Summary: John the Elder writes an appraisal of three church members: Gaius - who serves others, Diotrephes - who hinders others, and Demetrius - who attracts others.
AS OTHERS SEE US
The third letter of John is one of the shortest in the New Testament but it has much to say to us. It’s a warm and honest pastoral letter. A straight from the shoulder message from a pastor to his people. Where encouragement and commendation are deserved they are given. Where unspirituality is evident it’s not glossed over.
The writer doesn’t identify himself as John the Apostle but writes only as "the elder". It’s likely that he was so well known, his authority so well recognised that he could use this title without any further explanation. The Apostle John is believed to have lived to a ripe old age in Ephesus. Over the long period of his exercising pastoral care he would become intimately acquainted with the affairs of churches in the province of Asia, and would be acknowledged by the local Christian communities as having spiritual oversight. There were other elders in the church, but because of John’s great age and position as the last of the Apostles, he was in a unique position, he was "the elder".
John is writing a very personal and frank letter. It’s largely made up of an assessment of three people he knew in the church. This kind of personal assessment happens in large organisations where the chief executive can’t possibly know everybody. So a person’s immediate superior writes out an appraisal of both his subordinate’s abilities and shortcomings dealing with his personal qualities and his work. A schoolteacher makes the same sort of assessment when he or she writes out a pupil’s report at the end of term. These reports are usually confidential and only available to the person being assessed. But in this instance John’s assessment is published to the whole world. This is also to be the case at Christ’s judgement seat when Christians will be rewarded or otherwise for their service to Him. At that moment the secrets of all hearts will be disclosed (2 Cor 5:10).
The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian believers that all their actions and motives fall into one of two categories the valuable: what he calls "gold, silver, precious stones", and the worthless: "wood, hay, stubble" (1 Cor 3:12). I sometimes wonder how my appraisal will read - it’s a sobering thought! In our earthly life God leaves us to get on with the job of building our lives for His glory. He may influence us through His Spirit, but doesn’t force us against our will. We act under our own responsibility; we are free agents of our destiny. But after life’s short journey is ended, at the Day of Christ each person’s work will become manifest. It will be an examination by fire, the most severe and searching scrutiny that anyone has experienced.
When students are preparing for examinations they are often encouraged to refer to previous examination papers to get an idea of what they can expect and see the standards that are being set. This is what John the elder is showing us in his letter. So let’s take advantage of his assessment of the three people he mentions. It’s our opportunity to notice the qualities that are commended and will survive the fiery trial and go on to be rewarded. It will also warn us away from those character defects that will result in our life’s work being burned up causing us to suffer loss. The first person John assesses is:
GAIUS WHO SERVES OTHERS
Several men named Gaius appear in the pages of the New Testament. There was a Gaius in Corinth. This man acted as host to Paul and it seems that the local church met in his house. And then there was a Gaius in Derbe who accompanied Paul on his last missionary journey through Greece. Both these men were true servants of Christ. But the name Gaius was very common at that time in the Roman Empire, so John’s letter could have been addressed to another person not otherwise mentioned in the New Testament.
From the way that John writes it’s clear that Gaius occupied a position of responsibility and leadership in the local church. But John knew him on a personal level as well. He writes with warmth: "My dear friend Gaius" (1). It’s possible that Gaius might owe his conversion to John because he writes that nothing gives him greater joy than to hear that his children are living by the truth. Gaius presented no problem to John. In fact the Elder is able to repeat a testimonial he had received from Christians who had visited Gaius’ church. On their return to the Elder they had brought back a good report on Gaius. They said:
HE ABOUNDED IN SPIRITUAL HEALTH
Gaius may have been physically unwell and in fact the Elder prays that his friend might enjoy good health. But whatever might have been his physical condition, his spirit was aglow. He may have been poor materially and most Christians in those days were, but his soul was brimming over with spiritual life and vitality. This is the standard that God is looking for, because it is what Jesus has made possible. Our Lord said, "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). It isn’t God’s intention that we should live in a state of spiritual invalidism. The invalid has life, but it’s life endured rather than life enjoyed in fellowship with the Lord. Another plus point for Gaius is that: