brothers" (3 John 1:5). Indeed, some of them have brought back reports of Gaius's excellent hospitality (3 John 1:6). Gaius will do well to continue this excellent ministry, sending them out "in a manner worthy of God" (3 John 1:6)—an astonishing standard we should emulate today when we commission and support missionaries who are truly faithful. In short, stouthearted generosity among Christians, exemplified by Gaius, is bound to be mission-minded; bullheaded lust for power, exemplified by Diotrephes, is far more likely to become narrow and myopic in vision.
Observe the piercing clarity of the opening remarks (3 John 1:2–3). First, John prays that Gaius's health will prosper as his soul prospers. Note which of the two is the standard of the other! Second, the apostle remarks on what has given him great joy—namely, the report of Gaius's faithfulness to the truth, his walk in the truth. Third, John generalizes this last point: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 1:4). In a world where many Christians derive their deepest joy from advancement, ease, promotions, financial security, good health, popularity, and a host of other things, it is delightful, not to say challenging, to hear an apostle testify that nothing stirs his joy more than to hear that his "children" are walking in line with the Gospel. That tells us all we need to know of his heart—and of where we should find our pleasures too.
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