Who wrote it?
3 John does not directly name its author. The tradition from the earliest days of the church has been that the apostle John is the author. There have been occasional doubts raised by those who thought it possible that this was written by another disciple of the Lord named John, but all the evidence points to the author being the apostle John.
When(ish) was it written?
3 John would most likely have been written at about the same time as John’s other letters, 1 and 2 John, between AD 85-95.
Why was it written?
John’s purpose in writing this third letter is threefold. First, he writes to commend and encourage his beloved co-worker, Gaius, in his ministry of hospitality to the itinerant messengers who were going from place to place to preach the Gospel of Christ. Second, he indirectly warns and condemns the behavior of one Diotrephes, a dictatorial leader who had taken over one of the churches in the province of Asia, and whose behavior was directly opposed to all that the apostle and his Gospel stood for. Third, he commends the example of Demetrius who was reported as having a good testimony from all.
Some Key Verses
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
– 3 John 4
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
– 3 John 11
A Quick Summary
John is writing with his usual strong emphasis on truth to this much-loved brother in Christ, Gaius, a layman of some wealth and distinction in a city near Ephesus. He highly commends Gaius’ care and hospitality to his messengers whose mission was to take the Gospel from place to place, whether they were known to him or were strangers. John exhorts him to continue to do good and not to imitate evil, as in the example of Diotrephes. Diotrephes had taken over the leadership of a church in Asia and not only refused to recognize John’s authority as an apostle but also refused to receive his letters and submit to his directions. He also circulated malicious slanders against John and excommunicated members who showed support and hospitality to John’s messengers. Before John concludes his letter, he also commends the example of Demetrius, of whom he has heard excellent reports.
Old Testament Ties
The concept of offering hospitality to strangers has plenty of precedent in the Old Testament. Acts of hospitality in Israel included the humble and gracious reception of aliens into the home for food, lodging, and protection (Genesis 18:2-8, 19:1-8; Job 31:16-23, 31-32). In addition, Old Testament teaching portrays the Israelites as alienated people who are dependent on God’s hospitality (Psalm 39:12), and God as the One who graciously meets their needs, redeeming them from Egypt, feeding them, and clothing them in the wilderness (Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:2-5).
What does this mean?
John, as always, emphasizes the importance of walking in the truth of the Gospel. Hospitality, support, and encouragement for our fellow Christians are some of the main precepts of the teachings of Jesus, and Gaius was obviously an outstanding example of this ministry. We should also show hospitality to those who minister the Word, welcoming them into our churches and homes. Those who are servants of the Gospel deserve our support and encouragement.
We also need to be careful always to follow only the example of those whose words and actions are in line with the Gospel, and be discerning enough to be aware of those such as Diotrephes whose behavior is far from being like that which Jesus taught.
Take a few minutes to read aloud the Scripture from 3 John, John 1:17, 8:31-32, 17:15-17, 18:37-38, 14:6, Colossians 1:15-17. What verses or ideas stand out to you from this passage? What questions do you have? What “next step” are you considering as a result of your interaction with God’s Word?
What are some views of truth that are common in our culture? How are they expressed? What implications do some of those views have on our lives?
Read John 14:6. Jesus Himself boldly claims to be the truth? Do you find this claim to be challenging? Reassuring? How does it impact the way you think and lives?
Are you engaged in Gospel work, the way Gaius was? How can this increase in your life? What are some unique opportunities you have to proclaim the truth of Jesus to others?