This week we continue our look at the five Books of the Bible with no chapters and short on words. 3 John in its Greek text is the shortest document in the NT, 219 words. We have here the same interpretive problem as in 2 John. We can I believe with some certainty see this as a person whose authority is informal and unofficial, while resting heavily on theological and moral persuasion. The addressee, Gaius, is a very common name and is believed in various commentaries to have been at one time associated with the Elder, possibly one of his converts. He is now apparently affiliated with another Christian community within the Johannine circle. We should note that the letter is also directed to “the children of the church and the friends of the church.”
This is a letter of introduction and recommendation. You could say it would be much like a letter of reference that is used in business or educational settings today. In 3 John the letter differs from the standard format typical of such letters of it’s day. John has withheld the identification and recommendation until near the end of the letter. He has expanded the qualifying and theologically formulating of the recommendation’s rational and moved it to the first position. The opening verse is strong in theological formulation. It is very much like the salutation we read in 2 John. We read here in these few words the stressing of Love and Truth. The use of these two words reflect John’s instructions to walk like Christ among the people in Truth and Love. Some say it is John’s oblique way of referring to Christ, of which there is no direct mention or referral to in this letter.
In verses 2-4 the elder is concerned with the health and truth not only of Gaius but also the “children”. In verse two it seems as though the elder is expressing his hope that Gaius’s life will be balanced in both his physical and spiritual endeavors. The elder states he hopes he is in good health and all is well with his soul. Moving to verses 3&4 the elder once again returns to the joy of hearing that the “children are walking in the truth”, living out their Christian calling. He also returns to the family as a metaphor for the church, “some brothers.” One other thing that is worth noting here is the apparent mobility of these early Johannine congregations. The elder speaks of brothers coming to him with good reports, a testament to these early Christian people and their church. The advantage of this mobility is that the encouragement of the elder and Gaius, prominent members of these loosely affiliated congregations, strengthens those in this region. It is a universal thing among the faith, that we have great joy for those who work, walk and live in the word and do it well, they are always an encouragement to all of us.
The elder in verses 5-12 moves on to the practical side of this faith work with suggestions for the brothers. The message here is really very simple. The elder wishes to put before the Johannine congregations an understanding of hospitality which was briefly addressed in 2John. I may get off the rail here but it seems as if the point to be made here is that whatever work is done for those new to the field is in fact an expression of love. There is no distinction made between a loving work done for a fellow Christian and the activity of faith. The Johannine theology considers belief in Christ to be a “work” of God. Works alone won’t save you, but grace will. There may be some distance here between the elder and Paul but faith is activated by love. To make this simple before I become totally confused The elder is encouraging, no recommending, that all should be done to help these itinerant Christians, brothers, strangers as much as possible on their way, not just a polite farewell but assistance in travel expenses and other needs. The elder believes such treatment is warranted because “they set out for the sake of the name.” He points out that they certainly did not receive help from the gentiles. Part of that however was their being careful not to be associated with anything or person that might put a bad light on the ministry. The point here is that it is our duty to help such people. The hospitality and financial aid is not for the purpose of gaining influence over them or make them beholden to us. The purpose is that we may become co-workers with the truth, that we work together for the cause, so to speak. We become fellow workers in the faith.
“I have written something to the church”….verses 9 and 10 concern the condemning of Diotrephes. This is of little help to us the reader because we do not know all that he wrote or to whom it was addressed. I would not credit this as gossip as we know it today but it certainly comes close. The elder is concerned enough about the behavior of one Diotrephes that he believes others should be aware and he even lists five complaints he has with that behavior. Excellent study material here in the NIB, to keep it short I favor the the latter suggestion of what is going on here. We know that these are rather loosely affiliated congregations and it may be that Diotrephes may have refused hospitality to the elder and his associates out of fear that his community’s doctrinal standards might be contaminated. It would not be unreasonable to believe that the elder did not agree with that assessment. The reasoning that follows as pointed out in the NIB is believable and I favor it. If this were the case it would have brought a stunning irony to our attention. “Diotrephes may have practiced a rigorous form of the elder’s own doctrinal and communal discipline, preached in 2 John!” Do we not have such reservations among the faith community this very day?
In these verses 11-12 we read of the elder’s obvious disapproval of Diotrephes actions. Because of Diotrephes challenge and the elder’s support for Demetrius we can reasonably conclude that here we have a good reason for this letter 3 John. The elder reminds them that the general resources of Johannine tradition contrasts with the aggressive, targeted action taken by Diotrephes against those he opposes. It may be that Demetrius is the elder’s envoy to the church that Gaius is associated with. Demetrius comes highly spoken of to the elder, so much so that the elder says “our testimony is true.”
As we now read the last verses of this letter 13-15, there is much to be considered but I would like to share with you the closing remarks from NIB.
“Remarkably, in spite of all its introversion and avowed estrangement from the world, the Johannine church is summoned in this letter to welcome the stranger. the one who comes FOR the sake of the name , who needs equipment for the next leg of the journey, who bears witness to the church’s love and the truth in which the church walks. No one knew better than the elder that opening the door to the stranger carries risks, for the same road that brings to our door genuine need, worthy of our support, also brings disturbance and even danger.”
I step away for just a moment to allow you the reader to absorb what you have just read. The last part of the above statement is so meaningful that it needs to be read over several times.
“But the elder also realized, and testifies to us, that the church that keeps its door locked cannot possibly be faithful to the truth or instrumental for love.”
There is much more to share in this letter but I will end on this note. There is truth in the saying “that good things come in small packages”. Next week Jude. Hope you will come back to the pew. I again this week acknowledge the “New Interpreter’s Bible” as the source of aid in preparing the blog. Remember, there are many sources available for study and sharing, use them to increase your knowledge of the word and to share the word with others.