This small personal letter provides a window into some issues of leadership and conflict in the early churches. A man named Diotrephes was improperly controlling the church and rejecting the apostle and his emissaries. By contrast, Gaius and Demetrius were two men who remained faithful to the church and to the apostle John. Those who truly love God are faithful to His true apostles. Like 1 and 2 John, this letter was probably written in the late first century from Ephesus. John addressed this letter to his friend Gaius. Gaius was a very common Roman name and it is not known whether this Gaius can be identified with any other New Testament individual with the same name. Some of John’s aides had been commissioned by him to go out and teach in various churches. They required lodging from the believers in the places where they ministered. Demetrius seemed to have been one of those folks and it is quite possible that he delivered this letter. As you read look for both John’s commendation of Gaius for his past hospitality and his condemnation of Diotrephes for his mistreatment of fellow believers. Here are a couple of themes to look for. The first is hospitality. John praised Gaius for his hospitality and condemned Diotrephes for his lack of hospitality. There was a network of scattered churches who took great pride in offering food and shelter to traveling missionaries and teachers. This helped the individual churches feel connected to the larger church. The second theme is truth. Demetrius, who is otherwise unknown was probably the bearer of this letter. He was to be received because John said he manifested the truth. Clearly he had passed the ethical test found in 1 John.
Again John called himself the elder. He wished Gaius good health and a strong spirit. It is clear John had great regard for Gaius. The traveling teachers or brothers in faith were most likely John’s emissaries who traveled from church to church, teaching the Good News and encouraging Christians. Gaius had been living in the truth, faithful to the apostolic teachings of the gospel of Christ. The false teachers denied the incarnation and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Again we see John emphasizing knowing and following the truth. This is in contrast to Diotrephes and his followers. John wrote to encourage Gaius to continue to support the traveling teachers that John had sent out. He provided hospitality for them as they taught. By doing this, Gaius showed that he had received the truth from the apostles and he was faithful to God. The church John referred to in verse six was probably the church in Ephesus where John was staying. Ephesus was an important port city in the province of Asia and the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. It was also an important city for the Christian community.
The traveling teachers were traveling for “the Name”. John didn’t need to explain this because all believers knew this was a reference to Jesus Christ. These traveling teachers had chosen to accept nothing from people who didn’t believe. Instead they relied on the churches of believers for their support. This is where Gaius came in. Once the travelers got settled and started teaching they became partners with the people in the church where they were teaching. Verses 9-12 consist of John’s condemnation of Diotrephes. And he also presented Demetrius as a model of a faithful Christian who lived according to the truth. Gaius is urged to imitate Demetrius. John had written to the church previously. This could be the letter we know as 1 John, or it could be a letter that is now lost. Diotrephes was full of pride and self importance. He was motivated by selfish ambition and he refused to have anything to do with the real teachers of the Good News. This dissidence was one of the issues John dealt with in his first letter. Diotrephes not only rejected the teachers sent by John but he also excommunicated any members of the church who did accept them. He wanted to rule the local church without answering to any outside authority.
Diotrephes was a very bad example and John condemned him for his failure to live by the Christian rule of love. This was how Gaius could be sure that Diotrephes was not living according to the truth. This applied to all who refused to accept the apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ and refused to live in fellowship with others who did. Demetrius was the exact opposite of Diotrephes. He was a prime example of one who knows the truth and practices it. Because his name is at the end of the letter it probably means he was the one who delivered it to Gaius. John recognized Demetrius as one who knew the truth. John also wanted to protect his own honor as a reliable elder over these churches rather than being shamed by any possible usurpation by Diotrephes and other false teachers.
Once again John tells the readers of the letter that he won’t say anymore because he plans to visit them. Pen and ink here is literally ink and reed. In antiquity writing was done with a stylus shaped from a reed and black carbon ink. John closed his letter with his farewell and greetings to others. Wishing others peace be with you was a traditional greeting among the Jews. It had taken on great significance for Christians because Jesus had used it after His resurrection. Gaius was to greet the friends. That would be all those who accepted the apostolic gospel and lived according to the truth.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W