By Karl Diestelkamp
Third John sets forth a vivid contrast in the obedience, behavior and response of two men, Gaius and Diotrophes, to apostolic instruction. Diotrophes presents an obstinate and negative influence in reference to assisting those in need who preached the gospel. On the other hand, Gaius had become one of the “fellow-helpers to the truth” by his aid to those Diotrophes refused. Vital, relevant lessons are to be learned, from this comparison, by Christians everywhere.
The aged apostle John addresses “the well beloved Gaius” whom he also loved “in the truth” (v. 1). There is no definite way to determine if this Gaius is the same as any of those named elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14), though the man in Romans was said by Paul to be “mine host and of the whole church,” thus possessing attributes like the Gaius of 3 John. Obviously, Gaius was a highly esteemed brother, not only by John, but by all who knew him. Such love was “in truth” – in keeping with obedience to truth on the part of Gaius (cf. 2 Jn. 1).
John affirms his desire that “in all things” Gaius might prosper and be in health to the same degree and proportion that his soul prospered (v. 2). By his faithfulness, he was “laying up treasure in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21) and his soul prospered, but John wished that he might receive general prosperity and good health as well. This would evidently promote his usefulness in the body of Christ. The chief concern of every Christian is to be “the things above” (Col. 3:1-3). Opportunities to assist brethren and further the cause of Christ compliment that concern.
Those whom Gaius had assisted had reported back to John and he rejoiced on hearing their report about Gaius and his walk in the truth. Gaius not only had the truth residing in him, he also lived according to it as could be observed in his daily behavior. For John, no joy surpassed that of knowing that his “children” were faithfully walking in the truth (v. 4). It may be that Gaius had obeyed the gospel through the teaching of John, making him his “child in the faith” just as Paul referred to some m “sons in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4).
Gaius had diligently cared for brethren whom he knew as well as those (strangers) who were not personally known to him. John commends him for this assistance (v. 5). Such hospitality went beyond a casual “be ye warmed and filled” (Jas. 2:16), for his actions were an open challenge to the dictates of Diotrophes who tried to stop the response of brethren to the needs of those who came from John.
The brethren whom Gaius had helped had given testimony of his love and good work before the church (v. 6). John tells him he would do well to “bring forward on their journey” such ones as these. This would involve whatever was needed by the travelers, including financial support (cf. Tit. 3:13). A Christian is to assist other Christians as they have need and he has ability. This includes the one “taught” providing for the “teacher” (Gal. 6:6). The church may also be involved in the work of “bringing on their way” faithful gospel workers (Rom. 15:24; Phil. 4:3).
Those assisted and to be assisted had gone forth to make known the name of Christ and his authority “taking nothing of the Gentiles” (v. 7). Therefore, responsibility for sustaining and supporting the teachers of the lost falls upon children of God and not upon unbelievers.
All saints ought to welcome (receive) such laborers for the Lord, that we might be “fellow-helpers to (for/with) the truth (v. 8). Christians ought to relish the opportunity to have a part personally in the great work of preaching and teaching the gospel. We become “fellow helpers” as we assist those who labor as we can not, either because of lack of ability or lack of opportunity. Elsewhere, Paul refers to Titus as his “partner and fellow-helper” (2 Cor. 8:23) and others as “fellow workers” (Col. 4:11), “yoke-fellow and fellow-laborers” (Phil. 2:25), and “helpers” (Rom. 16:3, 9). He says that those who plant and those who water are one and are “laborers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). The Corinthians were “helping together by prayer” for Paul (2 Cor. 1:11), who had earlier instructed them to properly regard those who had given themselves to serving the saints and “every one that helpeth with us, and laboreth” (1 Cor. 16::5, 16). The tragedy of seeing only the needs of a local work is not new. Many are content to see a work begun and maintained where they are and where they can “oversee” every aspect of it, but have little or no interest in the needs of faithful workers elsewhere or of lost sinners everywhere. Ours is to hold up the hands of diligent workers in behalf of truth and yet not diminish our own labors in the cause of Christ. Our goals must include the defense of the gospel (Phil. 1:17, 27; Jude 3), the spread of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) and the salvation of lost souls (1 Cor. 15:1, 2) without regard for personal ambition and recognition (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
John had written to the church, but a lover of preeminence (Diotrophes) rejected the authority of the apostle (“receiveth us not”) in the matters about which he had written (v. 9). John promised to deal with Diotrophes when he has the opportunity (v. 10). Diotrophes was in line for a reprimand for the works which he did, including “prating against” John “with wicked words,” a refusal to fellowship brethren and his efforts to isolate anyone who did receive those brethren he had rejected. His efforts to control the church may be broken down under five headings: (1) he rejected the instruction of the inspired apostle John; (2) he used wicked words to accuse John and other faithful disciples; (3) he personally refused the brethren who came from John to where he was; (4) he forbade other Christians to receive these traveling brethren; (5) he “cast out of the church” those who disregarded his dictatorial pronouncements. John reminds Gaius to “follow not that which is evil, but that which is good” (v. 11). That John includes the evil work of Diotrophes is clear as he says, “He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”
What had been a burden, imposition and intrusion to Diotrophes was not such to Gaius and to others. Demetrius is held up as a good example worthy of imitation as everyone who knew him would testify (v. 12). The love of Gaius for his brethren had manifested itself in his care and assistance to those in need of such. Diotrophes had yet to learn the lesson set forth in 1 Jn. 3:11-18 regarding love of his brethren. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in work, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (vv. 17, 18).
In closing, John stated that he had many things to say, but he was not content to write them. His desire was to come to Gaius where he could talk with him face-to-face and at the same occasion of his visit he would deal with Diotrophes (v. 13). Those who are “friends” of Gaius and the brethren send greetings to their “friends,” indicating a mutual set of motives, values and goals in spiritual matters.
The lesson is that “fellow helpers to the truth” are those who labor according to the truth, following precisely the will of Christ. Those who seek to “serve God in their own way’; (Rom. 10:2, 3) and who call “Lord, Lord” without doing the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21-23) are not at all “fellow helpers to the truth” but are in reality against Christ (Lk. 11:23). Gaius had engaged in profitable spiritual activity in the face of opposition and without concern for himself. May his “tribe increase as Christians imitate this worthy example (Phil. 3:17).
- Who are the principal characters in 3 John?
- What caused John to say the soul of Gaius was “prospering”?
- List that which was a great “joy” to the apostle John?
- Who are the “strangers” of the text?
- What is involved in “bringing” someone “forward on their journey?”
- Why would these who went forth not take anything of the Gentiles?
- Specifically, how may we be “fellow helpers to the truth” today?
- Enumerate the listed faults in the character and action of Diotrophes?
- Could Diotrophes actually cast people out of the church?
- What does our conduct and example tell about that which we follow?
Guardian of Truth XXV: 15, pp. 234-235
April 9, 1981