Summary: John the Elder writes an appraisal of three church members: Gaius - who serves others, Diotrephes - who hinders others, and Demetrius - who attracts others.

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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:

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Aaron Householder

commented on Jan 15, 2009

What a great view of this text! Thanks so much for sharing you insight, Brother.

Greg Nance

commented on May 21, 2010

Owen, this is an excellent message! I appreciate the craftmanship and clear exposition with helpful application. May God bless your ministry.

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