In the letter known as 1 John, the apostle John opposed a kind of false teaching that seems to have been centred in Ephesus (1 John 2:26; 4:1). In 2 John he warned against travelling preachers who were spreading this teaching around other churches of the Ephesus region (2 John 7,10). However, not all travelling preachers were trouble-makers. Some were preachers of the true gospel, and 3 John was written to a church leader named Gaius, to encourage him to keep supporting such people, in spite of the difficulties he faced.
The letter does not state which church Gaius belonged to, but his difficulties were chiefly concerned with a man named Diotrephes who had worked himself into a position of power in the church. Diotrephes refused to receive the travelling preachers, claiming that they were representatives of the apostle John, whom he opposed. John’s letter, therefore, in addition to giving encouragement to Gaius, gave advice concerning how to deal with Diotrephes (3 John 9-10).
CONTENTS OF THE LETTER
John is always glad to hear good news of Christians whom he has helped over the years. In particular, he is encouraged by the news he has heard about Gaius, namely, that he continues to grow in spiritual strength and remains faithful to the truth (1-4).
Besides being faithful to God in the things he believes and teaches, Gaius is helpful to the travelling preachers. He welcomes them to preach in the church and provides them with loving hospitality. This is true not just of those travellers who are his friends, but also of those who are strangers to him (5-6). By supporting such people, he is helping to preserve God’s truth in a time of widespread false teaching.
Others in the church should follow his example (7-8).
By contrast Diotrephes acts only out of selfish ambition. He opposes the authority of John (who was an apostle as well as an elder), refuses to pass on John’s instruction to the church and makes false accusations against him. Harshly domineering and always self-assertive, he refuses to welcome the travelling preachers into the church and expels any who oppose him. If Gaius is unable to restore some harmony and order in the church, John himself may have to come and use his apostolic authority to punish Diotrephes (9-10).
John reminds Gaius of the need to stand firm for what is right and not to give in to wrongdoing merely for the sake of peace. He suggests that the respected Demetrius might be a reliable helper in this difficult time (11-12). John expects that he himself will visit Gaius soon, and this will give him the opportunity to talk over these and other matters at greater length. Meanwhile, he and his friends pass on their greetings to the church (13-15).