The Third Epistle of John
The Reception of the Servants of God
In the Third Epistle, the apostle encourages us to receive and help forward those who move about amongst the Lord's people, preaching the Gospel and ministering the truth.
He sets before us three very different characters - Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius - and gives us a remarkable glimpse into the Christian circle of that day. From this picture of the early Christians, we learn that in those early days there existed the same circumstances and the same difficulties which arise amongst those who seek to walk in the truth in these last days.
(Vv. 1-4). In "the beloved Gaius" we see a spiritually-minded saint whose interests were centred in the Lord's people. In a few brief words the apostle delineates the beautiful Christian graces that marked this brother.
Firstly, he was a believer well-instructed in the truth, for the apostle can speak of "the truth that is in thee." It had a lodging place in his heart. Moreover, this was known, not by any boasted knowledge on his part, but on the testimony of the brethren.
Secondly, he not only had the truth, but he gave evidence of it by walking in the truth. His practical life was consistent with the truth he professed. What greater joy can a servant have than knowing that those, who have been blessed through the truth he has ministered, are walking according to it! This joy the apostle had as he heard through others of Gaius, his child in the faith.
(V. 5). Thirdly, having the truth and walking in the truth, he acted faithfully towards the brethren and strangers who were wholly devoting their lives to the service of the Lord.
(Vv. 6, 7). Fourthly, he was marked not only by faithfulness but also by love. It is possible to be faithful but lacking in love, or, in seeking to show love, to fail in faithfulness. In Gaius faithfulness and love were happily combined. Moreover, we again note that his love, like his walk, was not a matter of boasting on his part, but was borne witness to by others.
Fifthly, Gaius was apparently a man of means and did well in using his means to help forward on their journeys those brethren who, as itinerant preachers, had gone forth for the sake of Christ, casting themselves upon God.
(V. 8). Sixthly, Gaius not only helped the saints in their journeys, but he joined with others in receiving them into their homes and assemblies. If, indeed, he is the Gaius of whom the apostle Paul writes as "Gaius mine host", he had in his day entertained the apostle Paul (Romans 16: 23).
Seventhly, as the result of his practical love, Gaius became with others a fellow-helper of the truth.
There is no word to indicate that Gaius was gifted as a teacher or preacher, but he possessed those spiritual qualities, without which gift goes for nothing, but with which he will have a great place in the day to come. He comes before us as a lowly, gracious and devoted saint, one who cherished the truth, walked in the truth, acted in faithfulness and love, helped the saints in their journeys, welcomed them into the assemblies, and thus helped to spread the truth. Little wonder that the apostle speaks of him as "the beloved Gaius", for there was everything in Gaius to draw out the affection of the saints. Who would not covet to be a Gaius?
(Vv. 9, 10). If in Gaius we have a beautiful example of a saint governed by the truth, in Diotrephes we have a solemn warning of the way in which the whole Christian life may be marred by the unjudged vanity of the flesh. There is no suggestion that Diotrephes was not a Christian. He evidently was a prominent brother in one assembly, and we may therefore conclude a gifted man, but all was spoilt by his love of pre-eminence. He was moved by the "vainglory" against which another apostle warns us, when he writes, "Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another" (Galatians 5: 26, N.Tn.); and, again, he exhorts, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory" (Philippians 2: 3).
Moved by vanity, Diotrephes loved to have the first place in the assembly. This self-importance, as ever, made him jealous of others, and jealousy expressed itself in "malicious words", and not content therewith, he proceeded to violent acts that led him, not only to refuse to receive the Lord's servants, but to cast out of the assembly those who would do so.
We may well take warning by Diotrephes, for the flesh is in us, and by nature we are all self-important. Unless judged, it will lead us to ignore utterly the Lord's glory, the good of His people and the advancement of the truth. Blinded by unjudged vanity, we can easily forget all that is consistent in a Christian, and as of old act in jealousy, giving way to malicious words and violent acts.
(V. 11). Having set before us these two different characters, one exhibiting the graces of Christ, the other the traits of the flesh, the apostle exhorts us to refuse the evil and to follow the good, thus proving that we have a nature which is "of God", rather than demonstrating that we have the flesh in us which "hath not seen God."
(V. 12). Finally, the apostle brings before us in Demetrius one who was well known to "all". We may conclude, therefore, that he was one of the gifted servants who moved about amongst "all" the Lord's people ministering the Word.
He had three marks that every labouring servant may well covet. Firstly, he had a "good report of all." It is evident, then, that he was not a vain, self-assertive man, seeking a prominent place, nor a malicious gossiper, prating against others. Had he been such, he would never have had a good report of all men. Moreover, the truth was so exemplified in Demetrius that it witnessed to him a good report. Had it been otherwise, the truth would have condemned him. Lastly, as he walked in accordance with the example and teaching of the apostles, they also witnessed to his integrity and devotedness.
How good, then, when the servants of the Lord who move amongst the assemblies ministering the Word are so careful of their words, their walk, their ways, that they have a good report of all, that they exemplify the truth they teach, and mould their lives according to the teaching and practice of the apostles.
May we, then, emulate the lowliness and spirituality of Gaius, take warning by Diotrephes, and seek so to live that, like Demetrius, we have a good report of all.