Wouldn't you like to receive a letter from John the Apostle? I would. The wonder of it all is that even though this letter is from John to a man named Gaius, it is also the Word of the Lord written to you.
In the Early Church, men like Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria called John's epistles "First, Second and Third John," by the name "Ioannou"—which was John's name, plus the first three letters of the Greek alphabet, "Alpha, Beta or Gamma." Instead of 1st, 2nd or 3rd John, they were called John A, B or G. All three of these letters were written in about 90 AD, prior to the severe persecution of the church at the end of Emperor Domitian's reign in 96 AD. John resided, spoke and wrote within the Roman province of Asia, in the city of Ephesus, not far from the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea.
The Bible is full of contrasts—Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Kings Saul and David, Judas Iscariot and Peter—very real, historical people, but also parables, used as contrasts, illustrations to help us see the differences between people of faith and those who persist in unbelief. In Verse 1 we find a man of faith named "Gaius," the initial recipient of John's letter called "Ioannou Gamma" (3 John): "The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth." The first leaders of the church were called by a variety of titles. Originally they were "disciples," a word that meant "student" or "learner." Later they were designated as "apostles" or "sent-ones." John was what we would today call a bishop, especially serving the area surrounding Ephesus, and such leaders were "elders" to the ones they served. John didn't have to include his name because his readers knew precisely who he was.
Much has been made of Verse 2, which says, "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers." What beautiful words. Some have taken them to mean that a person of faith in the Lord need never be sick or broke or out of work. It simply does not convey that idea. It's a sincere hope for Gaius and other recipients such as you and me, but not a guarantee that all will go well. If it was a guarantee, then Paul the Apostle, a faithful man, never would have suffered from his "thorn in the flesh" seen in 2 Corinthians 12:7 & context. The Lord, in refusing to remove Paul's problem said, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" in Verse 9. And Paul could respond in Verse 10, "When I am weak, then I am strong." Our apparently unresolved problems are designed to bring us into deep faith in the Lord.
Isn't it wonderful it is when someone important praises you? It happened to Gaius in Verse 3, when John said, "For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth." None of us are perfect because we're all human, just like Gaius. But we can be honest and true in words and actions. You have the right to be honestly wrong, and when you are, your mistakes can be taken to the Lord, who will forgive you and heal you (1 John 1:9). As Verse 4 continues, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." The Lord Himself has great joy when you are simply "walking in the truth."
It's risky to help others, especially strangers you don't know. They might turn on you or take what you have. But Gaius acted in faith, helping them anyway, as seen in Verses 5-6: "Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God." These verses illustrate that it is important to follow the Lord in all situations in which we learn that the Lord is here for us. Gaius likely gulped when they came to him, then prayed, and as the Holy Spirit led him, he treated them kindly, then helped them on their way.
The ones who came to Gaius followed the Lord also, as in Verses 7-8: "For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth." Has it occurred to you that to accept the Lord's call is to take a vow of poverty? It's not that we necessarily will be poor, but instead we trust in HIM instead of in our own cleverness or strength. Those honest, trustworthy people went out, accepting only help as the Lord led, and so they came to Gaius who was part of the Lord's provision for them.
And here is the contrast to Gaius in Verse 9: "I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say." Pride is dangerous and destructive, both to yourself and to others. This man was not following God, but instead advanced himself, only pretending to trust in the Lord—and here was John, an old man of God, standing tall in the Spirit against evil. Note in Verse 10 that prideful Diotrephes was the precise opposite in character to faithful Gaius: "For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church." The faithful one helped others and the other only helped himself.
Have you noticed how people imitate one another? We copy what others wear, what words they use. what they do and the way they live. So here is the Lord's warning through John in Verse 11: "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God." Who do you admire? Why do you like them? Who you copy reveals something of who you really are. And here is a flourish in Verse 12, in which a man named Demetrius is included to further help us understand: "Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true." Demetrius, like John and Gaius, had a reputation for honesty. It is dangerous to reveal who you really are..."everybody" knows that, but everybody can be wrong. This man went about doing good, openly, honestly, without a desire for personal gain, and those he served knew it.
What's the best way to communicate with someone? Is it to send them a letter, text or an email? Or speak with them face to face? John's conclusion was to speak personally, as in Verses 13-14: "I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face." We are blessed these days with many ways to communicate, but the give and take of an ongoing personal relationship is best. A statement by someone always leads to questions that require answers and more questions, which is why the Lord has given us His Holy Spirit. He comes right into believers in the Lord, bringing the truth personally into us, including the potential for peaceful relationships as in Verse 15: "Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name." The Holy Spirit offers us true, honest and loving relationships. We can be friends because God is our Friend and He is in us.
Lord, I place my faith in You. Help me be a friend to those in need. Let any "thorn" in the flesh lead me to deeply trust You and have an honest concern for those You send my way. In Jesus Name. Amen.